The navigators of the Great Lakes are a distinct class from those who sail the ocean, but their calling is none the less exacting in the requirement of skill, physique, and powers of endurance, united with good judgment and genial personality. Perhaps no master mariner about the chain of lakes has combined these characteristics to a greater degree than the subject of this sketch. Commodore B.B. Inman, the prominent tug owner of Duluth and Superior. There is no better criterion by which to judge a man than by his standing as an exponent of the calling which he follows, and it may be said that as a tug man, the Captain has but few equals. He is the son of Jerome B. and Cordelia (Smith) Inman, both natives of Ray, Macomb Co., Mich., which was also the birthplace of Captain Inman, who was born May 3, 1849. A few years later he removed with his parents to Port Huron, Mich., where he attended the public schools and enjoyed the other episodes natural and essential to the life of a boy, until he reached the age of fourteen years.
It was in the spring of 1863 that Captain Inman opened his lakefaring career as cabin boy on the little steamer Belle, Captain Hagedon being in command. The next season he shipped before the mast on the schooner Ocean Wave, and being a well-grown lad he performed the duties usually devolving upon able seaman. In the spring of 1865 he joined the schooner Abe Lincoln, and it was while in her that he laid the foundation of his perfect knowledge of the intricacies of the Detroit river, under the tutelage of Capt. Benjamin Dove. This was followed by a season in the schooner E.M. Carrington as seaman. In 1867 the Captain was advanced to the position of wheelsman, and later to that of second mate on the steamer Mayflower, with Captain Sprague, closing the season in the old Concord, plying between Buffalo and Chicago, also Duluth, John McKay, afterward lost on the Manistee being master.
During the winter of 1867-68 Captain Inman, in company with two friends, built the schooner-rigged scow Hannah Moore at Port Huron, and two years later he began his tugboat life, which has been remarkably successful. At the age of twenty-one he shipped as mate and wheelsman on the tug George E. Brockway, of the Moffat line, passing the next two seasons as mate on the tug Clematis with Capt. Sol Rumage. In the spring of 1873 he was appointed mate in the tug Sweepstakes, one of the most notable boats on the lakes, with Capt. Frank Welcome, and before the end of the season he was advanced to the position of commander on the Zouave, then in the Strong line, under the management of John R. Gillet, in which employ he continued until the fall of 1881, having sailed successively the tugs Stranger, I.U. Masters, Satellite, Sweepstakes, and Champion. While in command of the latter tug Captain Inman had the distinction of towing through the Detroit river the largest tow on record, consisting of the schooners B.F. Bruce, Porter, Scotia, C.C. Barnes, J.H. Bentley, Knight Templar, and E.M. Davidson, seven vessels with a tonnage of 4,323, their cargoes amounting to 286,000 bushels of wheat, and another schooner going down light. This tow was photographed as it passed down, and a colored print struck off, a copy of which can now be found in nearly every ship broker's office around the lakes.
In the spring of 1882 Captain Inman was appointed master of the steamer Hiawatha, owned by the Wilson Transit Company, then one of the finest vessels on the lakes. He sailed her two seasons, and in 1884 brought out new the fine steamer Kasota. She was one of the largest vessels and was launched on Saturday with machinery and everything necessary on board, and on Monday loaded with 2,000 tons of coal consigned to Milwaukee, performing the feat, difficult at that time, of passing down the Cuyahoga river without a tug. It was in 1885 that Captain Inman went to Duluth to engage in the towing business, the tug John L. Williams, which he purchased from Capt. Thomas Maytham, of Buffalo, being the nucleus of the Strong line, which he afterward owned and operated. The next season he added the tug Cora B. (her name being afterward changed to Walton B.), followed in 1887 by the iron tug Record, named in honor of the Marine Record, published by A.A. Pomeroy in Cleveland. The Record soon became a favorite boat with Captain Inman, and won many laurals[sic] as an ice breaker at the head of navigation. Other vessel property was then added to the line in order named: David Sutton, which was the first fireboat at Duluth; Mary Virginia; O.W. Cheney; Courier; C.W. Liken; schooner Belle Stevens; steamer Ossifrage; D.M. Carrington; Lida; Buffalo; Effie L.; Joe D. Dudley and Pearl B. Campbell. Captain Inman devoted his entire time to the management of this large fleet. In the spring of 1892 the tugs L.L. Lyon, Bob Anderson, F.H. Stanwood and schooner Glad Tidings were added, together with the tug Mystic, which was purchased from Alderman Helm some time later. During this period opposition tug lines came into port, but after a short and hot tug of war, Captain Inman became the owner of the rival tugs, consisting of the Pathfinder, A.C. Adams and James Fiske. In the meantime he had disposed of the David Sutton, Mary Virgina, O.W. Cheney, Courier, J.C. Liken, Belle Stevens, Ossifrage, and Walton B. At the high tide of his affairs the Captain owned twenty-two vessels of all classes and engaged largely in raft towing and wrecking. At the time of this writing he operated ten tugs - the W.B. Castle, B.B. Inman, Record, Bob Anderson, L.L. Lyon, M.D. Carrington, Buffalo, J.L. Williams, Ed Fiske, and A.C. Adams. He has twenty-seven issues of master's license, and during his long career on the lakes in responsible positions has never lost a vessel or caused the insurance company any expense. Not a life has been lost or an injury of a serious nature while he was in immediate command.
