Biography of Austin A. Kirby
Erie County, OH Biographies





AUSTIN A. KIRBY. A strong, loyal and noble spirit was that which found indwelling in the mortal tenement of Captain Kirby, who was one of the most venerable and honored pioneer citizens of Erie County at the time of his death, which occurred in January, 1903, and who was a distinguished figure in the marine navigation service of the Great Lakes for many years, one of the numerous citizens of Northern Ohio who have "gone down to the sea in ships and done business on great waters." His period of residence in Erie County covered more than half a century and he had gained precedence as one of the most able and best known vessel commanders that ever operated on our great inland seas.

Captain Kirby was born at Genoa, Cayuga County, New York, on the 15th of September, 1817, and was a son of Silas and Rhoda (Soule) Kirby, both natives of New Bedford, Massachusetts, where the former was born in 1792 and the latter in November, 1811, their other children who attained adult age having been Allen N., Stephen R., Sarah and Frederick. Silas Kirby was a son of Restcom and Mary (Rogers) Kirby, the former born March 30, 1770, and the latter in the year 1789. Restcom Kirby was a son of Barnabas and Elizabeth (Allen) Kirby, whose respective dates of nativity were December 2, 1744, and the year 1788. Barnabas Kirby was a son of Silas and Elizabeth Kirby, who immigrated from England about the middle of the eighteenth century and became the founders of the American branch of this sterling old Colonial family of New England.

Captain Kirby was a boy at the time of the family removal to Sacketts Harbor, New York, on the shores of Lake Ontario, and when he was a lad of but twelve years he initiated his career as a sailor on the Great Lakes. In 1835, when only seventeen years of age, he became master of the schooner Commodore Decatur, and in the following winter he accompanied his parents on their removal to Oswego, New York, from which port he sailed to Lake Erie ports for the ensuing three years. In the spring of 1839 he went with his parents to the newly admitted State of Michigan and his father became one of the pioneer settlers in Ingham County, in which is now situated the capital city of that commonwealth. The captain was not, however, to be drawn from his allegiance to the lakes and prevailed upon to remain in an inland section of Michigan. In 1840, at Detroit, that state, he became master of the schooner Independence, and he continued in command of vessels of this type until 1844, in which season he sailed as mate of the propeller New York. Thereafter he was engaged in farming in Michigan until 1847, when he again resumed his active association with navigation service on the Great Lakes. For four years he was master of the schooner Forrest, and later he became commander of the schooner Plymouth, which sailed from Huron, Erie County, Ohio, and which was wrecked and lost in 1852. Thereafter Captain Kirby had command in turn of the schooner Ithaca and the propeller Mount Vernon, and at the close of the navigation season of 1854 he resumed his association with the agricultural industry, only to abandon this vocation in 1856, when he assumed command of the J. P. Kirtland. Thereafter he returned to his Michigan farm, upon which he remained until 1863, when he removed with his family to Erie County, Ohio, and established his home in the little lake port Village of Huron. The following year he sailed on the bark Alice, of Detroit, on the route between Buffalo and Chicago. He was master of the schooner Union for four years and then purchased the H. C. Post, a vessel of which he had personal command until he sold the same, in 1870. In 1871 he had charge of the tug Odd Fellow and in the opening of the following season of navigation he became master of the propeller E. B. Ward, Jr. In 1873 Captain Kirby became commodore of the extensive fleet and shipping interests of Eber B. Ward, of Detroit, with many vessels and vast interests under his supervision. He continued his able and faithful service in this important position until the death of his employer, Captain Ward, in 1875. In May of that year he accepted the position of master of the propeller Minneapolis, plying between Grand Haven, Michigan, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This was one of the fine steamers of the day, was operated in connection with the Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee Railroad, and was kept in commission throughout the entire year. The captain retained this command until 1880, when he permanently retired from the maritime service and purchased a fine farm in Ionia County, Michigan. This property he soon afterward sold, and he then returned with his family to Erie County, Ohio, and established his home at Huron, where he passed the remainder of his long and useful life. He paid his first visit to this port in 1836, when he was a youth of eighteen years, and he always held secure place in the esteem of the citizens of Erie County. In later years he served as mayor of the city and as justice of the peace, and while a president of Michigan he had held various public offices of minor sort. The captain was a staunch republican, and he was a charter member of the Huron Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons.

In 1842 Captain, Kirby wedded Miss Elizabeth Ann Robinson, who died in 1847 and who was survived by two infant children, Rhoda C. and Elizabeth A., both of whom eventually married and became residents of the City of Detroit, Michigan. The care of the motherless children was at once entrusted to their aunt, Miss Mary Maria Robinson, who was reared and educated in the City of Syracuse, New York and whose marriage to Captain Kirby was solemnized October, 1847. Of this union were born four children: Isabella, who is the wife of Jabez Wright; Austin A., who is a. resident of Detroit, Michigan; Eliza I., who is the wife of Capt. Addison H. Pearl, of Huron, concerning whom individual mention is made on other pages of this work; and Flora M., who died in 1874. Mrs. Kirby was born in the year 1825 and was summoned to the life eternal May 26, 1900, she and her husband having celebrated their golden wedding anniversary on the 25th of October, 1897, and the occasion having been made notable in the social annals of Huron, where the venerable couple had a circle of friends that was limited only by that of their acquaintances. Of Mrs. Kirby it has been said that she was one of those gracious and gentle women who "spent her life in caring for her family and doing good deeds wherever she could find an opportunity. She was so cheerful, so interesting, so lovable that her presence always seemed to brighten and cheer all with whom she came in contact, and her counsel was sought, on account of her wise, well guarded opinions and her high ideals of right and duty."

From:
A Standard History of Erie County, Ohio
By: Hewson L. Peeke
Assisted by a Board of Advisory Editors
The Lewis Publishing Company Chicago and New York 1916


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