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Scots and Scots Descendant in America
Part V - Biographies
James Shewan

JAMES SHEWAN, founder of the largest dry dock and ship-repairing plant in the port of New York, was a native of Aberdeenshire, born January 6, 1848, at Rora, near Peterhead, the son of James and Agnes Robertson Shewan. His father died when he was four years of age. James attended school for only a few years, and in his early teens was apprenticed to a ship-carpenter; during this time he studied diligently in night-school. His first voyage was to Greenland, where the ship was held by the ice for three and a half months, and they almost gave up hope of ever getting back to Scotland. Soon after his return he went to London and went on a voyage with his uncle, a sea captain, to Singapore, and for four years the ship traded in tea at various ports in China, Japan and Australia. He came from Yokohama to New York in 1869, at the age of twenty-one, and worked at his trade for four months; and then started a dry-dock and ship-repairing business under the name of Shewan & Palmer, which afterward became Shewan & Jenkins. In 1877 he bought out Mr. Jenkins, and for thirty-six years carried on the business independently.

Mr. Shewan was most successful in building up a large and prosperous business. The plant is ideally situated at the foot of Twenty-fifth, Twenty-sixth and Twenty-seventh Streets, Brooklyn, and has the most extensive tonnage of any yard in America; four of the docks were moved from Manhattan in 1913. It is central to all of the principal steamship piers in the entire port; also is directly on the forty-foot Bay Ridge Channel connecting with the Ambrose Channel, thereby enabling vessels of the deepest draught to be dry-docked or moored alongside at any stage of the tide. The ship-building plant consists of machine-shop, boiler-shop, joiner-shop, steam forge, cooper and blacksmith shops, and has every appliance necessary for dry dock and for repairing ocean steamships in all branches of workmanship. It employs regularly about two thousand men, and the firm is one of the busiest in the port of New York. The yard is equipped with a modern electric-lighting plant, thus enabling the work to go on day and night. The largest dry dock can lift out of the water a ship of 12,000 tons. It is constructed of steel, and is of the type adopted by the British Admiralty for docking warships. Mr. Shewan also invested largely in valuable real estate, and accummulated a fortune that enabled him to finance his shipyard without accommodation from banks or any other concern.

Since Mr. Shewan’s death, May 7, 1914, the business, previously incorporated as James Shewan & Sons, has been continued under the able management of his sons, James Shewan, President, and Edwin A. Shewan, Vice-President. The sons received their training from an early age under their father, beginning at the bottom and earning every promotion. There is not a detail of the business of which they do not have a practical knowledge.

In 1870 Mr. Shewan married Miss Ellen Curley, a native of Cardiff, South Wales, a most congenial and inspiring companion. They had two sons, James and Edwin Arthur, and three daughters, Nellie, Agnes and Ada.

Mrs. Shewan and her accomplished daughters spend the summers on their estate, "Inverugie," on the banks of the Hudson, opposite West Point, one of the most beautiful in the Highlands; their winters, in New York and in travel. Mrs. Shewan is a gracious and generous mother, and kindly and hospitable to the many friends of the family.

Mr. Shewan was a genuine Scot, broad-minded and warm-hearted, fond of golf and all out-door sports. Notwithstanding his busy life, he improved his mind by reading and by extensive travel, so that he was well-posted on all literary subjects, especially history. He made many tours in Great Britain and on the Continent, in his own car, always accompanied by his esteemed wife and charming daughters, who were his constant companions. His home-life was most refined and hospitable; and he delighted in entertaining his many friends on his private golf links at "Inverugie." He was a member of St. Andrew’s Society of the State of New York, and had all the qualities of the Scottish race, which he exhibited in his daily life. He took a friendly interest in and was greatly respected by the army of workmen whom he employed and applied in his business the ethics of the Presbyterian faith, in which he was brought up and lived.

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