The Green Bay Mystery Schooner – Winter 1969

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

By Dana Thomas Bowen

This tale properly starts one chilly November day in 1967, with two professional fishermen who were pulling trawl nets behind their fish tug, the Dellie W., off Chambers Island. This island is four miles long and two miles wide and is located about in the middle of Green Bay, which obtains its water from the western side of Lake Michigan, through several inlets. One of these inlets is Porte Des Morts, dubbed by the sailors as Death’s Door. Chambers Island lies some five miles off the Michigan shore to the east, and about the same distance west of the shore of the Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, peninsula.

Since quality fish were scarce, the two fishermen, Richard and Robert Grabowsky, brothers hailing from Menominee, were trying for alewife, as these were more abundant and usually found a ready market in the fertilizer field. They had set their nets to what was their usual depth for alewife trolling, somewhere around forty feet, and slowly the fish tug dragged the nets astern, the fishermen hoping to fill them with the alewife.

Suddenly their trolling lines tightened and before the tug could be stopped completely the nets had snapped the lines to the tug. The fishermen observed that the nets seemed to stay in one place in the water and not drift away. But after many attempts to retrieve their nets, which represented a considerable investment, they attached a marker buoy to them and returned to shore. They felt certain that their nets had caught on some large obstruction down in the water, that was holding them fast.

With this thought in mind and seeking help, the brothers contacted Captain Frank Hoffmann, a professional scuba diver and marina owner living in nearby Egg Harbor, Wisconsin. Hoffmann had had a lot of underwater experience, having been at one time an instructor in diving. The following day he brought his boat, with all the necessary equipment, to the spot the fishermen had marked, then donned his gear and slid into the water to clear the nets from whatever was holding them so firmly beneath the surface.

It was necessary for Diver Hoffmann to make several attempts to locate the nets and to find what was holding them fast. The water and the air were both cold for this work and it was possible for him to remain submerged for only a few minutes on each dive. Finally Hoffmann located the nets. They seemed to him to be impaled upon something resembling the broken mast of a ship far below.

Even in his chilled condition he could feel his heartbeat quicken, for it is the peak of every diver’s ambition to someday locate a sunken treasure! He managed to free the nets from what he had actually hoped for — the top of a broken mast of a ship! He signaled to his helpers on the surface to haul in, and the nets began to rise to the surface.

His job completed, Hoffmann made several more dives and to his exquisite delight he found that at the base of that mast was a ship! He had located a sunken treasure — perhaps! The vessel was standing almost upright, with only a slight list. His air was running low so he must not wait too long. The ship was in deep water — 110 feet of it— two miles northeast of Chambers Island, in Michigan waters, and it was dark down there, besides being cold. He lingered only long enough to make certain that it was a wooden sailing vessel and apparently in excellent condition from what little he could see and surmise.

He fastened a marker buoy on his new find and headed for the surface. As his crew pulled him aboard his diving boat and helped him remove his gear, he announced in short puffing sentences what he had found down there on the bottom of Green Bay almost directly beneath where their boat was rocking gently in the late afternoon swells. His crew became hilarious and shouted loudly and shook his hands! Then they started their boat and headed her back to her moorings.

Since that memorable day the life of Diver Frank Hoffmann hasn’t been the same. Word of his finding of the sunken ship spread throughout the marine-minded along the shores of Green Bay. Many scuba divers volunteered their services in the event Hoffmann would organize a salvage crew to endeavor to raise the sunken windjammer. Newspapers, radio and TV spread the news also.

But winter was close at hand and then all diving activities would necessarily cease. However, Hoffmann made good use of the remaining weather in 1967 and he made many dives, some with his friends who were most interested, and they learned considerably more about the sunken vessel. They were able to ascertain that the wreck was definitely a wooden sailing schooner with two masts, both of which were, in part, standing upright in their accustomed places on deck; the planking sides were in excellent condition, as were the after cabin sides and roof. The decks seemed almost as good as new to the excited explorers. Her steering wheel was intact, as was her rudder. No damage showed on her sides, indicating that collision had not been the cause of her sinking. No lifeboat nor work boat was found.

The men vied with each other in bringing to the surface various artifacts such as the captain’s desk, cabin heating stoves, clothing, an octant, parts of two bibles, some of the ship’s china and tools. There were no signs of bodies. Captain Hoffmann remarked that the only bone they found was a large ham bone still reposing in the ship’s galley. Coins, boots and shoes were also found, a shot gun and powder flask, and a pistol. Everything was carefully saved and tagged and the lot was pooled. At present most of what was salvaged is on display in the Neville Public Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin. James Quinn, the Director of the Museum, was an active diver on the wreck throughout the entire salvaging operation.

But the relentless cold blasts of a northern winter all too soon put a stop to further exploration of the ship’s treasures, and the divers reluctantly put aside their gear to await the coming of the 1968 spring diving weather.

The winter was not lost time for Captain Frank Hoffmann in his work of raising his schooner find. Plans were formulated and volunteer divers were recruited, and each week several evenings were set aside for the men to meet and talk over their problems and their hopes and expectations. These men were all divers, mostly amateurs, but each one could imagine himself down on that sunken ship, prowling through her, over decks and into cabins where it had been a century since other men had moved about.

Few of the divers received pay. Most worked because of their interest in the sport, their curiosity regarding the vessel, and the hope of all divers — that they would bring up some valuable and historic treasures. Each man was anxious to get to diving on the wreck. And thus they passed the winter of 1967 and ’68.

But so many of their plans depended on what they would see and learn after they had had the opportunity of inspecting the ship. The chief question along this line was, could the wreck be raised and refloated? Every diver in the crew had high hopes of this, even before he had inspected the hull. Each one appeared to have unbounded faith in the project.

At length the sun melted the ice on Green Bay and some balmy breezes helped warm the water slightly. Hoffmann and his crew loaded their well-cleaned and polished equipment on his diving craft, the 26-foot Sea Witch and 35-foot Sea Ranger, and returned to the wreck off Chambers Island.

The salvage work during the summer of 1968 proved to be the hardest yet undertaken by the divers. It strained their strength, their enthusiasm, and their faith, but they continued to dive on the wreck throughout the entire summer and well into the fall, until once again the weather forced them to stop, this time at the end of November.

The divers had put in a most interesting summer, however, on their chosen project. Uppermost in each man’s mind was to find out the name of the ship on which they were at work. But this did not happen. Not one clew did any diver bring or send to the surface! Every item was scrutinized most carefully, hoping that it might shed some information as to the history and identity of the old windjammer lying on the bottom. But the entire summer had passed without a single clew.

The diving was difficult, even though the men were favored with many days of sunshine and warm weather. The schooner lay in 110 feet of water, and at that depth the temperature held steadily at around 36 degrees, and it was always dark. Each man carried a small electric flashlight fastened to his wrist, which cast a feeble light, that he used to guide himself in working in, on, and around the wreck. Then too, it was absolutely essential that he not remain down for longer than twenty minutes on any one dive, after which he must rest for three hours on the surface before making another dive. But each man stayed on the job, pay or no pay. For the most part, they worked on the job eighteen hours a day, and some, seven days a week!

The winter of 1968-’69 was spent in working out further and more elaborate plans. Convinced that the schooner was in good condition, the divers decided to try to raise the vessel. They figured that she was at least one hundred feet long, and about twenty-five feet beam. All her structural members appeared strong enough to withstand the strains of raising her, they believed.

After many conferences, and days of deep discussion, the group definitely voted to raise the wreck — or at least to try. With this decision their enthusiasm reached new heights and their faith was strengthened.

To be sure, there were many difficulties they were not able, at the moment, to figure out how to overcome, but their combined faith welled up to strengthen their decision to proceed as soon as weather permitted. All signs were “Go.”

So, as soon as conditions permitted, early in the spring of 1969, Hoffmann’s divers were back on the mystery wreck on the bottom of Green Bay. Nothing to indicate the name of the vessel they were working on had as yet been uncovered. All hands were still working just for thrills and excitement. By May things were progressing nicely.

Now, all their efforts were toward raising the schooner. They noted that she still had a slight list. Attention was turned to clearing out the accumulation of silt from inside her hull and from around the keel outside, so that heavy stout wire lines could be worked under the hull to raise her. This work required equipment which the divers themselves were unable to provide — a larger and heavier surface working boat, and heavy duty pumps to bring up the silt — to name a couple of the most urgent needs.

At this point the divers were able to interest Mr. Harold Derusha and his son, Mr. James R. Derusha, president and vice president respectively, of the Marinette Marine Corporation, of Marinette, Wisconsin, a shipbuilding and repair plant on the Menominee River, and these men extended much needed help, both financial and technical, to the faithful diving crew. They loaned the men their Cleo’s Barge, a converted landing craft, which was provided with heavy pumps and other necessary equipment and tools for the divers to proceed with the raising of their vessel. Again the workers’ enthusiasm and faith had received another big boost, as the silt gushed out of the schooner day and night. Then came the day when all was in readiness to begin the raising of the old wind- jammer! Excitement ran high.

On July 22nd, 1969, a 130-foot steel salvage barge was placed exactly over the sunken schooner, which still rested on the bottom, and heavy cables were run down and attached to the six stout wire lines which had been jetted under the hull in strategic spots. Her broken masts were removed. The cables were made fast to the four hand winches on the deck of the barge. Spectators and crew alike joined in the arm and back exercise of turning the cranks on the winches. It required the combined strength of three men at each winch, making one hundred turns, to raise the wreck just eight inches! A most tiring task.

We quote here the words of Captain Hoffmann, who says, “The lift took three days. The first day we hooked up and leveled the ship. The second day we raised to forty feet and towed to just off Menominee, Michigan. The third day [July 25] we raised to the bottom of the barge and towed up the river to Marinette Marine Corporation dock. Everyone worked almost continuously with very little sleep the last three days. Saturday, July 26th and Sunday, the 27th, we rested. Monday, the 28th, we hooked up the cables on the cranes, and lifted to the surface the following day, Tuesday, July 29th, 1969.”

Friday, July 25th, 1969, had been a great day for Captain Frank Hoffmann and every man in his crew, and also for the two Derusha officials of the Marinette Marine Corporation, who had helped so greatly with equipment and funds, as the old wooden lake freighter schooner slowly wended her way up the river and into the yards of the shipbuilding company.

The local newspapers had given much publicity to the salvaging work and the folks of the two cities of Marinette, Wisconsin, and Menominee, Michigan, just across the Menominee River from each other, had followed the efforts of the divers and now everyone was jubilant over this success. Only the bowsprit of the mystery vessel, below and under the barge, showed above the waves. But that was enough for the viewers on shore and a large fleet of small boats which escorted the tug and her tow up the river. Whistles and horns blew noisily. People gathered on the banks to watch the tow go past. It was a big day on the Menominee River!

It required four powerful cranes in the plant of Marinette Marine to lift the schooner up to the surface, while strong pumps cleared the vessel of the water in her hold. Her decks and cabin, which had been underwater for over a century, again felt the sunshine and the refreshing life-giving air. Reports are that Captain Hoffmann and Mr. Harold Derusha were the first to set foot on the ship, quickly followed by all the divers who had worked on the wreck and had trod her decks when she lay on the bottom in one hundred ten feet of water in the murky darkness. Now it was so much different!

Again the folks of the countryside for a hundred and more miles around flocked to the river to see the raised ship. A small sign — the crew’s slogan — on the deckhouse of Cleo’s Barge read “Faith Can Move Mountains.” In the thick of the celebration, someone was seen pasting the word “Did” over “Can” on the sign! This seemed to be the consensus of opinion of all the many hundreds who came to the river that momentous day.

The ancient schooner built of wood from the Michigan forests, presumably, was in almost perfect condition. Her decks and cabin roof were entirely solid, her side railing stanchions were firm, her steering wheel in the stern of the vessel, as was the custom in her day, was intact, and her anchor winch, with the chain still neatly wrapped around it, were all there for the much interested public to see. Her two iron anchors were also intact. She had no leaks after all those years she lay on the bottom. Her hull indicated that she carried no cargo when she went down, although she did show signs of having been in the lumber trade. There were no bodies found.

After the vessel rode upon the water’s surface, it was noted by the divers that she had an unusual bow formation as compared with pictures of the contemporary schooners of the Great Lakes. The bow of this salvaged schooner was considerably more bluff and plain — somewhat on the style of the whaling schooners of New England. This has not been satisfactorily explained and so adds to the further mystery of the already mysterious ship.

Outstanding in interest among the collection of artifacts recovered is a personal stencil found in the ship’s fo’c’s’le which reads, “Mich. Cray, Toronto, C. W.” This item, a metal plate apparently made of copper,

comes closest, probably, to connecting the raised vessel with the Alvin Clark than anything yet found. Records indicate that one of the two survivors of the Clark sinking was named Michael J. Cray, reportedly born in Toronto, Canada, in 1843, who had served one year in the Union Army during 1862-63. U.S. Army infantry buttons were also among the artifacts brought up.

Each diver in the crew searched most carefully for anything that might indicate the name of the ship — but nothing was found except a few trinkets which evidently belonged to members of her sailing crew. The one positive identification of a vessel is the Certificate Number which is always deeply carved in the main beam of the cabin of every wooden ship when she is built. This number is assigned by the United States authorities. Every ship in United States Registry must carry such a number — but not this one which Captain Hoffmann had just raised and brought into Marinette! And thereby hangs her mystery.

But history does have a way of “clinging” to everything, not always in a very definite way, but in stories from one person to another handed down over the years. However, the newspapers are our most reliable source of daily recorded history; and so it was to these that diver Frank Hoffmann and his helpers turned for help in identifying their salvaged schooner.

Local maritime authorities knew that a schooner by the name of Alvin Clark was lost during a terrific storm on Green Bay during the Civil War between the States. Newsmen of today and students of marine history began checking back on the old vessel news and records. They found that a schooner named Alvin Clark was lost in a gale off Chambers Island on June 29th, 1864. Three sailors were lost, Captain Francis B. Higgie of Racine, his mate and a seaman. The vessel is believed to have been owned and operated by two or more Higgie brothers, all of Racine, Wisconsin, and would possibly carry a crew of five or six men, including officers.  She was reported bound up the bay, light, heading for either Oconto or Dupere, to take on a cargo of lumber, presumably for Chicago.

Several local newspapers of that era carried the news of the sinking of the schooner Alvin Clark off Chambers Island, as happening on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 29th, 1864. Thus it is definitely established that the Alvin Clark went down in the exact vicinity where Captain Hoffmann brought up his unidentified schooner. It could well be the Alvin Clark!

Another clincher in favor of this point is the comparative size of the two vessels. The salvaged Marinette schooner measures 105 feet 8 inches long, with a beam of 25 feet 4 inches, and a depth of 9 feet 4 inches.

Records indicate that the Alvin Clark was also of these same measurements. She is reported as being built at Trenton, Michigan, on the Detroit River, some sixteen miles below Detroit. She had a single main deck, two masts, and was rigged as a schooner, being square-rigged on her foremast. These details also tally.

She was built in 1846 for and by John Pearson Clark of Detroit and was named for his son. Could it have been possible that the builders simply neglected to have her registered number chiseled into her main beam? Was it forgetfulness? Today the finding of that number would end unequivocally the chief mystery which now hangs over the sturdy old lumber windjammer. Customs regulations in those particular war years were likely to have been a bit lax, and ship inspections on the Lakes likewise. The Alvin Clark may never have been completely checked.

Today, marine men picture the wreck of the Alvin Clark as the result of one of those unusually severe early summer storms that occasionally surge across the Great Lakes and the states bordering them, tearing up everything not permanently fastened down, blowing down huge trees and small buildings, and on the water crashing down upon hapless sailing craft so suddenly that the crews do not have time to take in their sails.

Such, they figure, was the plight of the Alvin Clark. She was without cargo and under full sail and making good time when the storm struck her down. It is believed tremendous gusts of wind slammed against her sails which most likely capsized the vessel, throwing her crew into the water. Three were drowned, but the remaining two men were fortunately rescued.

The ship is reported to have gone under bow first, her stern rising out of the water. She eventually filled completely with the dashing waves, and her keel settled down gradually with the hull nearly upright on the shale and silt bottom of Green Bay, with her centerboard resting in the shale.

It is quite likely that this is the same schooner that now floats easily in the yards of the Marinette Marine Corporation. So many recognized details dovetail, that most mariners accept her as the Alvin Clark.

But, there does exist a small, but well-informed, group of marine historians who refuse to believe without question that she is the Alvin Clark. They point out that during the Civil War era several similar vessels were built in obscure rivers and bays along the Lakes, and some possibly in Canada. These ships were brought into the regular lake shipping trades and sailed for years. This class of windjammer was not registered with the authorities, they point out, and consequently did not have any official number assigned to them. Thus, they would most likely avoid taxation. Could the ship in this story be one of these? Hardly a chance, but who now knows the question?

The thought, however, does add a bit of further confusion to the already complicated tale of mystery of the sturdy old windjammer now salvaged off the bottom and resting quietly in her new berth in the Menominee River. What further surprises await her during her next one hundred years=?

Comments By the Author

This story is a record of faith, hard work, and danger, of a few dedicated hardy scuba or skindivers living along the shores of Green Bay. It covers almost two years of the most strenuous efforts. Optimism and good fellowship, coupled with careful planning, stand out in their everyday actions. Cooperation, with little immediate remuneration, was the key note among the divers. Danger was constant. The completion of such a project in these days is almost incomprehensible — but they did finish their self-assigned task, by each man doing his bit when his turn came.

I met and talked with many of these divers — just regular fellows. The schooner they would like to believe is the Alvin Clark is presently enclosed in a plastic-covered temporary building in the yards of the Marinette Marine Corporation, in Marinette, Wisconsin, and is floating. Mr. J. R. Derusha, the vice president of this company, made the arrangements for me to meet Captain Frank Hoffmann and his diver friends and to go aboard the Alvin Clark.

I was escorted into the plastic-coated frame building, and into a heavy fog of live steam and dripping moisture as I stepped aboard the now famous vessel. She appears as sound as when new. We went all over the ship, into the captain’s cabin, crew’s quarters, galley, bunkhouse forward, anchor housing — everywhere.

