Captain John Pridgeon

From 1866 to 1884 Captain Pridgeon was probably the largest
owner of tugs, steamers and sailing vessels at the port of Detroit.

Researchers: David Gustner
Richard Brothwell
Lynne Greening
Cathy Rose
Ken Wright

Captain John Pridgeon, April 15, 1828 - December 6, 1894
Tintype from the Burton Collection at The Detroit Public Library

From the History of the Great Lakes, published 1899 Pages 421-422

"CAPTAIN JOHN PRIGEON, for many years one of the most important characters in the marine interests of Detroit, was born in Lincolnshire, England, where his father operated a small rented farm. His parents came to America when he was seven years of age, settling in Greenfield township near Detroit. Here he attended school a short time and this, together with some early trade in England, formed the whole of his early education. When he was thirteen years of age Captain Pridgeon came to Detroit, and first found employment as a teamster for E. Ferguson, afterward becoming manager for a man named Fields, who did general hauling business. He next drove stage between Detroit and Mt. Clemens for Burrell & Rose, and the following year engaged as cook on a Detroit river scow, earning twelve dollars a month. For three years he drove teams during the winter, and sailed in the summer. When John Robinson built the steamer Boston, he went on board as decksweeper, and was afterward deckhand. He sailed on the Boston one summer for twelve dollars per month, and worked in a livery stable that winter. During all this time, no matter how small his earnings, a portion was saved and put by for the future, thus laying the foundation for a substantial large fortune. Captain Pridgeon all this time had a predilection for the sea, and at the age of eighteen he went to New York and signed as an ordinary seaman in the United States navy. After a course of training on the receiving ship North Carolina he was put on board the United States sloop Albany, of the South Atlantic Squadron. While on this vessel he visited most all of the southern ports, including those of the West Indies and South America. In 1851 the Albany returned home with a number of American citizens who had been engaged in the Lopez insurrection in Cuba, they having been surrendered to the United States authorities by the Spanish government, and Captain Pridgeon returned to Greenfield with about $500, the savings of his three, years cruise. He soon after came to Detroit and shipped on the small steamer Telegraph as wheelsman. In the winter he bought a team and a pair of bob sleds, and worked in the lumber woods near Lexington. At the end of the winter he came to Detroit with a capital of $8oo. He continued working in this way for two or three years, teaming and sailing, and finally found himself worth about $3,000. At length he sold his horses, wagons and tools, and bought a little steamer, the United, with which he did a profitable towing business for a couple of years. He cleared $4,000 the first season, about $3,000 the second,and sold his steamer for $4,000, leaving him with about $12,000, which included his home. The next season he purchased of Oliver Newberry the propeller Napoleon for $6,000 cash, and for two years did a general towing business in the North channel, at St. Clair flats. He subsequently sold the Napoleon and purchased the steamer Canada, which he also used in the towing business. From 1866 to 1884 Captain Pridgeon was probably the largest owner of tugs, steamers and sailing vessels at the port of Detroit. His investments were almost universally successful and at the time of his death, which occurred December 6, 1894, his estate was valued at over $1,000,000. During the latter years of his life, he converted his business into that of contracting, disposing of vessels when he could do so to good advantage; but the firm of John Pridgeon & Son still continued to do a large and profitable vessel trade. Captain Pridgeon married Miss Emma Nicholson, daughter of a Canadian farmer, who lived about nine miles back of Windsor. Mrs. Pridgeon is still living, together with two children, John Pridgeon, Jr., and a daughter, Mrs. Harry Milward. For a period of eight years Captain Pridgeon was a member of the Board of Water Commissioners of Detroit; the period of his service being marked with many improvements in the water works, to all of which he gave a great deal of his time and attention. He was cordially esteemed by the employers of the board, and at the expiration of his term of service he retired from public life with the respect and goodwill of his associates and of the public.

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