Jim Watson Towboat, Peru, LaSalle County IL

Contributed by Pete Swanson

Among the family possessions is the attached picture of the Jim Watson towboat. It is noted on the back by writing of his daughter, my grandmother, that this was one of the riverboats Captained by Frederick Daft. A newspaper clipping by a local historian of Peru, Illinois dated 1973 states that this boat worked the Illinois River about 1895. Ways Steam Towboat Directory states that this boat operated from 1858-1896 when it burned in New Orleans. However, The Waterways Journal, has it listed until 1899 in 8 articles from 1888-1899. It is very possible this was one of several boats that Frederick Daft Captained. He most likely worked for Huse and Loomis. They owned the Polar Wave that Frederick took to New Orleans and the company operated from Peru, Illinois where it started and St. Louis, Missouri and Paducah, Kentucky. They also operated the Mississippi River Transportation Co. out of St.Louis. They began as an ice delivery firm, delivering ice gathered from the Illinois River sloughs to points south.Pete Swanson, gr.grandson of Frederick DaftSouth Haven, MI

My gr.gr. grandfather, Charles Daft and his wife Ann Hand Daft, brought their family to America in Oct 1849. Charles and his two oldest sons are listed as sawyers. The family's first stop was Sullivan Co., N.Y. Here the eldest son is married and so is their oldest daughter.In the Illinois Civil War records their son Thomas shows up in Feb 1862. He is living in Bath, Mason Co., Illinois and is listed as a boatman. This town is along the Illinois River.

By Apr. 1862 his Civil War record ends with him dying in Paducah, KY of his wounds received from the battle of Pittsburg Landing (Shiloh). He was just 22 years old.The rest of the family don't show up until the 1870 census. Ann is now a widow and son Frederick age 26 is listed as a River Pilot. They are living in Peru, Illinois on the Illinois River.

On the same census is brother Charles and his family. Charles is listed as a Riverboat Captain. During this time period a cousin, John Daft age 31, is drowned in Dec. 1875 as reported in a news article. He worked for Huse and Loomis Ice and Transportation Co. of Peru, Illinois. He fell through the ice at DePue, Illinois on his way out to check the ice barges for the company. His cousin Henry Daft River Boat Captain recovers his body and brings it back to Peru for a funeral.

Henry Daft, other than this news article, doesn't show up on the census until 1880 in Peru, Illinois. Here he is listed as a River boat Captain. He next shows up in Chicago where he dies in 1894. By 1880 Charles and Frederick and families and their widow mother are in the Hyde Park area of Chicago. They are operating a livery business.

Charles stays in Chicago and dies in 1897. The mother, Ann, dies in 1887. Their death certificates and Chicago Voter Registration for Charles give the arrival of the family in Illinois as 1857. The voter Registration gives Charles naturalization as 1858 in Cook County Court.

By June of 1887 Frederick and family are back in Peru, Illinois. When they move back isn't known, but a divorce filed by his wife Kate and finalized in June 1887 states that Frederick is a Riverboat Captain and that he runs a very profitable saloon in the Commercial Hotel on Water Street. This is on the Illinois riverfront.

By August 1887 Frederick has remarried in Bloomington, Illinois to Carrie his love interest mentioned in the divorce papers.Frederick and his new family settle in St.Louis, Missouri. He is mentioned on three occasions in The Waterways Journal 1890-1900. In one article he is mentioned as being in Paducah, Kentucky. In another he is in Command of the Polar Wave and responsible for delivering the boat to New Orleans. In the last article he is one of many Riverboat Captains to speak about the need for a 1000 foot span for the third bridge being built at St.Louis. Also mentioned in The Waterways Journal are his two sons Henry and William from his first marriage.

William is listed as mate on the Borealis Rex as it made its last trip of the season on the Illinois River in 1898 and Henry is mentioned as being elected to membership in Harbor 28, Masters and Pilots. Frederick dies in St.Louis in 1912 and his death certificate lists his occupation a Riverboat Captain.

-- Pete Swanson

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