Recognized experts from the lumber industry are directing the work of preserving the wood from which the schooner is built. Bringing her up and into the atmosphere after being submerged for so long a time does something to wood if it should dry too fast and not be cared for properly. The divers are at work now preserving and caring for their ship so that she may even again sail the Great Lakes, or perhaps find a quiet cove in some lake port where she might serve as a full-rigged floating schooner museum. She deserves the best! She would most certainly attract thousands of people from far and wide.

And now to bring my story right up-to-date, I would like to quote from a letter which I received quite recently from Captain Frank Hoffmann. He writes as follows:

We have started restoration of the schooner, and as I am writing this, the ground is being broken on the shore of Green Bay in the twin city area (Marinette and Menominee), where we will build a dock and an old village (1850 era). Here we will continue to work on the ship and try to build something of past sailing history on our Great Lakes. The thing that stands out most of all is the people involved in this venture. The hardship, risk, and the hours put into it. We did so much with so little. Every step of the way, it was a fight.

In a postscript the captain added, “the only injury we had was Bernie Bloom who slipped on his own soap and broke his collar bone the first day of the lift.”

And that’s the tale of the Mystery Wreck at 19 Fathoms – or the tale of the Alvin Clark – or the tale of the Green Bay Mystery Schooners. So – Good Luck, Captain Frank Hoffmann and your fine crew and your helpful friends — and smooth sailing to your good ship from way out of the past!


The following persons and concerns contributed either time, material, or finances toward the raising of the salvaged mystery schooner of Green Bay: Skindivers Frank Hoffmann, Jeannette Hoffmann, Edward Hoffmann, Lyle (Buzz) Nelson, Vern Carlson, Harry Anderson Jr., Eugene Dubey, Dennis Dubey and Ray Clark of Marinette-Menominee; Mike Burda and Ronald Strege of Egg Harbor, Wisconsin; Bernard Bloom, Bud (Ironman) Brain, Marvin Rawski, Betsy Riley, Gary Means and Jack (Pussycat) Raymond of Chicago, Illinois; Bob Olmsted, Dick Boyd, Sue Boyd, Bob Edelbeck and Dave Ingerseth of Madison, Wisconsin; James Quinn (Director of Neville Public Museum), Dick Siegert and Morrie Dennison of Green Bay, Wisconsin; Dick Bennett, Carl Gruebel, Gail Mullard and Chuck Stanley, underwater photographers of Milwau- kee, Wisconsin.

Individuals from whom we received invaluable assistance include Harold Derusha, Jim Derusha, Bob Derusha and Roger Derusha of Marinette Marine Corporation; and Al Sampson, producer-photographer; Bill Holmes, Dick Armbrust, Harvey Haen and Gallagher Marine Construction Co.


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About the Author:  Although Mr. Dana Thomas Bowen needs no introduction to members of the Great Lakes Historical Society or to readers of Great Lakes history, we are publishing here his first contribution to  INLAND SEAS as an Assistant Editor. Mr. Bowen, well-known author of the popular books,  Lore of the Lakes, Memories of the Lakes, and Shipwrecks of the Lakes, resides in Rocky River, Ohio, and Daytona Beach, Florida. He was one of the earliest Charter Members of our Society, and the very first issue of INLAND SEAS, January 1945, carried an article written by him, entitled “The Old Lake Triplets.”

Learn more about our award-winning Inland Seas© journal and become an Inland Seas member

The Era of Pig Iron in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan-Fall 1969

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

By Dr. Herbert J. Brinks

For a passing hour the horizon of Michigan’s upper Peninsula was alight with the prospect of a brilliant future, and expectations of economic prominence seemed more than visionary. These hopes were closely tied to Peter White, who, as a result of his integrated business establishment, embodied the hope and means for the industrial success of Marquette County. White settled in Marquette as an eighteen- year-old wanderer. He had been footloose since his fourteenth birthday, and followed Robert Graveraet when he led a party of laborers into the Upper Peninsula in 1849. Ambitious and able, White soon became a prominent resident of the Upper Peninsula. For that region with its iron range, White served as the banker, the investment broker, the insurance agent, the marketing factor, the legislator, and the industrial entrepreneur who combined all these functions in one business establishment. He hoped to erect an iron and steel industry in Marquette, close to the source of raw material, but he failed. Although recounting his efforts is freighted more with nostalgia than the excitement of steady progress, it was an episode with flesh and bones, and real stakes to win or lose.

The period of expectations, 1857-1877, was vibrant with hopeful activity. Athens of the West, entrepôt for east-west trade, and shop- keeper for the north-west, were among the overly sanguine descriptions of Marquette’s projected heights. Although naive in retrospect, such roseate prophesies commonly expressed the anticipations of frontier cities, and some cities were not disappointed. White could not perceive the outcome of his efforts, but the immediate future seemed rich with promise in the 1860s – promise based on achievements and reality as much as imagination. Marquette had an apparently inexhaustible supply of high grade iron ore, large tracts of hardwood forests for charcoal fuel used in producing pig iron, and navigable waterways connecting that city with the major pig iron markets. White knew that the hardwood trees could not last indefinitely, but easily concluded that coke or coal would replace charcoal when necessary. Ore carriers usually entered the harbor in Marquette with nearly empty holds, and when Marquette needed coal or coke, White expected the ore carriers to fill that need, thus keeping the industry in Marquette alive. For these reasons he easily justified his projection of personal and regional affluence.1

Peter White

As an eighteen-year-old youth, Peter White came to Marquette under the tutelage of a vigorous pioneer, Robert Graveraet, who probably influenced the shape of his career. In 1849, when Graveraet led a party of settlers to the wilderness shores of Lake Superior he hoped to help build an iron industry there. What White knew about iron production, he learned from Graveraet, and together they witnessed and experienced the failure of several iron companies. These small industrial efforts consisted of bloomaries which refined ore by combining a mixture of iron ore and charcoal in an oven. After the ore reached a malleable state, it was beaten into a lump called a bloom. Marketing this product far out- stripped its value, and local industrialists reasoned that success would depend on the construction of the Saulte Ste. Marie Canal.2

The canal opened in 1855 and shortly thereafter the iron industry in and around Marquette began to form. However, the canal facilitated the shipment of ore as well as iron, and those who possessed sufficient capital to finance iron production chose to mine the ore and ship it to Pennsylvania and Ohio for refinement.3 White, and those who thought in terms of regional iron production, had little capital. Yet they struggled against the odds with success always just beyond their grasp. Their ultimate failure is less surprising than their relative success.

Triumph seemed imminent when Charles T. Harvey, who supervised the construction of the Saulte Ste. Marie Canal, enlisted the technical skills of Stephen R. Gay. He was an ironmonger from Massachusetts and after building a blast furnace for Harvey, Gay built two others. Lacking capital, he had to rely on Peter White, who provided the full range of his services. He helped with investment and working capital, with transportation, marketing, and legal services. He dealt with Gay’s creditors who demanded long overdue payments, and even supervised the manufacturing process when Gay went east seeking additional investment capital. It was during one such absence that Gay died, leaving the whole industry as well as his estate in White’s care. After settling the estate, White’s claim in it gave him a controlling interest in one blast furnace. Other creditors, who acquired Gay’s second blast furnace, placed it, also, under White’s supervision.4

Before White gained control of these blast furnaces, they had produced large quantities of iron, but fixed investments consumed most of the profits. When White took over in 1864, the equipment was in good repair and past debts were liquidated. Thereafter, and until 1873, White operated the business profitably and paid annual dividends at 10 percent or more.5

With Gay’s furnaces operating successfully, White initiated the establishment of another furnace in 1868. Munising, to the east of Marquette, offered a vast supply of hardwood for charcoal iron production. To establish a company there, White enlisted the support of several eastern capitalists and built a blast furnace on Munising Bay. That facility was soon in production, but lagging financial support forced it into several reorganizations, and by the time it became properly capitalized, the panic of 1873 crippled its prospects of success.6

Along with direct involvement in iron production, represented by White’s ventures in the Gay and Munising blast furnaces, he had connections with all the other iron producers in the area. These companies, numbering 17 in 18767 needed operating capital and marketing facilities. Providing both these services, as well as marine insurance, put White in a crucial relationship with the whole industry. In their most flourishing days, Marquette’s ironmongers produced a rather significant portion of the nation’s pig iron. In 1870 the industry supplied the nation with 20 percent of its pig iron. Among producers of charcoal iron Michigan ranked second in 1870, and the census of 1880 reported Michigan as the foremost producer of charcoal pig irons.8 By then, however, charcoal iron was rapidly losing its markets to the steel industry.

Since most of Michigan’s pig iron came from small companies unable to sustain the cost of individual marketing agents, they relied on Peter White. Marketing posed problems for him comparable to those facing the colonial merchants of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Distance, and the absence of telegraph communication, plagued his efforts. Cold, snowbound winters and frozen lakes added to Marquette’s geographical isolation, and White usually chose that season to make an annual trip eastward to consult with his insurance companies, banking houses, and sales agents. These were the people on whom White relied in conducting his business.                      He had to select reliable agents in Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit where he marketed the iron produced in Marquette.9 Selling iron, however, was only one facet of the marketing situation.

White’s sales agents functioned in a dual capacity, not only selling iron, but also advancing commercial paper to his banking affiliates. The capital shortage in Marquette demanded a constant flow of currency and credit from outside sources. Thus, Peter White stood athwart Marquette’s regional needs and capital funds available in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and New York.10

He was often at pains to keep a steady flow of funds returning to Marquette. To assist in that task he established bank accounts in Midwestern cities as well as New York. Through these connections he threaded a complex network of capital flow which eventually came back to Marquette. For example, his sales agent in Chicago, N. E. Platt, placed advances in White’s Chicago Bank when iron shipments arrived there. However, such commercial paper was often needed in New York, Cleveland, or Detroit. In such cases the Chicago bank would discount the paper and transfer credit to the desired location.11 Marquette iron- mongers usually operated on advances from White’s bank in Marquette, and he kept such accounts solvent by transferring credit accumulated in New York, Cleveland, and elsewhere to these individual accounts in Marquette.12 These were the cities in which most of Marquette’s12 creditors lived, and therefore White was able to make exchange in a manner which pleased both the outside creditors and his Marquette clients.

The most crucial link in White’s financial arrangement was the sales agent. He depended on the agent’s ability to advance funds on unsold iron, and if for some reason the agent could not provide this commercial paper, White’s ability to serve the iron industry was hampered. Should such an agent go bankrupt, the whole financial structure would fall apart. While White’s agents functioned properly the iron industry was a feasible venture. However, without a middleman like White the industry had virtually no chance for survival. It is not strange that White acquired nearly all the insurance business generated by the iron industry. Few dared deny him that business when he was already supplying both working and investment capital as well as marketing and shipping arrangements. In fact, only one company in the area chose another insurance agent, and that company, the Iron Cliffs company, did its own marketing.13

For over twenty years White held this prominent post as the indispensable man in the regional iron industry. He lost that position only when credit sources outside of Marquette dried up. The demise came in 1877. The panic and depression beginning in 1873 had cut severely into profits of Marquette’s iron industry, but the blast furnaces continued operations well into the depression; in fact, production increased throughout that bleak period.14 By 1877 White was selling most of Marquette’s iron to Albert B. Meeker, a Chicago industrialist. In 1877 Meeker went bankrupt and the effect in Marquette was immediate. Not only was the market gone, but Meeker’s commercial paper was worthless until his estate was settled. Marquette could not wait that long, and soon the small iron furnaces depending on White went bankrupt. They could not meet creditors’ demands for payments on raw material, supplies, and labor. Meeker’s failure virtually destroyed the industry — while 17 companies were in blast in 1877, thereafter only four continued operations.15

However, the ultimate failure of the charcoal iron industry resulted from factors other than Meeker’s insolvency. All over the United States charcoal iron was losing markets because steel was a more desirable product. Marquette’s industrial experience would have been very common if White and like-minded investors had thought only in terms of the charcoal iron industry. But white and his associates knew very well that charcoal iron production always depended on the proximity of hardwood forests which were not inexhaustible. The industry in Marquette could last only as long as the nearby hardwood trees supplied fuel. Already in 1873 some blast furnaces were suffering from fuel shortages.16

Early Ore Docks at Marquette

Planning with the inevitability of fuel shortage in mind, White helped establish a coal fuel industry in Marquette. He was the sponsor of the Marquette and Pacific Rolling Mill, which used bituminous coal rather than charcoal. It was built within Marquette’s city limits, close to the labor force, with shipping docks on the company’s property comprising several large buildings, a furnace with a 35-ton per diem capacity, and 40 acres of undeveloped mineral land adjacent to a railroad. In short, the physical facilities of the mill were nearly ideal. The rolling mill was financed almost exclusively by local capital which probably indicated the limited appeal of such a venture. The mill got off to a poor start, partly because its furnace, built to use an unworkable fuel, failed to function.

Shortly thereafter local investors were impoverished by the great Marquette fire of 1868 which gutted the center of town. Many local investors had to retract their financial commitments to the mill. Finally, in 1873, the furnace was rebuilt to use coke and began to produce pig iron.17 By then, however, the panic and depression of 1873 had set in and the iron market was glutted. The rolling mill produced large quantities of iron, but without profit.18

The Grace Furnace, also situated on the Marquette waterfront, was another faltering venture which White supported. The Lake Superior Iron Mining Company incorporated the Grace Furnace as a subsidiary to its mining operations, but White’s bank provided the necessary working capital and credit. Unfortunately, the Grace Furnace did not begin production until 1873, and that same year over-supplied markets resulting from the panic forced the company into dissolution.

Local ventures such as the Pacific Rolling Mill and Grace Furnace were less than halfway measures when compared to a more significant project which White reported to the Michigan Legislature in 1875. That year, as a State senator, he sponsored legislation which changed the state’s incorporation laws. As evidence supporting the merit of his legislation, White claimed that Michigan’s incorporation law prior to 1875 had been the principal obstruction to the establishment of a multimillion-dollar iron and steel industry in the upper Peninsula. Michigan law limited industrial capitalization to $500,000, and the capitalists, who had drawn up articles of association and chosen a construction site, decided against the erection of a steel mill in Michigan. Since they planned a $4,000,000 corporation, which under Michigan law would have required the formation of eight separate companies, the investors decided against the establishment of a corporation with such a clumsy structure. White argued that the loss to Michigan and the Upper Peninsula was considerable and unnecessary. “Our state,” he orated, “was beat out of an accession of four million dollars to its productive wealth and taxable property by this good old Michigan law.19 Doubtless there were other factors militating against the construction of a steel works in 1873. The panic that year was an obviously adverse ingredient. Since the known account of this projected industrial venture exists only in White’s speech, other factors discouraging the erection of the steel mill can only be imagined.

However, the construction of a steel works in Marquette at that time was not necessarily a bizarre venture. Most of the factors which today would make Marquette an unfavorable location for steel production did not apply in 1873. At that time the Marquette range stood as the largest proven source of iron ore in the United States. As in the early period of Marquette’s existence, vessels clearing that northern port docked with virtually empty holds. It should have been profitable for them to transport coke on the upward passage. In addition, ore shipping expenses were greater than that of coke, and the volume of coke needed to produce steel was steadily decreasing.20 In steel production fuel was becoming a less significant factor in determining industrial location because technological advances facilitated a more economical use of heat energy.21 Moreover, the steel industry was not yet so well located as to preclude investments outside of Pennsylvania and Ohio. The Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota steel plants were all products of investment occurring after 1873.

Marquette Ore Dock

Of the three factors usually considered in determining industrial location — marketing, raw materials, and labor — marketing seemed unfavorable to the selection of Marquette. Yet, there was heavy traffic, both rail and ship, leaving Marquette, and the expansion of that carrying trade would have been considerably less difficult than the development of entirely new avenues of trade. Also, although Marquette had no surplus labor to attract industry, there was no reason to expect that good wages would not have been an effective stimulus to remedy labor shortages.22

Considering the advantages of locating industry close to an otherwise expensively transported raw material, Marquette was a good site for the development of a steel industry in 1873. Subsequently, however, other equally rich ore supplies were uncovered. The Mesabi Range in Minnesota is a case in point. Once developed, that ore field motivated the construction of the Duluth, Minnesota, steel works. In retrospect, the industrial plans of Peter White and his struggling colleagues were not merely visionary, but hardheaded ideas destroyed by the panic of 1873 and the discovery of new ore supplies, which eliminated the singularity of Marquette’s prominence in supplying iron ore.

Of course, the fact is that the upper peninsula’s reach for industrial prominence was too short, although the process consumed an enormous amount of human energy. Peter White gave the best years of his manhood to that failing hope, and he was pained to see it fade. still clinging to the past in 1879, White saw “the light of a new era of prosperity dawning.” He predicted a 15- to 25-percent rise in the population of Marquette County. He predicted the construction of a Bessemer steel works in the city. He envisioned the development of many industrial plants in the area. “It was only a question of time,”23 he said — but the time never came. The following decades brought none of the anticipated industry. Instead, there was a relative decline in the population growth, and insurmountable competition for the few remaining blast furnaces.24

The pig iron era in the Upper Peninsula had passed.


