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Monday, June 3, 2013

Family: Captain John Madden

Son of James Madden and Anna Fitsimmons
( 1859  Albany NY - 10 Dec 1907 Tonawanda NY)

Like his brother, Thomas, John grew up working on the river in Albany.  He was still living with his father at the time of the 1880 census, and it is unknown when he settled in Tonawanda, NY or if he had lived anywhere else in the interim.

John married Theodora Strong on 8 Jan 1894 in Tonawanda, NY with his brother James Madden in attendance. Dora's sister Isabella had married Michael Madden of Saginaw some years before.  At this time no connection has been found between Michael and the family of James Madden of Albany.  We are looking for a direct male line descendant to provide a DNA sample.

While Thomas handled the ship logistics and James handled the lumber side, John was a respected Great Lakes Captain.  It appears that they worked together throughout their lives and owned some ships in partnership.  At least one reference was found to "Madden Bros."
North Tonawanda Evening News 31 Oct 1900

Newspapers and ship directories throughout the Great Lakes area give information on the ships he sailed and throw in a few hints about his personality.  For example, the Tonawanda Evening News on 26 May 1904 reported that "The genial Captain has a new supply of jokes."

It appears that John and Dora lived with her mother and brother in a house at 409 Niagara Street, which was just one street from the Niagara River waterfront.  The house is still standing today, although it is possible that changes have been made.  Eliza was a widow and William H. Strong, also a ships Captain, never married.  With eight months of the year spent on the lakes, shared accommodations made sense.

John has not been found as the Captain of any particular ships before 1901 and family references said he was a pilot.  It is unknown at this time when he first was in charge. In 1901 J Madden was Captian of OW Blodgett's Sophia Minch. In 1902 of SR McLaren's AA Carpenter.  It is possible these two listings are for a different J. Madden.  We do know for certain that from 1903 to 1905 he was Captain of the Mautenee, in which he held 1/3 interest.  He is also listed as the owner manager of the Tracy J. Bronson in 1901. (1)  
North Tonawanda News

The New York Red Book 1906 p162
Like his brother James in Ashland, John became involved in the politics of the town he lived in,  and beyond.  He served on the Health commission, was a member of the Hose Company and ran for Assemblyman in 1903 losing with 44% of the vote.

North Tonawanda Evening News
24 April 1905
John's wife Dora also became involved in the shipping business.  Like many of the shipping wives, she was listed as one of the owners of the vessels.  In fact they were both part of the Strong Transportation Co. of Long Island that was formed in 1900.  That year, John and William H. Strong were sued by William Misner (married to another sister, Clara Strong) over ownership of the N.K. Fairbank (which had been re-enrolled as the Eliza H. Strong).  In the appeal to the court case (NY Court of Appeal 1905 v24)  it was shown that John had transferred his rights, title, and interest to Dora prior to 27 May 1899, he was released from the suit.  William Strong who had similarly transferred his interests to his mother was not.  The suit which had been brought to recover a fair share of the 1899 seasons profits and William was not excluded because he was manager of the vessel that year.

This is not the only ship that John might have had an interest in. He may have had partial interest in the HJ Webb, ownership was sometimes stated as TF Madden and sometimes as John F Madden.  In addition to the Tracy Bronson there may have been others, including the Mautenee.

John began the fateful year of 1905 first in directing the rebuilding of the Fred Meyer and then as Captain of the Mautenee which along with the Noquebay was in tow of the Lizzie Madden.  They arrived in port in N. Tonawanda on June 4th with a load of ore, John stating that the lumber in the northern lake ports was still too green to ship [Buffalo Express 4 Jun 1905].  

North Tonawanda Evening News
13 Nov 1905
Mary N Bourke
The terrible hurricane blowing through the Great Lakes before dawn on 20 October 1905 sank the Mautenee along with many other vessels. John, fortunate enough to save his life and crew, but without a ship, was available to bring the Mary N. Bourke home after yet another brother-in-law Capt. Phillip Heppner  (husband of Emma Strong) was injured.

Shipping on the lakes was not an easy life.  The strain of lost ships, lost cargos, and family discord takes its toll.  John, like his brother Thomas, died too early.  He passed away unexpectedly on 12 Dec 1905 at the age of 46 in his home in Tonawanda.  He is buried in St. Francis Cemetery.

North Tonawanda Evening News 12 Dec 1905
Dora lived to the age of 69.  She died quietly in her home on 6 Feb 1940 and is buried next to John in St. Francis Cemetery.  They had no children.

(1) 1901 BlueBook of American Shipping, Marine and Naval Directory of the United States. p107  Although the entry states he lived in Tonawanda it is assumed he is the same John that is listed in Bay City as owning one schooner.

Thank you to the Historical Society of the Tonawandas and St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church for their help in researching John Madden. 

See Old Fulton NY Postcards.for newspapers.


  1. Welcome to Geneabloggers!! Like your title, "Madden Moments" and the way you put together your post.

    Regards, Grant

  2. Saw your blog listed at Geneabloggers, congratulations. Love your posts they are very detailed.

    Take care,

    Moises Garza
    We Are Cousins - My personal blog about Northeastern Mexico and South Texas Genealogy

    Mexican Genealogy - Blog where anyone with Mexican roots can get started with their family genealogy and history.