Early History of International Ship Masters' Association

In the winter of 1886, the First Mate of the Str. Boston of the Western Transit Company of Buffalo, New York, died. Capt. John H. Ivers, then master of the Str. Fountain City, a propeller in the Western Transit Company, went to the home of the family of his departed friend to offer his services and his sympathy. The widow very reluctantly told Capt. Ivers that she had no money and asked him for the loan of $50.00 to defray the expense of burying her husband. The Captain, not having that amount with him, told the widow that he would return with the amount later that evening.

After leaving the house. Capt. Ivers went to the store of Felthouse & Russel, a vessel supply house located on Main Street, and a place where the licensed officers of steamboats used to congregate and there he met several masters and mates and told them about the circumstances of the deceased mate. Among those present were Capt. Martin Niland, Capt. John Disset, Capt. Wm. Dickson, Capt. James Drake, Capt. Parlance McFarland, Capt. Joseph Hulligan, Capt. James Green, Capt. Patrick Shea, Capt. Lawrence Green, Capt. Frank Welcome, Capt. James Condon, Capt. John Byrne, Capt. Robert Smith and Capt. John Ivers.

Capt. Ivers told his associates that this family needed money and would not be able to pay it back. Capt. Niland then took off his cap, placed a five dollar bill of his own into it, and passed it around; those present at that time, and those who came later, contributed and in a short time the donations amounted to $125.00. Capt. John Ivers, then master of the Str. Fountain City, and Capt. James Condon, then master of the Str. Arctic, were detailed to take the $125.00 to the widow, which they did that evening. The widow was very grateful and began to cry, saying that she did not know how she would repay the kindness and that she would pay the money back even if she had to take in washings and that it was her wishes and prayers that no other widow of a Ship Master would be placed in like circumstances upon the death of her husband. The Captains assured her that there would be nothing to pay back as this money was a donation from the friends of her husband, who were employed on the line boats.

After Captain Ivers and Capt. Condon returned to the store of Felthouse and Russel, a general discussion arose about forming a little society among members of the profession, where in case of death of a member the widow or beneficiary would receive $100.00, each member being assessed his portion, which was later changed to $1,000.00.

This being the last of the week it was agreed that a meeting be held on the following Tuesday evening in a small hall above the vessel supply store, (the use of the hall being donated by the owners of the store) for the purpose of organizing a beneficial association.

Fifteen licensed officers of the line boats assembled in the hall above the store on the following Tuesday evening and Capt. Wm. Dickson was elected chairman, and later the same evening was elected president; and Capt. James Condon was elected secretary. Capt. John Disset was appointed a committee of one to take the necessary steps to secure a charter for this new society, then known as the Excelsior Marine Benevolent Association.

The managers and owners of the different steamboat lines, thinking that this new association was a labor organization later to become affiliated with the Knights of Labor, objected to their masters and mates joining it. But when it was explained to them the purpose of this organization, and that it was never to be a labor organization and always to be a Benevolent Association, they withdrew their objections and offered to help make up the $100.00 that was to go to the beneficiary on the death of a member, in case there was a shortage.

A meeting was held every Tuesday evening until the charter was secured from Albany, New York. After securing the charter, a discussion arose about numbering the members as they joined the Association. Owing to the fact that Capt. Niland had rendered the new association such valuable service, along the line of creating a favorable opinion of this Association among the vessel managers and owners, the members thought it fitting to honor him by giving him Number 1.

Capt. John Disset thought that if honors were being given that he, too, should be given a small number in place of Number 15. None of the members cared to give up their numbers until Capt. John Ivers spoke up and said, "I will change with Capt. Disset and take Number 15 instead of Number 4."

Later in the spring, when it became known that the owners and managers did not object to their licensed men belonging to this Association, seven more men were taken in before the opening of navigation, making a membership of twenty-two, the members then thinking themselves in a flourishing condition.

The wife of Capt. Disset (who was formerly a school teacher) with the aid of an attorney (who was a friend of the family) drew up the first constitution and by-laws and also secured the first ritual. This constitution, by-laws and ritual were changed in January, 1891, when the Grand Lodge was formed in Buffalo.

Capt. John Ivers, in the spring of 1887, left the employ of the Western Transit Company and went as master of the Str. Colorado which was purchased by F. W. Botsford of Port Huron. Owing to the fact that the Colorado was to run between Port Huron and Duluth, the Captain moved back to Port Huron.

In the winter of 1887 and 1888, in order to increase the membership of Buffalo Lodge, Capt. Ivers solicited new members in Port Huron; but the men of Port Huron thought they should have a lodge of their own in town. Capt. Ivers then wrote Capt. Alexander Clark, who was at that time President of Buffalo Lodge, for information in regard to forming a new lodge in Port Huron. Capt. Clark's reply was that he would take the matter up with the officials m Albany, New York, from whom they had secured the Buffalo charter.

In due time, Capt. Ivers of Port Huron received word from Capt. Alexander Clark of Buffalo that a lodge could be organized in Port Huron as a branch of the Buffalo Lodge, to work under the Buffalo Lodge's charter; and that if twenty prospective members could be secured he would come to Port Huron and organize Lodge Number Two. In a few days he came to Port Huron and organized with a charter membership of twenty-two.