  1. Richard Wade, The Urban Frontier (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965 ), pp. 30-35; Lake Superior News and Mining Journal, August 29, 1846; Lake Superior Mining Journal, September 12, 1868; Peter White, “The Church Debt and Bonds,” 1879, speech in the Peter White Papers, Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.
  2. Peter White, “Autobiographical Sketch,” in the Peter White Public Library, Marquette, Michigan; Alfred P. Swineford, History and Review of the Copper,Iron, Silver, Slate, and Other Material Interests of the South Shore of Lake Superior (Marquette: Journal Press, 1876 ), pp. 116-121.
  3. Lake Superior Journal, July 12, 1855; January 5; August 16, 1856.
  4. Swineford, cit., pp. 215-220. The relationship between White and Gay is displayed in White’s papers, and especially in letters to one of Gay’s creditors, T. B. Meigs. Among the more informative of such letters are: P. White to T. B. Meigs, October 29, 1861; January 21, 1863, in the Peter White Papers of the Michigan Historical Collections of the University of Michigan (Hereafter cited as MHC).
  5. White to Charles A. Trowbridge, Jan. 14, 1863; P. White to Samuel L. Mather, Peter White Papers, MHC.
  6. Marquette Mining Journal, August 29, 1868; March 10, 1869; June 4, October 29, 1870; P. White to A. W. Brockway, April 6, 1867; Articles of Association and stockholders’ subscription list for the Schoolcraft Iron Company, April, 1867; Peter Van Schaik to P. White, December 9, 1870; also numerous letters to investors, such as: George Oliver, June 4, 1873; Charles J. Martin, December 20, 1873; January 10, 1874; Ralph Worthington, March 14, 1876, MHC.
  7. Swineford, cit., p. 214.
  8. S. Bureau of Census, Eighth Census of the United States: 1865. Manufactures, pp. clxxx; U.S. Bureau of Census, Ninth Census of the United States: 1872. Compendium, p. 909; U.S. Bureau of Census, Tenth Census of the United States:1883, Statistics of Manufuctures, pp. 4-7.
  9. White’s papers in the Michigan Historical Collections indicate that he made annual trips “down-below” as it was termed. On such trips he visited his colleagues in the banking, insurance and marketing regions connected with Marquette. White frequently decried the relatively ineffective nature of correspondence and postponed major decisions until he could meet his correspondents in person.
  10. White’s agents in Chicago, Cleveland, and other cities along the lakeshore received frequent admonitions to remit to his accounts as soon as iron was sold, or earlier when possible. Examples of such correspondence include: P. White to Otis & Company, Cleveland, August 27, 1861; Peter White to H. B. Tuttle Company, Cleveland, November 10, 1865; P. White to Samuel Brady Company, Detroit, August 2, 1861; P. White to G. L Hubbard Company, Chicago, July 9, 1862, MHC.
  11. White to N. E. Platt, Chicago, May 6, 1862 to November 28, 1874, MHC. The function of White’s agents is clearly portrayed in this rather voluminous exchange of letters.
  12. The White Papers of the Michigan Historical Collections contain extensive correspondence with banks in major Midwestern and eastern cities, which gives evidence of the credit structure White used for his Marquette clients.
  13. White to E. L. Hedstrom, June 5, 1873, MHC; E. B. Isham to P. White, May 4, 1869, Iron Cliffs Company Papers, Michigan Historical Commission Archives.
  14. Swineford, cit., pp. 216-232.
  15. Charles N. Fay to Peter White, July 31, 1877, MHC; State of Michigan, Mines and Mineral Statistics (Lansing: State Printer, 1889), p. 127.
  16. Swineford, cit., p. 217, notes that the Collins Furnace went out of production due to fuel shortages; Peter Temin, Iron and Steel in Nineteenth Century America (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1964), pp. 63-69, 76-79, 245.
  17. Marquette Weekly Plaindealer, September 10, 1868; Marquette Mining Journal, March 17, 1869; July 23, 30, 1870; August 2, 1873; Minutes of the Board of the Pacific Rolling Mill, MHC.
  18. Swineford, cit., pp. 227-228; J. S. Fay to P, White, June 6, 1879, MHC.
  19. White, “Address to the Joint Meeting of the State Legislature,” 1875, White Papers in the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library. Since the corporation could easily have organized in another state, Michigan’s laws could have had but little to do with the plans of the steel producer.
  20. Walter Isard, “Some Locational Factors in the Iron and Steel Industry Since the Early Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Political Economy, LVI (June, 1948), 213-216.
  21. Temin, cit., pp. 154-165.
  22. Wolfgang Paul Strassmann, Economic Growth in Northern Michigan (Lansing: Michigan State University, 1958), pp. 39-52.
  23. Peter White, “The Church Debt and Bonds,” 1879, speech in the Peter White Papers, Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.
  24. Marquette Mining Journal, June 16, 1883; State of Michigan, Mines and Mineral Statistics (Ishpeming: Iron ‘Ore Printing House, 1898), p. 206; P. W. to Allen & Co., February 17, 1877, MHC; State of Michigan, Manual for the Use of the Legislature (Lansing: State Printer, 1875 ), p. 285; State of Michigan, Census of the State of Michigan (Lansing: State Printer, 1886), I, clxxxv.

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About the Author: Dr. Herbert J. Brinks, who earned his Ph.D. degree at the University of Michigan, is presently Assistant Professor of American Thought and Language at Michigan State University, East Lansing. This article is a portion of his doctoral dissertation entitled “Peter White: A Career of Business and Politics.” Dr. Brinks is also the author of The Guide to Dutch American Historical Collections of Western Michigan, 1967. His current research includes regionalism in the Upper peninsula, and urban leadership in the Old Northwest.

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How Yachts Became Standardized – Summer 1969

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

By A. A. Mastics

Yachting as a form of recreation threads its way through the pages of early history. Cleopatra had her barge, King Robert of Scotland went sailing for fun in 1326. Shipping magnates of the Renaissance had craft built for their personal use.

King Charles II yacht, MARY

Yachting became a sport in 1660 when Dutch admirers gave young King Charles II a boat as a present upon his restoration to the throne of England. Called Mary, she was a 52-footer with a beam of 19 feet and rigged in the fashion of today’s cutters. Her wide leeboards let her point close to the wind. Charles loved sailing so much he personally designed his next boat, Jamie. In 1675 he gave the seafaring world a notable gift —       Greenwich observatory. That set off the furor for sailing and it is common knowledge that when two sail yachts come close together they are going to race.

Everyone who could afford it began to get into yachting. Boats, of course, were custom-built in those days, Each was different even as large, custom-built yachts are today. The result was that as boating continued to mushroom in succeeding centuries, chaos developed. Boat sizes varied in length overall, length waterline, beam, draft, sail area and displacement. Something had to be done to give small boats an equal chance at the prize hardware with the big boats.

As yacht clubs were formed on the boating waters of the world all sorts of handicap rules were developed. The story was still the same on the North American continent in the late 19th century. Yacht clubs were sprouting everywhere and each had its own set of handicaps. How could you stage an equitable and workable interclub regatta?

George Gardner

George Gardner of Cleveland, mayor of the city in the ‘80s and founder of the Inter-Lake Yachting Association as well as Cleveland Yachting Club, decided to do something about it. During 1896, he effected the organization of the Yacht Racing Union of the Great Lakes to produce a closer bond with the Lake Michigan Yachting Association and the Lake (Ontario) Yacht Racing Association. The next goal was a national or continental governing body for yachting.

A meeting of North American yachts clubs was called at New York’s Fifth Avenue Hotel on May 1, 1897. Commodore S. O. Richardson of Toledo represented I-LYA and the area clubs in the Yacht Racing Union of the Great Lakes, in company with Commodore Aemelius Jarvis of Toronto’s Royal Canadian Yacht Club. Jarvis, in his report to Ernest W. Radder of Cleveland, secretary of I-LYA, who was unable to attend, stated:

Every yachting organization of any standing in North America was represented, except the New York Yacht Club; it was the unanimous opinion of those present that concerted action on the part of yacht clubs to bring about uniform rules throughout the continent was in the best interests of yachting and formal resolutions were passed to this effect.

A committee was selected to prepare plans for the national organization. Jarvis was a member. Richardson in his report added, “All of the Eastern delegates were much pleased at what the Lakes Yachtsmen had done, and with the interest they had taken in the matter.” The lakers fought for immediate organization and the committee was their answer. The next meeting was set for October.

The meeting to form the North American Yacht Racing Union was called to order at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York on Oct. 30, 1897. Delegates representing 109 yacht clubs from every part of the continent including seven from the Pacific Coast were on hand. Radder represented I-LYA.

Yacht Racing, c. 1900

They voted to form the North American Yacht Racing Union, elected a council of 15 members of which Radder was one and adopted a set of racing rules. Two council members were sent to Europe to study the measurement and classification rules in effect there. J. M. Clark of Boston was elected the Union’s first president. Reported Radder:

We will have eventually a (measurement, handicap and classification) rule that will not promote the plank-on-edge cutter, the fin keel or the flat, beamy, dangerous centerboarder but tend to build up a fleet of yachts safe, comfortable and speedy and at a cost within the reach of the average yachtsman

From the spark that meeting generated came the Universal Rule of measurement, the first equitable handicap system. Refined and developed it led to the present rating systems so necessary where boats of different classes or custom-built craft race against each other.

That gift just before Christmas of 1897, created through the efforts of dedicated yachtsmen Radder, Gardner, Richardson and Jarvis seemed important then. It is even more important now that yachting is no longer a rich man’s sport but enjoyed by a vast cross section of American people.

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William Watts: Immigrant Miller – Spring 1969

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

Edited by Charles E. Jones

In 1836 the village of Ypsilanti hardly ten years old, had solid hopes for inclusion on the route of the projected western railroad.

Located on the first high ground west of Detroit, the town had natural advantages as an agricultural processing and trading center, advantages already being exploited by one of its first citizens, Mark Norris, who had arrived in 1828 and built a mill. Shortage of skilled workmen and the relatively stable community which Ypsilanti afforded, made it attractive to European immigrant craftsmen who were able in this context to make quick adjustment to the New World environment.

William Watts, an English miller arriving in the Fall of 1835, immediately found employment with Mark Norris, at that time Democratic appointee as postmaster. Having landed in New York and sailed to Detroit via the new Erie Canal and Lake Erie, William left his family in Detroit while he scouted for work. Mark Norris’ aid in moving and settling Watts’ family and employing him in the mill, plus numerous contacts with fellow Englishmen at the Methodist chapel, resulted in the swift Americanization of William Watts. Within a few weeks after their arrival, however, his wife died as a result of the birth of a son, Benjamin F[ranklin?] Watts.

Early convinced of boundless opportunity in the new country, and impressed by the “hundred million” dollar treasury surplus under President Van Buren, Watts seems to have become a Jacksonian Democrat following the lead of his employer. He wrote the following letter, dated November 9, 1836, to his parents, in an effort to convince them, or some English kinsmen or neighbors, to emigrate. The letter, illuminating the otherwise obscure career of its author who died in 1876, was retrieved by his son, Benjamin F. Watts, an Ann Arbor watchmaker, while on a visit to the family’s ancestral home in England. It was transcribed and deposited with the Michigan Historical Collections, of the University of Michigan, in 1945 by Harry H. Watts, a Kansas City attorney. Minor grammatical and spelling changes have been made without note. Commodity prices were taken from Historical Statistics of the United States (1957).

November 9th, 1836, Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County, Michigan, No. America.

Dear Mother and Father:

“We embrace this opportunity of addressing you to give you an account of our voyage and present situation. This comes with our kind love and our best wishes to you all, hoping that you are all well as this leaves me; thanks be to God for it. The health of my wife since we came here has been as good as could be expected, until her confinement which was on Nov. 4th. [1836] Since then she has been very ill. The children have been except William very unwell, but they are getting better.

We left London on Tuesday, July 12th [1836], at 12 o’clock at noon, and sailed to Gravesend that night; 13th. Sailed to the Downs, near Deale, not far from Dover, 104 miles from London, where we cast anchor, having a strong head wind, the ship rolling about very much and the Passengers in all parts of the ship beginning to be seasick.  The Captain and four of his men fell out about their wages and the men refused to work. The captain went on shore 3 or 4 times at Deale, to the Magistrate, and brought 4 men from Deale and sent the other four to jail.

Typical Ocean sailing vessel in 1836

18th [July, 1836]. Set sail this morning with a strong head wind from the southwest. After sailing 9 or 10 miles the wind forced us to turn back to cast anchor, where we laid until the 22d — 9 o’clock this morning we set sail. Passed the white cliffs of Dover with a strong head wind. The passengers said we might have been sailing all the time we laid at anchor, for the sailors were busy mending their rigging which was very much out of repair. 23d. There has been much sickness in all parts of the ship. The increasing of the head wind . . . caused the ship to pitch very much.

August 2d. After three weeks sailing we have got 700 miles, as the wind has not been so strong against us.

26th [August, 1836]. At 8 o’clock this morning we are on the banks of Newfoundland. The banks are not what I expected; they are a place in the sea where the water is not more than 50 to 60 yards deep, where great numbers of codfish are caught. It is 400 or 500 miles from Newfoundland. We saw four fishing boats. The captain took his boat and went to one of them; they came from Boston in America; they gave the Captain some fine fish, for which he would have given them 4 bottles of Rum which he took with him, but they would not accept it, as very few of the American ships allow spirits to be drunk on board. We have seen large whales near the ship . . . [which] appeared to be as large as the ship and large shoals of porpoise driving past the ship. They appear to be in pursuit of their prey, just like a pack of hounds in a corn field in full cry, pumping out the water three or four feet, as large as fat Pigs of 7 or 8 Stone.

We are all well and hearty except my wife. She is very poorly, having suffered much from seasickness and . . . [eating] but little. The children are getting quite fat. Many of the passengers are getting short of provisions. Some of them have nothing to eat, but we have plenty for 2 or 3 weeks, for I laid in a fresh stock of provisions while we laid at anchor at Deale as I was afraid we should have a long passage, If the wind had been fair we should have been in New York in 28 days.

August 30 [1836]. We have now the best wind we have had since we left London this day 7 weeks [ago]. The wind is blowing from the east, driving us 10 knots an hour. We have sailed 220 miles the last 24 hours. We are yet 500 miles from New York. Sunday, Sept. 5th. Very fine and pleasant forenoon; going 5 knots an hour. The afternoon is a dead calm and very foggy. We are now on St. George’s banks. The passengers are busy and have caught several [fish]. Our children are quite in their element. . . . Tuesday, 7. Fair wind, going 9 knots an hour, and the Captain says we shall see Land by 8 o’clock tomorrow morning.

8th. At 5 o’clock this morning we were in great danger. The ship was in full sail, going very fast. A loud cry was heard, Land ahead, within 100 yards of the ship. Some of the Sailors saw it before, but thought it was a cloud, as it was not light. The Captain was in bed, and dreadfully frightened, as in 2 minutes more [the wind] must have driven us on the shore, but by the help of the passengers (they just tacked the ship in time to save her). We were now about 10 miles too much to the South of the river that runs to New York, but the Captain not knowing the Coast, . . . turned the wrong way and sailed about 60 miles on the coast of New Jersey before he found he was wrong. He thought it had been Long Island. He laid the fault on the Mate and was very sorry and cried like a child . . . [because] the Passengers were very much dissatisfied, as we had to go back against a strong head wind and many of them had nothing to eat but what the others gave them. 9th [Sept. 1836]. Nothing today but complaint against the Captain, as the wind is quite against us, and in the night he had driven out to Sea 40 miles and quite lost sight of land. . . .

11th. This morning at 9 o’clock the Pilot came on board and soon brought us up the river to Staten Island, the place of quarantine, where we cast anchor. The doctor soon came on board and, after looking at us all and finding us all well . . . said we must remain on the ship until Monday, as it was then Saturday afternoon and no business is done on Sunday. The ship was not allowed to enter until Passengers and luggage were all out and the ship was washed all over. Sunday, the 12th. We laid at anchor near the shore, and took the Boat and went and got some fresh provisions which we enjoyed very much. 13th. A schooner from New York came to take us there into which we loaded ourselves and our luggage. Then they took us to a large, wooden house, unloaded all our luggage, then it was examined by the officer and then put on board and about 4 o’clock in the afternoon we came to New York. It is a very fine city.        Some of the passengers were hired before they left the ship, others got work directly. One young man, a linen draper, got 500 dollars a year and board and washing. We took our luggage to the steamboat office at Courtland, where we took our passage to Buffalo at $6.25 per head and ½ price for children, and $1 per hundred for all our luggage. We then went to a boarding house or Tavern, to a Mrs. Smith’s from London, where we feasted on the very best. The beer is very excellent at sixpence per quart. The city was full of fruit. We saw cartloads of fine peaches and apples. We staid in New York 24 hours For 3 meals and beds we paid 25 shillings.

13th. At 5 o’clock in the afternoon we left New York in a large towboat fastened to a large steamer which took us a 160 miles to the city of Albany, where we staid all night on the 14th. Sept. 15. Our luggage was weighed at Albany, after which we mounted a steam coach which took us across the country to a fine town called Schenectady. In the afternoon we went on board another towboat drawn by two horses. They walked fast on the side of the [Erie] canal. We passed through several fine cities, towns and villages We saw large orchards full of fruit on both sides of the canal, and we could buy provisions and fruit most every mile. We bought a quarter of excellent lamb at 2½ cents per pound. Our accommodations were very bad, owing [to] the boat being [so] full of passengers . . . as not to have room to lay our beds.

ERIE – a typical 1836 steamboat.

On the morning of the 22d. We came to Buffalo just in time for a large steamer, which was going to sail for Detroit, the Capital of the State Michigan, 310 miles across Lake Erie. We took our luggage on board directly. They charge $3.00 per head and half per child, and ½ dollar for a Barrel bulk for all our luggage, $5 for luggage and $15 for family, which almost emptied my purse. The steamer was full of passengers, hundreds of which were going to settle in the states of Michigan and Illinois. Our accommodations were very bad. We had no room either to lay or sit. 24th [I] came to Detroit with only a few shillings in my pocket. We could not go to a boarding house for want of money. We went to a small provision house, laid our beds on the floor Here we spent the Sabbath on the 25th in a very comfortable manner. I went to the Methodist Chapel, and saw several Englishmen.1  They gave me great encouragement. After paying my six pence on the Monday I had four shillings and 2 pence left. We took a small room for a week at 3 shillings. I might have had work directly on the new Western Rail Road, which is to run across the state to Illinois, about 228 miles, but I did not like Detroit. ‘Twas wet and unhealthy and no Corn Milk2  nigh. After getting much information from an Englishman (a Mill Stone Manufacturer), he directed me west,  It was 30 miles to the first Corn Miller. . .      [although there were] several further on.

