John Island’s Stolen Sawmill – Summer 1952

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By W. R. Williams

With east-west length of four and two- thirds miles, by almost a mile and one half greatest breadth, uninhabited John Island rises to 250 feet in Georgian Bay’s North Channel, twenty miles east of Blind River, and the same distance west of Little Current. It appears to have remained unnamed and unnoticed until a stolen sawmill was unloaded at the harbour near the eastern end. Milelong Aikens Island stretches east and west across its entrance and makes it a perfectly sheltered basin. A four-fathom channel enters it from the north, and a fourteen-foot channel leads in from the east. This suited the needs of a lumberman named John Moyles, who conspired with his three brothers, George, Bart and Jim to steal a sawmill from Detour, Michigan, then towed it across the international boundary and re-erected it at what is now called Molles Harbour. It remained in operation for over twenty years.

In 1890, or thereabouts, the four Moyles brothers, whose home was in Saginaw, Michigan, built a large well-equipped sawmill at Detour, but when it came to securing their raw material, the logging and other operating expenses were so high that they were soon in financial difficulties. The owners of the timber limit advanced them more capital so that they might increase the capacity of their mill, and they bought new machinery, but still operated at a loss.

Bart Moyles was a clever and none too scrupulous lawyer, and devised a plan whereby he and his brothers could save their mill from being taken over by the creditors. They planned to steal their own mill, and transport it by water to Canada. Elaborate preparations were made to carry off the sawmill at the time of the spring break-up. Tugboats and lighters were brought up Lake Huron from Saginaw to Detour, under pretense of taking back lumber cargoes, but, to the surprise of their crews, were tied up at the sawmill instead of the lumber wharf. Meantime, every bit of the mill machinery was being dismantled behind closed doors within the mill walls, although two watchmen had been deputed to protect the interests of the Alpena firm which had financed the improvements. Artifice was used to circumvent them.

Putting a bottle of liquor where one of them could find it was all that was necessary to render him hors de combat. The other watchman was more difficult to handle, but the conspirators got him out of the way by having a man rush in about 6:30 P. M. and tell him that his wife was about to give birth to a baby, and that he was wanted at home forthwith. He left on horseback but the horse had been doctored so that it would become ill on the road. As a result the watchman was forced to walk the final seven miles. He arrived exhausted to find his wife in good health. Suspecting nothing, he waited until morning before beginning his return to Detour.

A typical Great Lakes Sawmill, ca. 1905

Meanwhile, after both watchmen had been disposed of, the mill crew and tug crews united their efforts and lost no time in loading the machinery and mill frame on the two large lighters. Everything was loaded, including engines, boilers, tramways, jack-ladder, lumber, trucks and all equipment. Even the nails that held the siding were taken, and the total value of the property, outside of real estate, left at Detour did not exceed five dollars. By 1:30 A.M. everything was on board the two lighters, the tugs had steam up, every person was at his post, and the convoy got under way. When morning dawned, the convoy was about seven miles from Detour, fiercely battling the drift ice. About 4:30 P. M. it crossed the international boundary, somewhere in the vicinity of Whiskey Point, St. Joseph’s Island, and was safely in Canadian waters.

When the watchman returned to Detour, he quickly found that the large sawmill and all its trimmings had disappeared, although the tugs and their lighters were still in sight. He rushed to the telegraph office to wire his chiefs at Alpena, and the sheriff at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, but discovered the wires had been cut. Next day the sheriff caught up with the runaway sawmill. John Moyles was captain of one of the tugs. He feared the sheriff might try to get a line aboard the lighter he was towing, and attempt to pull it back across the international boundary. Seizing a rifle, he strode to the stern of his tug, and in a loud voice warned the pursuing sheriff that if he attempted to board any part of his fleet he would drill such a hole through his body that his friends would be able to see next Christmas through him, and that his heart might fall overboard, and be separated from his body for a considerable period. The result of this hostile demonstration was that the frustrated sheriff returned to Sault Ste. Marie without accomplishing his purpose.

The little pirate fleet remained imprisoned in the ice by an onshore wind for three days. The wind then changed, and the ice moved so that the two tugs and their lighters were able to proceed north through Worsley Bay, and then through the western part of the North Channel, calling, but not tying up at Thessalon and Blind River.

No trouble was experienced with the Canadian customs officials, and the stolen sawmill, after a few days was re-erected by willing hands at Mailes Harbour, on John Island.

Two and one-half to three fathoms was ample depth for schooners and steam barges to tie up at the lumber wharf that was constructed. Two parallel lines of cribwork, with room for schooners to proceed between them were next built a short distance eastward, in Mailes Harbour, to provide additional piling space.

One of the two tugs was used to tow lumber-laden lighters from the mill wharf to the cribwork, besides assisting schooners during their arrival and departure. Schooners chose either the northern or eastern entrance to make best use of the breeze that was blowing. The remaining tug was employed to bring log-rafts to the mill through the north channel. The cribwork, as well as the wharf, remains to be seen by visitors, and both appear in the accompanying air view of Mailes Harbour. The daring and successful exploit of stealing an entire sawmill intrigued the hundreds of bush workers along the North Channel, and they found delight in recounting the story of the stolen sawmill to the crews of tugs whenever they arrived to tow log-rafts to the sawmills on the southern shore of Georgian Bay.

It would form an agreeable close to this story to state that John Moyles and his three brothers finally achieved financial success with their sawmill in Canada, after being dogged by failure in the United States, but the facts are otherwise. After operating their mill on John Island for a number of years, they sold it to Guy Multhrope of Bay City, who had been operating along the Onoping River, west of Sudbury. Multhrope then remained in possession of the sawmill until he retired from lumbering, due to depletion of the timber limits.

On Sunday, April 17, 1918, this historic sawmill was totally destroyed by fire along with the other buildings in its vicinity. Since then, John Island has remained uninhabited, except for a few Indians who camp on it during the summer in order to fish.

In one thing John Moyles was successful beyond contradiction, and that was in giving his name to an island over four miles long in Georgian Bay. A number of islands commemorate Royal Navy officers, but in the whole world there is only one island that honors a man who stole a sawmill. His name was John.

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Waters Astern – Spring 1952

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By Herbert W. Dosey

Many changes have come to the lakes since the advent of their discovery by white men. Their waves have danced to the songs of the early voyageurs and their shores have echoed the thunder of Naval combat. They afforded access to the hinterlands of the central west and they served mightily in the winning of the far west. With the founding of settlements a feeble commerce was born which grew to a robust activity as immigrants pursued the setting sun. The canoe, bateau, schooner, brig, and steamship developed through overlapping cycles during a continuous transition which ultimately produced the supercarrier of the present era. The term “boat” as commonly applied to the huge modern lake vessels is a carry over from that period in early history when the bateau and the Mackinac boat were the common carrier. According to definition a ship is, “any decked vessel capable of self propulsion,” which quite obviously disqualifies lakes vessels from the “boat” category.

The first few ships were manned by a courageous lot of migratory adventurers, but increased shipping attracted sailors from the eastern seaboard as rumors of better food, higher wages and shorter trips infiltrated the coastal boarding houses. Many Scandinavian, English, Scotch and Dutch seamen came to the Great Lakes sailing ships, and with them came a colorful array of nautical terms which were adopted with modification by lake men. However, since the Ohio farm lad, the Michigan woodsman and the Canadian pioneer were unfamiliar with the new jargon, we find such prevalent redundancy as, “up forward,” “back aft” and “down below.” Thus all doubt was removed as to the meaning of a term and so deeply were these terms implanted that they persist to this day and rare is the lake sailor who says, – “forward,” ” aft” and “below.” Early Maritime laws and seaman traditions led to the adoption of ocean shipping customs such as the signing of articles by crew members, paying off in cash at the end of each trip and the issuance of customs clearance from all ports of departure. The waterfront population of the principal ports grew as shipping increased, and the saloons, bawdy houses and brothels expanded numerically to lure the lonesome tar.

During the equinoctial storms of years gone by, when the falling leaves swirled in eddies around homes ashore, the oft repeated phrase, “Pity the sailors on a night like this,” was fervently uttered by the kin of seafarers, but the wag in the tavern who corrupted it to “Pity the nights with sailors like these,” was doubtless prompted by bacchanalian events equally blusterous.

After the nomadic adventurers had been outnumbered by career sailors the water fronts of the principal ports were permeated by a salty flavor which persisted until steamship smoke obscured the sight of passing sails.


Crew at Superior, WI


With the opening of the Soo locks, freight for the growing west consisting largely of rails, pipe, fence wire, and nails was shipped to the rail head at Duluth. Return loads consisted of copper, iron ore, and lumber and later, grain. As lumbering became widespread throughout Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada co-incident with extensive grain cultivation further west, the steamship was in its ascendancy and speedily replaced the sailing vessel. By the turn of the century, due to the coming of the steamer, the duties of ordinary seamen had been taken over by a mixture of itinerant lumberjacks, miners, farmhands and hoboes, many of whom had the disconcerting habit of jumping ship at the upper lake ports in mid summer and working as harvest hands in the western grain fields. This caused considerable delay while another crew was being rounded up. Possessed of a childlike mentality they were most imprudent in their quest for pleasure and any thoughts of winter unemployment were subordinated to the desires of the moment. Able seamen, mates and engineers were a bit more stable and the lads from the St. Clair River towns of Algonac, Marine City, St. Clair and Port Huron along with their Canadian contemporaries, were considerably more steadfast in their chosen occupation.

The practice of paying off crews in cash at the end of each trip increased the temptation for a fling ashore, with the result that most ships had a complete turn-over of able and ordinary seamen and frequent changes among the mates and engineers. A particular case is recalled of the stoker who bluntly replied that he was “getting off because he had sixty ‘bucks.” The continuous turnover made jobs plentiful and every incoming ship offered berths to the insolvent and usually hungry applicants. A common joke among newly signed crew to the effect that they had “never missed a meal but had postponed a lot of them,” always circulated around the cabins with embellishments. Continuous repetition never seemed to diminish its potency. The time honored query, “How does she feed?” was indicative of the primal requirement of most applicants and the magnitude of the recommendation was usually inversely proportional to the length of service aboard of the one to whom the question was directed. The first meals were always eaten with gusto but as they, “got the wrinkles out of their belly,” enthusiasm gave way to indifference and finally to the griping which preceded the “getting off” phase of the cycle. The previous ship was always held in high esteem and conversation was usually interspersed with references to the herculean exploits of her “old man,” the mate, or some other super-crewman.

The case of bos’n George is vividly recalled as his frequent references to the Pee-Gash-Us and the miracles of navigation performed by her “old man” were deeply mystifying. Adroit questioning of George and our intimate acquaintance with lake ships never produced any clews to aid us in identifying this phantom Pee-Gash-Us. Enlightenment came as a bolt from the blue as we were gathered on the forehatch one sunny Sunday forenoon when George leaped to his feet and running to the port rail proudly announced, “Here she comes.” And there, majestically sweeping along for all to behold came the Interlake steamer Pegasus up bound light. The mystery was solved and George was vindicated.

Crewmen never tired of singing the praises of cooks on other ships and the incumbent “meat burner” aboard their present vessel was always the worst of the lot. Why corned beef was termed “steel trust chicken” was never proven but many seamen vehemently declared that at one time chicken had been verboten” on the tin stackers, so named because their stacks were painted silver with a black crown. Prunes are still known as “Anchor Line strawberries” and passing time does not seem to re-classify this commodity.

An amusing incident occurred in Milwaukee as we were discharging a cargo of fine slack coal up the Kinnickinnic river prior to the first world war. The decks were covered with black dust which was wafted through open doors and windows by the summer breeze. The cook had set bread dough that morning which raised and overflowed on to the table, and in his haste to knead it back into the pan he discovered, too late, that the table was covered with coal dust, most of which was now in the dough. When served, the slices presented a mosaic of beautiful hair line designs which were promptly eaten with neither aesthetic appreciation nor ill effects.

During the passage from Milwaukee to Escanaba for ore we rolled pretty hard in a beam sea. Since cooking was impossible, the steward placed dishes with sandwiches in the large galley sink where the ships’ motion could not send them adrift, and as a receptacle for used dishes he nailed a huge old bread pan to the serving table. Having perceived the chief engineer approaching the galley door, one of the lads firmly grasped the nail fastened pan in a mock gesture of holding it steady. Joining the group in the galley the chief took his turn at holding the fastened pan, now full of dishes, whereupon all hands walked out leaving him alone and unaided. We disposed ourselves around the deck out of sight but within earshot of the galley to better follow the result which came without delay. His vehement protestations about holding a condemned pan when he had engines to run, interspersed with vociferous maledictions against the misbegotten crew, brought the second cook to the scene. This dignitary suggested abandonment of the pan to the whims of Neptune, so cautiously relaxing his grip, the chief backed away fully expecting the next roll to heave his charge crashing to the galley floor. When nothing happened he tested the stability of the pan with a jerk and finally, on discovery of the hoax, fled to the engine room. The old chief was never the same after that.

Upon another memorable occasion we had shipped two lubbers as stokers when no experienced hands could be found. These fellows were promptly taken in charge by our mischievous porter who dubbed himself the “ships fire warden” and proceeded to put the neophytes through an improvised fire drill. They were instructed to disrobe and climb into their bunks. At the count of one they were to get up and dress, at the count of two they were to hasten on deck and unship the deck hose which was festooned in beckets along the port railing, and at the count of three they were instructed to rush the hose forward along the port side, up the steps to the fo’c’sle, around the pilot house, down the starboard stair and run aft. If this nonsensical excursion was completed in three minutes they were to be awarded a “certificate of proficiency.” As all of this was unknown to me, I, the mate, unwittingly became an accomplice in the nefarious plot. The scuffle of running feet and the banging of a dragging hose coupling aroused curiosity as I sat in my room. I emerged on deck in time to see two men top the stair dragging the deck hose. Tailing on, my coat tails flapped in the breeze as I was hauled around the wheel house at a fast pace. Down the starboard stairs we went and not until we arrived amidships in our mad flight did reason return to route my hasty and undignified impulse. Having awakened the irate captain from his afternoon nap I suffered the added embarrassment of having to defend my sanity. I never pressed inquiry into the outcome of the fire drill.

Crew aboard a Great Lakes vessel

During fire drill aboard another ship earlier in my career, I, as second mate, had charge of the after pump crew. Since the hand pump was in the fantail the only proof of its operation was to direct the stream out the port gangway where it could be seen from the bridge. At the signal of fire aft we hastened down the companionway, unreeled the hose and reached for the two pump handles which were carried in a rack on the bulkhead. These handles are shaped like baseball bats and they are inserted into the hollow ends of the pump beam. To our dismay one handle was missing, so no pumping and no stream. Time was up, the drill was over and our frustrated pump crew emerged on deck to behold the second cook tamping ice around the ice cream freezer with our missing pump handle. When I explained the absence of that stream to our inquiring captain he laconically opined as how it would be all right to let the ship burn so long as the crew had ice cream.


The days of “wooden ships and iron men” were ending shortly after the first world war and their passing was highlighted by the last of many amusing incidents that ended with that colorful era. Due to slow shipping and an unsavory reputation, one “Box Car Kelly,” a resourceful and breezy rascal, was having difficulty finding a berth. Since others of his ilk were faced with the same problem, Kelly conceived a plan to find a berth for the boys and so, having assumed the role of crimp for the port, he circulated among the idle brethren with the promise of a ship for a fee. When he had signed a sizeable complement and collected in fees all that the traffic would bear, he led his motley crew to a wharf near the site of the present Cleveland stadium where the old Milan built schooner Unadilla lay moored, stripped and abandoned. This, he informed them, was the ship he had provided and which he had been tipped off would soon be fitted for sea. How he escaped the wrath of his dupes is not recorded.

Sailing entails a loneliness that even love for the sea and ships cannot entirely dispel. This inevitably led to a lot of buffoonery, so Einar became the unwitting victim of one of those ever recurring pranks so artfully contrived to dispel the monotony. Being one of those rare hands who stuck to one ship we permitted him to disembark at the Soo on the last down bound trip early in December and thus shorten the journey to his home near Knife River. This small reward for continuous service made such a profound impression upon Einar that he felt impelled to bid farewell to each of the crew individually, which provoked the incident and provided the opportunity.

Vessels in the locks at Sault Ste. Marie

Somewhere near Gros Cap lightship he emerged on deck with his two battered suitcases which he placed upon No. 1 hatch in readiness for his ‘getting off’ at the Soo. Then, leaving the forward crew until last, he proceeded aft to bid farewells to the afterguard. This did not take long but it allowed sufficient time for the forward crew to open the bags and load them with old shackles, hatch clamps and sundry scrap iron. Not being entirely satisfied with their handiwork thus far, they padded and stuffed the remaining spaces with grain just to make sure that the job was “all shipshape and Bristol fashion.” As a final comradely gesture he was assisted ashore with his well ballasted luggage and the last we saw of Einar he was slowly trudging towards town with sagging shoulders and stretched arms and we faintly suspected that his frequent stops to wave us farewell were inspired by motives other than to wish us bon voyage. He joined another ship the following season but I met him in Ashland and learned of his father’s appreciation for the generous heap of chicken feed we had sent home with his son.

Early recognition of the tremendous future potential of lakeborn commerce prompted the ship owners to strive for improved working conditions and greater safety to ships and personnel. Through their Lake Carriers Association, crews quarters were made more commodious, the working plan was changed from the two watch system to three watches, seaman’s wages were constantly increased and safety committees aboard ship were alerted to occupational hazards. These inducements together with the higher national educational standard produced the type of steamship men now actively engaged in the continuous record-shattering activity of moving phenomenal tonnages. Navigation and engineering schools impart the technical knowledge essential to the efficient operation of a complex modem ship and assure advancement commensurate with ambition and diligence.

