Moses A Boggan (1859–1950)

Moses A. Boggan: Great Lakes Captain

JP Marthia

Moses A. Boggan
Moses A. Boggan

Growing up, we were always intrigued by the stories we would hear about our great-great-grandfather, Moses Boggan. In all of our family documents, he is listed as being born in Wexford, on January 15, 1860, to Michael Boggan and Julia Meyler. When the parish records became available online, we were excited to be able to find a record of his birth and baptism. It took a while to find it, though, because he was apparently born on January 15, 1859. Moses was actually a year older than anyone knew.

We believe that Moses and his mother emigrated from Ireland in 1871, but are not certain about the details. A passenger list from 1871 includes a Moses Baggin (born about 1860) and his mother, Julia, arriving in New York that August. This seems to be a good possibility; however, there have always been family stories about how he served as a cabin boy when he left Ireland. We have not been able to prove (or disprove) that either. What we do know is that the family arrived in Buffalo, New York, and settled near the shores of Lake Erie by 1873. (His father, Michael Boggan, appears in the Buffalo City Directory for that year.) Michael, was a sailor and, according to Moses, his father served on the passenger clipper ship James Baines when it made its record-setting run in December 1854 from Liverpool to Melbourne. Michael died young (in 1876), but while he was in the U.S., he sailed on the Great Lakes. Moses followed in his father’s footsteps.

In 1876, Moses was working on his first ship, the David Vance, starting a long career on the water. Even though he was sailing that young, Moses continued to study and graduated from high school (St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute). At that time, it would have been easy to give up on his education – he was working, and his father had already died – but he continued.

Moses A. Boggan
Portrait of Moses painted after his marriage

In 1890, Moses was a mate on the Annie Young when it sank on Lake Huron. A number of sailors were lost when they panicked and disobeyed orders. This was one story that was repeated often to us as children. There were a number of newspaper articles written about the burning of the Annie Young, including a couple written many years later that included interviews that Moses gave. I was struck by the fact that he was quick with praise for the captain of the Edward Smith, which rescued them, and the actions of some of the crew members of the Annie Young. One article asked him if he had been one of the last to leave the boat. (We had always been told that he was one of the last off and that he helped to save others.) Moses did not answer the question directly, other than to say that it was “pretty darn hot” when he jumped. I think this speaks to his character.

Captain Moses A. Boggan
Moses as Captain of the Muncie

By 1902, Moses was a captain on the Great Lakes. His ship, the Conemaugh, sank in 1906 off of Pt. Pelee (Ontario, Canada); however, during his tenure as a captain, he also assisted in rescuing several ships. His last assignment was as captain of the Muncie from 1911 until 1914. In 1912, Moses made a record-setting run from Duluth to Chicago, recording the fastest time for a freighter. These stories are ones that we only learned of through older newspaper articles. Moses retired in 1914.

In 1914, after sailing the Great Lakes, he became an assistant federal steamboat inspector, working in that post until he retired July 1, 1932. During that time, he served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War I, but no other details or stories were ever shared about that time.

From all accounts, retirement did not suit him, and he yearned to stay busy. My great-grandmother used to tell a story about Moses working on the roof of their cottage when he was in his 80s. She would get upset with him and tell him to come down, and he would say, “This is nothing.”

Moses family home
The family home at 118 Carolina Street, Buffalo (Mary Ann Boggan, Babe Boggan, and a friend are pictured)

Moses married Mary Ann Canty in February 1892. Mary Ann was a very independent woman, and Moses would say that he never knew what she would have started when he came home. Many times it was a new business venture. Their family homes were on Carolina Street and then Baynes Street in Buffalo, the latter affectionately named “Snug Harbor.” Moses and Mary Ann had four children, but only two survived infancy. Mary Ann died in 1942. Their daughter never married, but their son became a father of three boys. Moses had nine great-grandchildren, all of whom he was able to meet before he died.

Mary Ann and Moses Boggan
Mary Ann and Moses Boggan

When he arrived for holiday or family dinners, Moses always sat at the head of the table. One of his great-grandchildren remembered that he would conveniently turn his hearing aid off before dinner so that he could sleep (waking him for dinner sometimes took some doing), or when he found the activity of so many little kids too noisy. Several were a bit frightened of their gruff great-grandfather, but one of the girls would sit on his lap whenever he came over and be rewarded with a coin after sharing some conversation. As they grew older, my great grandmother would tell her grandchildren the story of how Moses claimed he had seen Abraham Lincoln walking down a dirt street in D.C. when he first came to this country. Considering that Lincoln died before he arrived, this seems to be more of a tall tale. It is possible, however, that this was a story from his father, Michael, who most likely arrived several years before his family.

Moses was active in the Roman Catholic church and was a member of the Knights of Columbus. He was very devoted to the Blessed Virgin and went to mass regularly during the week in his later years. The fact that Moses died after suffering a heart attack at mass on one of her feast days (December 8, 1950) seemed to some of his relatives like a special sign from heaven.

Moses is buried in Mt. Olivet cemetery (Section B, 280, #2) with his wife, daughter, and grandson.


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