I left my wife and family at Detroit the same day [Monday, Sept. 26, 1836], about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, with a few pence in my pocket, intending to walk all night. But the [bad] roads . . . compelled me to stop at the tavern. They charged 3 d. for my bed,

Mark Norris of Ypsilanti, MI

Tuesday, the 27th. I came to Ypsilanti about noon, 30 miles from Detroit. I went to the house of Mr. Norris the miller. I asked him for work on his mill. He said he did not want a miller at present, but thought he soon should. He offered to engage me for a month at 22 dollars.3 Having no money to travel with I was glad to accept it. He said ‘twould cost near 20 dollars to get my family and luggage to Ypsilanti, in consequence of the roads being almost impassable. He gave me a very excellent supper and bed, and after breakfast he told me he would send his man for my family and Luggage tomorrow. I felt thankful, but had no money to pay expenses on the road. Thursday morning after breakfast I told Mr. Norris I had no money. I offered him my watch which he took and lent me 4 dollars. Friday, 30th [Sept.]. About 8 o’clock this morning I came to Detroit, and . . . met [Norris’] man about noon. We loaded our luggage and traveled about 4 miles that night. We staid at a Tavern where we had an excellent supper and breakfast. They charged 1 shilling for meal and half price for the Children. Oct. 1. We came about 16 miles today, through such a road as you never saw. We staid at a Tavern 10 miles from Ypsilanti. Mr. Norris was on his way to Detroit, and in consequence of the rain he slept at the same place. After paying for the best supper we ever had, 8 d., we laid our beds on the floor. Oct. 2d. This morning I told the landlord we could not take breakfast as our money was all spent. He gave my wife and children some coffee and gave me great encouragement            [He] told me Mr. Norris was an excellent man to work for. Just as we left the Tavern Mr. Norris gave me another Dollar; he said if the wagon broke down we might be another night on the road. We passed several broken wagons that were left in the mud, . . . [but] about 3 o’clock in the afternoon we came to Ypsilanti.

I had engaged a very bad house, the only one I could get, for 3 shillings per week until we could get a better one. Monday the 3d. [Oct.] and two following days I served the brick layer at one of Mr. Norris’ new houses. One Tuesday night another brick layer came to my house and offered me $1.25 per day. I told him I was engaged. He had been all over the town and could not get a man. The next 14 days Mr. Norris set me to work in his Pearl Ash mill. I boiled and baked 18 barrels of Pearl Ash.4 He was very much pleased with it. Said it was almost the best he ever see . . . worth $500. He gave me 6 shillings more than my wages.

Saturday the 22d. [Oct.]. I went to work in . . . [Norris’] Corn Mill where I . . . remain. There are three men beside me, one an Englishman. My wages are $26.00 per month, a house and Garden, and keeping for a Cow as soon as I can get one, but that . . . [will] be some time, . . . Mr. Norris soon provided us with a better house; he emptied his office where he used to do his writing and bought us a cooking Stove, . . . [which] cost 36 Dollars and is the most convenient thing you ever saw. He has begun to build a new house for us in a very pleasant place, not far from the Mills, and a new Rail Road will run quite past,5 and there is near ½ acre of Excellent ground for a garden. I have made one Bedstead and my Master has sent me two Bedsteads and four chairs and he has sold me a Table for 2 dollars.

Mr. Norris is an Excellent man. He has in about 10 years accumulated much property. He came from New York State to Ypsilanti 10 years ago. He told me he was forced to borrow money to pay his Expenses on the Road. Since that time he has done Wonders. He has now one of the finest farms you ever saw. He told me he had a field of wheat last year of 80 acres, the finest Crop he ever saw. It all became ripe at once and all Carted in Excellent Condition. He has also a fine handsome house where he lives and several cottages, beside a Corn Mill and a fine Saw Mill that work night and day. There looks to be timber enough already Cut out to build a town, besides hundreds of large timbers laying around the saw mill. And since I have been with him he has bought a large farm. It lies about a hundred miles to the West, on the Great Illinois Road. He has also several Shares in the New Rail Road. Next summer he intends to build a Store and also a new Water Corn Mill.

Mrs. Norris

Mrs. Norris is an Excellent Woman. She engaged Rachel6 the first day I went to work and she has been there ever since. She is treated as one of the family and likes her place very much. Her Missis is very fond of her. She gives her 3 shillings per week and has bought a handsome dress for her for the winter.

Ypsilanti is a very pleasant place. It stands on a hill on both sides of the [Huron] River. The town is rapidly enlarging and by next Spring we expect the great Western Rail Road from Detroit will be completed which will be an Excellent thing for the town as then goods of all kinds can be brought from all parts with little expense. Then we expect to get Groceries much cheaper. There are in the town 4 Taverns, Several Grocery and Drapery Shops, 3 blacksmith Shops, one Foundry, 3 Corn Mills, 3 Saw [Mills], and 2 Cooper Shops, one close by our Mill. They make all the flour barrels we use — about 50 in a week. There is also a new bank now opened. There are 3 Chapels, one for Baptist, one for the Presbyterians, and one for the Methodists. We joined the [Methodist] Class with four others on Sunday, October 9th. We have 80 members.

Wheat is 5s, Barley 3s, Oats 2s, Indian Corn 4s, Buckwheat 3s, and Potatoes 1S 6d per bushel. Clothing is dear; Shoes are cheap. Tea [is] 3s per pound, Candles 8d, Butter 1s, Cheese 6d, Sugar 8d very good. They are dearer now than ever before was known . . . [because] the Roads . . . [are] so bad. . ..7 We hope [this] will soon be prevented by the Rail Road. Beef and Mutton [are] 3d per pound. [There is] plenty of Wood for the fire. We can have a two-horse load brought to our door for 2d 6d. It is Expected [that] this will be one of the finest towns in the State in a few years. The Wheat is quite Equal to the Wheat in England and makes the finest of Flour. All Trades are in a flourishing State. Farming appears to be the best, as Corn is high and [there are] no tithes, no poor rates and but little expense. . . . They plough the land only once and sow six pecks of wheat on an acre and barrow it in . . .  [they] can sell everything they grow for ready money. We have no poor people compared with England, [and] . . . have no complaining in our streets. Every man appears to be comfortably enjoying the fruit of his labor. Day wages are $1.00 per day. Carpenters and brick layers get $2.00 per day. . . . [There] are many English [people here] . . . several from Norfolk. Two of them from near Swatham told me they often Earned $2.00 per day.

Michigan is reckoned a very fine State, [with] very Excellent and very fine timber. There is plenty of land to sell about 100 miles West [of Ypsilanti]. The price is $1.25 or 5s 2d per acre, the same as in Illinois. . . . Mr. Wilson from England [was] one of the first settlers in Ypsilanti. He lives 3 miles from the town and frequently comes to the mill. He has lived here 11 years and has saved a great deal of money, but cannot save it fast enough. He intends to move to Illinois as soon as he can sell out to an advantage. He says he cannot raise . . . [as] much Cattle nor grow . . . [as] much Corn as in Illinois where the Climate is more temperate. others say Michigan is quite equal to Illinois . . . [but] hundreds have settled there this season. Tell Mr. Charles Cooper of Mattask there is plenty of room for him and his family. We want very much a good shoemaker. Tell him I am glad I am here, I like America. I like Michigan. I like Ypsilanti. I like my Neighbors. They are very friendly. I like my Master and I like my employment For these reasons I am glad I am not in England. I should be very glad if you could send me a few pounds to buy a cow, as the keep [would] cost us nothing. You can pay for it into a bank in London (which I think Mr. Windham will do for you), . . . get their receipt and send [it] to me I can take it at Detroit. If Farnesby comes you had better send it by him if you [can] spare any. I hope I shall see Farnesby and as many of the family as like to come. I will give him a home until he can get one. [I] hope he will leave [as] early in March as possible. I have no doubt [that] if he comes early he will save money enough to buy a farm. He can get employment as A Cooper or a Carpenter. A great deal of building will be [done] next summer, and they are not very particular. He may have 6s per day and his board. Let him bring plenty of Clothing, as ‘tis near double the price here If he can, let him bring some Cuttings of the goosebury and Currents, and some Sweeds and white turnip, seed Cabbage and Cauliflower seed, and what flower seed he can get I have ½ acre of Excellent ground for gardening. . . .

Throughout the sea voyage and the trip to Ypsilanti, Mrs. Watts had suffered continually. Although for a few weeks after Benjamin’s birth she improved markedly, her condition worsened in November. Despite copious medical attention, she died December 24, 1836. A few days later, her husband sent an account of her death to his wife’s parents, from which we now quote:

She died on Saturday morning at half past one, Dec. 24th, and was buried on Christmas day, Sunday the 25th, in the most Respectful manner. The Custom here is to bury the dead the second day. She was taken to the [Methodist] Chapel in a carriage. I and my family followed in Mr. Norris’ carriage, and Mr. N. and Mrs. N. and family, and two other carriages [followed] besides [with] a number of friends on foot. The corpse stood near the pulpit, while one of the traveling preachers preached her funeral sermon. After she was buried, we returned to our homes the same way we went. . . .

My wife and myself had been counting how comfortable we should be in our new situation, but alas, my Expectations are cut off, my hopes are blasted. I should be glad if Elizabeth and Sophia8 would come with Farnesby, as I want some one to guide my Children. I will find them both a good home. I will give them their board for looking after the Children and they may earn a great deal of  money. They can have plenty of work.  They [can] get 6 or 7 shillings for  making a dress. [I] hope they will not be afraid to come. Here is a fruitful country, a very healthy Climate and a very pleasant situation: . . . everything to make them Comfortable. [I] hope I may expect them. I hope for the sake of the dear Children I shall not be disappointed. Let them come from London in the American line of packets.9 It will cost them 5 pounds 4s 6d, but they will Sail on the day appointed and will go in half the time and better accommodation. [Have them] bring plenty of flour and beef suet, Tea and Sugar, Cheese and Butter, and some salt pork for their passage. When they get to New York, let them leave the same afternoon, [and] take their passage in a towboat to Buffalo.

That will Cost them two and one half dollars. Get some provisions for [only] two days, as you can get more on the way. When you get to Buffalo, take passage in a steam boat for Detroit. If the Rail Road is finished that will bring you down to my House, where the Coaches stop; if not, you can come by the stage Coach that runs every day. I shall be glad to see as Many of the family as [should] like to come There are thousands upon thousands of acres of [as good] land [as] you ever saw for 5s 2½ d per acre. Timber land or meadow land [are] all at one price. The Climate is much the same as in England. – . . .

Give my kind love to all the family. Hope I shall one day see them all in America. Government have now one hundred million dollars of Money that they have no use for.10 This is and must remain the finest Country in all the world. Mr. Norris is no Miller himself. He likes me very much. He has spoken very highly of me. I have the Chief care of the Mill. I have an Excellent place, such a one as you cannot find in England Most likely [I] can keep it as long as I like. I could now have two other places and more wages, but I am satisfied. I must Conclude by saying that I hope to see a large part of the family next Spring, that I and all my Children are hearty and well, and that I still remain

Your affectionate son-in-law, Wm. Watts


  1. Repeatedly Watts used the Methodist Chapel as an instrument for meeting other Englishmen. Evidently, he did not find American Methodism markedly different from its British counterpart.
  2. Flour mills.
  3. Although from Watts’ standpoint the wages were more than adequate, a look at the prices being paid for flour at the time shows that Mark Norris must have been operating on a handsome margin. Wholesale flour prices from 1835 to 1839 were better than they had been since the inflationary period after the War of 1812 and better than they would be until 1854. Flour sold wholesale for $5.85 per hundred pounds in 1835, $7.49 in 1836, $9.14 in 1837, $7.95 in 1838, $7.30 in 1839, then dropped to $5.29 in 1840.
  4. Purified potash.
  5. A site on the railroad would have been advantageous to Watts’ milling business.
  6. Watts’ daughter.
  7. Prices for all commodities were higher from 1835 to 1839 than they would be anytime during the 1840’s. The average price (wholesale) index at Philadelphia stood at 90.7 in 1835 and rose to 95.9 by 1839, but dropped to a low of 75.4 in 1843
  8. Sisters?
  9. American transatlantic lines, inaugurated in 1818, early began providing scheduled service.
  10. Reference is to the federal treasury surplus under President Van Buren. Distribution of the surplus was a major factor in initiating a speculative boom which resulted in the Panic of 1837.


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About the Author: Dr. Charles E. Jones is Curator of Manuscripts of the Michigan Historical Collections, University of Michigan, and attained his Ph.D. degree at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. His research interests center around the study of social and intellectual history, particularly the cultural environment of the Puritan and Methodist movements.

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The Wreck of the MONTICELLO – Winter 1968

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

By Loren Hopkins

Ten days passed away waiting for a vessel to take us to Sault Ste. Marie. During that time Celotes Searles of Charlotte, Eaton County, put in his appearance with another surveying party of eight men. In the afternoon of the 25th September, the side-wheel steamer Monticello, a first-class steamer and the only one on the Lake, came for freight and passengers. The most of the afternoon was occupied in loading up and getting ready for the voyage.

About 5 o’clock the passengers, now numbering about 150, were all on board and the cargo was completed, which consisted of fish and copper. They took on board at that place about one hundred barrels of fish, and 50 tons of copper, one-half of which was stamped copper in barrels, which was placed in the hold of the steamer. The other half was mass copper of two to three tons each, placed around on the main deck, so as to distribute the weight equally on the boat. Then she proudly steamed out into the Lake, slowly and carefully at first, so as to pass safely by the shifting sandbars, in the mouth of the river.

When they had got some distance out, and it was thought the dangers nearly all passed, they put on more steam and were gliding smoothly and swiftly along when all at once there was a terrible jar and a thump right underneath, and the steamer suddenly stopped still. The stern was gradually carried around by the current from the river, which was still quite strong, then the engine turned the wheels backward, and the steamer slipped off the obstacle, which might have been the large pine tree encountered in the rapids ten days before. Her bow was swung around, and she started again on her fatal journey. Three hours passed before anyone knew anything about the death blow she had received.

*    *          *

About eight o’clock, when the passengers had nearly all retired for the night, it was discovered that there was three feet of water in the hold. All were roused from their beds, and screams were heard in every direction. After the first shock was over, all who could possibly work went to bailing out the water with pails and pumps and windlasses, three of which were drawing out the water with a barrel, each with one head fastened with ropes. A man had to stand in the water, at first three feet deep; four hours later fully five feet deep. A little before midnight the bailing was abandoned, and all ran on the upper deck to take their last breath. They were driven back to their work by the use of firearms in the hands of some of the officers of the steamer.

They then rolled all the mass of copper which was upon the main deck into the surging waters. When a mass went over, that side of the boat would rise up a foot or two. The work of casting overboard the copper on the main deck, and all other heavy articles that could be got at, was soon accomplished, then the wind that had been blowing very hard from land, thus driving us farther and farther from shore, was fast quieting down, and hope once more revived. The boat would careen over to one side on her beam and stay there. The water would come up on her main deck one-third of the way across, the passengers would all get to the higher side — then that side would go down, and the other side come up. Then they would go to that side, and so change over.

About this time the water broke through into the engine room, which was below, thus driving out the fireman and engineer and putting out the fire. The engine kept right on for a few minutes, then worked slower and slower, and the clicking of the valves became fainter and fainter and less frequent, and finally, like the dying struggles of some giant, it ceased altogether. Then work was again abandoned, and the last ray of hope extinguished.

The crew gathered in groups and calmly resolved to meet death like brave men. It was now deemed certain that the boat would go down in a very few minutes at most. The sailors said that she would go down stern first as most of the barrels of stamped copper placed there in her hold were near the stern. Many of the passengers shook hands, and got ready to fill a watery grave already opening to receive them.

A few, however, still kept on planning. one man cut the ropes that bound the fender post to her side and wound it around the railing so as to quickly and easily launch off by himself when she should begin to go down. Another attempted to empty a barrel, and then put the head in again and attach ropes to it, to hang onto, to save himself. Two or three were watching a small rowboat and getting ready to embark in it. One of the number took a heavy pocketknife from his pants pocket, and some specimens of agate and cornelians and placed them in his coat pocket, then unbuttoned his coat, so he could throw it off quickly. He pulled off coarse, heavy boots and threw them away — then put on a pair of thin slippers, so as to be well prepared to swim to the rowboat if he should be left by the friends who had been assisted to escape, and who might be obliged to hurry away to prevent too many getting in with them. Another man pulled off his heavy boots and threw them away, without thinking he had nothing else to put on his feet, or realizing that he could not swim a rod either with, or without, boots.

The distance to shore was now estimated to be about fifteen miles (probably overestimated), and no person on board at that time expected to ever set foot upon the shore or see home or friends again. There was but little noise or confusion now. The most were preparing, or prepared, to accept the situation evidently so near at hand. A few here and there were invoking Divine aid.

A passenger suddenly stepped out of the crowd and said in a loud and firm tone of voice, “The wind is freshening up and blowing us right toward shore, if we can only keep her afloat just a little while, we can save our lives!”

The passengers didn’t need to be driven to their work this time. They resumed their work silently and with but little hope, but the wind soon increased to a gale, and hurried them on toward shore. In two hours, or a little past 2 o’clock, the dark line that had been seen so far in the distance, had become a great broad black belt, frowning down upon them like some formidable fort. A hurried consultation was held and it was decided that to attempt to land in the night would most likely prove disastrous. Here, then, was another and unexpected danger. They were now quite sure that the shore was no more than half a mile distant and yet they couldn’t land,  To attempt it in the night was thought to be sure death; to stay where they were was almost equally certain of the same result. They resolved to try the latter, and cast out an anchor and wished for the day.

The poet said, “There was no sleep till morn when youth and pleasure meet,” but they found out there was no sleep till morn when age and anguish met!  The three hours that followed — that is, from a little past 2 to a little after 5 — were probably the longest that they ever knew anything about. It did seem as if it never would get light. But morning came at last.

