The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Oswego Palladium (Oswego, NY), Thurs., Oct. 27, 1887

Full Text
Capt. John Van Alstyne
Death of The Good Old Lake Captain Last Night
Interesting Facts in a Remarkable Career - He Commanded Vessels for forty-two years and Never Lost but One - Beloved by many Warm Friends.

Oswego sailors and citizens will be shocked and painted to learn of the death of the venerable Captain John T. Van Alstyne, which occurred at his home in this city last night. He had been suffering for several years past with a kidney trouble and about a week or ten days ago he was obliged to quit his schooner - the William I. Preston - which he has sailed continually since 1872, and return home.

He continued to grow rapidly worse until death terminated his sufferings. Captain Van Alstyne was a most remarkable man. he probably had more warm personal friends along the chain lf lakes than any other living man. Everybody knew him as one of the most interesting characters and one of the most lucky captains that ever sailed. he had traveled extensively, was a most entertaining conversationalist and possessed a most remarkable memory, being able to give day and date for almost every important event that has occurred since he was four years old.

He was full of pleasant stories and reminiscences and his companionship was much sought after. He was modest and retiring in his disposition and it was only upon the most urgent solicitation that he consented, nearly a year ago, to tell a Palladium writer the story of his life.

He first came to Oswego from Montezuma in 1831 and since that time this city has been his home. His sailor life began in 1836 he shipped as cook in the schooner Eagle. he sailed in various vessels after that as cook, when he shipped as a common sailor in the schooner Robert Burns, then owned by the firm of Fitzhugh & Lyon. In the fall of 1839 the Captain left Oswego and went to sea.

He shipped in New York in the brig Excelsior for Savannah and at the latter place, went in the Harriet for Liverpool, England. The vessel was wrecked before she reached her destination, but the crew escaped. Afterwards while stripping the wreck Captain Van Alstyne fell from aloft and broke his leg, and lay in a hospital at Marysport, England, the day Queen Victoria was married. As soon as he recovered he returned to America and sailed up and down the coast and through the Gulf of Mexico. After that he went to Spain, but returned to Oswego in 1843. He then shipped in the propeller Vandalia, which was built at Oswego and which was the first screw wheel boat to ply on fresh water.

In 1844 he was appointed mate on the schooner Josephine of Oswego, commanded by Capt. Robert Richardson, father of Capt. William Richardson of the Police Department. In 1845 he took charges of his first vessel the Marseille of Oswego. In 1846 he was captain of the Moses and Elias, owned by Cooper Barbour, of Oswego, and in 1847-8 sailed the topsail schooner Joseph. In 1849 and '50 he commanded the schooner Hamilton, of the old Red Bird line, owned by Doolittle & Mollison. In the latter year he had his first mishap, his vessel being driven ashore at Long Point, Lake Erie. She was soon released.

In 1852 Captain Van Alstyne was captain of the schooner Odd Fellow, owned by Thomas Dobbie and Capt. John Parsons, was then before the mast with him. In 1854 the only wreck of his whole career. His vessel was driven on North Manitou Island, Lake Michigan, during a blinding snow storm and became a total loss. In 1855 Captain Van Alstyne commanded a tug at Oswego, and then for three years sailed the barque Hungarian, owned by Fitzhugh & Littlejohn.

He was Customs Inspector under the late Orville Robinson from '59 to '61 and in 1862 he went as mate in the schooner Monitor of Detroit. The next year he was appointed Captain of the Emeau and sailed this vessel until 1866, when he brought out the schooner George C. Finney. he sailed her for two years and then took command of the George Goble. In 1869 he left the lakes and conducted a variety store in Oswego until 1872, when he tool command of the William I. Preston and sailed her up to two weeks ago - fifteen years. he was greatly attached to the old vessel and was very careful of her.

It will be seen from the above that as a sailor the Captain had a most remarkable record. Fifty-one years a sailor and forty-two years a Captain and losing but one vessel in that time is a record of which he was duly proud. he always relied upon his own judgment of the weather, never using a barometer or a spirit compass. he was like all sailors, superstitious, and would never sail a vessel painted black.

This year, however, the owners of the Preston painted her the dreaded color and it is likely that superstitious people will connect the fact with the Captain's death. Captain Van Alstyne was a faithful Democrat, and voted for every Democratic President since 1840. At the time of his death he held the office of Justice of the Peace. He was in the 65th year of his age. He leaves a widow, the sympathies of hundreds of sorrowing friends by whom he was beloved and honored.

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Thurs., Oct. 27, 1887
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Richard Palmer
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Oswego Palladium (Oswego, NY), Thurs., Oct. 27, 1887