This is a letter written by Christian J. Kelly to his cousin Edward Steers at Indianapolis, Ind. from Ypsilanti, Mich. These men were my Grandfather Jesse Burbank's cousins. (by Maud Cynthia Williams Eaton)
April 13, 1916
Dear Cousin: You have asked me to tell you what I know about Grandfather William Steers. I cannot give any dates but can tell you what my mother and grandmother have told me many times. William was born Oct. 12, 1772 and I am not sure whether in London or Liverpool, England. His Father, John Steers was a sea captain. He had five children, one of whom I think was a girl by the name of Mary. John, the oldest son, was a member of parliament and a man of considerable influence. The names of the other children I do not remember. William, the youngest, was his father's favorite. When he was six years old he took him on board a vessel with him and kept him until he grew up. He was a splendid officer and the government impressed him aboard a man-of-war six times. His father succeeded in ransoming him out five times but the last time he was only out of service twenty four hours when they impressed him again. After they would not let him go. He serve two years. At the end of this time the vessel had to go home for repairs. They then gave eighty of the crew including William and two friends furlough for thirty day to go home. William and his two friends had made up their minds to desert and go to America if they got the chance. There was by chance an American vessel in port ready to go to America that night so they went to one of the officers of the vessel and told him what they intended to do and asked if he could help but he did not dare to do anything openly. He also told them that the vessel would sail that night at 11 o'clock. During the first watch which he had and that the hatches wouldn't be closed till the last thing, that the crew was all on shore having a good time and wouldn't come aboard until after dark at which time they would not be in condition to notice much. He told them to watch their chance and come on board when the crew did and slip down the hatch into the hole and hide the best they could so that if they were found he would not be responsible for stowaways. This they did. He did not have time to see his father but went to see his mother and sister, Mary. They tried to get him not to go and told him that if he was caught he would be hung for deserting. He relied that he would rather die than to go thru what he had. They gave him money they had and he left. William and his friends succeeded on getting aboard the American ship all right, but were soon missed by their own men. A boat was sent out and the American ship was overhauled and searched three times but since no one saw them come on board they weren't found. They landed in Halifix, Nova Scotia where the governor of British possessions was located at that time. They went to the Governor and told their story and as they only had about three months longer to serve until their time was out. He told them to go on board one of his ships and serve the rest of their time and then come to him and he would give them their discharges so that they could then go to the United States and take out citizenship papers and become a free man.
This they did. I do not know where Grandfather went after he left Halifix, whether direct to Detroit or some other place. Nor do I know where he became acquainted and married his first wife. He sailed the lakes in summer and lived in the winter in Detroit and of course took sides with the United States. His ship was captured by the English and he was taken prisoner, recognized and put in irons by the English and was taken to England to be hung as a deserter. The government of the United States notified the English that Captain Steers was a citizen of the US and if they hung him two English officers, a Major and a Colonel, would be hung in his place. They also sent word that they would be willing to exchange for him. The English government sent word that they would do that if William would sign a parole agreeing not to take up arms against England. He went home just before Perry's victory was fought as he had the name of being the best captain. Perry wanted him to take charge of the Niagara, one of his ships. Acting in this capacity Perry said he would not be considered as taking up arms in violation of his parole and would also be worth more to him than if he did. He did as Perry requested and took part in the Battle of Lake Erie and Perry afterwards said the handling of the Niagara by Captain Steers had as much to do with his gaining the victory as did the fighting. After the war was closed he returned home, Grandmother pursuaded him to leave the lakes and go into the boarding house business. Provisions being high he decided to go down to Buffalo and get supplies. He took passage on the boat he had sailed for years. When they had gotten down in Lake Erie opposite Sandusky near the place where Perry's victory was gained a violent storm struck while he was on deck helping the crew, some of the rigging blew down and hit him on the back and knocked him overboard. His body was never recovered that we know of. He had fifteen hundred dollars in gold in a leather belt strapped around his body and this may have weighted him down so he never floated. If his body was found the temptation to keep this money was so great that the finder never let it be known.
Grandmother went back to the farm with the children and lived there until Uncle William married his second wife. She then came to Ypsilanti and lived with Mother (Sarah Ann Steers who married Christian Kelly) until her death, March 20, 1850 and is buried there. John, William's oldest son went for himself soon after Grandfather's death and never came back to Michigan. Eliza lived with grandmother until she married Mr. Burbank. After her marriage and until her death she lived on a farm near Dearborn, Mich. I think Jesse is mistaken in regard to grandfather marrying his first wife in France. I know he never dared to go back to England because he was afraid of being arrested for deserting. That is also why he always sailed the lake.
With best regards,
Your loving Cousin
Christian James Kelly