Then it could be seen that to wait till morning was the very best thing to do. The rocks along the shore as far as could be seen both ways were perpendicular and from 40 to 60 feet in height, and the water was deep right up to them, except one small place. About half a mile farther down, there was a depression, almost a ravine, where the perpendicular part of the rocks was not more than 20 feet high with a short curvature. A hemlock tree had fallen across from one side of the curve to the other, and a ridge of rocks, starting from the curve just above high water mark, extended into the Lake 40 rods or more, at right angles with the shore. Still water in the Lake would stand within 20 feet of the perpendicular rock. The lake end of the ridge was depressed so that the water was deeper and deeper over it, the farther you went from shore.

It was now deemed advisable to run the wreck upon the rocks, and use the two small rowboats that were still on the wreck to get the passengers to land. They cut loose from the anchor so as not to add any additional weight to the only thing that barely kept them from a watery grave, and started on their perilous journey, carrying just about the same amount of water that they had when they anchored. If they should keep too close to shore they might strike against the ridge of rocks and sink in deep water. If they should keep too far from shore they might miss the ridge or shallows and get into deep water beyond.

It was therefore a hazardous undertaking, but was accomplished successfully. The center of the wreck struck the rocks so hard, that no one could possibly keep on his feet unless he had a firm hold of something and was prepared for the shock, which was very severe. The smokestack came down with a terrible crash, falling within a few feet of a large number of passengers but without injuring any. Her timbers trembled, her bolts failed, and her decks began to spring off from their fastenings. It was evident that whatever was to be done, must be done quickly.

Another danger must now be encountered. The wind which was hailed with delight during the past night as the agent of salvation, was now regarded as the agent of destruction! It was now blowing a terrific gale toward land, the waves were estimated to be from 40 to 60 feet in height, and each wave as it struck the wreck filled the whole space between decks, but would flatten out before it got across, so that persons standing on the leeward side of the wreck on the main deck, could easily manage to keep their heads out of water.

They had only two small boats, one would hold 15 or 16 men, the other five or six, and it was not certain that eight could ride such a sea, but it must be tried, and at once the larger rowboat was accordingly lowered and four of the strongest and best seamen got into it with a rope, one end of which was fastened to the main mast. They started out for shore, as more than a hundred persons stood upon the upper deck watching with intensest interest the departing boat.

They noticed that every wave hid the boat and men from their view. They did so because they knew that their own fate was involved in the success or failure of the enterprise. They soon joyfully saw them land on dry rock, climb up the perpendicular part by means of the help afforded by the fallen hemlock, and tie the other end of the rope to a tree, which stood ten or fifteen rods back from the shore. An attempt was then made to launch the small boat, which filled before a single man got into it.

Then three men started back with the boat to get passengers. They pulled the boat back by the rope, and when they approached the wreck it was with extreme difficulty that they could load up without over-loading, because all were so anxious to get to shore. The rowboat kept bobbing up and down, and would dodge first to one side, then the other, making it quite difficult to jump into it. The seamen would draw the boat near to the wreck when several would jump into it, then they would let it fly away back so as to prevent too many getting in at a time. Then they would draw it up and try again, and so on, till they had a dozen to fifteen men — then off to shore again.

Captain A. B. Wood counseled the surveyor boys not to be in a hurry, but “wait for a more convenient season” just as many others have done in all ages of the world. But my father thought differently, and proceeded to secure a passage by return, and went with the fifth boatload to the shore, and didn’t wait for an introduction either! But as they approached the shore a heavy wave struck her just right and filed her full of water and sent her against the rocks with such force that a great hole, almost as large as a man’s hat, was made in the bottom. They had no way to repair it, so they thought those yet on the wreck would have to die. They drew her up out of the reach of the waves and then they climbed up the rugged rocks, and went into the edge of the woods and built a fire to warm themselves.

Between seventy-five and a hundred persons were still on board the wreck, but they couldn’t hear a word from shore, while those on shore could distinctly hear what was said on the wreck — and their entreaties were truly heart-rending. Once more a passenger was equal to the occasion. He said, “Come on boys, we must contrive to get them ashore.”

Several went down to the water’s edge with him. He took hold of a pail that was floating on the water and gave it to a man, and asked him to go in the boat and bail water constantly, then he got a bedquilt that had just come ashore in a box of bedding that had been preserved because it had but little weight, at the time they were disposing of the heavy part of her cargo. They folded it until it was only two or three feet square, laid it over the hole in the boat and sat down on it. Then two men got in to pull the boat back and forth by the rope and the four men stuck to their work until they rescued every human being on board.

The shore end of the rope was fastened to a tree upon the bluff and when the seamen approached the shore, it drew up so high on their arms, it was difficult to hang onto it when they were in the troughs of the sea, so I thought I would make it a little easier for them. Next time when they were coming toward shore with a load of passengers, I took hold of the rope where I could reach it, and followed it down to the perpendicular part of the rocks, then swung off and slipped down the rope till I could touch my toes to the rocks below, but it took me out into the water above my knees. There the seaman would stand and hold to the rope till the boat arrived, then the man in the bow would let go of the rope and swing the bow around till the sides were parallel with the shore, then unload as quickly as possible, then shove the bow around toward the wreck and start back for another load.

All this time my father stood in water above his knees, and every one of the great waves would submerge his entire person so that for a moment, he was out of sight in the wave. Not more than six or eight waves would reach the shore during the approach of the boat and unloading it, if no accident happened. But the boat filled five times full of water, and had every time to be drawn to the edge of the water, and as many men as could work got on the lake side of the boat and raised the side as high as they could, then waited for a wave to help them tip it over, then turn it back quickly and turn the bow toward the wreck, so that the waves might strike it on the end instead of the side, or it would fill and sink again.

*    *          *

No person had bestowed one thought upon what was to be done on reaching land, but now that hope had ended in fruition and the great desideratum realized, something must be decided on to relieve the pressing wants of a crowd of wet, shivering, exhausted, and half-starved men, women and children. It was known that the seven men who landed first started right off for the nearest settlement for food and help. It was also thought perhaps some food might be obtained from the wreck, as soon as the wind ceased blowing such a gale. It was therefore determined to remain where we were until next morning.

Toward night the wind ceased blowing, and then an effort was made to visit the wreck to try to secure something to eat. Nothing could be obtained except a barrel that had once contained flour, and a small piece of fresh beef, which was divided among the sick men, women and children. The flour in the barrel was now mostly batter, but some of it was not so thin but that it could be kneaded like bread.

*    *          *

The men in the first boat, sent out from the settlement by the seven who went for relief two days before, a beacon light having been kept all night to direct them to the spot, ate breakfast that Sabbath morning by the firelight, the first they had had since the Thursday before. They were all allowed to take one day’s provision with them, and as soon as it was light resumed their journey. As they were approaching the town in regular Indian style, they met quite a number of people who were anxious to give us a cordial reception. One man, on seeing my barefooted friend, sat down on a log and pulled off his boots, and gave them to him. He refused to take them at first, but he insisted upon his having them. He told him they were too small. He replied, “You can cut slits in the uppers. I’ll never consent to allow a man to enter our town under such circumstances, barefoot.” At the same time tears could be seen starting from his eyes as though he meant what he said.

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About the Author: This fragmentary account of the wreck of the propeller Monticello near Copper Harbor, Michigan, September 25-26, 1851, was written by Loren Hopkins, formerly of Owosso, Michigan, member of a surveying party that was returning from a summer’s work in the vicinity of Ontonagon, Michigan. The original unedited manuscript was sent to us by Mr. Harvey C. Hopkins of Chappaqua, New York, grandson of Loren Hopkins, at the suggestion of Mr. Carl Hogberg, president of the Orinoco Mining Company, and member of the Great Lakes Historical Society.

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CAPT C.D. SECORD, Will They Find your Golden Rivets? – Fall 1968

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

By Raymond C. Burke


In this ever changing and progressive world, one welcomes change that brings comfort and removes labor from man’s daily tasks. when that same progress removes an item of sentiment or familiarity, like a generous old tree or local store, which we fondly remember as a child, we object. “Hey, you can’t take that! Why, that’s been there as long as I can remember,” one thinks. For the writer, it’s an ore boat — an ore boat with golden rivets!

Boats usually lead a rather dull existence, despite a few bumps and scrapes, plowing the Lakes happily, trying to make money for their owners. But such was not the case for the MV Capt. C. D. Secord, now in her 68th year on the Lakes.

The Secord was launched in 1900 by the Bessemer Steamship Company, which in 1901 became part of the Pittsburgh Steamship Company. Named the Charles R. Van Hise, her original dimensions were: 446 feet long; 50 feet beam; 29 feet 6 inches depth; 5,117 gross tons. Her first years were relatively uneventful until late Fall of 1904. She was locked in 18 inches of solid ice during a quick freezeup in Gladstone, Michigan. The ice breaking power of the steamer James Watt freed her to open water.

The stern of the VAN HISE going through the Welland in 1918

In 1918, however, when our country was feeling the bite of German U-boats on rampage in the Atlantic, many lake steamers were taken to the seaboard for government or coastwise service. All were of a beam less than 44 feet 4 inches, the maximum allowance for the Welland Canal locks at that time. The Van Hise, because of her depth of 29 feet 6 inches, was chosen. It was hoped that greater tonnage would result from using a 50-foot-beam ship. The U. S. Government Emergency Fleet Corporation bought the Van Hise from the Pittsburgh Steamship Company for $640,000.00. The Great Lakes Engineering Works at Ashtabula, Ohio, cut her in two, raised the deck four feet for a moulded depth of 33 feet 6 inches, and installed side tanks and pontoon tanks on deck, which acted as outriggers for stabilization. The forward end was towed to Buffalo’s outer harbor and rolled over so that it could be sent through the narrow locks on its side. Because of low water and unfavorable weather conditions, the forward end did not go through the first lock at Port Colborne until December 10, 1918. Since it was so late in the season, the forward section was laid over at Port Colborne until Spring of 1919.

Bow section of the VAN HISE going through the Welland, 1919

Of course, all these events were not passing by unnoticed. The late Robert L. Ripley, in his syndicated “Believe It or Not” column, featured the sailing of the Van Hise, a 50-foot-wide ship through a 44-foot-wide lock!

November 11, 1918, saw the Armistice signed, and the project on which the Government had spent $2,500,000.00, including the $640,000.00 purchase price, came to a halt. One-half of the Van Hise was in Port Colborne, the other half was in Ashtabula. With all this expenditure, she became known as “The Boat With The Golden Rivets.”

With the passing of wartime, the U. S. Government Emergency Fleet Corporation auctioned off the vessel on a “where is, as is,” basis. The late A. E. R. Schneider, then working with the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company, and the late James A. Paisley saw some tremendous possibilities for the Van Hise. They contracted with the Great Lakes Engineering Company in Ashtabula to join both halves. Because of additional stressing for salt water, they gambled their investment and added 96 feet forward of her forward deckhouse. With her new middle she acquired a new profile, 9,000-tons capacity, and a new name. Now she was the steamer A. E. R. Schneider. Her unique profile resulted from hatches located forward of her forward deckhouse. She possessed unusual loading characteristics because with her narrow 50-foot beam and her 33 ½-foot depth she could carry extra cubic feet of cargo. She could reach her loadline with oats before being totally filled up to hatch tops.

A.E.R. Schnieder

While sailing as a Cliff boat in 1924, the A. E. R. Schneider towed the disabled steamer J. H. Sheadle from Marquette to Ashtabula for repairs to the Sheadle’s afterbottom. For many years these two ships shared the record for the latest passage downbound through the Soo Locks —            the date, New Year’s, 1925.

Valley Camp Coal Company Ltd. took over the Schneider’s management from Cliffs in 1928. AS it was common practice on the Lakes to name boats after good customers, her name was changed in 1931 to the S. B. Way. Mr. Way was president of Wisconsin Electric Power and a good customer of Valley Camp.

Due to poor business conditions, the eight boats acquired by the late James A. Paisley interests, including the steamer  S. B. Way, were sold to the Columbia Transportation Company. In 1936, Columbia sold the Way to the present owners, the Mohawk Navigation Company Ltd. Upon going into Canadian registry, her name was again changed to Capt. C. D. Secord. Captain Secord brought out the vessel under the Bessemer flag. He was associated with Mohawk when the company bought her.


The Secord served her owners well for 18 years after joining Mohawk, and in 1954, they decided to repower her. Again she made headlines, for hers was not the normal transition. Her new engine was salvaged from a British freighter Imperial Metal, sunk during World War II in the Bay of Naples. The Diesel engine was 3,500 horsepower, and built by Harland and Wolff Ltd., of Glasgow. The engine was shipped to the factory for rebuilding and was installed in the Secord at Port Weller, Ontario. In August of 1954, the Secord, boasting a new rakish stack with blue house colors, loaded 334,393 bushels of grain at Duluth for delivery to Prescott, Ontario.

And so, old girl, you have been cut in half, deepened, lengthened, re-powered, and repainted. But still they think you are unable to carry out your role for man’s livelihood. Before long, the welder will spark off his cutting torch and bring to an end your illustrious 68-year career. The breaker will turn your unique profile into a cluttered pile of steel plate, Then you will be fed into a furnace. I wonder if in the process, when someone looks over your remains, they will find, deep in your bottom, encrusted with paint, course after course of your “Golden Rivets,” for surely they are there!


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About the Author: Mr. Raymond C. Burke is Vice President of the Sabin Machine Company, Cleveland, Ohio. His fondness for the Great Lakes began at an early age from taking trips on the ore boats owned by his late grandfather, A. E. R. Schneider. He wishes to acknowledge information received from Captain J. Clarke, Cletus P. Schneider, Oliver Burnham, and Loren Hammett.

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A Lake Superior Lifesaver Reminisces – Summer 1968

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

By Dr. Julius F. Wolfe, Jr.

John F. Soldenski

From the picture window of his trim home overlooking Bengal Lake, southwest of Hibbing, Minnesota, on the famous Mesabi Iron Range, John F. Soldenski still watches rolling waters fleeing before a gusty northwestern. Perhaps this view stirs old memories, since for 33 years he lived with turbulent Lake Superior and Lake Huron at his very front door. Now in his seventies, John Soldenski is one of the few men still living in the Lake Superior country who once plied an oar from a surfboat seat or plodded those dreary, sandy miles on the lifesaving beats between the isolated stations of the U.S. Life-Saving Service stretching from Whitefish Point to Grand Marais, Michigan. For eight years, 1912-1920, with time out for U.S. Navy service, he was one of that valiant band of men patrolling Michigan’s “shipwreck coast” on eastern Lake Superior. Then came an opportunity for transfer to the U.S. Lighthouse Service, and for an additional 25 years he served in remote, wild outposts which warn Great Lakes mariners, including extensive tours of Lake Superior duty at Rock of Ages Light, Isle Royale; and Huron Island Light off Michigan’s Huron Mountains in the Upper Peninsula; as well as at Thunder Bay Island Light, Lake Huron.

I encountered Mr. Soldenski quite by accident. Having studied Lake Superior shipwrecks for a number of years as a research project of the University of Minnesota, Duluth, I had made several beachcombing trips along the Michigan coast. The last two years, in company with Boy Scouts Bruce and Tom Schoenberg of Duluth, I had undertaken camping and photographic expeditions in this “shipwreck country.” Stories of our work had been carried in Lake Superior area newspapers, while our pictures have been presented often over local television programs.

Learning of the study through these channels, Mr. Soldenski had written to the University, and we enthusiastically made his acquaintance.

As we exhibited our colored slides of the Michigan shore west of Whitefish Point to Mr. and Mrs. Soldenski, one afternoon at Christmas-time, 1967, we enjoyed the experience of peering through a veritable window into the past of a half-century ago, for this was the very area that Mr. Soldenski had patrolled when a young surfman back in 1912. What fascinating anecdotes he could tell! As a broad-shouldered, six- foot, eighteen-year-old living in Grand Marais, Michigan, he had followed the adventure trail by applying to the U.S. Life-Saving Service for employment. The pay of a surfman in those days was comparable to that for sawmill or woods work. Over the next eight years (aside from World War I) his assignments took him to the following stations scattered roughly ten or a dozen miles apart westward from Whitefish Point: Vermilion Point, Crisps Point, Two Hearted River, Deer Park, and Grand Marais itself. Grand Marais was civilization – a village of some hundreds of persons, with docks and sawmills, connected to the outside world by a railroad. But the other spots represented the epitome of isolation, with access by oars in a small boat (very uncertain on Lake Superior), or by foot. Vermilion Point was the “Alcatraz” of the Life-Saving Service, as it was a 40-mile hike one way from Grand Marais. Yet, homesickness overcomes hardship, and Mr. Soldenski recalled that several times he had made the 80-mile, round trip on foot during a three-day pass, just to be at home for a few hours.

Life was rigorous at these wilderness stations. The buildings were standard, similar to those remaining at Deer Park. The headquarters housed the keeper’s family, an office, and some equipment. Smaller cabins often accommodated married crewmen (at least the No. 1 surfman, or assistant keeper), but the unmarried surf men resided in the loft, a combination living room and bunkhouse comprising the second story of the boathouse. As he examined our slide picture of the Deer Park boathouse, Mr. Soldenski noted that the outside stairway leading to the crew room had either fallen away or had been dismantled. For living quarters these were not bad, but as a fire precaution for the hallowed lifeboats stored below, cooking was not permitted therein. A special cook shack and mess cabin for the surfmen was provided a short distance away. This, he remembers, was often a shoddily-built affair, drafty and poorly insulated. In a cold spring or autumn, the only warm place was up the stovepipe.

However, there may have been some ulterior psychological motive in the Life-Saving Service’s skimping on cooking and eating accommodations — surfmen possibly wouldn’t eat too much (and get out of shape) nor waste valuable time talking over meals, if the surroundings were uncomfortable! Also, during the summer, spaces between cook shack boards offered an open invitation to the myriads of mosquitoes and black flies; these likewise made meals short. (One might add that a Minnesota Scout-master and two Boy Scouts experienced the veritable “black fog” of Michigan bugs during the beachcombing trip of July 1967. Hence, we could appreciate Mr. Soldenski’s mention of hurried summer meals in the cook shack “cage.”)