Wage payments by monthly check and shipboard banking facilities have engendered thrift and stability unknown to the profligates of yesteryear.

While on the subject of pay checks I am reminded of coal passer Jeeter. Jeeter was drunk, and he was “getting off,” as we were discharging ore at Zug Island in lower Detroit. Jeeter had $115.00 coming which he requested in two checks, $100 for Jeeter and $15 for his dependent mother in Slagtown, better known as South Chicago. This request was promptly granted but somehow the $100 check got into the envelope addressed to the mother, which we mailed, and Jeeter got the one with the $15. By the time he had recovered from his bacchanalian debauch we were steaming toward Sandusky for coal and basking under the vision of a happy old lady in Slagtown.

The characters encountered aboard ship in the old days were as varied, and too frequently as fluid, as the clouds in the sky. There were morons, half wits, fugitives from factory work, perverts and drunks. Also fine lads from the rich and the poor, just seeking adventure or financing an education. We carried fugitives from justice, dreamers allergic to claustrophobia and members of that numerous brethren to whom a steady routine job was a fate worse than death. There was Bill, our second cook aboard the old G. A. Flagg, an Oxford graduate, and Al aboard the Pendennis White of the old Mitchell line. Al married one day and the next day he absconded with his bride’s bank roll. He was a very mild mannered, unobtrusive sort of fellow, particularly when a United States marshal and two Duluth policemen came aboard to invite him up to their place of business.

Then there was Asa. Asa hailed from the hinterlands of old New York state, ‘eat the mountains,” where, so he said, they called him Acie. Having made several trips as a deckhand, Acie aspired to better things and began casting covetous eyes at the job held by the “grinders” who are listed in the ship’s register as wheelsmen. Having satisfied himself that “wheeling” was for him, he made discreet inquiry concerning qualifications for the job and was promptly advised by his scheming shipmates to see the mate.

And so it came to pass that Acie tapped on my door to request audience while his snickering pals gathered outside. He hastily voiced his hopes and not wishing to thwart ambition I sparred for time by telling him that he must first learn the compass. But Acie confidently informed me that the compass was no mystery to him. “I learned it in school, said he, “North is up and south is to yu.” This theory seemed like an ominous portend of the approaching streamlined era but being conservative navigators and a bit old fashioned we continued using the old method. Acie wound up his sailing career in a blaze of glory at the Iroquois Inn that fall and returned to his natural habitat, the mountains, where “North is up and South is to yu.”

The steamship man of today is a highly trained specialist. He is familiar with electronic direction finders, gyroscopic compasses, ship-to-shore telephones, radar and depth sounding recorders.

The engine room crews, besides maintaining and operating the main engines and turbines, have mastered mechanical refrigeration and an array of auxiliary devices unknown aboard a decade after the turn of the century. The heavy toil of hauling aboard tons of ice for the cooler and tons of hard coal for the galley stove is speedily following the old wooden hatch cover to oblivion. Steering is now mechanically activated and there isn’t any need to pad the wheelhouse ceiling with mattresses as, legend insists, was done aboard the old Hiawatha to prevent bruising the wheelsman when a quartering sea against the rudder spun the wheel and tossed him around.

The world order is change, as witness the passing of sail, of the chugging little high pressure tug, the evolution and demise of the palatial side wheeler, the vanished lumber hooker and package freighter. But the lakes are the same, only man’s devices change. To those who respect them the lakes are kind and bountiful, but when held in contempt their reaction is lethal. The rivers, bays, islands and coast lines are quite the same as when first observed by Champlain and Marquette and when so familiar to Etienne Brule. Man’s intrusion with fickle customs can never change their moods nor suppress their robust sparkle in the summer sun. And to one attuned to their caprices, by virtue of close communion and retrospect, the shades of those who have gone on before will reappear during the long silent watches of the night. The rollicking songs of the early voyageurs will be faintly audible from afar, attuned to the dip of their paddles, and on a calm night, when the translucent haze softens the moonlight, the rustle of canvas and the creaking of halyard blocks will float over the water, perhaps accompanied by:

Some with a shovel
And some with a spade,
Some with a pickaxe
Each man to his trade,
Our fingers were numb
And our knuckles were sore
As we cussed Escanabee
And red iron ore.

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St. Lawrence Steamboat Days – Winter 1951

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By Frederick C. Curry

Steam navigation on the St. Lawrence River followed very closely on Robert Fulton’s invention. In 1809 just two years after the Clermont made her first trip on the Hudson river, a Canadian steamer, the Accommodation ran from Montreal to Quebec. It was fourteen more years before the first steamboat was built on Lake Ontario. This was the Frontenac launched at Finkle’s Point near Bath, a few miles west of Kingston, on September 7, 1816 a year ahead of her American rival the Ontario, launched at Sackett’s Harbour early in 1817. A comparison of the two boats is interesting. The Frontenac was 170 feet long and 700 tons gross while the Ontario was only 110 feet long and 24 feet beam and rated at 237 tons. The latter ship tried weekly trips from Ogdensburg to Lewiston but finding this distance, 600 miles, too much for her speed, which seldom exceeded 5 miles per hour, the frequency was changed to ten days. She continued to run till 1832 when she was broken up at Oswego. The Frontenac ran from Prescott to York until 1837 when she in turn was broken up.



By this time there were numerous steamers plying the river between Prescott and Lake Ontario which is the region this sketch attempts to cover. Some became famous or notorious, according to one’s national or political leanings. For example, the United States, built in Ogdensburg in 1831 at a cost of $56,000, became so unpopular with Canadians as a result of her part in the Battle of the Windmill in 1838 that she was withdrawn from service on this part of the river.

But we are getting ahead of our story. There was for example the Robert Peel built at Brockville at a cost of $44,000 and burned to the water’s edge the year before by the self styled “Admiral of the 1000 Islands” the notorious Bill Johnston, during the so called Patriot War of 1837. Bill also took part in the attempt to capture Prescott which has been dignified with the title of the “Battie of the Windmill,” but only a minor part, for he was in command of a schooner which he stranded on a bar in Ogdensburg harbour. Then he became stranded himself on another kind of bar in Ogdensburg itself while the invasion continued without him. No picture of the Robert Peel seems to exist, but the contemporary steamers that took part in the battle, the Cobourg, Experiment and Victoria seem to have abandoned the tall masts and yards of sailing rig and developed full length deck cabins and two tall funnels. The burning of the Peel was said to have been in revenge for the destruction of the Caroline at Niagara the year before. However, we are not concerned with political implications but rather with the development of vessels employed on the river.

In 1813 a steamboat the Swiftsure was running between Montreal and Quebec City in twenty-two hours; and in 1820 the Kingston Chronicle announced the arrival of the Dalhousie, built at Prescott and making seven miles an hour with a twenty horse power engine of local make. In the rapids section of the river progress was slower. The Neptune ran between Cornwall and Coteau from 1828 to 1840 and even tried to ascend the Long Sault rapids, narrowly escaping being capsized. The Iroquois, fitted with a stern wheel like the Mississippi steamers, ran between Prescott and Dickinson Landing (above the Long Sault) as early as 1830, apparently being able to ascend the Rapid Plat and the Galops. And in 1848, after the opening of the Cornwall canal, which permitted vessels to by-pass the Long Sault, the steamer George Frederic successfully ran the twelve miles of this turbulent rapid in twenty-five minutes.

These were the days when the town of Brockville, my present home, flourished. The Grand Trunk Railway had completed its line from Montreal to this town in 1854 and there was a gap of 100 miles to Belleville where the line for Toronto ended. Between the two stretches of railroad a line of steamships plied and as they carried the mail, became known as the “mailboats,” a term that lasted long after they ceased to function as such. A tunnel under Brockville enabled another railway to bring lumber and other products of the Ottawa valley to the St. Lawrence for shipment eastward, and a picture map published in 1874 shows not only all this activity but also a tugboat with two schooners in tow, the tugboat being evidently a propeller.

These tows of two or three snub-nosed schooners filled with coal were a common sight along the waterfront when I was a boy and we knew them as familiarly as the schoolboy of today knows the new cars on the street. One line in particular was so famous for its decrepit vessels that a story was current that the owner, meeting in Ogdensburg one of his captains gloriously drunk and heading for his ship, stopped to reprimand him. But the captain was at the stage when truths come out and answered, “By Gar, Mr. —–, you don’t think I sail in your boat if I’m sober?”

At that time there were still occasional rafts of timber going down the river and one of my earliest memories of “boating” was of my father suddenly appearing during business hours and snatching me almost from my mother’s arms to place me as ballast in the bow of his canoe and paddle out to meet a raft that he had heard, by the grape vine route, was coming down the river. Being a powerful paddler we were soon alongside and while he chatted with old friends among the river drivers the crew fed me, literally ad nauseam, so that the first thing I did on being restored to my mother was to lose my lunch. Then we were both in the dog-house! But it was an opportunity that never came again. I was a bit older before I took to steam. The occasion was a trip to Toronto with my mother and for some reason we took ship at Kingston on the Corsican, one of the old Richelieu & Ontario Line. I believe we followed the old route along the north shore of the lake by way of the Bay of Quinte and the Murray Canal as this territory seemed vaguely familiar to me when I traversed it again many years later. I was only a small boy and the high light of the trip was a military funeral in Toronto of a Major Mutton. My mother’s people being military turned out en masse to see “Uncle Joe’s” regiment burying their second in command. It was a cold October day and as the casket passed by a callous bystander remarked that it was “pretty cold mutton.”

ALGERIAN in the rapids

These were the halcyon days of steamboating on the St. Lawrence. The R. & 0. Line had at least two other steamers operating on the Toronto-Montreal route that I have described. These were the Bohemian and the Algerian. They ran all the rapids between Prescott and Montreal, returning by the canals. There were also a number of propellers carrying package freight and passengers between Hamilton and Montreal, such as the Ocean, Persia, Dundum and City of Hamilton. These were high unwieldy vessels and being too great a draught to navigate the rapids travelled the canals, yet seemed to have no lack of passengers, possibly timid souls to whom the rapids did not appeal.

Among local ships was the car ferry W. H. Armstrong which connected the railways at Brockville with the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg line at Morristown, New York. She filled once owing to improper loading and sank in 80 feet of water with the loss of one life, that of an agent for the New York Central Railway, but was raised and continued in service for many years. The Thousand Island Steamboat Company operated three steamers between Kingston and Ogdensburg, the America, Empire State and St. Lawrence. They carried orchestras on board and were equipped with the recently invented searchlight, so became very popular for moonlight cruises among the islands. This line was afterwards bought by the Folgers of Kingston.

Out of Alexandria Bay, then in the height of its fame as a summer resort, ran two fast propellers, the New Island Wanderer and Island Belle, making daily trips between Clayton and Ogdensburg, the vessels passing each other near Brockville. So successful were they that a third was added, the Massena. She continued on this route till 1903 when she was destroyed by lightning at Ogdensburg. They were owned then by Holmes Bros. of that city. Another vessel made a short appearance on this route, the Unique. She was very narrow and fast but heeled dangerously on sharp turns and so was not popular when her captain demonstrated her abilities by unnecessary evolutions. I believe she afterwards overturned in the Grass River with an excursion on board.

Not to be outdone Brockville people built a vessel of similar type, named the Brockville, after their town, which served the needs of the cottagers on the north shore of the river and enabled them to commute to their work. She also ran moonlight excursions to Alexandria Bay when the islands were a veritable fairyland as each cottager vied with his neighbor in outlining his home in colored electric lights. Other favorite trips were down the rapids to Sheek’s Island just above Cornwall where a magnificent view of the Long Sault could be had, or by way of Kingston and the Rideau Canal to Westport, the terminus of the Brockville & Westport Railway. Here the vessel discharged her passengers, who returned by rail, while she picked up another load of those who had made the trip out by railway.

The propellers were fast driving the paddle boats off the river because being easier handled they could navigate such narrow passages among the islands as the “Lost Channel” and the “Fiddler’s Elbow.” Up to this time the paddle steamers had all been of the walking beam type with vertical cylinders and usually with low pressure boilers. Their general design was that of the Rothesay, who won short fame by colliding with the tug Myra near Prescott and foundering.


In 1899 the Richelieu & Ontario line (later the Canada Steamship Company) launched a new vessel at Toronto which they named after that city. The Toronto was the first three-decked cabin boat on the river and was fitted with horizontal engines and feathering paddle-wheels which gave her a speed of twenty miles an hour. She ran on a new route crossing the lake from Toronto to Charlotte and then back to Kingston, Ontario and on through the islands, calling at Alexandria Bay, Brockville and Prescott. In 1906 she broke the record established by the Northerner in 1850 by running from the Bay to Brockville in 68 minutes, the Northerner’s time for the 24 mile run being 72 minutes. So successful was she that in 1901 a sister ship the Kingston was launched. She was ten feet longer and had thirty more staterooms, being a twin funnel vessel but the funnels were fore and aft instead of abeam as had been the custom on the older boats.

Daily service was established between Toronto and Brockville where passengers were transferred to the Rapids Prince, an equally luxurious propeller which ran all the rapids between Prescott and Montreal, returning by the canals. In some parts of the river, between the rapids, this vessel attained a speed of thirty-five miles an hour, as accurately as could be checked by driving alongside in a car. At Montreal another transfer was available to those wishing to travel to Quebec or the Saguenay River. This was travel deluxe and soon rivalled Niagara Falls as a honeymoon journey.

In 1937 owing to failing traffic, for which the motor car was mostly to blame, the Toronto was withdrawn and a tri-weekly service maintained by the Kingston until 1950 when following the terrible Noronic disaster a decision had to be made to remodel at great expense or build a new vessel. Neither course was followed and she too was headed for the wreckers, thus ending a full century of passenger service on the river. Appropriately enough the new postage stamp issued this year by the Canadian Postal Service to commemorate their centenary, shows one of the early paddle steamers, the City of Toronto, and on the paddle-box can be read, with a magnifier, the proud title Royal Mail Boat.

Another steamer with a long record on this part of the river was the Britannic of the Montreal & Cornwall Navigation Company. Built in Scotland in 1868 as the tug Rocket for the Allan Line, her 150 foot iron hull was equipped with a double walking beam engine to combat the heavy currents encountered in towing schooners up the lower St. Lawrence. In 1892 she was converted to a private yacht for the owner and one engine removed and in 1898, after another conversion to a cabin passenger vessel, was sold and ran between Montreal and Cornwall. Later she was sold to Collingwood interests and ran between that port and Owen Sound as the Britannic of Collingwood. Then in 1909 she was brought down from the Upper Lakes and put on the Montreal-Kingston run, making a weekly trip that gave Montreallers a five day cruise for the modest sum of $25, a bargain even in those days as the meals and accommodations while plain were good.


From Brockville the Britannic ran a Friday excursion to Kingston that was very popular and the owner being unable to find a local agent persuaded my father, an old friend of his, to act in this capacity. So I found myself, as junior apprentice in the drug-store, on the dock each week with a handful of tickets to sell. It had its reward both in commissions and the friendships I made among the crew and passengers, many of whom took the trip year after year, and I had the run of the boat. She was the last walking-beam vessel to run out of this port and her low pressure cylinder, about 30 inches in diameter and nearly six feet tall was an impressive sight. According to her engineer she could run as soon as the water was hot enough to shave with, and she had no reverse gear. To achieve this result the paddlewheel had to be stopped on dead centre and a steel lever set in a hole through the shaft that worked the valves. This was then turned and steam readmitted so that the wheel began to revolve in the opposite direction. A tedious operation and the cause of much profanity when, as sometimes happened, the mate muffed a landing and called for too many reverses on the “pip” whistle that took the place of an engine bell or telegraph. There were other times when the purser and I sat on each side of the chief to make sure he interpreted the bells properly and to prod him into taking action. There seemed to be a constant war between the engine-room and the deck and a lot of fluent but untranslatable French flowed up and down the open space through which the piston operated the walking-beam.

These happy days were interrupted, first by my wandering off to college and later by the outbreak of war in 1914.

Kanpps Roller Boat

On my way up and down to college I used to see the derelict hull of the old Knapp Roller Boat in Ashbridge’s Bay, now a part of Fleet Street, Toronto. This vessel, perhaps the oddest that ever floated on the broad St. Lawrence, looked like nothing so much as an oversized ship’s boiler lying half out of the water.

This vessel, the first patents for which were issued in 1898, was the invention of a Prescott lawyer who hoped to achieve the speed of 100 miles an hour by rolling over the surface of the water instead of plowing through it in the conventional manner. So he obtained his patent and sold enough stock to build a full sized model. The hull consisted of a double walled cylinder with truncated ends provided with longitudinal fins making it an elongated paddlewheel. The cargo, crew, and engine occupied a platform inside this cylinder and by means of gears working on the squirrel-cage principle the hull was made to revolve and roll through the water. Smoke pipes issued from the ends of the hull but how the affair was steered defies the writer’s memory. The vessel only made two trips, once across the river to Ogdensburg and the other to Brockville. Neither was a success, for on the first occasion the craft rolled up on the sandbar in Ogdensburg harbour and had to be towed off and on the second (a year later, September 24, 1902) the vessel took so long appearing that most of the crowd awaiting her arrival at Brock­ville dispersed.