Captain Inman has invented and patented a model of a steamboat, with a ram bow for the purpose of winter navigation. The salient or important features of the purposed new craft is in shape of the bow; the forefront of the ram bow extends about twenty feet beyond the perpendicular bow; making the forward part of the ship partake somewhat of the design of the ploughshare, the projecting ram going under the ice and throwing it up and away from the boat, on each side. The widest part of the boat will be at the bluff of the bow and will be constructed after the lines of the iron tug Record, or some of the new modern steamers. The forefoot and bow of the new steamer will be plated with steel one and a half inches thick, and by the force of the great horse power will be able to cut her way through the ice of any thickness likely to be found on the lakes. Expert engineers and marine architects, to whom the Captain has submitted the plans, speak very highly of its utility for the purpose to which it is to be applied.
Socially, he is a member of the Ship Masters Association, and holds Pennant No. 96. He is also a member of the Order of Elks and of the beneficial order of the Black Cat. Possessed of a personality so rare and magnetic, he gains friends rapidly and retains their respect and esteem. In his domestic and social life Captain Inman is exceedingly happy, his wife, Mrs. May R. (Conniff) Inman, taking an interest in all that pertains to the Captain's marine business, in fact is herself a skillful pilot, and it is interesting to note, is the only lady on the lakes who holds a license as pilot, issued by the United States authorities. This paper was granted her May 30, 1895, by John Monaham, and Michael F. Calk, local inspector for the Duluth district, she being recommended by Capt. Richard Neville and Capt. John Lowe. Mrs. Inman has sailed the tug Ariel as master, and has been pilot of the side-wheel steamer E.T. Carrington, plying as a pleasure boat on the St. Lewis bay and river. She also stood as watch and pilot with the Captain when they received the new tug B.B. Inman at Port Huron, took her to Cleveland and thence to Duluth; and was mate and pilot of the tug Bob Anderson when she was brought to Duluth after having been sunk near Detroit. She had in tow the L.L. Lyon, scow Grey Oak, schooner Glad Tidings, and the tug Stanwood. While on the way up to Duluth, May 29, 1893, with this tow, they were overtaken by a severe snowstorm, but by great skill succeeded in making a safe haven at Grand Marais. She is an enthusiast on the subject of yachting and can handle a sail boat of any rig to perfection. As the foregoing is evidence that Mrs. Inman is a courageous and loyal woman, so there is a softer trait in her temperament, which is developed by her artistic studies, she being a painter of rare merit, her work, however, tending to marine subjects, which she produces in oil and water colors with harmony of detail and good effects, although she also essays floral and landscape work. Her pencil sketches are executed with rapidity and accuracy. Her kodak, which is an inseparable companion, serves to fill her portfolios with charming gems, those of a marine character again predominating. In truth, Mrs. Inman is a valuable shipmate for the Commodore, as her hand is steady and firm, yet gentle and tender.
The family homestead is a fine modern structure situated on Superior street, Duluth, overlooking Lake Superior.
History of the Great Lakes, Vol. 2 by J.B. Mansfield
Published Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co. 1899
INMAN, B.B. , (St. S.), 1895 , Official No. U3651
The Jenks Ship Building Co. will build a tug for Capt. Byron Inman of Duluth
this winter. The contract was closed today. The new tug will be about the size
and style of the tug BOYNTON.
Port Huron Daily Times
Saturday, January 12, 1895
The Jenks Ship Building Co. will complete B. Inman's new tug about June 1.
Port Huron Daily Times
Friday, April 19, 1895
The Tug B.B. INMAN was launched on Thursday from the yard of the Jenks Ship Building Co. The INMAN is a duplicate of the tug C.D. THOMPSON but has more power, the engines measuring 18 inches and 34 inches by 30 inches stroke. When completed she will go to Duluth.
Port Huron Daily Times
Friday, June 7, 1895
Steam screw B.B. INMAN. U.S. No. 3651. Of 89.03 gross tons; 60.55 tons net. Built at Port Huron, Mich., in 1895. Home port, Port Huron, Mich. 81.0 x 19.0 10.6
Merchant Vessel List, U.S., 1897
OSSIFRAGE , (prop), 1888Capt. Inman, the enterprising owner and manager of the Inman tug Line of this city, has just added to his fleet a boat of more than ordinary importance it being no less than the stm. ASSIFRAGE (sic), built a year ago at Bay City by F.W. Wheeler. The boat is a fine excursion steamer capable of carrying 800 passengers and with stateroom accommodations for 100. She also has complete kitchen arrangements for dining large companies, and as a commodious and fine excursion steamer. Arragements are being made whereby excursions can be run here during the summer from interior cities with a turn around the lake on the ASSIFRAGE as a culmination of the trip.