Most duty days had a definite routine. There were the daily foot patrols along the beach on a 24-hour basis, with each station’s surfmen going approximately halfway to the next station for a rendezvous with the patrol coming from the opposite direction. This meant a hike of ten or twelve miles per watch. Telephones had been installed in shelter huts behind the beach for the check-in at the meeting points. (One of these was still intact several miles west of Deer Park in July 1967, with the names of Coast Guardsmen scrawled on the walls, and dates from the early 1920’s.)

When the surf was rolling, then came the rugged surfboat drills. With an open water sweep of 150 miles, northerly winds pile up enormous waves, meeting in triple and quadruple banks of breakers all along the Michigan coast west of Whitefish Point.    Since these were the winds that caused shipwrecks, lifesavers had to be prepared to put out in any sea.

Hence came long and arduous hours of boat launching, backbreaking rowing through boiling surf, and harrowing breasting of deeper water waves, either with oar power or by motor. This was rigorous work, leaving the oarsmen first perspiring, then chilling. The return to shore was even more exacting, as a following sea could easily dump a surfboat, flipping it stern over bow. Mr. Soldenski remarked how the keeper of each boat crew, riding in the stern, trained himself in the use of the drogue, the dragging instrument that held the stern down, as the surfboat carved its way shoreward through the breakers. Even then, life-savers often received an icy bath in practice sessions. Anticipating capsizes, lifesaving boat captains meticulously trained their men in proper procedure for abandoning an upsetting lifeboat. The men were taught to avoid jumping feet first into the shallow breakers, since by so doing they often struck bottom with sufficient force to throw off their cork life preservers over their heads. Early life vests apparently had no leg straps, only chest wrappings and a lifesaver who lost his life jacket in a breakers upset could easily lose his life. Mr. Soldenski commented that this was one lesson he learned well and never forgot. (Our scout party could appreciate the chill of an unexpected dunking in Lake Superior; our beachcombing hikes in the hot July sun were punctuated by periodic dips in the Lake. Only a few minutes in those numbing waters would send us running to the hot sand with skins of blue! No wonder that life-jacketed, shipwrecked sailors floating in the Lake could live only a few hours at best.)

Several times, as we exhibited slides of our artifactual discoveries, Mr. Soldenski clarified the details. A few miles east of Deer Park the Schoenberg brothers found an intact 12-foot dory protruding from the sand, a good 75 yards from the present water’s edge. The little craft, obviously very old but in a remarkable state of preservation, had been repainted repeatedly with a battleship gray marine paint. Possessing a shipwreck hunter’s imagination, I had hopefully identified this as a ship’s dinghy, possibly from the ill-fated lumber hooker Adella Shores that had disappeared with all hands in the Spring of 1909. She had the same paint job, the records say. But Mr. Soldenski pricked my balloon of fantasy.

He recounted how an old keeper, John Anderson, then at the Two Hearted River station, was a small boat builder. A State of Mainer before his migration to the Lake Superior country, Captain Anderson in his spare time constructed many of these dories (a skill he had learned on the Atlantic coast) for sale to lifesaving crewmen all along the shore, or to fishermen and Grand Marais villagers. Mr. Soldenski identified our find as Keeper Anderson’s handiwork, not a memento of a long lost ship.

ZACH CHANDLER in distress

About three miles east of Deer Park, Bruce and Tom also dug from the sand a five-foot block of oak, two feet thick, in which were recessed two ten-inch copper pulleys. This weighed well over a hundred pounds. This time Mr. Soldenski identified a sail or winch chock from a wooden ship. Since the position of this discovery was approximately the site of the stranding and breakup of the lumber schooner Zach Chandler, October 29, 1892, it is probable that we had uncovered a definite shipwreck relic here.

At one spot east of Deer Park, where the beach sand became unduly soft and the walking difficult, the Schoenberg brothers had climbed the 60-foot sand bank south of the Lake. At the top, they discovered a well- worn trail paralleling the Lake on the edge of a beautiful red pine forest. They called to me, and I joined them. Here was a spectacular view, a commanding sweep over Lake Superior. Immediately, I surmised that this was a lifesaver’s trail which gave better visibility on days of rough surf, or when low surface fog clung to the Lake. And this young forest fascinated me, splendid red pines approximately fifty years old, a much finer forest than most of the second growth adjoining. Having some forester’s training, I observed that the growth began narrowly near the Lake and expanded broadly to the south. Since a natural forest of this type is often a product of a past forest fire, I wondered what could have started the fire which made possible the growth of these young red pines on Michigan’s desolate littoral with no human habitation at hand. (Man is the worst fire bug.) Lightning was my only deduction. Then we mentioned this forest to Mr. Soldenski.

“Boys,” he smiled wryly, “I am the reason for that forest.” Then he recounted how, on a dry summer day, with a strong northerly wind, during the early World War I period, he had been on beach patrol. To avoid poor footing and blowing sand, he had followed the ridge trail. He was smoking a pipe. Coming to fallen trees across the trail, he decided to take the lakeside route. Jumping from the ridge, he skidded in sand down the bank and returned to the beach for the trip back to the station.

To his consternation the next patrolman over this beat reported a forest fire. Soldenski and several lifesavers returned to the fire scene. Tracking himself in the soft sand of the bank, he discovered that the fire started on the edge of the woods just where he had been. Yet, he was sure that he had dropped no match nor his pipe. Suddenly, the truth dawned on him, When he had jumped off the bank top, a gust of wind had whipped some of the embers from his pipe into the second growth scrub forest, and within minutes after he had passed, a forest fire was rolling! Trained as a Michigan woodsman, Mr. Soldenski recalled how sheepish he felt about causing a forest fire. He was glad to know that natural reforestation had done so well.

At one point, the former lifesaver stopped my slide discussion of the beach east of Deer Park and asked Bruce and me if “the grave” was still there. Perplexed, we asked “What grave? “Then he related that east of Deer Park, near the half-way point to Two Hearted River, was a little forest-covered ridge jutting into the beach sands, and on this high ground was a small wooden cross marking the grave of a drowned sailor known to lifesavers only as “Sailor Jack.” The beach patrolmen would customarily pay their respects to this unknown victim of Lake Superior. At one time, lifesavers rather frequently had to bury unidentified bodies cast up on this shore. Mr. Soldenski could only guess at the ship from which the anonymous dead man came. Possibly the unfortunate seaman had been a crewman of either the steamer Adella Shores or the schooner George Nester, both lost to the northwest in 1909. He may have been a crewman from the brand new steamer Cyprus which capsized off Deer Park in October 1907. He might have been among the 26 who went down off the Huron Islands in 1905 with the steamer Iosco and barge Olive Jeanette. Conceivably he could have been  Bannockburn crew-man when that vessel disappeared north of Grand Marais in November 1902 or he may have been aboard the ill-fated schooner Nelson that foundered off Grand Marais in 1899. There are so many possibilities, as the waters to the northwest claimed victim after victim prior to World War I.

As we showed pictures of the Two Hearted River station site, now marked only by remains of foundations, sidewalks, and a scattering of ornamental willows or poplars, Mr. Soldenski asked if “the cemetery” was still there. Again, our reaction was “What cemetery?” We hate to miss significant landmarks, but here we had overlooked something. Southeast of the old station, he recollected, on a hill overlooking the river, was a cemetery for those who had died here. I had been unaware of any fatalities in line of duty at these Michigan stations, but it just hadn’t occurred to me what a serious risk disease would be in such a spot, as timely medical help was not available. Buried in the Two Hearted River cemetery were Surfman Ben Grame, Mrs. Albert Ocha, wife of Captain Albert Ocha, hero of the Wallace rescue at Marquette in November 1886, and several of the Ocha children. A contagious disease, such as diphtheria, was a dreadful curse to children in such an out-of- the-way place as this.

Mr. Soldenski thought that the ruins of the abandoned station at Two Hearted River were not in the same position as he remembers the buildings. This is possible, as several times the tremendous surge of Lake Superior storms drove raging waters over lifesaving stations initially constructed too close to the water’s edge, and forced reconstruction some distance to the south on higher ground. It was his recollection that the Crisps Point station had to be moved three times, with the last installation adjoining the lighthouse placed on top of the bluff south of the Lake.

Naturally, the discussion eventually got around to shipwrecks. Several unfortunate accidents had occurred during the years Mr. Soldenski was patrolling the beaches. He could throw no light on the Henry B. Smith disappearance in the Great Storm of 1913, This 525-foot, ore-laden steel steamer figuratively sailed from Marquette into oblivion, along with her 25-man crew.1 He was very familiar with the lumber hooker disaster, when the Hines Company’s wooden steamer C. F. Curtis and her barges A. M. Peterson and S. E. Marvin foundered or stranded off Grand Marais, costing 28 lives.2 The doomed trio had left Baraga, Michigan, November 18, 1914, encountering a vicious northwesterly snowstorm. All day long on November 19, lifesavers at Grand Marais could hear the steamer whistling for the harbor, but the howling gale drowned out the return sound of the Grand Marais fog horn. Mr. Soldenski believes that the driving waves finally forced the steamer and her barges into shallow water off the point east of Grand Marais where they quickly broke up. Many bodies and much wreckage were found between Grand Marais and Deer Park, and two men actually reached shore alive, probably by ship’s lifeboat, one to die of exposure on the sand ridge south of the Lake a few miles east of Grand Marais, and the other to drown on the east edge of Grand Marais harbor when, blinded by the snow, he missed the trail to the town.

It is possible that the schooner Marvin sank much farther to the east. As far as is known, the hulk of the Curtis and Peterson never were found.

Our retired lifesaver remembers November of 1919 as the busiest for his stretch of Lake. On November 13, the composite steamer John H. Owen disappeared some sixty miles to the northwest with 22 men.3 Despite wild rumors to the contrary, the beach patrol found no bodies then. (The Schoenberg brothers, in July 1967, discovered, several miles west of Deer Park, the rotting remains of an ancient lifering partially buried in the sand with faintly stenciled letters “— W E N.” This could be a relic of that sinking.) Then, on November 14, the wooden coal carrier H. E. Runnels missed the piers at Grand Marais, grounding outside and going to pieces just north of the Coast Guard Station.4  The crew was rescued by Coast Guardsmen through dexterous use of the Lyle gun and lines to guide a surfboat back and forth from the beach to the stricken ship.    Mr. Soldenski commented that, with the Grand Marais keeper confined to bed, Captain John Anderson, a passenger on the visiting Coast Guard Subchaser No. 438 out of Chicago, took command and guided the surfboat, although the success of the operation also was due to the ingenuity of local Coast Guardsmen and civilians stationed at Grand Marais. Keeper Anderson, eight Coast Guardsmen, and four Grand Marais civilians were awarded the Treasury Department Gold Life-Saving Medal on June 3, 1920, for their work on the Runnels.

Surfman Soldenski’s greatest disappointment came one week later, November 22, 1919, when he was a crewman at Vermilion Point. Late in the day the lookout there reported a lumber hooker and her barge, obviously in distress, coming down from the west, being escorted by a large steel steamer. A tremendous northwesterly storm was blowing, and the temperature well below freezing. The Vermilion boat crew managed to launch, but in the meantime the steamer Myron, having dropped the barge Miztec, was swept to the east, followed closely by the large ore carrier Adriatic. Desperately the lifeboat attempted to catch the foundering vessel in the growing darkness, yet, as the lifesaving craft came within sight, the sinking carrier suddenly dove for the bottom, about a mile and a half northwest of Whitefish Point, covering the lake surface with thrashing timbers from her cargo.5   The lifesavers saw the steel vessel veer into the sinking site, as if to attempt a rescue, then hurriedly steer north for deep water. They could only surmise that rescue had failed when the large ship remained at the scene, What they did not know was that freezing  Myron crewmen, huddled in the ship’s lifeboats or perched on bobbing wreckage, were too numb to catch lines thrown from the Adriatic, while the waters had become too shallow for the safety of the latter. Later, lifesavers saw another passing steel freighter, the H. P. McIntosh, attempt the same maneuver, but unsuccessfully. Fearing the worst, but hoping that some sailors from the wreck might have floated around Whitefish Point, the skipper of the Vermilion lifeboat skirted the mass of death-dealing debris and took the craft well down into Whitefish Bay in search of possible survivors, but none could be found. The next day the steamer W. C. Franz rescued half-dead Captain Walter R. Neale of the Myron, lying on top of the Myron’s pilothouse which had floated southeasterly 20 miles, near Parisienne Island. Captain Neale had remained with his ship, rather than take to the boats, as the vessel sank. The pilothouse blew off when the ship foundered, with Captain Neale in it. Climbing on top of the submerged cabin, he miraculously avoided death from freezing. All 16 sailors who abandoned ship died that frigid night in the tossing waters off Whitefish Point, their frozen bodies being recovered well down into Whitefish Bay some days later. The lifesavers’ strategy had been correct, but in the gale and darkness they could not locate the victims. The exhausted crewmen finally pulled their lifeboat into the lee of Whitefish Point and obtained shelter. They had done their best, but rescue was just not in the cards.

Rock Of Ages Lighthouse


In later years Mr. Soldenski unexpectedly figured in the greatest mass rescue ever accomplished on Lake Superior, He was keeper of the Rock of Ages Lighthouse, on the reef approximately four miles off the southwest coast of Isle Royale. On May 27, 1933, when looking from the light southeastward over a low-hanging fog, he witnessed a most shaking sight. Out of the mists over a surface fog appeared the masts of a large steamship which came racing at high speed directly for dreaded Rock of Ages reef. Desperately, he sounded the lighthouse fog signal, but the ship kept right on coming. Then came the nerve-shattering crash of steel scraping over rocks! Distress whistles rent the fog, and the sound of the ship’s engines had ceased. Jumping into the lighthouse powerboat, he made for the spot. There, to his horror, he spied the badly listing steel steamer George M. Cox astride the reef with 110 feet of her bow out of water.6 Passengers and crew were rapidly abandoning ship via the port-side lifeboats. Mr. Soldenski guided the ship’s boats with 125 survivors to the safety of Rock of Ages Light. One hundred and twenty-five persons were crowded for a day into the eleven-story lighthouse where they were secure, yet uncomfortable. After a busy time with the radio, Soldenski brought the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Crawford to the rescue the following morning. Also, he induced a passing ship to take three badly injured survivors to a hospital in Port Arthur-Fort William. Lighthouse keeper Soldenski considered these his most anxious moments. The distraught passengers and crew of the Cox, on a pleasure cruise to the Canadian Lakehead, were a sorry, motley group. When he found several of them smoking cigarettes over the gas barrels down in the generator room, he was required to use forceful language! After an anguished day and night, the lighthouse keeper gratefully witnessed the arrival of the Crawford, which dexterously maneuvered right into the lighthouse dock and took off all the castaways. And the lighthouse was still intact!

Since our concern was with Lake Superior shipwrecks, time did not permit our discussing Mr. Soldenski’s experiences on Lake Huron. His hospitable wife (who makes delicious Christmas cookies and fruit cake) contributed several observations on vigils with her husband. She did not particularly enjoy Thunder Bay Island, Lake Huron, as that site was infested with hundreds of garter snakes. Also, the Huron Islands of Lake Superior, though fine for blueberries, had wood ticks by the tens of thousands. She, too, had many years of a courageous, isolated existence with her husband guarding the Great Lakes waterways.

Our visit with John F. Soldenski was entirely too short. With Scouts Bruce and Tom Schoenberg, I have hopes of another visit before we undertake our next beachcombing stint in the shipwreck country of Lake Superior.

  1. Marquette Daily Mining Journal, Nov. 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 24, 1913; May 7, 20, 1914; June 4, 6, 1914.
  2. Marquette Daily Mining Journal, Nov. 21, 23, 24, 28, 30, 1914; Dec. 2, 3, 8, and 18, 1914.
  3. Marquette Daily Mining Journal, Nov. 18, 1919; Duluth News-Tribune, Nov. 15, 16, 1919; Dana T. Bowen, Shipwrecks of the Lakes, Daytona Beach, Fla. 1952, pp. 264-269.
  4. Duluth News-Tribune, Nov. 15, 1919; Annual Report of the U.S. Coast Guard, 1920, pp. 17-19, 65, 195; Bowen, op. cit., pp. 269-274.
  5. Marquette Daily Mining Journal, Nov. 24, 25, 1919; Dec. 2, 3, 4, 1919; Duluth News-Tribune, Nov. 24, 1919; Bowen, op. cit., pp. 274-284.
  6. Bowen, op. cit., pp. 308-312.

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About the Author: Dr. Julius F. Wolff, Jr., is Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota, Duluth. For the last ten years he has been occupied in a part- time research project for the Graduate School, University of Minnesota, on the history of Lake Superior shipping accidents. Over 1,300 shipping mishaps since 1822 have been verified, and Dr. Wolff now is compiling the story of each incident. He has written several articles for INLAND SEAS and other historical journals.

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Early Exploration of Lake Erie and Lake Huron – Spring 1968

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

By McLeod Orford

The years 1669 and 1670 were memorable ones in the exploration of Lake Erie and Lake Huron. More than half a century had passed since Champlain stood at the mouth of the French River on the east shore of Georgian Bay and gazed in wonder at the vast Freshwater Sea. During this period canoe travel was confined to the northern route as explorers, missionaries and fur traders pushed on to the West. To the white man the Michigan and Ontario shores of the main body of Lake Huron remained unknown territory. Of the land mass bordering on Lake Erie the courageous Frenchmen had only a vague idea.

The reorganization of the French Government in Paris in the early 1660s produced a revival of interest in New France. Dreams of a great empire in the New World became more and more dominate. The large river west of the Great Lakes was to be explored thoroughly, a series of forts would be set up and the British, Dutch and Spaniards would be confined to a narrow area along the Atlantic coast. Missionary efforts of the Jesuits would be supplemented by sending out members of the Sulpician and Récollet orders.

Vigorous regulations were enacted to cover the beaver and brandy trades. Attempts were made to control the lawless coureurs des bois, who sold furs to the highest bidder, regardless of whether he was French, British or Dutch. Troops were to be provided to guard strategic points. Settlers in large groups would travel to the New World at the King’s expense.