I was barely back from college when the First World War broke out and as I was a member of the reserve army I was not surprised to find myself on the bridge of the Donaldson Line Cassandra when she pulled out of Quebec on September 22, 1914 as the signaling officer of the 2nd Battalion East Ontario Regiment. We slid silently down the river by night, the searchlights from the forts following us like the streamers thrown to passenger vessels on happier sailings, but there were no bands and no music.

It was nearly two years later when I made a return trip up the St. Lawrence, this time in charge of two hundred wounded men being sent home. I had been wounded myself but was on furlough and had “worked my ticket” to get this appointment so that I could visit my home. There was great activity on the river but passenger business had fallen to a new low and package freight was more important. Strange sights were seen on the river such as vessels cut in half to pass down the canals, the halves to be reunited at Sorel or some other shipyard. This method of getting oversized freighters out to the Atlantic was also followed in the last war. When the war ended I resumed my task as the Britannic’s agent and made frequent trips on her to Kingston and Montreal. The purser like myself was a veteran and we formed a friendship that outlasted the vessel. She passed up the river to be wrecked in 1938 and may have travelled to China or Japan as scrap. In which case she may have figured in the naval war, a sad ending for a ship with so many happy memories. The Noronic tragedy definitely ended steamboating on the St. Lawrence. It seemed hardly believable that this fine vessel, which had made trips down our way in 1932 and ’33 could possibly have burned so completely. It is doubtful if the gasoline propelled tour boats that now dot the river are any safer, though we have had no tragedies as yet in spite of the many instances of cabin-cruisers exploding or taking fire.

But the river is still a great highway. Strange vessels have passed our doors; a German submarine, the replica of the Santa Maria, the convict ship, Success, Admiral Byrd’s City of New York and others on their way to and from Chicago, in the years between 1918 and 1939. Today our chief interest is in the smart Dutch and Norwegian vessels such as those of the Fjell Line. Ships change but truly Old Man River just keeps rollin’ along.

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This article first appeared in Inland Seas in Winter 1951.

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The Devil and Champlain – Fall 1951

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By Frank R. Kramer

Samuel de Champlain – from a late 19th century painting

Few of the magnificently mad explorers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who naively supposed that they could reach the riches of the Orient more quickly across the American continent than by digging straight through the center of the earth were better prepared for their mission than Samuel de Champlain. The smell of gunpowder was as familiar to his nostrils as the perfumed wiggery of Paris; he knew with equal thoroughness the minutely-measured distances of map-making, as Royal Geographer in the court of Henry IV, and the long sea miles between the French coast and the Mexican Indians. To well-filled sails of experience he added the stout rigging of character: courage, perseverance, tact, piety and vision – all were his. As he sailed into the Gulf of the St. Lawrence in 1603, one thing alone was lacking to the success of his exploratory venture into the Canadian wilderness – an area manual on the history and culture of devils.

Hardly had he rounded the cliffs of the Gaspe Peninsula when he came to grips with the first of the demons that held the New World in fief. It was a portent of what was to come, of the hosts of devils that would contest his passing the rapids and portaging the falls, until finally he overcame them and became, in the eyes of the savages, himself a benevolent spirit.

“There is still one strange thing,” wrote Champlain, “worthy of an account, which many savages have assured me was true; that is, that near the Bay of Heat, toward the south, there is an island where a frightful monster makes his home, which the savages call Gougou, and which they told me had the form of a woman, but very terrible, and of such a size that they told me the tops of the masts of our vessel would not reach to his waist, so great do they represent him; and they say that he has often eaten up and still continues to eat up many savages; these he puts, when he can catch them, into a great pocket, and afterwards he eats them; and those who had escaped the danger of this awful beast said that its pocket was so great that it could have put our vessel into it. This monster makes horrible noises in this island, which the savages call the Gougou; and when they speak of it, it is with unutterable fear, and several have assured me that they have seen him. Even . . . Sieur Prevert from St. Malo told me that, while going in search of mines . . . he passed so near the haunt of this terrible beast, that he and all those on board his vessel heard strange hissings from the noise she (sic!) made, and that the savages with him told him it was the same creature, and that they were so afraid that they hid themselves wherever they could, for fear that she would come and carry them off .”

Artist’s representation of Gougou

And then this sober, seasoned explorer makes a candid admission. “What makes me believe what they say is the fact that all the savages in general fear her, and tell such strange things of her that, if I were to record all they say of her, it would be considered as idle tales, but I hold that this is the dwelling-place of some devil that torments them in the manner described. This is what I have learned about this Gougou.”

Sailing up the St. Lawrence in a ship of more than ten tons, Champlain could afford to dismiss the Gougou: the sturdy vessel and the narrative of Jacques Cartier, who almost a century before had ascended the river to the site of Montreal, made the odds reasonably safe. But it was another matter when, ten years later, Champlain reached the rapids that boiled in disheartening succession near Montreal and on up the Ottawa River – long the highway of the Algonquins and Hurons and after Champlain the route of French missionaries, explorers, and traders to the western Great Lakes for almost two hundred years. “He that would passe them, must fit himself with the Canoas of the Sauages, which one may easily carrie . . . And beside this first Sault (rapid), there are ten Saults more, the most part hard to pass . . . They [the Indians] told us, that beyond the first Sault that we had scene, they trauelled some ten or fifteene leagues with their Canoas in the Riuer where there is a riuer [the Ottawa] which runneth to the dwelling of the Algoumequins [Algonquins] . . . and then they passed fiue Saults [the Cascades, Split Rock, Cedar and Coteau Rapids], which may containe from the first to the last eight leagues, whereof there are two where they carrie their Canoas to passe them: euery Sault may containe halfe a quarter or a quarter of a league at the most.”

Such was the highway to the Orient – enough to turn back any but the most intrepid explorer, the most incurable dreamer. Being both, Champlain would not be discouraged. “The strong love which I have always cherished for the exploration of New France,” he once testified in the tone of a credo, “has made me desirous of extending more and more my travels over the country, in order, by means of its numerous rivers, lakes, and streams, to obtain at last a complete knowledge of it, and also to become acquainted with the inhabitants . . . to learn the language, and form relations and friendships with the leading men of the villages and tribes, in order to lay the foundations of a permanent edifice, as well for the glory of God as for the renown of the French.”

Now if ever the time was ripe for furthering these high-sounding aims. Ten years of forthright diplomacy had earned him the respect of the Indians and the ear of such men as Jeannin, the royal superintendent of finance. And last year he had secured a commission from Louis XIII with such sweeping powers as to make him -on paper at least -the actual ruler of New France. But prestige and powers must have seemed feeble and far away when, on May 27, 1613, he reached the great Montreal rapids. Here two years earlier his “hair stood on end to see such an awful place”; here he had run the rapids to prove to the Indians that he was not afraid and then admitted candidly: “Even the bravest people in the world who have not seen nor passed this place in small boats such as theirs, could not do so without great apprehension.” He was perhaps the first European to shoot these rapids; in 1535 Jacques Cartier, though he had laughed down Chief Donnaconna’s dire warning not to flaunt the wrath of Coudouagni, god of the rapids, had turned back. More than half a century from now the veteran Louis Joliet, returning from his epochal tour of the Mississippi, would capsize here, losing his maps and papers, in sight of the city now rising on the shore.

Long Sault Rapids

Once again, at the entrance of this American Avernus, Champlain with four Frenchmen (including the infamous young Nicolas du Vignau, who had promised to lead him to Hudson Bay) and one Indian guide found himself trespassing on the domain of aboriginal demons -twelve miles of whirling, weaving waters known as the Long Sault. “The rapidity of the current is so great,· Champlain reported, “that it makes a terrible noise, and in pouring down from one layer of rock to another it makes so much white foam everywhere that the water cannot be seen at all.· Caught in another white hell on the Gatineau River not far to the west, the Réollet brother Gabriel Sagard had asked his guides how such things could be. “They replied that it was the devil’s doing or the devil himself.” The trees on the bank stood trunk to trunk; portaging was impossible. Champlain was forced to drag his canoe with a rope wound around his hand. “As I was drawing mine,” he continued, “I thought I was lost, because it swerved into one of the whirlpools, and if I had not, fortunately, fallen between two rocks, the canoe would have dragged me in . . . In this danger I cried to God, and began to pull my canoe, which was returned to me by a back current, such as is found in these rapids. Having escaped, I praised God, begging Him to preserve us . . . As for our Frenchmen, they did not have any better luck, and several times they expected to lose their lives, but the Divine Goodness kept us all safe.”

And this was only the first of the rapids. The northwest passage was a grim carnival – now a roller coaster, jerking the canoe suddenly ahead and shooting it breathlessly over and between the rocks, now a tunnel of horrors in which spirit hands reached up to grasp the canoe and overturn Indian and Frenchman alike with Plutonic impartiality. It was the playground of the devil, in fact was created by Ta we’ ska re (or Tawiscara) himself, the evil brother, as the Hurons (whom Champlain was soon to visit) spun the tale. The good brother Tse’ sta’, they said, had made the land smooth and rolling, the forests clear. He had added all kinds of trees with fruits convenient to the hand, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries in vast clusters, maple with syrup coming out when the tree was tapped. Fish he made without scales, and – the supreme gift in this Huron utopia – had arranged the river currents so that they flowed down with the down-stream paddler and back when he returned. But when the evil twin Ta we’ ska re saw what his brother had done, he flew into a rage. He threw up mountains on the rolling hills, spread barren wastes, shriveled the berries and gave them thorns, coated the fish with flinty scales, and filled the rivers with falls and rapids.

Gabriel Sagard

Safely past the first Stygian barrier, they fought their way to Chaudiere Falls (a literal translation of Asticou, “the Boiler”) in the present city of Ottawa, – “the most wonderful, dangerous, and terrifying of all,” says Sagard in awe; “for it is wider than a full three-eighths part of a league.” Dropping over wide flat ledges, it now roars with less ferocity than the traffic moving north over the bridge to the right of the rapids between Chaudiere and Philemon Islands; but early nineteenth­century sketches reveal its original grandeur. Wherever else along the Ottawa the devil may have ranged, here in this fearful splendor he had his throne, and “these poor people are so superstitious that they would not believe it possible for them to make a prosperous journey without observing this ceremony at this place.” Champlain watches the savages with half-amused, half-understanding interest while “one of them takes up a collection with a wooden plate, into which each one puts a bit of tobacco. The collection having been made, the plate is passed in the midst of the troupe, and all dance about it, singing after their style. Then one of the captains makes an harangue, setting forth that for a long time they have been accustomed to make this offering, by which they are insured protection against their enemies, that otherwise misfortune would befall them, as they are convinced by the evil spirit . . . This done, the maker of the harangue takes the plate, and throws the tobacco into the midst of the caldron, whereupon they all together raise a loud cry.”

Accumulating courage and agility for perhaps a hundred years in this region, the Indians grappled with the devils of the Ottawa rapids when­ ever there was a chance of success and learned to save their lives by appeasement and portaging whenever there was not. It was a matter of skill and sorcery – what they could not win by the one they maneuvered by the other. And so when Champlain, who apparently had neither, appeared miraculously on the lovely waters of little Muskrat Lake a few miles east of Allumette Lake, Chief Nibachis, “who came to visit us with his followers, astonished that we could have passed the falls and bad roads in order to reach them,” was struck with awe at this visitation.

“After offerings tobacco, according to their custom, he began to address his companions, saying, that we must have fallen from the clouds, for he knew not how we could have made the journey, and that they who lived in the country had much trouble in traversing these bad ways: and he gave them to understand that I accomplished all that I set my mind upon: in short, that he believed respecting me all that the other savages had told him.” And a little farther up the Ottawa at Allumette Lake Chief Tessoüat, whom Champlain had met at Tadoussac in 1603 and again at Lachine Rapids eight years later, “was greatly amazed to see me, saying that he thought I was a dream, and that he did not believe his eyes.”

Tessoüat might have been paddling through pools of metaphor; the Indians loved nothing better than excursions into the metaphorical, and “unless you accustom yourself to it,” said the Jesuit Father Jean de Brebeuf, “you will understand nothing in their councils, where they speak almost entirely in metaphors.” But there was nothing figurative, as Champlain well knew, in the chief s exclamation. He had met with the astonishing effect of dreams in this country four years ago – when he had led a party of his Indian allies on a raid against the Iroquois near the lake that bears his name. As they approached the enemy camp, they became apprehensive about “how much of their undertakings would succeed” and repeatedly asked him whether he had dreamed. To each query he answered no. But by this time he may have remembered what he had learned in the previous year at Quebec. “They believe also that all the dreams that they have are true; and, in fact, there are a great many of them who say that they have seen and dreamed things which have come to pass or will take place.” He had, at any rate, a providential visitation: he dreamed that he saw the Iroquois in a lake, drowning. “When I woke up they did not fail to ask me, as is their custom, if I had dreamed anything. I told them the substance of what I had dreamed. This gave them so much faith that they no longer doubted that good was to befall them.” The Jesuits were soon to think that dreams were “the master of their lives,” “the God of the country.” Dreams, according to tribal lore, were inspired by demons – good and bad, and dreams were the media of their materialization. Champlain’s materialization at Allumette Lake, like that of the demons, belonged to the world of dreams.

Champlain arriving in what is today Quebec City.

Would to heaven, Champlain must have thought, his unexpected appearance among these far-off Algonquins had been as easy as taking shape from a dream, or as simple as dropping from the skies. He was quite ready, however, to agree with the Indians that there was a touch of the supernatural in his escape from so many diabolical whirlpools and not the least unwilling to accept their awed esteem. Two years later, among the Hurons, he would come to appreciate how deeply embedded in savage folk-belief their credulity was. “Whenever they see a man doing something extraordinary,” he learned, “or furthermore who is in a rage as if out of his reason and senses, they call him oqui, or, as we should say, a great knowing spirit, or a great devil.” The man who had tamed the turbulent demons from the St. Lawrence to Allumette Lake must be himself an oki, or demon.

The extraordinary skill, strength or cleverness, the unusual shape or appearance, the unexpected event – these were the works of the devil or manifestations of the devil himself. The Indians, wrote Father Bressani forty years after, had “a superstitious regard for anything that savored a little of the uncommon.” It was a conception permeating the tribal world from the familiar demons or good-luck charms (the Ascwandic or Aaskouandy) which everyone carried in his dried-skin pouch in the form of odd stones or eagle claws or snake-skins to the unseen powers that moved and regulated the universe. It appears in an old Huron maxim with a mingling of superstition and practical humor “that skill, strength, and vigilance are the most powerful Aaskouandy that a man can have.” The medicine-man, as doctor and priest of the tribe, enjoyed his share of respect for the mysterious. “Ordained” in his oki-hood after an oki had entered his body, he maintained his exceptional status, Champlain discovered, by healing the sick, predicting future events, “in short, by practicing all abuses and delusions, of the Devil.” And finally, the vast, inexplicable play of elemental powers over Huronia gave proof through the sky that the okis were there.

And so when Chief Nibachis harangued his followers on the miraculous appearance of this man who accomplished all that he set his mind upon, he was not merely giving him the keys to the village, or even conferring an honorary chieftainship upon him. He was according his unexpected guest the place of distinction in the tribal world of spirits which his astonishing exploit seemed to warrant. We in this day have a way of doing the same thing – of regarding a saintly man, for example, as one apart from the rest of us, as a saint akin to the spirits.

How much of all this did Champlain appreciate or take seriously? Did he recognize what it might mean to him in furthering his explorations, in smoothing the rapids and shortening the route to Cathay? Especially now, when he was striking out on his own? The friendly Hurons, who might have furnished him canoes and guides, had not come down to the Lachine rapids this season to trade. He was dependent upon the tribes he visited for everything he needed and could expect little from the Allumette tribe, who were middlemen on the Ottawa and would not take kindly to the prospect of his dealing directly with the tribes of the interior (on occasion they refused passage even to the Jesuit missionaries). Champlain was no novice in Indian relations: in the ten years since he had turned westward over the St. Lawrence he had learned that the impact of a man’s extraordinary audacity in plunging confidently into perils terrifying to the Indians themselves was an effective force – as effective as guns, promises and threats in winning their cooperation. Yet there is no hint in his memoirs that his reception was anything but a passing tribal tribute to his daring. He would not, of course, discover how closely he fitted the part of an oki until his visit to the Hurons two years later. But if he entertained any thoughts whatever of reaching the North Sea on the wings of his reputation, they were suddenly interrupted by the dramatic disclosure that Vignau had grossly deceived him – a disclosure as challenging to his diplomatic adroitness as the rapids had been to his courage.

Vignau’s unmasking began innocently enough: Champlain set, before Chief Tessoüat his plan of finding a trade route to the North Sea (he neglected to mention the map Vignau had shown him in France on the strength of which he had spent a year of preparation and was now risking his life in the rapids) and asked for four canoes to continue his trip as far as the Lake Nipissing tribe. The chief, his one eye cocked on the threat of his own monopoly if this determined explorer should succeed in his plan, replied with a shrewd mixture of sound sense and superstition. He described “again the difficulty of the roads, the number of rapids, the wickedness of those tribes” (the Nipissings had a widespread reputation as sorcerers). The story is a familiar one to Champlain’s biographers, who tell it with deep relish:


how Champlain countered that he had Vignau’s word that he had been on the country of the Nebicerini [Nipissing Indians];

how Tessoüat, whose Island was the northernmost point Vignau had reached, turned upon the young imposter: “If you have been among these people, it was while you were asleep . . . You are a scoundrel, and he [Champlain] ought to put you to death more cruelly than we do our enemies”;

how Thomas, the Interpreter, came to the distracted Champlain shortly after this staccato by-play with the Intelligence that Tessoüat had sent a canoe secretly to the Nebicerini to inform them of the Frenchman’s coming.


