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Biographical Review: Greene, Schoharie and Schenectady Counties, New York
Captain James Stead

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[This information is from pp. 393-395 of Biographical Review Volume XXXIII: Containing Life Sketches of Leading Citizens of Greene, Schoharie and Schenectady Counties, New York (Boston: Biographical Review Publishing Company, 1899). It is in the collection of the Grems-Doolittle Library of the Schenectady County Historical Society at 920 BIO.]

Captain James Stead, superintendent and manager of the Catskill and New York Steamboat Evening Line at Catskill, N. Y., was born in Cairo, this State, on May 23, 1832, his parents being David and Hannah (Mackelwaite) Stead.

The father, David Stead, was born in Huddersfield, England, and in early life was employed there in a woollen manufactory. He came to America when forty years of age, and settled in Cairo, where he bought a farm. For a time he carried on a woollen manufactory in Woodstock, a part of Cairo, but he subsequently closed out the business and engaged in farming. He died at the age of eighty, after having lived retired for some time in the village of Cairo. He was an old-time Whig, but though warmly interested in all public affairs was never an aspirant for office. His wife, Hannah, who also was of English birth, died in Cairo at the age of seventy-nine. She bore him four children, of whom there are living — James, John, and Levi. John, who resides in Cairo at the old homestead, carries on a boarding-house; Levi is in business in Chicago; and Charles is deceased. Both parents were members of the Episcopal church.

James Stead left home at eighteen years of age; and went to work as clerk in the office of Penfield, Day & Co., who managed a steamboat line between New York and Catskill. In time he rose to be a captain, and he was in their employ in that capacity for several years. Subsequently, for three years, he was captain of a steamer owned by Hamilton & Smith, and engaged in freighting between New Baltimore and New York, and at the end of that time he acted as salesman for the same firm on a line of boats plying between Coxsackie and New York. For a year during the Civil War he was in the employ of the government, acting as inspector of the bay for the army, it being his duty to load schooners at Jersey City and make reports to Quartermaster Brown. For the next three years after this he was captain of the "New Champion," a boat owned by Black & Donohue, running from Catskill to New York; and, following that, he was for two years in company with Mr. George H. Penfield, his first employer, running a line of barges. Then, for a second period of three years, he was master of the "New Champion," and at the end of that time he became one of the organizers of the Catskill and New York Steamboat Company.

Mr. Donohue was superintendent of the company at the start, and Captain Stead was in command of one of the boats; but, upon the death of Mr. Donohue, Captain Stead was made superintendent and general manager. At first there were two small boats, the "New Champion" and the "Water Brette." These were superseded after a time by the "Escort" and the "Charlotte Vanderbilt," which were much larger boats and which were in turn superseded by others of still greater capacity. In 1880 the company built the "City of Catskill," which has a keel two hundred and forty-seven feet in length, beam thirty-five feet in width, and sixty-one feet over all, and has a carrying capacity of five hundred tons and accommodations for two hundred and fifty passengers. In 1882 was built the "Katterskill," two hundred and eighty-five feet in length, thirty-eight feet beam, and sixty-six feet over all, and capable of accommodating five hundred passengers. This is, one of the finest boats on the river, and one of the most popular. Both these boats were built under Captain Stead's constant supervision, and they met the needs of the business until 1893, when the "Escort" was rebuilt and her name changed to the "City of Hudson." In 1898 the "Onteora" was built, length two hundred and forty-seven feet, beam thirty-five feet, and sixty-three feet over all, and capable of carrying six hundred people. She was built for night service, and is the fastest night boat afloat, having a speed of twenty-three miles an hour. She has made the run from New York to Catskill, a distance of one hundred and twenty miles, and made one landing, in four hours and twenty minutes. Captain Stead takes much pride in this boat, as she was built by his plans and measurements. She is fitted with every convenience for the comfort of guests. This company is a stock concern, and does a large and constantly increasing business. Their boats connect with the Catskill Mountain Railroad, and in the summer they carry a large number of tourists and quantities of freight.

Captain Stead was married in 1865 to Rachel F. Pettit, who was born in Dutchess County, a daughter of Lewis Pettit. One child has blessed this union, Ida H., now the wife of Charles I. Fiero, superintendent of the Pratt branch of the Standard Oil Company in Greenpoint. Mr. and Mrs. Fiero have one daughter, Rachel S.

The Captain is a Republican in politics. In 1879 he was elected Sheriff, which office he held until 1882, when he declined to serve longer. In 1883 he was elected to the legislature, where he served one year. He is a prominent man in his party, was for a long time a member of the County Committee, and has many times been a delegate to Republican conventions. He helped nominate Governor Morton. For three years he was a trustee of the village, and for a year president of the Board of Trustees. Captain Stead has the distinction of having been longer in the boating business than any other man on the Hudson. He built his present residence in 1897. He is a trustee of the Catskill Savings Bank, and president of the Catskill Ferry Company running between Catskill and Catskill Station, and an owner in the last-named corporation. He is also one of the directors of the Hudson Steamboat Company. He attends the Methodist Episcopal church, of which his wife and daughter are members.

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