In addition to the above plans there was always the hope that a new route to the Orient would be found. Perhaps the great river in the West flowed into an unknown sea that provided a direct approach to China. In 1667 a French military expedition, sent out by Governor Daniel de Rémy de Courcelle, defeated the Mohawk Indians. The Iroquois Nation then sued for peace — a peace that lasted nearly twenty years. In 1669 the missionary and exploration projects were combined. It was felt that these two groups could work well together as a single unit.

René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle

René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle, a well-educated young man, was chosen as the head of the exploration group. He would lead an expedition to the Southwest, where a mighty river named Ohio was said to exist. Francois Dollier de Casson and René de Bréhant de Galinée, two Sulpician priests, were in charge of the missionary activities.

La Salle, then in his twenty-sixth year, came from a family belonging to the gentry of Rouen. He severed his connection with the Jesuit Order before coming to New France in 1667. From the Seminary of Montreal he received a grant of a seigniory and immediately began to build a fortified village. He soon realized, however, that the call of the unknown was irresistible. He sold his seigniory to raise funds and was permitted to reimburse himself for traveling expenses by participating in the fur trade.

Casson, then thirty-three years of age, was a man of tremendous vitality and physical strength. It was said that he could carry two men sitting on his hands. Before becoming a Sulpician priest he was a cavalry captain under Marshal Henri de la Tour d’Auvergne Turenne. He was a member of the nobility, an amiable man who possessed charm and courtly manners. To learn the Algonkin language he spent part of the 1668-69 Winter with a Nipissing chief. This chief had a captured slave, who had been presented to him by the Ottawas. This slave, a member of one of many tribes living near a great river in the Southwest, stated that no missionaries had ever visited his people. Casson, being a zealous and dedicated man, immediately saw a vast opportunity for missionary effort.

Galinée, a member of a well-known Breton family, came to Canada in 1668. One of the reasons he was chosen for the expedition was his knowledge of higher mathematics and mapmaking. The Abbé Gabriel Thubières de Levy de Queylus, the Montreal superior of the Seminary of Saint Sulpice, had a deep-rooted fear that the impetuous La Salle, who was primarily interested in exploration, might abandon the missionaries in the wilderness. In this eventuality it was vitally important that someone be present who could guide the ecclesiastical party on the return journey.

The intrepid La Salle assured the members of the expedition that he was thoroughly conversant with the Iroquois language. A short time later the Sulpician priests learned that he did not have even a rudimentary grasp of this language and was actually planning to pick up Seneca slaves from the southwestern tribes, who would guide him to his destination. Galinée was not at all pleased with this arrangement and at the last moment located a Dutchman, who was willing to join the French party. The Dutchman spoke Iroquois fluently, but had only a fragmentary grasp of French.

The expedition left Montreal on July 6, 1669. The little fleet consisted of seven canoes, each with three men, and was under the guidance of two canoes occupied by Seneca hunters, who were returning from Montreal to their homes on the south shore of Lake Ontario.

Galinée’s journal carries an interesting comment on the type of canoe used:

Above Montreal one is confronted with a rapid or waterfall amidst numerous large rocks, that will not allow a boat to go through, so that canoes only can be used. These are little birch-bark canoes, about 20 feet long and two feet wide, strengthened inside with cedar floors and gunwales, very thin, so that one man carries it with ease, although the boat is capable of carrying four men and eight or nine hundred pounds’ weight of baggage.

This style of canoes affords the most convenient and commonest mode of navigation in this country, although it is a true saying that when a person is in one of these vessels he is always, not a finger’s breadth, but the thickness of five or six sheets of paper, from death    It is only the Algonkin-speaking tribes that build these canoes well. The Iroquois use all kinds of bark except birch for their canoes. They build canoes that are badly made and very heavy, which last at the most only a month, whilst those of the Algonkins, if taken care of, last five or six years.

Casson and Galinée depart in birch bark canoes.

Day after day the adventurous Frenchmen struggled with the mighty St. Lawrence. At night they slept on the shore. If it rained, they got what protection they could by gathering bark and boughs. Living off the land at first proved to be an unpleasant experience; all members of the party suffered from illness. A major item in their diet was Indian corn. It was ground between two stones, then boiled in water. It was seasoned with meat or fish, if available. There was an abundance of catfish in the rapids; frequently forty or fifty were caught in a short time. The oil in these fish was used as a seasoning for porridge made of Indian corn. In Lake St. Francis they killed two moose, which provided a welcome feast. Much of this meat was lost owing to hot weather and lack of experience in living in the woods.

On August 2, 1669, the weary travelers reached Lake Ontario, which appeared to be a great sea. The journey along the southern shore of this Lake was slow and tedious. The Senecas, as a whole, were friendly, but dangerous resentment still shouldered in isolated groups. The Dutch interpreter retained by Galinée became fearful and soon lost all interest in making the proposed trip to the Southwest. Day after day the Frenchmen plodded on toward their distant goal.

Much of the food served by the Indians was extremely nauseating.

Galinée wrote:

The great dish in this village, where they seldom have fresh meat, is a dog, the hair of which they singe over coals. After scraping it well, they cut it in pieces and put it into the kettle. When it is cooked they serve you a piece of three or four pounds weight in a wooden platter that has never been rubbed with any other dishcloth than the fingers of the lady of the house, which appear all smeared with the grease that is always in their platter to the thickness of a silver crown…. There was not a child in the village but was eager to bring us stalks of Indian corn, at another time squashes, or it might be other small fruits that they go and gather in the woods.

After numerous annoying delays the party met an Indian, who was returning from the Dutch settlement in the East. He was a native of an Iroquois village at the west end of Lake Ontario and readily agreed to guide the Frenchmen to this point.

In due course they discovered the Niagara River and were particularly impressed by its depth, rapid movement and the roar of Niagara falls. Owing to their eagerness to push further west the explorers did not take time to visit the falls. Galinée stated that several Indians told him the river fell from a rock higher than the tallest pine trees and that frequently stags, hinds, elks and roebucks were carried over the brink of the mighty cataract.

After a five-day voyage the party arrived at the western extremity of Lake Ontario. Upon the instruction of their guide, they camped in the woods a short distance from the shore and there awaited the arrival of the leading men from a nearby village, who would bring with them a group of baggage carriers. It was at this point that La Salle, while hunting, contracted a fever.

Three days later the principal persons and almost everyone in the village came to greet the Europeans. Presents were exchanged and two slaves were provided as guides. One was assigned to La Salle, the other to Galinée and Casson. The Frenchmen were told they would be guided to a river (the Grand) where they could launch their canoes and paddle on to Lake Erie.

The Iroquois in this little settlement did everything they could to entertain their guests. Late in September the gallant party moved on towards the next village, accompanied by more than fifty Indians. After camping in the vicinity of the second village, they were informed that an eastbound Frenchman with an Iroquois guide had just arrived in that community. La Salle, Casson and Galinée were puzzled by this report. They had no knowledge of any other Frenchman being in this area.

Louis Joliet

The unknown explorer was Louis Jolliet, who had left Montreal earlier in the year with orders from the Governor to go up as far as Lake Superior to discover the location of a copper mine, the existence of which had been known to the French since the days of Cartier. Upon locating this mine, he was to search for a route more convenient than the Lake Nipissing approach, for the transportation of this copper to Montreal.

Owing to the lateness of the season, Jolliet did not have time to visit the mine. Before starting on his return journey to Montreal, he convinced the Ottawas of the importance of a continuing peace with the Iroquois. As a token of their desire for peace, he persuaded them to release one of their Iroquois Prisoners. This man was placed in Jolliet’s custody.

It was this prisoner who showed Joliet a new route to the Lower Lakes, of which the French had no previous knowledge. With his Indian guide, the young explorer paddled from the northern section of Lake Huron to its southern extremity. Jolliet sailed along the Michigan shore and thus became the first European to use this course.

The two men passed on down the St. Clair River, across Lake St. Clair, then by the Detroit River to the broad expanse of Lake Erie. After traveling many miles along the north shore of this Lake, the guide became fearful of falling into the hands of the Andastes, a tribe that had waged constant war against the Iroquois for many years. Jolliet finally yielded to the pleas of his guide, paddled ashore, and hid his canoe in the bush near the site of Port Stanley. From there they proceeded on foot through the dense forest to the village, where they met the westbound French expedition.

For several days, prior to the meeting with Jolliet, Galinée and Casson had been aware of La Salle’s ebbing interest in the entire venture. He was still suffering from the fever he had contracted and it was apparent he had concluded that the group’s chances of survival during the approaching winter were virtually nil.

Jolliet told the two Sulpician priests that he had sent a number of men to search for a large Indian tribe known as the Potawatomis. This tribe, to which no missionaries had been sent, was said to live in a northwestern area near the great river that flowed south.

Casson and Galinée gave this new information serious consideration and eventually decided to change their plans. Instead of going directly to the southwestern region, they would paddle along the northern side of Lake Erie to its western end, then follow the connecting waters to Lake Huron’s eastern shore. Upon locating the Potawatomis and establishing a mission in their territory, they would move on to their original objective in the Southwest.

Galinée drew a marine chart based on the information he received from Jolliet. The two priests then made preparations to push on towards the river that would take them to Lake Erie. Noting this activity, La Salle told them that the state of his health did not permit him to continue the journey and that he had decided to return to Montreal with Jolliet. He also stated that he could not make up his mind to winter in the woods with his men, where their lack of skill and experience might make them die of starvation.

All twelve men in the missionary party were eager to get underway.

Galinée wrote:

We had no trouble in persuading our men to follow us. There was not one of them who desired to leave us; and it may be said with truth that more joy was remarked in those who were going to expose themselves to a thousand perils than in those who were turning back to a place of safety, although the latter regarded us as people who were going to expose themselves to death    Jolliet was kind enough to inform me likewise of the place where his canoe was, because mine was almost worthless, which made me resolve to endeavor to get it at the earliest possible moment, for fear the Indians should carry it off from us.

The Dutch interpreter, having assured Galinée he could find Jolliet’s canoe without difficulty, trudged on toward the West with two Indians on October 3, 1669. The interpreter was instructed to remain at the location of the hidden canoe until the rest of the party arrived.

Owing to the low water, the other nine men had extreme difficulty in navigating the Grand River. Before they eventually reached the shore of Lake Erie their small craft had to be carried on many occasions. They were the first Europeans to see the eastern portion of this Lake.

Galinée recorded their immediate impressions:

At last we arrived, on the 13th or 14th, at the shore of Lake Erie, which appeared to us at first like a great sea, because there was a great south wind blowing at the time. There is perhaps no lake in the whole country in which the waves rise so high, which happens because of its great depth and its great extent. Its length lies from east to west, and its north shore is in about 42 degrees of latitude. We proceeded three days along this lake, seeing land continually on the other side about four or five leagues away, which made us think that the lake was only of that width; but we were undeceived when we saw that this land, that we saw on the other side, was a peninsula separating the little bay in which we were from the great lake, whose limits cannot be seen when one is in the peninsula.

Galinée’s Map

The peninsula mentioned is Long Point and the bay is Long Point Bay. On Galinée’s map, Long Point appears much larger than it actually is; Long Point Bay is called “Little Lake Erie.” In the drawing of this map no attempt was made to show the unexplored southern shore.

When the nine men reached the Port Dover area, they decided to camp for the winter at this point. Two members of the party were immediately dispatched to notify the Dutchman of the chosen winter location. Upon returning at the end of one week, these men reported they had found the Jolliet canoe, but had seen neither the Dutchman nor the two Indians who went with him.

The Frenchmen were exceedingly grateful for the abundance of food in the Port Dover region. This appreciation was duly noted in the Galinée journal:

The woods are open, interspersed with beautiful meadows, watered by rivers and rivulets filled with fish and beaver, an abundance of fruits, and what is more important so full of game that we saw there at one time more than a hundred roebucks in a single band, herds of fifty or sixty hinds, and bears fatter and of better flavor than the most savory pigs of France.

After camping two weeks on the lakeshore swept by November gales, the explorers built a winter cabin about three-fifths of a mile in the woods, on the edge of a rivulet. This cabin was a combination of a chapel, a fort and living quarters. During the winter its occupants were visited by a group of friendly Iroquois beaver hunters on several occasions.

In the latter part of March the nine Frenchmen traveled on toward the West. A heavy gale soon forced them to stay on shore at Turkey Point for two days. Galinée’s canoe, which his men had not tied securely, was swept out into the Lake and lost. After placing all baggage in the two remaining canoes, there was space for only two men in each craft. The other five men, including Galinée and Casson, proceeded on foot.

“The land route,” Galinée reported, “was very bad, because of four rivers that had to be crossed and a number of great gulches that the water from the snows and rains had scooped out in many places on its way to the lake.”

The first river was crossed without difficulty; the second had to be traced to its mouth, which was very deep and bordered on both sides by large submerged meadows.   An entire day was spent in making a raft with pieces of wood tied with ropes. In the midst of the raft-building efforts, a terrific northeasterly gale swept down upon the weary men. In a few hours a foot of snow had fallen. As soon as the snowstorm ceased, the five men boarded the fragile raft and pushed across to the opposite meadow. In trudging across this meadow they waded through mud, water and snow to their waists.

Francois Dollier de Casson

On the shore of Lake Erie the fatigued men were amazed to see a huge field of floating ice. There was no sign of their four comrades. Galinée and Casson decided to wait by a ridge of sand, at the western end of Long Point, where a portage would have to be made by the canoe men. The next day there was much rejoicing as the two parties met. On the Tuesday after Easter the two groups were again underway — four men by water and five by land. The land party was soon short of food. For five or six days they had nothing to eat but a little Indian corn cooked in water.

Shortly after arriving in the Port Stanley area the nine men learned the Jolliet canoe had been stolen during the winter by Iroquois hunters. This misfortune plunged the entire party into the abyss of gloom. Their food supply was all but exhausted. Owing to the prevailing cold weather, all game had retreated from the shoreline to the depths of the forest for shelter. It was too early in the season to strip bark and thus build another canoe.

In the midst of this perplexity one of the men went out to search for dry wood to put on the fire. By sheer good fortune he located the missing canoe. Galinée wrote:

The Indians had placed it on the other side of the river, and had hidden it so well that it was impossible to find it without a special providence of God. Everybody was delighted over this discovery; and although we were without provisions, we thought we were in a condition to reach some good hunting spot soon.

After a day’s journey by water they came ashore with the conviction they would be able to kill enough game to keep body and soul together. A herd of more than two hundred does was located, but in their excitement the hunters did not bring down a single animal. A wolf was then killed, skinned and brought to camp. The hungry men were about to put it into the kettle when a lookout spotted another herd of twenty or thirty does. These does were driven into the Lake, then pursued with the canoes. Ten of the best animals were taken.

The three canoes were loaded with fresh and smoked meat. The food supply for the immediate future appeared to be ample and secure. Long hours of strenuous paddling brought the party to a Point Pelee sand beach for the night. Being extremely tired, the men carried the canoes to high ground, but left the packs on the sand.

During the night a heavy northeaster whipped Lake Erie into a raging sea. One of the men, roused by the howling storm, rushed to the beach to check the packs. “All is lost!“ he cried, as the water lashed the highest piece of baggage. The other men ran to the shore. They saved the luggage from Galinée’s canoe and one pack belonging to Casson. Among the items lost was the entire altar service. This had a most disturbing effect on the missionary plans of the two priests. All food had disappeared, with the exception of that in one canoe.

Casson and Galinée first gave serious consideration to an immediate return to Montreal. Later they decided to go on to Sault Ste. Marie and there join a group of Ottawas traveling east by the Lake Nipissing route.

In the Detroit River the Frenchmen saw a stone idol formed by nature, which was held in great veneration by the Indians, and to which they attributed their good fortune in crossing Lake Erie without accident. As an expression of gratitude the Indians left skins, provisions, etc., at the base of the stone. The rock bore no resemblance to the figure of a man other than that created by imagination. On one side, however, a crude face had been painted.

Galinée expressed strong feelings relative to this idol:

I leave you to imagine whether we avenged upon this idol, which the Iroquois had strongly recommended us to honor, the loss of our chapel. We attributed to it even the dearth of provisions from which we had hitherto suffered. In short, there was nobody whose hatred it had not incurred. I consecrated one of my axes to break this god of stone, and then, having yoked our canoes together, we carried the largest pieces to the middle of the river, and then threw all the rest also into the water, in order that it might never be heard of again. God rewarded us immediately for this good action, for we killed a roebuck and a bear that very day.

The explorers were surprised to find no evidence of salt in Lake St. Clair. This lake, based on Indian tales, was then known as the Salt Water Lake.” The name was changed to St. Clair by La Salle and Hennepin in 1679.

From the St. Clair River the three canoes followed the eastern shore of Lake Huron. The party apparently landed on various beaches on this northbound route. Galinée’s map shows several rivers running into Lake Huron. Excellent hunting was reported near a small stream in the Goderich region, but in other areas game was scarce.

Galinée stated:

We travelled about 200 leagues on this lake, and were really afraid of being short of provisions because the animals of this lake appear very unprolific. However, God did not will that we should lack in His service; for we were never more than a day without food. It is true that we happened several times to have nothing left, and to pass an evening and a morning without having anything to put in the kettle; but I did not see that anyone became discouraged or troubled on that account.

On the nature of Lake Huron Galinée made the following comments:

Although this lake is as large as the Caspian Sea, and much larger than Lake Erie, storms do not arise in it either so violent or so long, because it is not very deep. Thus, in many places , after the wind has gone down, it does not require more than five or six hours, whilst it will be necessary sometimes to wait one or two days until Lake Erie has calmed down.

Along the Canadian shore of Lake Huron Galinée did not mention having seen a single individual other than members of his group. The Neutrals, Hurons and other Indian tribes had been driven out or exterminated by the Iroquois in the 1640s. The Canadian shore was destined to remain a vast wilderness for another hundred and fifty years. Galinée, Casson and their seven men were the first known Europeans to sail a northbound route on Lake Huron.

If it was a clear day when the party reached Cape Hurd, at the northwestern extremity of the Bruce peninsula, they probably gazed upon Manitoulin Island before venturing upon the dangerous intervening waters. This island proved to be an excellent area for moose hunting.