This was highly disturbing news. What further obstructions did the old chief have in mind? In a few days, Champlain felt, the whole atmosphere had changed: when he arrived, the chief had hailed him as a man of unusual – even supernatural -talents; now he was impugning Champlain’s faith in his guide and trying to block his passage into the interior. But there was still a chance to save face and recover the advantage: he might coax or promise, bluff and threaten, or indulge the vagaries of savage superstition. Few historians can bring themselves to mention his choice – the dream superstition. “Thereupon,” he says, “in order to profit by the opportunity, I went to the savages to tell them, that I had dreamed the past night that they purposed to send a canoe to the Nebicerini without notifying me of it, at which I was greatly surprised, since they knew that I was desirous of going there.”

It was Tessoüat’s turn to pull himself out of the rapids of intrigue. He may have had his suspicions; but a dream was too subjective, too much a part of his own beliefs, for him to question it. Instead, he denounced Vignau’s malicious deception so vehemently that the Indians were ready to “tear him apart.” Champlain was now convinced (his early doubts about Vignau’s veracity had grown greater as he had led him – against the Indians’ advice – into more and more rock-choked channels), but he wanted to hear the confession from the lips of “our liar” himself. He took him aside and threatened to hang and strangle him if he persisted in his hoax. Vignau confessed.

What now should he do with the impostor? To release him to the fury of the savages was unthinkable; no Frenchman, himself included, would be safe in the future. Years later Duluth, already launched on a trip into the unknown regions west of Lake Superior, turned back when he heard that a party of La Salle’s men (his rivals for the glory of opening the west ) was in the hands of the Sioux and paddled down the Mississippi to rescue them. And Champlain could scarcely jeopardize his reputation by delegating his responsibilities to Tessoüat. Characteristically, he moved promptly but with cautious restraint -with something of the same qualities that had brought him so far up the Ottawa. He set loose the cowering Vignau not to the Indians who were clamoring for him but to the wilderness he had falsely claimed to know.

Champlain had lost little by acknowledging the justice of Tessoüat’s accusations – either of his own standing or of future French security. His explorations, of course, had run into a dead end. But he had had a more intimate glimpse of the streams of Indian behavior – currents as important to his purposes as the route to Hudson Bay. In grappling with the demons of the rapids and the demonic in men’s minds, he learned that it was the unusual in a man’s character that impressed these Indians most deeply, that drew from them an awed respect charged with the atmosphere of spirit-worship. White men, too, respect character, but no such tribal lore lies beneath their feeling.

The discovery held interesting possibilities for Champlain’s present plans; he found no difficulty, for instance, in exploiting his reputation to bring a trading flotilla of forty canoes back over the long route to the St. Lawrence. Moreover, the folk-belief that set him among the okis might prove to be a useful formula -a formula for transmuting the base metal of dependency into a golden potential for assistance and negotiation. On his second ascent up the Ottawa River two years later, Chiefs Nibachis and Tessoüat received him with feasts, outfitted him with provisions, and sent him on his way to the Nipissiriniens.

All the facets of his relations with the Indians glowed with the dominant hue of his personality, enhanced as it was by superstition. We see it when he is trading with them, exploring with their help, or leading them into skirmishes with the Iroquois. It is at its brightest when he is arbitrating their disputes, war-breeding disputes like the one he was called upon to settle between the Hurons and Algonquins during his stay in Huronia in the winter of 1615-1616. Here he is no head of a great trading company, no captain of arquebusiers, no spokesman of the king. He is in the sorry plight of impatiently accepting the hospitality of the Hurons after having been carried back to Huronia with a wound suffered in the fiasco against the Iroquois a few months before. And yet his word commands respect because, as Morris Bishop says pregnantly, “of the recognizable integrity of his spirit.” And this, as the Indians recognized also in the Vignau affair, is the stuff that okis are made of.

What we are saying seems like a truism – until we become involved in explaining the success or failure of the French in America through the policies of statesmen and fur companies (how strange they must have seemed at times to native diplomats!) and forget that the Indians saw these policies only in the personalities of the men who tried to carry them out. In time the compagnie des marchands became popularly known in France as the compagnie de Champlain; to the Indians it had never been anything else. It was all very well to come to Canada armed with a gun and a commission from Louis XIII empowering the holder with the right to make treaties, propagate the faith, build forts. The next step was to make it mean something to the Indians, to deal with tribal behavior. It was better, in short, to be linked with the okis than with the king.

But we must say no more of Champlain and what he learned about okis and demons. After all. we can see the impact of the extraordinary more clearly in the events of a few years later than in Champlain’s stray notes. We can trace it in the superstitious transformation of the Jesuit missionaries into gods and devils. We see it too in the story of Jean Nicolet, Champlain’s young ambassador to the “Chinese” at Green Bay, Wisconsin, and of Nicolas Perrot, whose reception as “wonderful men,” that is, as okis, helped to lay open to them the waterways of the western Great Lakes.

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Southern Divines on the Great Lakes and at Niagara Falls – Summer 1951

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By Mentor L. Williams

A century ago it was as much “the rage” to travel as it is today. People with the means to make journeys toured the country for their health (if they needed a reason) or to acquaint themselves with geographical wonders. Newspapers and magazines were eager to print the observations of the tourists; incidents of travel were featured in most periodicals.

Niagara Falls

In gathering literature about the Lake-Falls region, recorders have limited themselves chiefly to the journeys of Europeans and of tourists from the Atlantic seaboard. Such a practice ignores the fact that people from the South were great travelers also. When the unpleasant heat of summer and the plagues of malaria and cholera threatened, southern planters, merchants, professional men and their families found occasion to look after their business interests in the North and, incidentally, to visit the fabulous lake country. The magazines are filled with their letters, “notes-by-the-way,” and descriptive sketches.

Take, as an example, The Southern Lady’s Companion, an entertaining monthly journal edited at Nashville, Tennessee, from 1847 to 1852 by M. M. Henkle and J. B. McFerrin, reverend doctors of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Messrs. Henkle and McFerrin were also the editors of the Nashville Christian Advocate. To the Lady’s Companion were sent the reflections and effusions of Tennessee’s pious Christians whose devotions had taken them to see God’s “most magnificent handiwork” on the North American continent. Accounts of God’s awfulness and majesty, as reflected in the Falls of Niagara, were frequently supplemented with tales calculated to chill the marrow of the sinner who happened to leaf through the pages of the Lady’s Companion. The saved, of course, could read without fear. That they were edified and titillated goes without saying!

The Reverend C. Foster Williams of Gallatin, Tennessee, visited the Great Lakes and the Falls in October 1848. The Lady’s Companion printed his report in the December 1848 and January 1849 issues. His “Lake Erie and the Falls” began with the remark: “If one is at all observing, while traveling, he will find much to instruct as well as amuse him.” Reverend Williams found much to instruct. From Nashville, the City of Rocks, as it was then fondly nicknamed, he had made his way to Sandusky, Ohio, where he boarded the steamer America for Buffalo. Only three weeks before Lake Erie had been lashed by a furious tempest. Thankful for the Lord’s special blessing, a calm passage, Williams wrote: “He who causeth the wind to blow, and maketh it to cease, and who rideth upon the whirlwind, had said, ‘Peace, be still!’ ” With this bit of divine intervention the reverend’s journey to Buffalo required only twenty hours. There, after “visiting all the public buildings worth seeing,” he boarded the cars for the Falls. After supper (the Falls could wait on the appetite) and after sundown, he and his party had their first view of “the greatest of this world’s wonders” by moonlight. A beautiful lunar rainbow “hung over the misty waters of the wild chasm, like an angel of mercy, or an oasis in the desert.” Awestruck, breathless at the “terrible, yet beautifully sublime scene” the holy man spoke not a word, “nor wished to disturb the current of thoughts passing through the minds of the others.” “I think,” he declared, “a first view of the Falls, such as I had by the light of a full moon, far preferable to any other, and has a tendency to awaken deeper and holier feelings.”

These feelings were quickly disturbed by the harrowing tale of a man who, only three days before, had set forth in a small sailboat “on the Sabbath day, regardless of God’s law,” and had with great skill and self-possession piloted his craft through the rapids and over the Falls. As he had passed under the bridge leading to Goat Island he had asked a man standing on the bridge whether he should jump from the boat. The horrified spectator had been too paralyzed to reply. Thus “the sun that rose upon him that morning, full of hope and full of life, set upon him in endless night and the dreams of a bright and happy future were buried with him beneath the foaming torrent of Niagara.” For those who cared for morbid things, like the Reverend Mr. Williams, the boat could still be seen “fast in the rocks, a short distance below the bridge, and about twenty yards from the shore opposite the saw mill.”

The Falls from Goat Island

By moonlight, the party crossed over the Goat Island bridge (fee, 25¢) to that “wild romantic spot,” the Hog’s Back, where both the American and the Canadian falls could be seen. Then, by way of the “Biddle Stair Case,” they cautiously descended into the darkness at the foot of the Horseshoe Falls. The swirling mists dampened their ardor and drove them back, At the top again, they climbed Prospect Tower, where the greatest American wonder spread out at their feet “like a map.” Into the awful gulf below had plunged the steamer Caroline in 1837, noted the lugubrious divine. Back at his hotel (at 10:30) he was lulled to sleep by the “unceasing roar” of the waters and the constant rattle of the window panes!

After breakfast next morning, the preacher and his party took a coach to the wire suspension bridge where (fee, 25¢) they crossed over into “Her Majesty’s dominions” -a strange experience for all of these southern folk. The bridge, “the greatest of wonders, next to the Falls” failed to daunt them. In fact, it was a preliminary structure that would soon be followed by another, ten feet above it, on which would pass a locomotive and train of cars. Having got the measurements of the bridge, 7′ x 800′, the group went to the Whirlpool, “a place more celebrated as a curiosity than it deserves”, and to Table Rock. At the latter place, fitted out with guide, boots, and oil cloth suits (fee, 25¢), they made the trip behind the Falls. At Table Rock an apple vendor gave Reverend Williams a card (for which he obligingly purchased some apples) on which was printed an account of Miss Martha K. Rugg’s misadventure with a flower. Noted for her acquirements in botany, Miss Rugg’s fate was proclaimed in doggerel to warn other female botanists:

 Woman, most beauteous of the human race,

Be cautious of a dangerous place.
Miss Rugg, at the age of twenty three,
Was launched into eternity.

The apple man himself had picked up the poor girl, the “flower still in her hand, and the blood streaming from her nose and mouth.”1

For another twenty-five cents the parson was ferried by rowboat to the American side, where “the dashing waters, roiling and tumbling in wild fury, are ever before me, while I sleep; and the eternal roar of the cataract is ever in my ears.” The eternal roar did not deafen him to one annoyance – continual dunning by the servants. Southern patrons of the resort hotels of the North found it hard to endure the practice of tipping, obviously much abused:

As an instance of this, a servant held out his hand to me, as I was seated in the stage about starting for Lewiston, with a request that I would “remember the servant.” “What for?” said I, not remembering that he had done me any particular service. ‘Why, for bringing out your baggage, and it is customary to pay the servant for such things.” Now it so happened, that when the stage drew up, there was no servant at hand, and a fellow-passenger and myself brought out my baggage to the driver; yet the fellow had the impudence to ask pay for my own services. I heard of a visitor who was much annoyed by these fellows; so much so that he could not sit down or get up, or ask a question, but pay was demanded, either for brushing off a seat, unasked, or for answering some question concerning the cataract; so at last he concluded he would stand by himself under a tree, and see if he could keep from paying money; but in a minute a servant was behind him brushing his coat with one hand, while the other was extended for pay.

Desiring to see more of the Lakes, Reverend Williams boarded another steamer at Ontario. The trip to the Genesee River was tempestuous, but the captain, a musician, settled queasy stomachs with songs which he accompanied with a guitar. Naturally, the company turned to sacred music, and those who could sing kept the “well-conditioned” timbers vibrating until midnight. At Rochester, a flour milling center, the man of God was distressed to find that flour was packed into barrels (one miller turned out 300 barrels a day) by men with naked feet:

This was rather repugnant to my ideas of cleanliness. I found a person similarly situated in all the mills I visited. There is a trite saying that every person must eat his peck of dirt, but as the cleanliness of these persons cannot be well vouched for, those who purchase their flour may have eaten more than their quota.2

From their Nashville Christian Advocate the editors of the Lady’s Companion (May, 1852 ) lifted an account of the Falls of Niagara as observed May 4-5, 1848. “Sylvanus,” too, had proper religious feelings toward Niagara, but he coupled with them a mania for statistics. He not only reckoned the width, depth, length, and height of river, islands, and Falls; he also quoted the quantity of water passing over the Falls and the hydraulic horse power that could be developed (4,833,334 h. p.)

For Sylvanus, also, the spray curled “away over the surrounding heights like the form of an angel floating over the world with the bow of God set upon its bosom.” Leaning over the precipice at Table Rock he again saw “the bow of God, woven amid the foam and mist, [which] conveyed to my throbbing heart a renewal of the promise, that the floods shall be restrained, and not sweep over the world again to ruin and destroy it.” When the sun reached its zenith, Sylvanus, like Moses “was compelled to put a veil over my face, that I might endure the effulgent splendors of the throne of waters.” To him the sound of the Falls was not unpleasant for “it came upon my spirit like the voice of God with a subduing but not with a stunning effect. ” The most splendid view of the Falls from the American side was that from the “Chinese Pagoda,” whose summit was 275 feet above the dark waters of the chasm below. Iris Island (the controversy over Goat and Iris was then at its peak) from this point appeared “like the abutment of a world.”

Sylvanus visited the suspension wire bridge six months earlier than Dr. Williams. His account recaptures the thrill of early aerialists:

But one wire, about an inch in diameter and eight hundred feet in length, is yet stretched across the river. It hangs like the wires between the telegraphic posts, and the lowest point of its curve is two hundred and five feet above the water. In a basket suspended just below the wire, fixed with rollers, with ropes attached, persons are drawn over this terrific channel, in which the mighty flood of waters which pours over the Falls is boiling and foaming in its wild career. When seen midway the channel, the adventurous passengers over this dread abyss appear, from their great height above the water, and their distance from the shore, like little children navigating the air in a small boat of lattice work; and as they near the opposite shore, their forms continue to diminish, and their hold upon the arm of safety appears still more feeble and attenuated. Four only of our company, three gentlemen and one lady, ventured over. I had the temerity to be one of the number. I felt perfectly safe; though it was a strange thing to find myself suspended by so small a thread, over a chasm of such awful width and depth; and I regard it as one of the most interesting moments which I have enjoyed during my visit to the Falls.

Rail bridge just past the Falls

In bidding farewell to Niagara, Sylvanus exclaimed “thou hast taught me what is meant, in inspiration, by the sound of many waters. I have reclined at thy feet and deemed myself gazing on the face of Omnipotence.”

It is of some interest to note that neither Williams nor Sylvanus took cognizance of the scientific question that was disturbing the religious mind. Was Niagara a measuring stick whereby the age of the earth could be determined by the rate of its cutting through the Niagara gorge? Would Niagara eventually cut back into Lake Erie, thus bringing sudden disaster to the whole Ontario region?3 Sylvanus, by implication, denied the latter possibility when he exclaimed: “Eternity is written on thy forehead. Thy crown was given thee by the ‘Ancient of Days,’ in the infancy of the world. Thou remainest, and thy years shall not fail, till the only voice which is louder than thine shall still thy roar.” The echoes of such words could still be heard at the Scopes Trial in Tennessee in 1925.

1.John Portmess, poet and preacher of St. Charles, Missouri, visited the Falls in 1849-a few days after another terrible accident. A young man, his bride-to-be, and her small sister were standing on the Goat Island bridge when the youth seized the child and held her playfully over the torrent, Frightened, the little girl struggled and fell into the water. The young man plunged in, though rescue was impossible, and both went over the Falls. Portmess was moved to fervent plagiarism: “Gabriel’s trump shall awake the dead, and bid the sleeping millions rise, to sink in darkness and in death, or mount to joys above the skies, ” Lady’s Companion (May, 1852.)

2, The good doctor, remarking on the lack of grandeur in the falls of the Genesee river missed an opportunity to introduce another exemplary story: the celebrated leap of Sam Patch into eternity. The omission is the more odd because Sam Patch had survived his leap into Niagara’s foaming chasm.

3.Horace Greeley had discussed this probability on his visit to the Falis in 1842. See Mentor L. Williams, “Horace Greeley at Niagara Falls,” INLAND SEAS, Summer, 1948.

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Wooden Ship Building – Spring 1951

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By H.C. Inches

The days of wooden ships and iron men the wooden ship building industry attained gigantic proportions nearly all the way around the Great Lakes. It was the forerunner of our modern metal shipyards.

From the period just after the War of 1812, when the first start was made, until the late ’80’s, the construction of wooden ships furnished a great amount of labor much needed when the country around the lakes was being settled, the demand for hard-wood aiding the farmer to pay for his land and the clearing of it as well as for stock and tools. It also gave work for him and his horses during the slack winter months in getting out the timber and hauling it to the building yards.

As a boy, I ran and played around and over these wooden ships while they were under construction. Many were built close to my home and I passed a shipyard each day as I went to school. I heard a great deal of shop talk regarding their building, from the old timers as they sat around their wood burning stoves in the local grocery stores, and in the shipyard loft on days when they did not work because of the weather.