Capt. John H. Ivers, being still a member of Buffalo Lodge, and, consequently not eligible to be elected president of Port Huron Lodge, Capt. Frank Danger was elected president and Capt. Wm. Hutchinson, secretary. There were no other officers at that time.

Capt. Ivers then withdrew from Buffalo Lodge, and joined Port Huron Lodge, becoming its president for the winter of 1888-1889 and was also delegate to Buffalo in the year 1891 at the time that the Grand Lodge was formed with Capt. Alexander Clark its first president, the Grand Lodge still retaining the name E. N. B. A. which in 1893 was changed to Ship Masters' Association.

The first convention of the various branches of the Association was held In Buffalo, New York, January 8, 1891. Each lodge was entitled to two delegates for every twenty-five members. "What is designated as the Grand Lodge was then formed and the officers were selected from the different local lodges.

The second meeting of the Grand Lodge was held in Cleveland, January 21, 1892; seven lodges, with a membership of 800 masters, were represented. The growth of the Association during the year was remarkable, showing an increase of 120 per cent. The treasurer's report showed that during the year $9,000 had been paid out in death benefits. The old officers were reelected.

The third meeting of the Grand Lodge was held at Port Huron, Mich., January 17, 1893. Nine lodges, with a membership of 900, were represented. The reports showed that $11,840 had been paid in death benefits. At this convention the constitution was amended to some extent and the name changed to Ship Masters' Association. The old officers were again chosen.

On January 16, 1894, the fourth annual convention was held in Chicago. The reports showed that the association had been prosperous in both numbers and finance, and that the new or amended constitution was working well. The reports of the President showed that there wore 1,000 members enrolled in the Order, out of 1,086 masters of steam crafts reported by the commissioner of navigation, thus making it evident that most of the licensed masters on the lakes had been members of the Association. The Secretary's report showed that during the year, $12,500 had been paid to widows and orphans of departed members. The first officers were again elected, as they had shown themselves diligent and active in their efforts to bring the Association to a successful and prosperous condition.

The fifth annual meeting was held in Detroit, January 15, 1895. The President's report stated that, although the season had been a bad one, the Order was in a flourishing condition. During the year, $131,742 had been paid out for death benefits. New pilot rules were thoroughly discussed and carefully revised, and the bill known as the White or Goulder bill was indorsed by the convention. The provisions and details of this bill had been advanced by experienced members of the Association. At this meeting the mantle of the presidency fell upon the shoulders of Captain C. E. Benham of Cleveland Lodge, the other officers being re-elected.

The sixth annual meeting was held in Washington, D. C., at the usual time, January, 1896, and the Treasurer and Secretary's report showed that nine death assessments were paid during 1895. The honor of holding the presidency of the Grand Lodge, having been held in Buffalo for some time, came to Cleveland for one year, and was then captured by Detroit through the election of Bro. George McCullagh. Business of importance was transacted with the different government departments.

The seventh annual meeting of the Grand Lodge was held in Washington, D. C., January 21 to 23, and the wisdom of transacting annual business at the capital where the delegates were in touch with the officers of the steamboat inspection service was again shown, although it was decided, on account of the expense, to hold the next meeting in Milwaukee. It was found by the Secretary's and Treasurer s reports that 11 death claims, $11,000 had been paid during the year, and the Endowment Fund showed a balance of $1,190 on hand The salaries and expenses chargeable to the General Fund, amounted to $2,780 68 leaving a balance of $1,913.54 on hand. The Grand Lodge lost by death its worthy and efficient First Grand Vice-President.

Since 1897, the Grand Lodge has been held several times in Washington also in nearly every principal port on the Great Lakes. History of Buffalo Lodge, No. 1.

After organization and adopting a constitution the Buffalo Lodge, No. 1, at its next meeting proceeded to choose its officers, which resulted in the election of William Dickson for President; Edward Condon, Vice-president; and John Disset, secretary. The charter members were Messrs. Niland, Green, Condon, Carlisle, Drake, Williams, McFarland. Halligan, Sked, Byrne, Smith, Ivers, Camish, Dunn. Jones, Gillies, Disset, Dickson, Gardner, Provort, Hogg, and O'Neil. In the fall following, a large hall in Washington Street was rented, and after the election of Alexander Clark to the presidency, they secured better quarters in the parlors of the Hesper. Seeing the pleasant and comfortable quarters, the captains commenced to enroll themselves as members, and the lodge began to fill rapidly. Interesting subjects were discussed at the meetings and the social phase of the movement began to manifest itself. At this time President Clark was ably assisted by Messrs. Frank Welcome, who was vice-president, and J. M. Todd, who was secretary. In the winter of 1887 President Clark and F. D. Welcome, started on a tour of organization and succeeded in forming a number of lodges at different lake ports.

1. "Early History of International Ship Masters' Association", Directory of Names, Pennant Numbers and Addresses of all the Member of the International Ship Masters' Association of the Great Lakes, April, 1924, Pages 2-5.
See Also
Ship Masters Association 1924 Directory

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