Major John B. Downing was born in Rutland in February 1834, son of Rodney and Marian Black Downing. Educated at Marietta College, he spent 27 years as a pilot and boat owner on the Mississippi River, operating between St. Louis and New Orleans. Downing became one of the most experienced river boat pilots on the Mississippi. As such, he was sought after by Mark Twain to teach him piloting. Later Twain gave him the name "Alligator Jack" and referenced him in his book Life on the Mississippi. Downing also played a role in the Civil War, piloting the fleet in cooperation with General U.S. Grant past the Vicksburg fortress during the famed 1863 Vicksburg Campaign. Downing married Romaine Miller in 1868, and they had two sons, Miller R. and John B. Jr. An accomplished violinist, marksman, and hunter, Downing died in March 1914 and was buried in Middleport Hill Cemetery.