Nearly all our early vessels were financed where they were built, by the local men, merchants, prosperous farmers, men who owned all or shares in other ships. Sometimes the captain who was to sail these ships occasionally took a share or two. The ship was a local business venture throughout the financing and the building, all at home or nearby, with the oak all from the adjacent forest and the men living close to their work. No stock was sold; shares were sold instead. The money raised was handed over when the vessel was completed – all paid for; and these ships always remained the pride of the port from which they were launched as long as they sailed the waters.

Ship Carpenter’s Tool Chest

It took little money to equip and start a shipyard in those early days. They had no saw mill, nor jig saw. The yard furnished the cross-cut saw, long ship augers and the large metal clamps to pull and force the planks and shapes into place and hold them there for fastening. The ship carpenters owned and carried the wood working tools to the shipyard on their shoulders, the broad axe, the ship axe and the adze, also the many wooden planes and smaller tools; therefore the greater amount of the money went for labor and material locally.

The land for a yard was sometimes purchased in cases where the builders were to continue on for the life of the industry. In other cases, the land was rented when these local men wanted to build only one, two or three ships.

Other shipyards built ships continuously from the start just after 1814 until the local timber was exhausted and the metal ship era started in the late ’80’s. Even after this some yards went on for many years, making light repairs or giving a vessel a complete rebuild.

In the ’80’s the scene started to change. Metal ships were replacing the wooden ones; more and more ships were needed for the expanding commerce; building of ships moved to the larger cities with good railroads, heavy machinery and steel.

The first wood ships built were built all with hand labor, with no sawmill with its circular saw to cut the planks, and they were not called planks, but flitches. Webster calls both a side of bacon a flitch and a long strip of timber a flitch. They had no jig mill to cut shapes out of these flitches for the ship’s frames or ribs. The sawing of them was called whip-sawing and was done by rolling a log up on two high saw horses, with one man underneath and one standing on the log. With a cross-cut saw they would saw from one end to the other until the entire log was cut into flitches of the required thickness.

Most of the material in logs was hauled to the yard by horse teams in the winter when the ground was frozen hard and the sleighing good. It was far easier by sleigh than by wagon; the farmers had the time in winter, also the teams were available. This logging was good for the farmer as it furnished good cash for labor when he needed it most. It was called a tough winter when they did not have good sleighing.

In starting a shipyard the first thought was to acquire a piece of ground large enough along the waterfront, at about the right height above the water, so that the ship, when ready for launching, would slide down the launching ways by its own weight. They also needed the keel block not too far from the water’s edge, and the water’s edge not too far from an adequate depth of water to float the vessel when she left the ship’s ways.

I want to give some idea of the great number of ships built all around the lakes, Ontario, Erie, Huron and Michigan, all but Lake Superior. [I know of no vessel of wood being built on that lake, except two small ones built at Point Aux Pines, just above the Soo. Here in 1733 La Ronde built a 40 ton sloop; in 1793 a 75 ton sloop was built.]

The Lake Superior region could not furnish the good oak timber, could not furnish the commodities for freight, due to the fact that this part of the country was far behind the other lake districts in getting settled and developed. No one district had a monopoly on this business that grew to such gigantic proportions. It helped to open up this country all around the lakes. The ships carried immigrants west, also the necessities they needed to live and thrive on, and the articles they needed to open up the country and develop it; and on return carried grain and lumber to eastern markets.

Why did they build so many wood ships and faster than the business expanded?

Our ships on the lakes were made of the finest white oak, framed and planked,1 whereas our Atlantic Coast clipper ships, the fastest ever built for sail, were oak ribbed and planked with southern pine. Even at that, our good oak ships were at their best only for 15 years. After that it usually cost nearly all the ship could clear to keep it seaworthy, as one winter the ship would need repair on the port bow, then soon after probably the starboard quarters, and after that a new deck. When decay started there was no stopping It.

The difference in the life span between the wood and metal ships shows up in these facts. The engines and boilers in our wooden vessels were very often used in three different wood ships, due to the limited life of wood. Also, a great many ships burned and their machinery would be salvaged and placed in a new hull. I can remember several engines that out lived three different hulls.

Today some of our metal hulls are outliving two engines built of metal, just the reverse from the wooden-ship era.

I have heard old timers say that after 15 years, repairs were a constant source of trouble and expense. A wooden ship was very old at 20 to 25 years. Some did continue at that age and were known as tubs or floating crates, but did operate at times when freight rates were high.

Mansfield’s History of the Great Lakes, published by Beers, tells us that in the year 1869 we had 1860 vessels of all types on the lakes. Some of these were large vessels in that day, though today they would be considered small. 1860 vessels are four times the number we have today, but our ships are five to ten times the size of our early vessels, all propelled by steam and making trips on schedule. In 1869 Beers lists these vessels: 126 side wheel, 140 screw propeller, 240 steam tugs, 175 barques, 50 brigs and 904 fore-and-aft or topsail schooners.

To have 1860 vessels in operation at one time, with all the total losses each year, and the short life of a wood vessel due to deterioration, fire and explosion, they had to build them fast and all around the lake shore and rivers.

Why were the total losses so great each year? These are some figures from Beers:

1851 – 89 total losses.
1859 – 60 steamers and 30 sail vessels went out of register, all causes.
1864 – 45 vessels, total losses.
1869 – In the month of September 35 vessels were lost and in November same year in the storm which lasted from 16th to 19th, 31 vessels became total losses.
1880 – Was spoken of as a year quite free from total losses, as only 45 vessels were lost and 11 of those were from fire and boiler explosions.
1885 – 77 vessels went out of commission from all causes. The wooden ships were giving way to metal and some of these losses were from storms, fire and strandings, some were ships abandoned on account of age.

The total losses due to heavy seas were tremendous. There were few breakwaters. A sailing ship trying to make port and shelter by entering a narrow entrance through piers did not have much assurance of doing so, and if she failed to get into proper position, she had no steam propulsion power to work back out into the lake and deep water.

They had no direction finders, gyro compasses or radar. The harbor lights were poor. There were few fog signal stations. All the early navigators had aboard their ship was a magnetic compass and a lead line. If they missed a harbor entrance they went with the wind and disaster. They were at the mercy of the wind and snow storms.

But few sailing ships were destroyed by fire. The only fire they had was in the galley stove which could be watched. In the late 1830’s, however, when a good many steamers appeared on the scene, disaster from fire grew in numbers each year. This is not to be wondered at, for these ships were built of the very best material for a fire to thrive on. They knew of no fire-resisting insulation to put around the boilers and had no patent hand fire extinguishers. When a fire got started, there wasn’t much chance of stopping it.

Boiler explosions took a heavy toll also. In one year there were nine total losses from that cause alone. In another year eleven went that way. Why? They did not have the means for testing steel, nor perfected safety valves, nor yet the strict and efficient Government boiler inspection of today.

With the limited span of life of the wood vessel due to deterioration of wood, the losses caused by wind, fire and explosions, together with the ever expanding lake trade, I often wonder how the wood ship building industry kept up with the demand. The metal shipyards in time took over when white oak was about gone.

Here is a picture of a wooden ship being built, as I remember it. The first work was to level off a piece of ground parallel to the water as 98 percent of our ships were launched sideways. Then the keel blocks were placed for the length of the ship and for this a level was used. After this, the level was put away, as there was no more need for that tool, or for the steel square. In the actual construction of a ship the bevel and plumb line took their place. When you consider the sheer of a ship and the crown of the deck, you can see why that is so.

On the keel block was laid the keel plank of six-inch thickness. No keel timbers protruded below the keel plank in lake vessels as they would restrict the draft and dead weight cargo to the amount they went below such keel planks, and there is shallow water in many places.

Next the ship’s frames or ribs were assembled, and all bolted together in one U-shaped piece from top side to bilge and around under the ship and to top side on the other side of the vessel. These were slid across and on top of the keel plank, then hauled to an upright position by block and tackle. They were placed about one foot apart, set perpendicular to the keel by a plumb line. The frames were set up amid ship, first working toward either end, after which the stem and stem posts were placed in position and plumbed.

The ship’s planking was started on either side of the keel planks. A large flitch was placed on saw horses. The layout man with a tape line took his length for each plank. With a bevel he took the angle at each frame, placing the number of the frame and level line on a small thin board held in the crook of his left arm. He then went to the flitch in the yard and laid out his markings, transferring the angles and widths to the plank.

Two ship carpenters would then start with ship axe and adze, cutting away the edges down to the chalk lines. After this, it was planed to the right level. leaving a caulking seam. This would leave the outside of the plank narrower in width than the back, which went against the frame, leaving an open caulking seam of about 1/4 inch on outside edges running in two-thirds the thickness of the planks.

The planks on the bottom were usually four inches thick each side the keel planks and eight inches wide. They would narrow to six inches on the bilge; and I know of one large schooner, the David W. Dows, that had bilge planks six inches thick on the bilge, decreasing to five inches after the turn at the bilge was made.

The side planks varied in width from six to eight inches in amidship, but tapered as they approached the bow and stern. This was necessary because every strake of planks was maintained stem to stern, and the distance top of the stem to forefoot was about one-half of that from top side to keep amidship where the girth was the greatest. Therefore, the width varied at each frame.

Before the hull planking got too far along, the deck beams of twelve inches square oak-timbers were placed and fastened at top side at each frame running athwart ship. On them were laid northern white pine planks six inches wide and four inches thick, on whose edges a caulking seam was planed also. Most of this decking came out of northern Michigan. I have seen it cut in lengths up to 36 feet long without a knot.

After the deck beams were placed and fastened, the deck planks were laid. The hatch coamings were placed around the hatchways; these were of oak and placed on the deck planks around the openings. Their timbers were made of 8 by 12 pieces. This was work for the best mechanics and there were many of them. The fore and aft member was beveled on the outside and fitted to the sheer of the deck, and the cross member fitted to the crown of the deck. These timbers did not have a square side or end where a carpenter’s steel square could be used. I have seen these large timbers joined at the corners with a lock joint so tight you could not slip a cigarette paper in at any place. Those wonderful mechanics could do that class of work in wood and be proud of it, also of the amount of work done in a day, Not so now.

While all this was going on, a keelson of 12 by 12 oak timbers was being built in the bottom of the ship over the frames and in line of the keel planks fore and aft stem to stern. This would sometimes in our large ships run four feet across and five feet high, all bolted together of these oak timbers. This was the backbone and main strength of the ship.

The ship was planked on the inside of the cargo hold with 4 by 12 inch planks. There was no caulking seam planed on these planks and the seams were not caulked. This added greatly to the strength of the vessel.

After the ship was planked, stem to stern and from keel to top side, the carpenters went to work and adzed down the entire outside planking. These men were artists with that tool and never made any deep gouges in the planks. Instead, they made the planks so smooth that the planing with a small plane was not a heavy job. This gave the ship a beautiful smooth finish outside.

Now the ship was ready for caulking the decks and the outside of the hull with a strand of cotton and three strands of oakum. These men were professionals, furnishing their tools and their own driving irons and mallets. This work was hard, standing under the ship, stooped over with one shoulder down, driving oakum overhead or sitting on a low stool on deck driving oakum under foot.

The mallets they used were of a different shape than I have seen used in any other vocation. When they were being worked they gave out a loud, musical ringing note that could be heard for blocks away. Each caulker tried to improve the ring of his mallet, knowing full well that every time he let up in his work or stopped work, every man in the yard would know it, so he wanted his mallet to ring out loud and clear. I applaud those men. They drove oakum in dry weather, and in wet weather they sat in the loft, spinning oakum over the knee and folding it into skeins ready for weather in which to resume driving.

The men who shaped the masts, yards and booms were also distinctive mechanics. They would take long, selected white pine logs 28 inches in diameter at the desk and 108 feet long, square them, then make them eight-cornered, then sixteen-cornered, tapered from heel to truck – then smoothed round with a plane. I have seen these professionals stand on one of these logs, swing a ship axe from over the shoulder and split a chalk line mark. They, too, took pride in their work.

When the masts were in place aboard the ship, along with the yards and booms, the riggers went to work splicing the shrouds and stays, bending the sails on yards and booms, slicing the halyards and reaming them off through the blocks.

From some old papers, I have read the cost of our early ships. From 1814 to 1820 they ran from $15,000 to $20,000 and some of the last and larger ones built cost $25,000 to $30,000.

The early steam vessels cost $35,000 to $40,000 in the period from 1835 to 1845. The Great Lakes is given credit for building the first fore and aft schooners and using the sail called the raffee, a triangular sail over the square sail on the foremast of a barkentine. These builders of ships I put into five classes, no one class being more important than the others, nor better workmen than the rest:

The ship carpenter shaped the planks and ribs.
The ship joiner, the cabin work.
The caulkers drove home the oakum.
The mast makers shaped the spars, yards and booms.
The ship riggers spliced and set the shrouds and stays.

These men were all local hardworking men who built ships when building was brisk, and who sailed on these ships when building was slack, and went into the woods in the winter getting out timber. In 1871 ship carpenters were paid $1.50 a day; labor $1.00 per day; the superintendent $3.00 per day and good clear oak $30 per 1000 foot board measure.

Longfellow wrote:

We know what master laid thy keel,
What workmen wrought thy ribs of steel.
What anvils rang, what hammers beat,
In what a forge and what a heat
Were shaped the anchors of thy hope.2

I want to pay tribute to these faithful, hardworking men who worked ten hours a day, six days a week, men who took great pride in the character of their work and were proud and boastful of the number of planks they shaped and spikes they drove in a day.

They owned their homes, educated their children, raised gardens, put the flour and pork in by the barrel, hung hams in the attic. The woodshed was piled high with wood for winter.

As a boy I knew a great many of these men, played and went to school with their children, and I know there was not another vocation that included a finer group of hard working, good American citizens, or that could build a better or more beautiful and graceful ship. These men well knew that the security and well being of their homes in part hinged on the quality and amount of work they did. They enjoyed contentment and satisfaction; it gave them peace of mind and pride in their work.

This, then, is the story of a beautiful creation, a ship. There is not a single sharp angle any place and each change of shape works into another, gracefully and symmetrically. The caulking seams run true to form; the protruding covering board and cap of the bulwarks all give the ship graceful lines. The mast and rigging all make a picture of grace and ease.

To any man who loves a ship, has seen ships built and launched, sliding down the ways, taking to the water gracefully for the first time, it is then that they seem to take the breath of life and their own distinct personality, each different from the other, but all beautiful.

*    *          *          *

The ship stands on the keel blocks, the launching ways are in place and I want you to know just how I have felt when I have watched a ship, built all by hand labor by men I knew in my home town, started from the keel, assembled timber by timber all from the nearby forest, rigged to the last stay and shroud and ready for launching at the master carpenter’s command. The command is given, she starts, and then with moist eyes I feel, as the poet so beautifully put it:
Then the master
With a gesture of command,
Waved his hand;
And at the word,
Loud and sudden there was heard,
All around them and below,
The sound of hammers, blow on blow
Knocking away the shores and spurs.
And see! She stirs!
She starts – she moves, – she seems to feel
The thrill of life along her keel.
And spurning with her foot the ground,
With one exalting, joyous bound –
She leaps into the ocean’s arms !
And, 10! from the assembled crowd
There rose a shout, prolonged and loud,
That to the ocean seemed to say,
Take her, 0 bridegroom, old and gray,
Take her to thy protecting arms,
With all her youth and all her charms!

1.An exception was the schooner George Nester, 790 tons, built all of Norway pine at Baraga, Michigan, in 1887, which was late in the age of wooden vessels.

2. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Building of the Ship.

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About the Author: John Borman was born and raised on Put-in-Bay and knew Captain Parker all his life. John even helped raise three of Captain Parker’s grandchildren and wrote, “I am very proud of them!” Borman has many fond memories of riding alongside Parker in his wheelhouse.

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The Location of British Fort Sandusky – Winter 1950

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By Homer M. Beattie

Sir Robert Walpole once said “All history is a lie.” He must have had the history of the British Fort Sandusky in mind. For a hundred years, controversy has raged over its location. It has been variously placed all the way from the mouth of Pipe Creek to Fremont, in Ohio.

One writer even goes so far as to locate it on the Marblehead Peninsula near Port Clinton and then after badly confusing the data by unwarranted assumptions winds up by twice showing a sketch of De Lery’s French Fort Sandusky and the second time indexing it in the book – “Fort Stephenson as sketched by De Lery” – thereby not only confusing two separate forts but confusing Pontiac’s War of 1763 with the War of 1812. Fort Stephenson was sometimes called Fort Sandusky. Henry Howe in his Historical Collections of Ohio does so. But De Lery who records French Fort Sandusky on the Marblehead Peninsula had been dead thirteen years when Fort Stephenson was built, and Howe’s text and sketches leave no room for any confusion as to the fact he means Fort Stephenson of the War of 1812.

We shall examine a few documents in an effort to straighten this out, but first here again is the usual story about British Fort Sandusky.

It is usually told that in 1745 the Huron Chief Nicolas gave English traders permission to build a fort on Sandusky Bay, and that in 1748, following his defeat by the French, he burned this fort. The story continues that in 1750 the British rebuilt the fort, that it was “usurped by the French in 1751,” fell into disuse, was rebuilt by the British in 1761 and was destroyed May 16th, 1763, with the entire garrison slaughtered except Ensign Pauli, the commandant. This version not only garbles facts but jumps at the entirely unwarranted conclusion that three forts stood at the same place.