From the western end of the Manitoulin the Frenchmen crossed to Mackinac Island. Later they retraced part of their route to the mouth of the St. Marys River. They arrived at Sault Ste. Marie on May 25, 1670, and went directly to the Jesuit fort of Fathers d’Ablon and Marquette. They were surprised to learn that the Jesuits had already sent a missionary to the Potawatomis.

Being anxious to return to Montreal as quickly as possible and having obtained the services of a guide, the Galinée and Casson party left Sault Ste. Marie on May 28, 1670. On this final portion of their voyage they followed the northern route via Lake Nipissing and the Ottawa River.

Galinée noted:

Full route of expedition

We arrived at last in Montreal, on the 18th of June, after twenty-two days of the most fatiguing traveling that I have ever done in my life. Moreover, I was attacked towards the end of the journey with tertian fever, which somewhat moderated the joy I should have had in arriving at Montreal, on seeing myself at last back in the midst of our dear brethren. We were received by everybody, and especially by the Abbé de Queylus, with demonstrations of particular kindness. We were looked upon rather as persons risen from the dead than as common men.

The nine stout-hearted Frenchmen had been away from Montreal for 347 days.

From a missionary viewpoint it could be said the expedition was a failure. The Sulpician priests did not reach their original goal   — the various Indian tribes near the Ohio River. Their fervent desire to be the first order to send a missionary to the Potawatomis was frustrated by prior action of the Jesuits.

Activity in exploration, political and economic fields, however, was probably accelerated by the arduous voyage. The expedition, in conjunction with Jolliet’s 1669 trip, located a new water route from Lake Superior to Montreal. The intrepid explorers sailed around practically all of Ontario south of Lake Nipissing. By 1671 La Salle had explored the Ohio River area. In 1673 Jolliet and Marquette were on the Mississippi. New forts and trading posts were established and more and more land was added to the great crescent empire of the French king.


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About the Author: Mr. McLeod Orford, a resident of Hamilton, Ontario, was born along the eastern shore of Lake Huron and is now a retired civil servant. AS a boy his interest in ships was aroused by several lake captains who had homes in or near Tiverton, Ontario, his native village. Among these men was Captain Angus MacKenzie of the Juniata. At an early age Mr. Orford sailed all five of the Great Lakes. He has published articles on marine history in The London Free Press, Toledo Blade, INLAND SEAS , and other periodicals. He is a member of the Great Lakes Historical Society, the Marine Historical Society of Detroit and the Ontario Historical Society.

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The Christopher Columbus – Winter 1967

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

By Ernest H. Rankin 


Captain Alexander McDougall’s whaleback were a great departure from the conventional type of bulk cargo carriers on the Great Lakes, but the Christopher Columbus was unique, for she was the only one of this type to be built as an excursion steamer. Launched at Superior, Wisconsin, on December 3, 1892, she was the twenty-eighth whaleback built between June 1888 and July 1898. In the Spring of 1893 she went to Chicago and was engaged during the Summer in carrying passengers between the Municipal Pier and Jackson Park, the site of Chicago’s first World’s Fair, the Columbian Exposition, a distance of about six miles. She had been built expressly for this purpose.

For many years after, she was engaged in passenger service between Chicago and Milwaukee, and during the winters she was apparently laid up at Superior or Duluth. However, in the spring and fall, before going on her Lake Michigan run, she ran excursions out of Hancock and Marquette to Isle Royale, Huron Bay, Granite and Stannard Rock Lighthouses, and Pictured Rocks.

In one of her excursions out of Marquette a scraggly lad of eight formative years dropped the lunch basket which he had carried for his mother down the steep hills of the town to Spear’s merchandise dock, clapped his hands to his ears and howled! The Christopher Columbus, lying alongside the dock, gaily bedecked with long strings of banners and flags flying, had let forth a mighty blast from her deep-toned whistle, all too close to the ears of the excited boy who was so anxious to get aboard, for this trip had been his dream for a full week. But the whistle did not emit the short blast to hurry the townsfolk down to the ship, as the mate intended when he pulled the cord. The valve had stuck and its earsplitting din, with the escaping steam rising high into the blue sky, lasted for a full half-hour until the difficulty was corrected. Meanwhile, the thoughtful mother picked up the basket and led her frightened son, his hands still glued tightly to his ears and rivers of tears streaming down his cheeks, over the gangplank and into the hold of the vessel.

Below decks, the frightening noise of the whistle was dimmed considerably, the youth regained his composure, the sympathetic mother wiped away the tears with her handkerchief, paid their fares to a man at a window — fifty cents for herself and a quarter for the boy — and his upset world gradually returned to an even keel.


However, as the whistle continued its infernal racket, the boy remained below decks exploring the depths of the hold, except where barred by “No Admittance Except for Crew” signs. The town’s music-makers, “The Ideal Orchestra,” were busy getting their instruments ready near the upright piano in a far corner of the main saloon, for many took advantage of the excursion just to enjoy dancing. A narrow passageway led to an open steel walkway on either side of the engine- room, a pipe railing permitting an excellent view of the massive vertical cylinders of the steam engine which would turn the huge propeller. Another passageway led to a hole with a round entrance barely a yard across, and a vertical, iron ladder which disappeared into the depths of the hold. Here, when the fire doors were opened, the boy got a glimpse of half-naked, red-bodied “demons” shoveling coal into the roaring fires under the boilers. He was reminded of the ghastly pictures in Dante’s Inferno, a book forbidden to him, and remained watching for just a moment, as the rising heat, the acrid odors, the clanking of the doors and shovels, and the strangely lighted bodies, gave him an eerie feeling.

Eventually, the whistle ceased its shrill outburst just as suddenly as it had blown its first blast, evoking a deep silence and bringing a great relief to the lad. He went up on deck just in time to see the last of the holiday- makers rush down the hill and disappear over the gangplank into the interior of the vessel. These were the people from “up the road.” They had arrived on a special train from Negaunee and Ishpeming and other inland towns — the railroad depot was only a block away in the old, shabby Tremont House at the corner of Front and Superior Streets. And as the last rosy -checked, smiling straggler panted aboard with her ample lunch basket, followed by the gangplank, the lines were cast off and the Christopher Columbus slowly backed out into the harbor.

The youth, his fears completely conquered with the task and excitement of getting the ship under way, watched every move of the crew as they took in the lines, laid them in neat coils, and made everything shipshape for the cruise. Forward and aft and athwartship he went — there was no officer on board the boat more active than he! Well out into the harbor he turned the ship around, got her on her eastward course towards Laughing Whitefish Point, Grand Island and Pictured Rocks and telegraphed the chief engineer, deep in her hold, “Full speed ahead.” That very morning before they had left, his mother had given him fifty cents to buy the cap of a ship’s officer, the emblem at its peak marked “Captain,” and he wore it with pride.

Open air steering station aboard the CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS

The blood of a sailor was in his veins, for had not his grandfather, as a young man, sailed on the high seas and been blown skyward when the boiler of the propeller Independence exploded shortly after midnight on November 23, 1853, a few minutes after she left the Soo for her last trip of the season to Ontonagon on Lake Superior? He knew the story by heart, for his mother had told it to him many, many times.

With all things snug on deck the young officer returned below to the engine room and, leaning over the rail, checked the performance of the engine as it turned the propeller shaft, pushing the boat onwards. The valve mechanisms, with their polished steel arms and rockers, kept time with the steady beat of the engine, fascinating the boy. He watched an oiler, as he moved about the powerful machine, placing a drop of oil here and there from his long-spouted can and wiping away, with a handful of waste, the excess oil in order that every moving part might be spotless and clean. Finding everything shipshape and to his fashion below, he waved to the oiler, receiving in return a similar greeting and a friendly smile. He liked the warm, oily odor which came from the engine, and its steady rhythm was music in his ears.

However, the time came when the usual pangs of hunger were experienced, as is normal for boys of eight. He followed the passageway to the saloon, dodging the waltzing couples as he zigzagged across the felt slippery floor, the softness of the carpet as he ascended the grand staircase to the upper deck, and eventually found his mother sitting in a shady nook where she could watch the changing scenery of the distant shore as the ship sped on its way.

This mother had a store of tales, for she had been born and had spent her life in the vast wilderness spread along the south shore of Lake Superior. She knew the few Indians of the area who traded in her father’s store, and during her girlhood was as inquisitive about their ways of life as her son was about boats.


After the explosion, which had totally wrecked the Independence, her father became a merchant and went into storekeeping. However, he did not give up sailing entirely for he owned a small, schooner-rigged yacht, and had named her Carrie for this mother, the youngest of his daughters. In this boat she sailed with him many a mile along the coast, camping here and there, and she knew the shoreline as well as the Indians did who travelled along it in their birch bark canoes. The Indians had called the early Lake Superior steamers ishkote-nabikwans, or “fire vessels.” As the boy sat beside his mother and stowed away an incredible amount of food, she entertained him with tales of the past — Indians, camping and boats. He would be a sailor!

This sailor still recalls that there were thick ham sandwiches on freshly baked, soft rye; hard-boiled eggs and an envelope of salt; sweet pickles, bananas, and a richly frosted chocolate cake, freshly made for the occasion. There were other things too, for his mother, brought up in a frontier village of stumps, far from the great towns “below,” had been taught by her mother to be prepared for almost any emergency. Had the Christopher Columbus been wrecked upon a desert island in the middle of the Lake there would have been food for everybody. If necessary, they could have caught fish, for in the depths of her reticule there was sure to be found a length of fishing line wound around a small stick, and a few hooks, their barbs imbedded in a cork! She could prepare all manner of fish and small game for the pan or pot, and if necessary, “dress-out” and skin a deer. She was a true daughter of a Lake Superior pioneer.

Laughing Whitefish Point

As the Christopher Columbus sped by Laughing Whitefish Point, which lay about two miles south of her course, the mother told her son the source of its name. This point, some eighteen miles distant, as seen by the Indians from Sauks Lookout, a prominent headland near Carp River, when reflected as a mirage, appeared to them to be a giant white- fish with its head sticking out of the Lake, and laughing. They called it atik-a-meg-baptit, or “the whitefish laughs.”

Around Laughing Whitefish Point was Shelter Bay where the family had camped on the shore when she was his age, for there was a safe harbor for the Carrie. Farther on were Au Train Bay, Island, River and Lake where she had also camped. The location was called Au Train by the French fur traders, denoting the place of the dogsled team, or “traineaus.” Au Train River was one of the principal waterways used by the Indians to cross the peninsula in their canoes, its headwaters being very close to those of the White Fish River which flows south into Little Bay de Nocque, requiring a very short portage. The boy inquired as to its Indian name, but the mother did not know that answer.

The excursion ship passed close to Grand Island, the kitchi niniss, “great island” of the Indians, where they came in the spring in large numbers — as many as five hundred at a time — with their winter’s take of furs, and they stayed to hunt, fish and pick berries. In the fall they took to their canoes and followed the waterways south to the warmer climate of Lake Michigan. They camped at the southern end of “Kitchi Niniss,” for here was shelter, and the four small log cabins of the traders where they disposed of their furs. The cabins were still there — the mother had visited them only a short time previously.

Pictured Rocks

The highlight of the cruise was, of course, Pictured Rocks, a place of several names. The Chippewa Indians called them the “sea gull rocks,” or gai-ash-kabi-kong. Others knew them as sch-kuee-arch-ibi-kung, “the end of the rocks,” and Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, the Indian Agent, knew them as ish-pa-beta, the “high cliffs.”

The skipper of the Christopher Columbus held a course as close to the wave-sculptured rocks as possible, so that all aboard might enjoy this handiwork of Mother Nature at her best. Even the dancers and the orchestra left their merriment to enjoy this scene of beauty. The ship slowed down to half-speed ahead, and the boy could hear the jingle of the bell as its pleasant sound came up through an engine room ventilator, and the reply in the pilothouse. As they passed along, his mother told him of Miners Castle, the Amphitheatre, Sail Rock with its several facets, the Chapel and the Grand Portal, its low, wide entrance leading into mysterious darkness where Mennibojon lived deep in the caverns. Some day, when he had a ship of his own, he would explore it to its very depths.

His mother, a versatile artist with story, pen and brush, held her son in rapt attention as the miles passed behind them. She called his attention to the beauties of nature — the lights and shades of the colors — and even a lad so young in years was impressed with all that he saw and heard.

Memories of the delightful hours spent on the Christopher Columbus with his mother, sailing over the blue, placid waters of Lake Superior would be remembered forever.

All too soon the Christopher Columbus rounded the end of the breakwater in Iron Bay. The young captain signaled for “ahead slow” and then “stop” and after a minute or so, “astern” and “stop” again, easing the mighty ship alongside the dock with never a bump! The crew, in their white ducks, tossed the coils of light lines of the hawser cables to the waiting dockmen, who caught them as they flew through the air.

The steel cables, as they emerged from the hawseholes, looked like snakes as they splashed into the water. Hand over hand, the dockmen hauled the dripping cables in, dropping the bights over the dock pilings. The slack disappeared into the ship, and the cables, now taut, held the Christopher Columbus fast, and the gangplank slid out onto the dock. Not till then did this embryo navigator, his imaginative duties finished, go to find his mother. He waved to the officers in the pilothouse, and left with the other tired excursionists, barely able to climb the steep hills to his home and to tumble fully dressed into his own “berth.”


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About the Author: Did this young lad, with the love of the sea filling his mind and heart, later become a sailor? The answer has to be “no!” By the time he had reached the age of decision he had chosen another means of transportation, which somewhere along the way had captivated his imagination But this time the attraction lasted for 45 years! Specializing for the greater part of this period in the safe operation of high speed trains, he became proficient in the field of railway signaling.

During these years he also acquired an interest in local history and historical writing, a pursuit to which he has devoted full time since retirement. The author of this article is Executive Vice President of the Marquette County Historical Society and Editor of its quarterly Publication, Harlow’s Wooden Man.

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The Return of an Unfortunate Friend – Fall 1967

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

By T.A. Sykora and Richard J. Wright 

“B’gosh, look out the window,” we shouted. “It’s an old lakes passenger boat entering the East wall.”

“Why, she’s returned to Cleveland!” someone exclaimed. Excitedly we agreed, “It’s hard to believe!”


High in a Cleveland office building while projecting, planning and pondering things marine, all eyes suddenly looked out over the waterfront to focus on the silhouette of the white, but battered, Canadiana, under tow of the tugs Texas and Missouri. It was 4:10 P.M. on a calm August 16, 1967. She had been towed to the East outer harbor by Great Lakes Towing’s 1,750 hp., 118-foot tug Laurence C. Turner, from Fairport Harbor, where her present owners, Waterman Steamship Corporation, had been storing her.

The Fairport dock had to be given up and another one found. Captain Paul J. Ranahan had located a berth for her in Cleveland, and he, after the 26-mile and three-hour trip on the bridge, said, “She went along like a beautiful yacht and very silently.” The two harbor tugs then took her from the Turner, and as we watched, they nudged her into the old river bed at Whiskey Island where she was secured to the Plain Dealer dock. She is now stored there to await her ultimate fate — in deplorable condition.

During the last few years the Canadiana has been an ill-fated vessel, and seen amongst an overgrowth of weeds and trees at an unused dock near Cleveland’s West Shoreway her appearance appropriately reflects the hard life the old lady has had since 1957. She was built by Buffalo Drydock Company in 1910 for Lake Erie Excursion Company. Her official number was 207479, her dimensions: 209’7” x 45’ x 15’ 8“, hull #215. She ran many successful seasons on alternate trips with the Americana to Crystal Beach, Ontario. The company later changed to Buffalo and Crystal Beach Corporation and in 1934, to Crystal Beach Transit Company. She operated on a two-hour round trip schedule, and, depending on which day of the week and on business, she made from four to six trips a day. Then, as the result of business problems in 1956 and 1957 and a race riot aboard ship, she left Buffalo and was chartered in the Spring of 1958 to Seaway Excursion Lines, Ltd., Toledo, Ohio, where her schedule was Toledo to Bob-Lo Island.

It was encouraging to see her in operation in 1958 as she made fast to the Bob-Lo dock one bright summer afternoon as we were upbound in the Amherstburg Channel aboard the Aquarama. But, on July 31, 1958, she struck the Terminal Railroad Bridge injuring three persons, and crushing her forward deck. She was sold to satisfy claims of the crew’s back wages on October 15, 1958, by the U.S. District Court. Mr. Gordon Vizneau and the Toledo Excursion Lines bought her for $28,500.00.

It was again thought that perhaps this was the beginning of a renewed life, but a severe winter was coming. During lay-up on the Maumee River, crushing ice flows tore an 18-inch hole in her bow on February 13, 1959, and she almost sank. Sold again, this time to Lucas County Bank, Toledo, at a U.S. Marshal sale on June 13, 1960, and again on November 23, 1960, to Pleasurama Excursion Line, Cleveland, her name was changed for the first time unofficially to Pleasurama.

Captain Harold S. “Red” Harding brought her to Cleveland and docked her for about two years at the same area where she presently is located. Then, with his harbor excursion boat Carol Diane, towed her to Buffalo where she lay at the foot of Main Street and later Rich Marina on the riverside of the Black Rock Lock on the Niagara River. There she was viciously vandalized.

In July 1966, Clevelander Sam Parella bought her and on August 26, 1966, the tug Burro towed her to Fairport Harbor where she lay for two years. She was disgraced by not being restored or cleaned up, and was also subjected to the uncertainty of rumor. Was she going to be a restaurant, a night club, or were her oil burners, her boilers or even her engine and equipment going into the Erie Queen?

CANADIANA laid up in Cleveland

In January of 1967, she had a tonnage change from 974 gross and 427 net, to 1,684 gross and 909 net tons. Sold in March 1967, to Mowbrays Floating Equipment Exchange, Inc., she was resold the same month to Waterman Steamship Corporation, both of New York, presumably for trade-in tonnage on a vessel of the reserve fleet of the Maritime Administration. The large quantity of marine plywood enclosing her port and starboard bow effectively prohibits the curious. Did this possibly increase her gross tonnage?

So the renamed Canadiana is resting, rusting and waiting. And, as far as is known, she has never left Lake Erie!

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