SOURCE: John Miller, A Twentieth Century History of Erie County Pennsylvania, 1909, Volume II, 974.899, pp. 420-422.
CAPTAIN W. W. WILKINS. The world-wide saying that poets are born, not made, applies with equal force to mariners; for not all men who follow the sea are great sailors. Yet greatness is as much an achievement as an inheritance. Capt. W. W. Wilkins has won distinction in nautical realms both through his own special efforts, and as a birthright sailor. His father, Capt. Benjamin Wilkins, and his grandfather, Capt. Thomas Wilkins, were mariners of high rank, and to their descendants imparted some of their love for seafaring pursuits.
Capt. W. W. Wilkins was born, September 22, 1859, in Erie City, Pennsylvania, where he acquired his knowledge of books, taking the courses of the grammar and high schools. Capt. Thomas Wilkins was born in Wales, In March, 1794, and when but eleven years old began his seafaring life, shipping first in a small sloop, and later in a larger vessel. Gaining experience as a sailor and greatly desirous of seeing more of the world, he made a voyage to the West Indies. At the age of eighteen years he enlisted in the One Hundred and Fourth Regiment of Infantry, known as the Brunswickers regiment during the War of 1812, he was made captain of a schooner plying between Saint Johns and Fredericktown. When, a little later, his regiment was ordered to Quebec, the captain was forced to leave his schooner and march with his comrades to that city. He remained with his regiment six years, during which time he was promoted to the rank of corporal of his company. After his discharge from the army, he settled in Canada, where he bought one hundred acres of land.
Migrating to the United States in 1816, he shipped on the schooner "Niagara," later becoming mate of the "Superior," and afterwards sailed on the "Diligence," and "Decatur." Subsequently, after serving for a time as mate on the "General Wayne," he shipped on the "Porcupine," a revenue cutter, that had previously belonged to Commodore Perry's fleet. For six years thereafter, he was master of the schooner "Green Bay," subsequently sailing the "Pontiac," "William Penn," "Prudence," "Columbus," "William Peacock," and the "S. B. Peacock." From 1835 until 1840, Capt. Thomas Wilkins was master of the steamboat "Thomas Jefferson," and the ensuing seven years had command of the "Missouri." About that time, he became financially interested in the "Troy," which he commanded until 1852. For thirty years he sailed the Lakes, and with the time he was engaged in service on the ocean, spent forty-seven years of his long life on the water. He was appointed collector of the port, July 22, 1861, and served until 1869. The farm which he had previously purchased in Erie county, is now included within the limits of the city of Erie.
Capt. Thomas Wilkins married, May 4, 1821, Anna Henton, who died October 30, 1833, aged thirty years, leaving two children, Benjamin and Jane. The Captain married second, December 5, 1834, Mary Backus, by whom he had two children, George and Anna.
Captain Benjamin Wilkins was born at Gospel Hill, near Erie, October 7, 1821. Finding his greatest pleasure on the water, he engaged in seafaring pursuits from his boyhood, in course of time becoming one of the most successful and popular ship masters on the Great Lakes. Beginning his career with his father, he subsequently entered the employ of General Reed as master of the steamer "Missouri." He next commanded the steamer "Illinois" and "Sandusky," and the first propeller which he commanded as master was the "Ontonego." Associating himself at a later period with the Spencer line, whose headquarters were in Chicago, he had command of the steamers "Ironside," "Planet," and others of that line. In the winter of 1867 Capt. Benjamin Wilkins superintended the transfer of the machinery and cabin of the "Planet" to the steamer "Northwest." In 1869 he purchased an interest in the steamer "Cuyahoga," which he sailed two seasons. Entering the service of the Anchor line in 1871, he was made pilot of the steamer "Wilson." In 1873 he was made master of that vessel, and held the position until 1877. Being made master in 1878, of the "India," which was owned by the Superior Transit Company, he retained its command until his death, October 6, 1880.
He married Anna Backus, and to them seven children were born, namely: Joseph H., Thomas E., Park C., W. W., Clara L., Jennie M., and Sarah P. While still a school boy, W. W. Wilkins spent all of his vacations on the water, going on lake trips with his father, thus gaining a practical knowledge of science, art and laws of navigation as well as of the common branches of study. In 1877 he shipped on board the steamer "Wilson," of the Anchor line, his father being in command of the vessel, and in 1878 he shipped on the "Indian" as lookout, and was soon promoted to the berth of wheelman. In 1880, having successfully passed examination, and received his license as second mate, Mr. Wilkins shipped on the "Arizona." In 1881, he served as mate of the "Wilson," under Captain M. H. Murch, and in 1882 was second mate of the "Annie Young." In 1883 he was mate of the "China," and the following year was mate of the "Idaho," belonging to the Lake Superior Transit Company. In 1886 he entered the employ of the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior Transit Company as mate of the steamer "City of Fremont," and at the end of that season left the lakes for a time. In 1889 he resumed his duties with the same company, shipping as mate on the steamer "Samuel F. Hedge," and in 1890 became mate of the "Badger State," but was subsequently transferred to the "William H. Stevens." In 1897 Capt. W. W. Wilkins entered the service of James McBrier as master of the steamer "Nyanza," which he commanded until 1903. The following five years he had command of the steamer "Uganda." Since 1906 Captain Wilkins has commanded the "Luzon," a stanch vessel, in which he has made many successful trips. Captain Wilkins has been twice married. He married first, August 22, 1891, Hattie, daughter of Schuyler and Miranda (Force) Saulsbury. She died July 29, 1901, leaving two children, Anna L. and Cameron J. The Captain married second, February 6, 1906, Clara Gertrude Banister. Fraternally Captain Wilkins is a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
Gaylene Kerr Banister
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