Ruggles – 1808

The discovery of the site of British Fort Sandusky was entirely by accident. In the winter of 1949 the author and W. B. White, of Milan, Ohio, set out to draw a map of the Firelands from the original survey notes of Maxfield Ludlow and Almon Ruggles made in 1808. These notes are partly in the Museum of The Firelands Historical Society and partly in the Huron County Recorder’s Office in Fire-Sufferers Book NO. 1, at Norwalk, Ohio. We intended to spot locate on our map the two hundred odd settlers’ cabins located on the Firelands prior to the War of 1812. As the map developed, instead of coming forward from 1808, we were relentlessly pushed backward by the surveyors’ notes. Here, for instance, was the noted Detroit-Fort Pitt trail – here, John Flammand’s1 trading post about one and a half miles up the Huron River from Lake Erie – established so far as we know in 1804 or 1805. Here was the trail to the Moravian village at present day Milan, not to be confused with Zeisberger’s New Salem, about three miles farther down the Huron River, which was abandoned in 1790. Here was Chief Ogontz’s cabin; all these things located by two skilled surveyors and named in the notes.

In platting the south shore of Sandusky Bay we made a startling discovery. Almon Ruggles, who traversed the Bay, started at a point one and three quarters miles east of the mouth of Sandusky Bay. A previous survey made in 1806 had ended at that point. He traversed the south shore of the bay, recording the mouth of Pipe Creek, and located the Indian landing place and a portage from Sandusky Bay to Pipe Creek across a narrow neck of land. Note this portage, for it has been completely ignored or more commonly confused with the portage across the Marblehead Peninsula on the north side of Sandusky Bay.

At a point 492.23 surveyors’ chains or 6.15 miles from his starting point, Ruggles records this item in his notes, “North 68 degrees West chains to a large white Oak marked XII, west of the Old Fort.” This puts him at a point in the present day town of Venice in Erie County, and raises the question “What Old Fort?” Certainly not an Indian Fort, for Ruggles specifically so designates such, as in the case of the Indian mounds on the edge of Norwalk, which he records in his notes as “Indian Fort.”

Now let us examine a few documents.

DeLery Map of “Sandusky Lake”

First we have the notes and maps of Chaussegros De Lery dated 1754 and 1755. He tells of his journey in 1754 into Sandusky Bay which in common with other early explorers he calls “Sandusky Lake.” He says “I thought some trace must remain of the fort built by the French in 1751 and later abandoned. To find it I followed the northern coast of said Lake (Sandusky Bay) which runs east and west. After covering about three leagues I perceived a clearing where I landed at noon and found the remains of the old Fort.” Note that De Lery says definitely “built by the French” (not the English) in 1751 – not 1750. And note, for this is vital, De Lery’s Old Fort is on the north shore of Sandusky Bay whereas Ruggles’ Old Fort is on the south shore of the Bay. Two separate and distinct forts at two different locations! De Lery leaves us a sketch of the French Fort Sandusky, giving dimensions and its relationship to the portage across the Peninsula.

In his journal of 1755 he leaves us a sketch of the mouth of Pipe Creek and an Indian landing place and portage which coincides with the Indian landing place recorded by Ruggles in 1808, on the South shore of Sandusky Bay.

A comparison of De Lery’s sketches will show definitely that there are two separate and distinct portages, one on the north shore of the bay and one on the south shore. The arrows indicating north on his maps rule out any confusion here, and his text, if carefully read, leaves no room for doubt. He also records an Indian village in ruins on the west bank of Pipe Creek to which he says Chief Nicolas and his followers fled following their defeat by the French. Was this the Fort Sandusky of Chief Nicolas? It looks plausible but this item needs more research, and may show that Chief Nicolas’ Fort Sandusky was merely a palisaded Indian village. De Lery in his 1755 notes leaves an account of the Indian use of a water passage from Sandusky Bay to Lake Erie through the former marsh at the foot of Cedar Point. This water passage was known to Firelands pioneers as the Black Channel. Cedar Point at times was and is an island. Evidently it was in 1755 and surely in 1808, for Almon Ruggles so records it. He did not survey it as part of the Firelands tract – at least in his survey of 1808. The use of this Black Channel was doubtless the reason for the Indian Landing Place and Portage near Pipe Creek, recorded by both De Lery and Ruggles, as it kept canoes in quiet water rather than in the open Lake.

Second. An examination of some records in the Pennsylvania Archives reveals much information concerning Ruggles’ old Fort. Here is a very definite and interesting order:

Orders for Lt. Elias Meyer R. A. R. from Col. Henry Bouquet

Fort Pitt August 12th, 1761


You are hereby directed to take your command and march tomorrow, thirteen August, a detachment of one Sub. Two Serj. Two corp and ‘Thirty Private of the first Batt R. A. R. and proceed with convenient Dispatch to Sandusky Lake on the South side of which2 and at the most convenient place you are to build a small Block-house with a Pallisade round it, to serve as a halting place for our partys going and coming to and from Detroit.

Note that Bouquet’s orders definitely say the south side of the lake as he calls the Bay.

Thomas Hutchins 1764 map

Next, we have the map of Captain Thomas Hutchins dated 1764. If Hutchins was not the father of our modern method of subdividing the public lands, he was, at least, one of the first to use it. Later he was Surveyor General of the United States, a reliable and competent witness. Hutchins’ map definitely locates British Fort Sandusky on the south shore of Sandusky Bay. His table of distances from Fort Pitt to Fort Sandusky also checks to the spot where Ruggles found the “Old Fort,” in 1808.

William Darlington in his notes to Christopher Gist’s Journal says, “In the latter part of 1761, the British erected a block house on the south shore of Sandusky Bay,” and gives Colonel Bouquet’s letter to General Amherst December 2, 1761 as authority for the statement.

Darlington also says, “Its location (i.e. the block-house) is correctly marked on the map of Thos. Hutchins of 1778 and also on his map of the Bouquet Expedition of 1764.” Further on he says that Hutchins visited British Fort Sandusky in 1762 and confirms the statement by reference to Bouquet’s letter to Ensign Pauli dated April 3rd, 1762 and published in the Philadelphia Gazette of April 27th, 1791. Pauli’s letters to Bouquet also substantiate the English fort as being on the South shore of Sandusky Bay.

Now let us examine some most pertinent evidence in the Court House at Norwalk, Ohio, in the shape of public records, maps, deeds and legal documents officially recorded, mostly under oath.

In 1815 while the Firelands were all Huron County and the County seat was at Old Avery, the commissioners were interested in roads and appointed various committees to view and report regarding suggested roads to be built.

The following is from Commissioners Journal No. 1, Huron County, Ohio, December meeting 1815:

Road No. 15. From the old English Fort on Sandusky Bay on a Southern direction toward Mansfield to the south line of Huron County.

Abner Young, Surveyor.

Seth Brown, Daniel Page, Charles Blanchard Committee.

The road designated is today Ohio State Highway No. 99 whose northern tenninus is in Venice and which runs approximately along the route designated above. And the northern terminus is very close to Ruggles’ Old Fort and the Fort Sandusky shown on Hutchins’ Map of 1764. Nor is that all.

Major Frederick Falley at one time owned all the land in Margaretta Township, formerly called Patterson, and the land in the fraction lying north of the whole township. March 1st, 1815, he sold 400 acres of land to one Ely Hunt. The somewhat lengthy contract cannot be abridged without spoiling it as evidence, so it is given here in full:

Contract Copied From Deeds (transcribed) old Series Vol. 2, Page 840-842 Incl.

(Extract )

Norwalk, Huron County Court House, Recorder’s Office

*     *           *

Frederick Falley to Ely Hunt -Contract March 1st, 1815.

This article of agreement entered Into by and between Frederick Falley, of Wheatsborough, In the county of Huron and State of Ohio, of the first part, and Eli Hunt, of the same town, County and State aforesaid of the second part,

WITNESSETH : That the party of the first part agrees to sell and convey to the party of the second part three hundred acres of land lying partly In the second Section of Township Number six (called Patterson) In the twenty­ fourth Range in said County of Huron and partly In the fraction North of said Township. Beginning at a white ash tree marked about four rods West of the head of the said Eli Hunt’s Mill Race on Cold Creek, running thence crossing Cold Creek East 5 degrees North two hundred and forty Rods thence North 5 degrees West two hundred rods crossing the said Township line on the North line of said Township at right angles eighty-one rods from the comer last mentioned. thence West 5 degrees South two hundred and forty rods crossing Cold Creek thence South 5 degrees East two hundred rods to the first bounds. Also one hundred acres (called the Marsh Place) adjoining North on the aforesaid tract and beginning on the North line on the East bank of Cold Creek, running thence East 5 degrees North one hundred and sixty rods, thence North 5 degrees West one hundred rods, thence West 5 degrees South one hundred and sixty rods to said Cold Creek. thence un the Creek on the East bank following the various angles of the Creek to the first bound

containing In the whole four hundred acres with the improvements thereon and one set of sawmill irons which were on the premises . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The party of the first part also holds In reserve the privilege of four rods wide through the last mentioned tract (called the Marsh Place) most convenient to carry a canal from Cold Creek to the head of the Swall  near the old English Fort (so called) erecting said Canal and the water which It delivers at the Swall near the English Fort

The party of the first part having full rights to carry other waters into Cold Creek and to take the same quantity of water out again at any convenient place above the head of said Mill Race to carry a canal to the Old  English  Fort  or  other  place

Note that the Old English Fort is mentioned three times.

Confirming this contract is Johnson and Johnson’s survey of Margaretta Township dated April 14th, 1831, and recorded in Huron County Records, Old Series, vol. 8, page 482 and transcribed to vol. A, Town plats. The land described in the contract is definitely shown, and Cold Creek and the Canal mentioned are shown on the map, making it clear that the “head of the Swail” and therefore the Old English Fort are near the Bay on the west side of the Canal very near where State Route 99 intersects U. S. 2 and U. S. 6.

But the final and clinching document of all is the town plat of Venice recorded in Plat Records of Huron Couuty vol. A, page 43 and transcribed from Old Series, vol. II, page 19 with the following affidavit written on the map:

Town Plat of Venice – Huron Town (Old Avery) Huron County, State of Ohio, 18th October, 1816.

This day personally appeared Frederick Folley (sic) and acknowledged the within to be the map of the 1st Section of a town plat by him laid out on his land, bearing the name of Venice, on the Fraction north of Township number 6, in the 24th range of Townships in the Connecticut Western Reserve In said County of Huron, on the south side of Sandusky Bay embracing the Old English Fort so-called. Sworn to before David Abbott, Huron Town.

Recorded Oct. 18th, 1816.

Ichabod Marshall, Recorder.

The eastern boundary of the town was the canal mentioned above, so the Old English Fort is again shown to be west of the Canal within 100 rods of Lake Erie as 100 rods were the north and south limits of the town according to the description recorded. The above evidence shows clearly that the English Fort Sandusky stood on the south shore of Sandusky Bay, that De Lery’s Fort Sandusky stood on the north side of Sandusky Bay and that historians have been wrong in assuming that the various Fort Sanduskys stood at one and the same location. British Fort Sandusky destroyed May 16th, 1763 stood on the south shore of Sandusky Bay within the limits of that part of the Town of Venice, Erie County, Ohio, lying west of the canal, and if the Commissioners Journal is correct, approximately where Ohio State Highway 99, U. S. 2 and U. S. 6 intersect.

To sum up the evidence:

1st. Colonel Henry Bouquet’s orders to Lieutenant Meyers to build a block house on the south shore of Sandusky Bay.

2nd. Map drawn by Hutchins who personally visited it, locating Fort Sandusky on the south shore.

3rd. Pauli’s correspondence recording it on the south shore of the bay. Pauli was a survivor of the massacre of British Fort Sandusky – no one disputes that and he certainly should have known where the fort stood.

4th. Almon Ruggles’ field notes recording an old fort at the spot shown by Hutchins as Fort Sandusky of Pontiac’s War.

5th. Huron County Commissioners Journal No. 1 which locates an English Fort as the northern terminus of an early road which today is State Highway No. 99.

6th. Falley’s land contract mentioning an Old English Fort three times and supported by the Johnson Survey and recorded map showing various items mentioned in the contract which help to identify the location of the Fort.

7th. The town plat of Venice and sworn statement that the town plat includes an old English fort on the south shore of Sandusky Bay and west of the Canal, where Cold Creek enters Sandusky Bay today.

Some have said “You have Fort Junandot.” Three things rule that out :

Junandot has never been definitely proven to be other than at most a palisaded trading post or even an Indian village.

De Lery makes no mention of a Fort Junandot supposedly built in 1754, and he was in the supposed vicinity in 1754 and 1755. Again conclusions have been hastily drawn here and lack proof.

Junandot was (if a fort at all) of French origin. There never has been any controversy about that point.

The fort so well documented at Venice is universally referred to as an old English fort, and all the evidence coincides its location with Hutchins’ Fort Sandusky, destroyed during Pontiac’s War.

And the author is personally inclined to believe that the Anioton described by De Lery on the west bank of Pipe Creek at the entrance to Sandusky Bay is the probable site of the so called Fort Sandusky connected with Chief Nicolas. That particular item needs further research. But in any event the historian who believes that British Fort Sandusky stood on the north shore of Sandusky Bay, has powerful evidence to the contrary to refute, including public documents duly recorded, as well as evidence left by men who were there and the order of Colonel Bouquet to build it on the south shore.

  1. The name also appears as Flemond, Flemoned and Fleming.
  2. Italics are the Author’s.

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About the Author: John Borman was born and raised on Put-in-Bay and knew Captain Parker all his life. John even helped raise three of Captain Parker’s grandchildren and wrote, “I am very proud of them!” Borman has many fond memories of riding alongside Parker in his wheelhouse.

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An 1860 Vacation Jaunt – Fall 1950

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

From the diary of J.E. Snow, edited by Charles J. Dow

(Ed. note from 2020: This is a historical piece, written in 1860 and printed in 1950.  There are words and terms used in this piece that would not be used in Inland Seas today. )

August 17th, 1860. This morning at five o’clock, the West Andover Brass Band left home for a pleasure trip up to Lake Superior. The morning was cloudy, with a light shower to lay the dust, and make our ride in our band wagon the more pleasant. Our company consisted of the band and some of their ladies, to wit, J.H. Carpenter, Myron Beach, O.F. Mason, D R. Carpenter and Wife, J.E. Snow and Wife, T.S. Selby, C.M. Wilkins, Isaiah Crowther, Fred Boyington, Levi Rice, Henry Wilder and Wife, J.L. Osborn and sister. All enjoying ourselves first rate. We arrived at Ashtabula at eleven o’clock; we met my old and well tried friend, Rev. Ransom Dunn; was glad indeed to see him; he was on his way from Hillsdale to Boston.

We left Ashtabula at twelve-thirty on the cars for Cleveland. Had a pleasant ride, left my wife at Madison with her friends, and we arrived at Cleveland at two o’clock. We put up at the Bennett House. Rambled over the city to our hearts’ content, at five o’clock, took supper, after which we went down to the boat Iron City, a beautiful steamer which is to be our home for the next ten days. The crew were about thirty in number, and many of them were colored men, but fine fellows. After sunset, we commenced playing, and played most of the time till the boat started, which was about nine o’clock. The weather was fine, the lake smooth and we were soon out of sight of Cleveland; we were all tired, and soon found our state rooms and beds; here we spent our first night on our pleasure trip towards Lake Superior. Some of us slept, and some of us did not much.

Sat. morning Aug. 18th. This morning I arose a little before the sun, went on deck, found we were in sight of Walden, where so many black men have declared themselves free men. We are now passing some beautiful islands, and some manufacturing villages. The morning is beautiful, and the river is calm as a summer evening.

Lake St. Clair ca. 1890

We arrived at Detroit at about seven o’clock; this is a business city, everything appears to move like clock work, on the river, and the land. On the opposite side the river is a large town, called Windsor. There are a large number of colored people who find employment here, without the fear of being carried off by southern slave holders. I am glad there is a spot on this wide earth, where the colored man is free. We entered Lake St. Clair at about twelve o’clock. This is rather a beautiful sheet of water, though the smallest of the great chain of lakes. The weather is still beautiful, and all on board are enjoying themselves finely. On leaving Detroit, we went nearly due East. We are now in the middle of the South. At 2 P. M. we are having a hard shower, although there are but few clouds to be seen. The sun is shining all the while. The shower soon over, we are now on what is called St. Clair Flatts, where the grass grows up through the water. There is a light house about ten miles from shore. We are about to meet a steam tug with three tall masted vessels in tow. We have met one like it before. We are coming among the islands. At five o’clock, we are passing the town of St. Clair, on St. Clair River. This is a beautiful country on either side of the river; the river is about three quarters of a mile wide, steam saw-mills are very plenty. Pine logs are floated down from the north. We have just met a raft of about two acres of pine logs, towed by a steam tug. The crops along the river are fine, this is a pleasant country. At sunset, we entered Lake Huron, with rather a stiff head wind. The boat begins to rock some, just enough to make it ride pleasantly.

Sabbath morning, Aug. 19th, it is somewhat cloudy, but no wind, the lake is calm as it can be, not a ripple on its waters. There are now in sight thirty-one vessels, all waiting for wind to waft them along. We are nearly out of sight of land, there is a little streak lying west of us. We passed Saginaw Bay, before daylight, when we were entirely out of sight of land. We are now at breakfast time in the vicinity of Thunder Bay. At 9 A.M., we are among the islands covered with pines, the country is wild and beautiful, the day is fine, not wind enough to make a ripple on the water. At about 11 o’clock, we begin to see land on the eastern shore. At 1 o’clock, there is a long strip in view, and we begin almost to lose sight of it on the western shore. In front of us nothing is visible but water and clouds, with here and there a sail. There is scarcely any wind, all is smooth and fine. We have just left a table where we have partaken of a dinner, good enough for any man. We have lived well all the way. The whole crew appear to be men of the right stamp.

We are now at 3:30 p.m. passing out of Lake Huron. There are a large number of islands, and all covered with pines. A fine chance for a steam saw-mill. It is now raining a little, but not hard. It is not a very easy task for me to describe the splendor of the scenery, as we pleasantly float along among those beautiful islands. They are all covered with timber, of various kinds, pine, hemlock, spruce, cedar, white poplar and a variety of undergrowth. On the small islands, the timber is large. We are having rather a rainy afternoon, which makes it unpleasant being out on deck, but we have no wind to disturb at all. We are now passing a few log houses, where there are a few vegetables growing in the garden. We are just entering a beautiful river, the clouds are breaking away, and the rain has stopped. At sunset we entered a very narrow river where there was a small village, and some land cultivated, but no corn growing, a few cabbage, turnips, and a few potatoes were about all that could be seen. This is St. Mary’s River.

Soon after dark we came to the canal where there are two locks, that lock up into Lake Superior. This canal is about three quarters of a mile long. This is a great work connecting the two Great Lakes. The fall is twenty-eight feet, the rapids are about half a mile long, and I should think about the same distance wide. The Indians will run their birch bark canoes up the rapids, and catch fish. We passed through the locks, and went as far as the upper end of the canal, and tied up till morning, as it was too dark to enter Superior among the islands.

Picture Rock

Monday. I arose as soon as it was light, and viewed the canal and locks and at eight-thirty we started. And after passing a large number of islands we came into Lake Superior. We are now at noon, out in the broad lake with a stiff head wind. The waves are beginning to roll big, the white caps are showing themselves to good advantage. The weather is quite cold, at four o’clock, the weather is quite pleasant, the wind has gone down, and the lake is getting quite smooth again. At five o’clock we are passing the sand bank, or what they call the “Sandy Mountain,” which is three hundred feet high, and about five miles long, no timber for half a mile back. The wind has all gone down, and the lake is getting quite smooth again. Now at 6 P.M. we are nearly opposite the Picture Rock, but so far out that we cannot see the pictures. We can look into the big Cave where a steam boat can go in and tum around. Now the sun is just setting in the water, rather of a splendid sight. It is quite cold, more like October than August. It is no easy task for me to imagine that I am nearly one thousand miles from home, and on one of the largest lakes in the world. The weather is still fine, a little head wind, but the lake quite smooth. We are now at ten-fifteen, within forty minutes sail of Marquette. We stopped here and stayed until about three in the morning, it is so dark that I can’t say much about it.

Tuesday morning, Aug. 21st, I arose this morning, just in time to see the sun come up out of the water. There is a little wind, and the lake somewhat rough, but the wind soon died away, and it is quite calm again. We are now at ten o’clock, at Portage Entry, unloading on another vessel, about two miles from shore. The weather is beautiful, the wind is springing up from the south. The scenery along this lake is most splendid. There are mountains on the south of us, that are high, and the forests unbroken, the timber is mostly pine with a thick growth of underwood. In some places, where the soil is cultivated, some places there is a fine sandy beach, and in other places a rocky shore. Some are a white sandy rock, and others a red sand rock and very high, it has the appearance of brick, and extends along the coast for many miles. It is impossible for me to describe the many places of interest, as we sail along this beautiful day.

At 2 P.M. our boat came to an anchor about half a mile from shore, where there were six hundred fish barrels to be taken off, and about twenty-five barrels of salt. We stayed here about four hours, and all went on shore and had a ramble on the sandy beach. Here we saw the Indian women drying fish over a slow fire. Henry Wilder and I went into the lake swimming, the water was cold, and clear, we picked up a number of little stones, and brought them away with us. This is a great fishing establishment, where one of our passenger’s lives. We left this place at about six o’clock, at sunset. We are at the lower end of the peninsula, passing between it and the Manitou Island. We stopped at Copper Harbor, Eagle Harbor and Eagle River in the night.

Lady Elgin

Wednesday morning, Aug. 22nd. We arrived at Ontonagon at eight o’clock, this morning. Here we found the beautiful steamer Lady Elgin which backed out, to make room for the Iron City. It rains now very hard, and some snow mixed with it. This is quite a town, I should think contains about five hundred inhabitants. This is the extent of our journey. When we leave this place, it will be to return to our homes, which will be about noon. Here I got the first specimen of copper ore. We have had a fine passage, the lake has not been very rough, everything has passed off delightfully, I hope we shall have as good a time in going back. If this is a specimen of the western country, I think I shall not care about going west to live. All the fruit and garden vegetables are brought here on the boats, the soil is one mass of sand. Some of the residences have rather a beautiful front yard, with shade trees in them, this place is situated at the mouth of Ontonagon River, and is destined to be one of the largest cities on the lake.

Now at eleven o’clock, we are again on the mighty deep, and it is raining very hard, but the noble vessel is crowding its way, along its trackless course, regardless of the elements that surround it. We have just arose from the dinner table, and it rains powerfully, and thunders terrifically; the lake is not very rough. We came to Eagle River about four o’clock, where we spent the remaining part of the day rambling through the town, and over the hills. We went to one of the copper mines, and should have gone to another, if it had not rained. We got a number of specimens of copper at this place.  I saw fine horses here, and some very large oxen and some large cows.  We stayed at this place all night.

Thursday, Aug. 23rd. We left Eagle River at five thirty this morning, and at six thirty we are at Eagle Harbor, a place of about two hundred inhabitants. All that makes the place is the Harbor, and the copper mines in the mountains. While we were at this place, the Lady Elgin came in, and another boat was coming in as we left. We are now again out in the lake, crowding our way along against a hard wind. It is a little cloudy, but rather a pleasant day, after all. At eight thirty we enter Copper Harbor, where we stay about one hour. This is a very pretty place, but small. one church, one store, one tavern and store house, and a few dwellings.

We are now again on the great deep, pressing our way on pleasantly; there is a little wind, but not enough to make it very rough. Thus far everything has passed off first rate, we have had no cause to regret that we have made this trip. If we have no worse weather than we have had, we shall always look back to this time, as one of the brightest spots in our history. We are now at ten o’clock, turning the peninsula, between it and Manitou Island, which are about one mile apart. The Lady Elgin and another boat are just behind us, putting on all the steam they can make; they go to Portage Entry, and we to Marquette. The wind begins to rise, and the waves run rather high, the boat tumbles about more than it has done since we left Cleveland. There is quite a heavy fog, the lake is still quite rough, and many of the passengers are sick. I do not feel sick yet, but I expect to soon, unless the sea goes down a little.

Five o’clock, we are safe at Marquette. This is quite a business town, of nearly one thousand inhabitants. We called here in the night, when we went up, and I did not see much of it. Iron seems to be the main article of commerce. The hands are taking on coal, which I was told came from Cleveland. I have just been looking out of my stateroom window, to see those faithful black men work with their shovel and wheelbarrow. I really feel very sorry for them. It rains hard, but they keep at work, but they are well paid for this work. I think I should not like to be driven so hard, without any time to rest my weary bones. Just after dusk, the Lady Elgin came in, and tied up to our boat, and we all went on board of her. I think it is the most beautiful boat that I ever saw in my life. In consequence of the dense fog, and the darkness of the night, we did not leave till morning. The Lady Elgin only stopped about two hours, when she put out to sea again.

Friday morning, Aug. 24th, at about four o’clock, we left Marquette, and again launched out into the deep. The wind was blowing quite hard, and the waves running high, the boat would roll and tumble finely. We are now at seven o’clock, in sight of the Cave, and Picture Rocks, but they are some ten miles off. This forenoon has been the roughest of any time since we started. But very little stirring about on the boat. At one o’clock the weather is more pleasant, and the wind going down, but still the lake is quite rough, and many of the passengers are sick. We are coming in sight of land on the north shore, and we shall soon be out of Lake Superior. At two thirty, we have stopped at White Fish Point. There is a Light House, and a dwelling house, and a number of Indian huts, a fishing park, and barren sandy soil.

Sault St. Marie

We arrived at the Sault St. Marie’s Canal, just before sunset. Where we had a fine view of the Lock and rapids, and also of the town. When we went up, we passed this place in the night, and did not see it much. It is quite a town, about five hundred inhabitants. I should think from the appearances, that whiskey was used pretty freely here. We left the boat and went through the town on a ramble, had a good time. The boat tied up for the night. The river below here is very narrow, and difficult running in the night.

Harvey B. Dodworth

Saturday morning, Aug. 25th. We left this place a little after sunrise. This is a beautiful morning, but rather cool. We have had quite a large accession in the number of our passengers, and among them is the celebrated Mr. Dodsworth of New York City. He is leader of the largest band in the United States; he had his instrument, and played a few solos very nicely. At eleven o’clock, we have passed through the river, and among the islands and now we are at Detour, a small place, of two or three log houses, and one large frame house. This ls just at the entrance of Lake Huron. The scenery is rather beautiful, but there is nothing to induce anyone to come here to live. At eleven thirty, we are now again under way, with the broad Huron before us. The day is beautiful, and the lake is calm, and we are passing rapidly over its smooth waters. The afternoon passed off very pleasantly, nine o’clock, beautiful scenery, the moon shines brightly, and we are enjoying ourselves finely. We are now off Saginaw Bay, and out of sight of land. This is the only place, that we have passed, where we could not see land on one shore or the other.

Sabbath morning, Aug. 26th, we are still on Lake Huron, on the Western shore. For twenty miles the banks are rocks, and very high. There are two considerable villages in sight, I should think they were about ten miles apart. This is a beautiful morning, the lake is calm. There is quite a number of vessels in sight. Eight o’clock, we have just left Lake Huron, and entering St. Clair River. This is a beautiful place on either side of the river. The cars come in from the East, and West, and almost every point of the compass. These are the largest towns I have seen since I left this place going up. This place is called Gratiot.

We passed down the river, and through Lake St. Clair, met a great many tugs, towing sail vessels up, and some had as many as four or five in tow. At one o’clock, we arrived at Detroit, the shops are generally closed, and all seems to be quiet as a Sabbath day, except the unloading of some freight, from our boat. Just now a ferry boat came over Canada, with about twenty-five colored children on board, dressed in their Sunday suits, looking as happy as any children in the city. They started directly up town, probably on their way to church. I was glad to see that the Sabbath day was regarded in so large a city as Detroit.

At two o’clock, we left Detroit, and are again on the river, making our way towards Cleveland. We rode pleasantly down the river, and were soon on Lake Erie. At about five o’clock, we come among the islands, which we passed in the night when we were going up. This is the battle ground of Commodore Perry, which was fought on the 10th of September, 1813, a day that will not be soon forgotten, by the people of America and Great Britain. We arrived at Cleveland about twelve o’clock, at night, all safe and sound. The band all got up and played a few times, and then returned to their beds again. Monday morning, August 27th, we left our beds, and found our boat tied up at the same spot where we found it ten days ago. We were glad indeed, to set our feet on Terra Firma again, once more. Our journey has been a pleasant one, still we were glad when we left that noble steamer the Iron City. We formed acquaintance with some of the crew, and passengers, that will not soon be forgotten. We had another ramble through the city, went to the Bennett House and took breakfast, and at ten o’clock we took the cars for Ashtabula.

[end of J. E. Snow’s account of trip up the Lakes.]

At Willoughby, J. L. Osborn, and his sister Helen, left us to visit their relatives, by the name of Lord. At Madison, J. E. Snow left us to join his wife. At Ashtabula, some of the Band Boys went to Mr. Nettleson’s on the South Ridge, for our horses and band wagon, when they came with the wagon, we loaded in, and started for home. And right glad we were to get back, safe and well from our very pleasant trip. After being gone from home eleven days.

[Record finished by Henry Wilder, West Andover, Ohio, leader of the band.]

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The Story of the Schooner HERCULES – Summer 1950

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By M.M. Quaife

The Hercules was one of the tiny schooners which sailed the Great Lakes a century and a half ago. Some of them were vessels of 30 tons or evenness. The U. S. snow Adams, the finest vessel on the lakes in her time, rated 150 tons and carried a crew of 10 or 12 men. The Hercules was rated at 60 tons and her crew numbered half a dozen men.

A two-masted schooner, similar to what the HERCULES may have looked like.

Then, as now, the Great Lakes were subject to violent tempests, and the Government had not even dreamed of surveying channels or providing harbors and other aids to navigation. The little vessels of the period, consequently, too commonly ended their careers on some stormy lee shore, which became the common grave of vessel and crew. Such was the fate of the Hercules, whose story provides a typical illustration of shipping conditions on the lakes in the early decades of the nineteenth century.

On August 12, 1816 the vessel cleared Fort Gratiot (present-day Port Huron) for Mackinac with a cargo of 370 barrels of flour, 31 barrels of salt, 3 barrels of pork, all of it consigned by James Thomas to J. W. Biddle of Mackinac. Master of the Hercules at this time was William Keith, a veteran lake sailor.

Two years later, June 26, 1818, Ebenezer Church, master, the Hercules cleared Mackinac for Chicago with a cargo composed chiefly of flour, soap, and whiskey consigned to the traders of that future metropolis. Twenty-two days later, June 18, she was back at Mackinac bringing a cargo chiefly of furs. John Kinzie, the Chicago trader, had consigned 312 packs of buffalo skins, 56 packs of other furs and 166 bear skins to Mackinac traders; other shippers had sent 44 packs of furs.

American Bison

Few people of today have ever heard that extensive herds of buffaloes occupied the country around the head of Lake Michigan a couple of centuries ago. Before the advent of the nineteenth century settler they had vanished from the region. One can only wonder whether the shipment of over 300 packs of skins came from Chicago’s back country or from some more remote point. All but forty packs of furs were unloaded at Mackinac. In their stead, the Hercules sailed for Detroit with almost 400 mococks of maple sugar, besides a lesser number of various other items.

In the spring of 1817 the Hercules again voyaged from Detroit to Chicago. The first Fort Dearborn had been burned by the Indians following the massacre of August 15, 1812. Promptly upon the close of the war the Government laid plans to reoccupy Chicago and on July 4, 1816 two companies of the Third U. S. Infantry arrived from Detroit to erect and garrison the second Fort Dearborn. Major Daniel Baker, a veteran officer of the regiment, had been assigned to the command, but for some reason he did not accompany the troops in 1816. The following spring, accompanied by his family, he sailed from Detroit on the Hercules. On June 1, 1817 he wrote a letter to his friend, Solomon Sibley of Detroit, describing his new situation. He had intended to write by the return of the Hercules, but the vessel had left too soon to permit doing so.

He was hard at work making a garden and other necessary arrangements for living. The Fort was pleasantly situated and his living quarters were more comfortable than he had expected to find them. “The surrounding country, ” he continued, “abounds with almost every species of game, which is easily procured and enables us with little expense to live in a style very different from what we have of late been accustomed to.” Already he had established a garrison school, “with some prospects of success” and with a company clerk as instructor. Mrs. Baker was less pleased with her wilderness situation, but the Major hopefully anticipated that in time she would become reconciled to it.

Such was Chicago in 1817, But little has been learned concerning Captain Ebenezer Church. One item from the year 1816, however, indicates that he was a man of resolute hardihood. The schooner General Jackson had been caught at Mackinac by the advent of cold weather and had been laid up for the winter there. On December 18, therefore, Church set out for Detroit in a birchbark canoe. The details of his 300-mile mid-winter voyage down the coast of stormy Lake Huron would undoubtedly make an interesting story.

Owner of the Hercules was James Thomas, concerning whom considerable is known. He was a Massachusetts man who from 1808 to 1811 had served as captain of dragoons in the U. S. Army. Upon the outbreak of war a year later, he reentered the service and from 1813 to 1815 held the rank of colonel, serving as an assistant deputy quarter­master. Evidently this service brought him to the lakes, where he remained for two or more years following the close of the war. Evidently, too, he sought to obtain a livelihood in the shipping trade, for the entire 400 -barrel cargo of the Hercules on the voyage to Mackinac in August, 1816 was shipped by Thomas, owner of the vessel. At this time the vessel was listed as ‘of Presque Isle (Erie ).’ Thomas must soon have removed to Detroit, where he established friendly and social relations with such prominent families as the Sibleys and the Woodbridges. About the year 1818 he went to Washington, where he seems to have lived for many years. Here as late as 1828 he was still struggling to settle his accounts with the Government for his war-time service.

Comes now into our story a young Green Mountain boy named Luke Sherwin. In 1818, seeking fame and fortune, he made his way to Lake Erie and hired for the season on the Hercules. From the flotsam of time a single letter, written to his brother in Vermont, has emerged. “I am now a sailor,” he proudly announced. Already he had been as far west as Mackinac, 600 miles from Buffalo. When he began the letter, on August 9, 1818, the Hercules had been stormbound for three days off Cunningham Island in Lake Erie, prevented by contrary winds from continuing her voyage to Buffalo. He finished it at that port three days later. The captain had gone ashore, all of the crew save one were drunk, and Sherwin was in temporary charge of the vessel. He had engaged to remain with her until the close of the season of navigation, when he intended to seek other scenes; where, “God only knows.” Less than two months later his corpse, battered beyond possibility of recognition, was tossing in the surf off Michigan City.

Soon after the date of Sherwin’s letter we encounter a surprising document. William Woodbridge, collector of the port of Detroit, had persuaded the Treasury Department to permit him to procure a small sailing vessel to serve as a revenue cutter. She was built at Erie at a cost of $600, a far cry from present-day conceptions of governmental expenditures. Named the A. J. Dallas and manned by sturdy Captain Gilbert Knapp and crew of three or four sailors, she cruised the Detroit River and adjacent waters intent upon discouraging smuggling and enforcing a proper degree of respect for the Government of the United States.

On September 2, 1818 the Dallas dropped down the river and out upon Lake Erie. Several vessels had been spoken, when in the distance a strange sail was observed veering and tacking in such manner as to indicate she was desirous of avoiding the Dallas. Captain Knapp set out in pursuit and presently came close enough to fire a blank shot across her bow. No attention being paid to this, he fired another loaded with ball. The vessel replied in kind, repeatedly firing a musket at the Dallas which continued the chase for several hours. Eventually the wind failed the cutter and the vessel she had been chasing passed from sight, heading toward the mouth of the Detroit River. Knapp reported, however, that in the chase he had come near enough to her to identify her as the Hercules of Detroit.

Luke Sherwin had stated in his letter of August 12 that the Hercules was to remain a week or more at Buffalo. Presumably she was returning to Detroit when Captain Knapp encountered her. But the character of James Thomas, recently a colonel in the United States Army and the acknowledged friend of Detroit’s leading citizens, seems to render such conduct as Captain Knapp reported inexplicable.

Whatever the explanation of the mystery may be, the Hercules was engaged upon her last voyage. When favoring winds blew, the voyage from Detroit to Chicago might be made in a few days’ time. When the winds were contrary, or lacking altogether, it might require many weeks. The General Wayne, which carried the troops from Detroit to build Fort Dearborn in 1816, had consumed a month on the voyage, and the Hercules, which left Lake Erie on September 2, was at Chicago ready to begin her return voyage to Detroit, exactly a month later.

Lieutenant William S. Eveleth was a brilliant young Virginian who had graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in the spring of 1815. His excellent record as a cadet gained for him the assignment to the engineering corps of the army and immediate appointment as instructor in engineering at the Academy. A year later he was sent to Detroit as assistant engineer in charge of the defenses around the lakes, and in July, 1818 he went to Chicago to supervise the work of construction of Fort Dearborn.

The Hercules weighed anchor for her return voyage to Detroit in the evening of October 2 and Lieutenant Eveleth improved the opportunity to return to his home station before the onset of winter. Next morning a tempest such as the oldest Chicagoan could not remember developed and raged for two days. Around the southerly half of Lake Michigan no single harbor afforded a shelter for shipping, and the tiny Fort Dearborn community anxiously awaited news of the Hercules.

It came with sickening impact a week later. On October 9 a band of Indians from the Grand River of Michigan arrived. They reported that they had encountered pieces of wreckage at the end of the lake, and among the objects which they had picked up and brought with them was a scale which had belonged to Lieutenant Eveleth.

Major Baker at once dispatched a party in search of any survivors of the disaster. They found the wreckage of the Hercules scattered along the shore for several miles in the vicinity of Michigan City. Although the hull had vanished, the main mast and some pieces of spars had drifted ashore. But one body was found, and this one was in such condition as to be unrecognizable. A party of Potawatomi Indians had already visited the scene and carried away whatever they deemed worth taking, but a uniform coat belonging to Captain Eveleth had been left behind.

Such was the contemporary report made by Major Baker to his superior at Detroit. Two years later, however, Henry R. Schoolcraft, the noted Indian authority, attended the Chicago Treaty of 1820 and returned to Detroit by open boat around the lake shore. He recorded that the mast and spars of the Hercules were still to be seen, and the voyageurs pointed out to him the graves of several victims of the wreck, scattered along the shore at points where their bodies had been washed up. The body of Lieutenant Eveleth had been identified and had been buried beneath a cluster of small pines at the edge of a sand dune, the spot marked only by a blazed sapling. Schoolcraft commented that a more adequate tribute of respect was due Lieutenant Eveleth from his brother officers, and expressed the hope that those at Fort Dearborn would yet provide a suitable memorial for him.

Although his fellow officers might be thus indifferent, the auditors of the Treasury Department could safely be trusted not to forget the dead lieutenant. Sometime before his last mission he had received $1000 in government funds. He had paid Lewis Morgan of Green Bay $50 and had rendered an account of $600 expended for other purposes. Although Eveleth died too soon to know of it, only $99.18 of the latter sum had been approved, leaving almost $850 still charged against him, and payment of the sum that had been approved was being withheld from his widowed and indigent mother until the entire $1000 should be accounted for. Although Lieutenant Eveleth was known to have been notably careful of his expenses while a cadet at the Academy, the question was raised whether at Detroit he had lived more extravagantly than his salary permitted. If not, had he carried the money with him, separated from his personal funds, in which event a presumption might be advanced that it had been lost when he perished in the line of duty, and consequently the loss was chargeable to the Government. How the matter ended, we do not know. Possibly the auditors are still pursuing the claim. More probably, the distressed mother did not live long enough to receive the minute fraction of the amount at stake which even the auditors acknowledged was rightfully due her son. Like the encounter of Captain Knapp with the Hercules the determination of Lieutenant Eveleth’s account still remains a mystery.

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This article appeared in Inland Seas in Summer 1950.

About the Author: Dr. Quaife of Detroit is author of many books and articles on the Great Lakes, one of its best known and most distinguished historians.

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The St. Lawrence Seaway – Spring 1950

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By N.R. Danielian

It is quite appropriate that the Great Lakes Historical Society should be interested in the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Basin Project because it was in Cleveland that the first impetus to its development was given in September 1895 at a meeting of the International Deep Waterways Association. One of the great advocates of this project was the late George T. Bishop, an officer of the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company and later of the Niagara Frontier Association.

Like all major undertakings of mankind, the St. Lawrence Project has had a long and turbulent history. Following the Cleveland meeting of the International Waterways Association in 1895, the President of the United States and the Government of Canada appointed a Deep Waterways Commission to report on all the possible waterway routes which might connect the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. Reporting on January 8, 1897, this Commission advised the President that both the St. Lawrence route and the Oswego-Oneida-Mohawk canal route were feasible and that construction of either project as quickly as it could be technically planned and economically executed was fully justified. This Commission also recommended deepening of the connecting channels between the Great Lakes and further surveys to determine which one of the two routes should be undertaken. In the next three years Congress appropriated a total of $483,000 to finance further investigation by the Board of Engineers on Deep Waterways which the Secretary of War had established. In the light of unsettled boundary disputes and navigation rights on boundary waters between the United States and Canada, the inclination of the Army Engineers at that time was to favor the construction of a 21-foot all-American canal.

Cedar Rapids, St. Lawrence River

In 1902 Congress took the initiative in requesting the President to establish an International Waterways Commission jointly with Great Britain (for Canada) for the purpose of reporting upon the use and conservation of the Great Lakes. Such a Commission was established in December 1903. The great accomplishment of this Commission was to negotiate and to settle the existing points in dispute between Canada and the United States. These settlements were embodied in the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. This treaty clarified navigation rights on the boundary waters, defined the amount of diversion of water each country could take at Niagara River and established an International Joint Commission with broad powers over the control and utilization of boundary waters. With the settlement of these issues, the St. Lawrence route became the preferred channel for the Great Lakes to Atlantic Ocean navigation project.

In February 1914 the United States inquired of the British ambassador as to the views of the Canadian government with regard to a study by the International Joint Commission, established under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, concerning the feasibility of constructing a deep waterway for ocean-going vessels. Due to the great war this was delayed until 1920. In the meantime, Canada had already authorized the construction of the Welland Canal and work on it was started in 1914 but was delayed on account of the war.

The International Joint Commission held extensive hearings throughout the United States and Canada and in 1921 reported unanimously in favor of undertaking the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Seaway Project.

In the meantime, private interest was very much alive to the advantages of constructing the St. Lawrence project for both navigation and power. In 1919 the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Tidewater Association was organized as a Council of the States and in the succeeding decade as many as thirty state governments became officially affiliated with the organization, which devoted its sole efforts to public education and promotion of the Seaway Project.

At the same time private companies interested in the development of St. Lawrence power and the utilization of this power in the reduction of aluminum were engaged in acquiring riparian rights upon the shores of the St. Lawrence River. As early as 1896 private interests had acquired leases from the State of New York by special legislative act to utilize some portion of St. Lawrence River’s water power in northern New York. It was under such a lease that the present Massena power canal was constructed and still utilizes a part of the flow of the St. Lawrence River in northern New York for the production of power to be used in the plant of the Aluminum Company of America. The history of private efforts to secure licenses for the development of power on the St. Lawrence River has been checkered with political controversy ever since 1907 when Governor Charles Evans Hughes took a hand in the definition of a water conservation policy in New York State. This controversy has at times been very lively and has involved Governors Miller, Alfred E. Smith, Franklin Roosevelt, Herbert Lehman and Thomas E. Dewey. In the end, however, the state finally decided by legislative enactment to retain the right of utilization of St. Lawrence power as a public domain and to hold it in trust for the benefit of the people of the state as a whole.

Hugh L. Cooper

The most ambitious program of development of the St. Lawrence Project was proposed to the International Joint Commission in 1920 by the great American engineer Hugh L. Cooper, who appeared before the Commission on behalf of his clients, namely, the Aluminum Company of America, the General Electric Company, and the Dupont Company, to propose a privately financed program of developing water power resources of the St. Lawrence River from Ogdensburg to Montreal, where there are potentially over five million kilowatts of undeveloped resources. An interesting part of Cooper’s program, which called for the private expenditure of $1,300,000,000, was the proposal that his clients would make a gift of the joint works that would be useful in the creation of navigation facilities, to the two governments, in exchange for the right to utilize the water power of the river. This program, as well as other similar private offers, did not reach a stage of maturity because of political opposition in New York State and because, being an international project, Canadian consent was necessary, which could not be obtained for private exploitation of the river. It is an interesting footnote that Hugh L. Cooper, having failed to develop this greatest of the domestic water power sources, soon was engaged by the Russian Soviet Government to supervise the construction of the Dnieper Dam, which was the major symbol of the first five-year plan. The successful construction of this project made Cooper the “darling” of the Soviets. It is also a matter of record that an American manufacturer, who was also interested in the St. Lawrence power development, supplied the generating equipment for the Dnieper Dam.

The first sustained effort to secure agreement with Canada for the development of the St. Lawrence Project was initiated and carried through to completion under the Republican administrations of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, while Andrew Mellon was Secretary of the Treasury and Charles Evans Hughes and Henry L. Stimson were Secretaries of State. In July 1932 President Hoover finally announced the signing of a treaty with Canada and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee immediately undertook, under the chairmanship of the late Senator Borah of Idaho, to hold hearings. The political campaign in which the St. Lawrence Seaway was an issue between candidate Franklin Roosevelt and President Herbert Hoover and the subsequent period of economic crisis, delayed Congressional consideration of the treaty until March 1934. At that time the treaty came to a vote and it was defeated; although it had a majority of Senate votes, it failed of the required two­ thirds endorsement.

Lachine Rapids, St. Lawrence River

During the following six years, Secretary of State Cordell Hull made repeated overtures to Canada to renegotiate a new agreement. Because of certain political conditions in Canada, no definite progress was made until 1940. Then, under the impetus of the national defense preparedness program, the two governments resolved to proceed expeditiously for the construction of the project. An agreement was, therefore, signed on March 19, 1941, which immediately became the subject of hearings before the House Committee on Rivers and Harbors, and after seven weeks of hearings the Committee voted 17 to 8 to report the measure to the House. This was delayed until November 22, 1941. Two weeks after the measure reached the House floor, the tragedy of Pearl Harbor set aside major projects of long range significance, as the attention of the country was immediately focused on winning the war with all available weapons.

President Roosevelt, however, was convinced that power from the St. Lawrence Project and also the navigation works might ultimately be useful in the prosecution of the war, for he more than anyone else realized that the war would be long, hard, and bitterly fought. In the spring of 1942 he attempted to interest Speaker Rayburn and Chairman Mansfield of the House Rivers and Harbors Committee in reviving the St. Lawrence Seaway legislation, but received advice that because of its long range character, there was no chance of its being approved at that time.

President Roosevelt did not give up hope of pushing the project forward. Relying upon the precedent that such other major projects as the Panama Canal, Muscle Shoals, Bonneville and Grand Coulee had required strong executive action, sometimes of an unorthodox character, to start them on the way towards ultimate realization, President Roosevelt resolved to initiate the St. Lawrence Project by Executive Order under his war powers. This is an episode that is not generally known and is buried deep in the files of the late President. To begin construction of the St. Lawrence Project by Executive Order, the President needed funds. He determined that the first allocation of funds should be so substantial that the further construction of the project could not be stopped, as were the Passamaquoddy Project and the Florida Ship Canal, because such large investment would be involved that the Congress would be disinclined to abrogate Presidential action. He, therefore, called upon his budget officers to find fifty million dollars for the initiation of work on the St. Lawrence. His budget officers, however, could locate only about sixteen million dollars of unencumbered funds. To secure the rest the White House had to go to the War Department, or more specifically to Undersecretary of War Robert Patterson, who was then in control of War Department expenditures. War Department appropriations during the war provided flexibility within ten percent of total appropriations which permitted diversion of funds from one use to another depending upon the exigencies of the war.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Judge Patterson had a singleness of purpose at that time–to use all available resources of manpower and materials which could have demonstrably a direct and immediate impact upon the war and, be opposed to long range projects, even though they might help in the prosecution of the war at some future time. He, therefore, visited President Roosevelt in August 1942, in company with the Chief of the Services of Supply, General Brehon Somervell, and strenuously opposed the allocation of any War Department funds for the St. Lawrence Project. President Roosevelt was unconvinced and still insisted that he wanted the project initiated. Judge Patterson was equally adamant and two weeks later, early in September, he again went to see the President, this time in company with a Vice Chairman of the War Production Board, opposing the initiation of the St. Lawrence Project. The President had no choice then but to yield to the deep rooted conviction of his Undersecretary of War and made announcement on September 15, 1942 that the St. Lawrence Project would have to wait the termination of the War. After this decision it was obvious that there was no easy way of building the St. Lawrence Project but to secure Congressional approval. Even before the end of the War, Senator George Aiken of Vermont initiated action in the Senate in 1944, but his attempt to attach the St. Lawrence Project as an amendment to the Rivers and Harbors Bill failed by a wide margin on December 12, 1944.

The defeat of Senator Aiken’s motion revealed certain aspects of the St. Lawrence legislation that are of paramount interest to the residents of the Great Lakes area. First, it became obvious that the agreement of March 19, 1941 encompassed many issues that went beyond the mere construction of the Seaway Project, it contained provisions concerning navigation rights on boundary waters, connecting channels and the lower St. Lawrence. It contained provisions relating to additional diversion of water at Niagara River. It contained provisions for the arbitration of damages arising from diversion of water from Lake Michigan via the Chicago Canal. Some of these provisions raised serious questions concerning the constitutional authority of the Senate to approve treaties by two-thirds vote whereas the proposed agreement called for a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

During the first part of 1945, at the initiative of Senator Arthur Vandenberg, the State Department undertook revisions of the 1941 Agreement with the consent of the Canadian Government. These revisions were incorporated in Senate Joint Resolution 104, introduced by Senator Alben Barkley, then Majority Leader, on October 1, 1945. This resolution was the subject of extensive hearings before a sub­committee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Senator Hatch of New Mexico was Chairman. This resolution was reported by the sub-committee and it was approved by the full committee by a vote of 14 to 8, but was not considered by the full Senate because it was near the end of session in 1946, an election year.

Republican victory at the polls in the 1946 election raised the whole issue of economy in Federal expenditures. As a concession to this feeling and as an improvement in the development of such a great natural resource as the St. Lawrence, Senator Vandenberg took the initiative in introducing the concept of making the St. Lawrence Seaway Project self-liquidating by the charging of tolls. It was my privilege to assist Senator Vandenberg in formulating and securing acceptance of this idea by many organizations throughout the country. The Canadian Government and our own State Department readily acceded to this program. Senate Joint Resolution 111, which Senator Vandenberg as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee introduced on May 8, 1947, embodied this concept.    Although there has been much controversy about this idea, it is a fact that the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, Article I, specifically authorizes each country to charge tolls in boundary waters, with the proviso that any regulations or charges on boundary waters must apply equally to the citizens and the vessels of both countries.

Senate Joint Resolution 111 came to a vote in the Senate on February 27, 1948. It was subject, as usual, to bitter controversy between eastern and middle western Senators. In the course of the debate the St. Lawrence Waterway became a “leeway”; the St. Lawrence project which has been the subject of study and endorsement by innumerable governmental and private engineers was attacked as the pipe dream of woolly­-minded liberals; and the project which had the support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was labeled as a military liability, the folly of misguided enthusiasts.

Senate Joint Resolution 111 was, therefore, recommitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 56 to 30, but like all great undertakings that appeal to the imagination, the project will not die an unsung death, for in the 81st Congress, Senate Joint Resolution 111 reappeared as Senate Joint Resolution 99, this time sponsored by Majority Leader Scott Lucas of Illinois with 18 other bi-partisan Senators, willingly and eagerly putting their names to the Bill.

There it rests now, still subject to controversy between the east and the middle west and between the south and the north. The only new element in the picture that gives added significance to this controversy is the growing realization of middle western industry of the danger inherent in the rapid exhaustion of iron ores. What will happen to this project from now on depends upon how quickly the country at large, and the Great Lakes area in particular, come to realize the seriousness of the depletion of natural resources and their impact upon the long-range strength and security of this country.

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This article first appeared in Inland Seas in Spring 1950: A paper given at the Annual Meeting of the Great Lakes Historical Society, May 19, 1949

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