The Perils of Late Navigation on the Great Lakes – Winter 1970

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

By James Oliver Curwood

The following article, appearing in the January 1905 issue of the Woman’s Home Companion, was written by James Oliver Curwood four years before his popular book, The Great Lakes and the Vessels That Plough Them, was originally published in 1909. Several of the incidents described here are included in this early volume, which has now become a collector’s item. 

With the first November storms along the Great Lakes, when insurance companies are beginning to refuse protection, and freight rates are high, come those days when daring crews and captains hazard their lives and the property under them in a last long race over the inland seas, literally forced on to the venture by foolhardy owners, who wish to swell their season’s receipts by one more trip.

NORTH LAKE layered in ice

From this season on through December any hour is expected to bring the news of a great tragedy from off the lakes. It is during these days that lake casualties multiply with alarming rapidity; and it is then that occur those mysterious disappearances which make up such a large page in the history of lake navigation. Ships go out, and are never heard from again. The lives of whole crews are snuffed out, and no one knows how or when they met their fate. Perhaps the next summer a piece of wreckage floats ashore somewhere, or it may be that not until twenty years later does a sign of the missing ship appear, for it is an old saying among lake seamen that “what the little ice devils pull down in Superior never comes up again.” During this rough season the “watch-dogs of the lakes” are working night and day all the way from Duluth to the end of Lake Ontario, guarding the paths of those who are shaking hands with a fate as fickle as the winds. With most of the shipping off the lakes, the hardest time of the year has come for those men whose duty it is to attend to the lights in the barren wilderness of northern Michigan. For days and nights at a time heavy fogs make one gray-white confusion of sea and sky and land. The most powerful lights twinkle like little stars from the rock-hemmed coasts, and the lamps at ship mast are like fireflies glimmering through gauze. Snow fails thick and heavy, shutting out all vision; or it may be that the nights and days are intensely cold, and then it is that the “little ice devils” creep up out of Lake Superior and drag the ships back down with them. Compared with these perils, those encountered in tropical seas during the hurricane season are small. There a whole ocean runs out before the tossing ship, but the narrow pathways of Lake Superior and Lake Huron are hemmed in by barren coasts like the Pictured Rocks, harborless wildernesses with only now and then a light to warn passing captains, and reefs and rocky headlands that jut out like knives to cut ships in two.

From the day that the British met defeat at the hands of Perry, Lake Erie has been considered the graveyard of the Great Lakes. But this has now changed. Trade between Duluth and Eastern ports has grown to gigantic proportions, and the only waterway to and fro is Lake Superior, the most dangerous piece of water in the whole world. Here winter falls in the autumn, and from then until late spring it is a region of blizzards and blinding snow-storms. Even in summer the normal temperature of its water in many places is only four and five degrees above freezing — so cold that men have been chilled to death in its embrace in July and August. And outside of this, Lake Superior is what might be called uncanny. Soundings have shown that in places it is almost fathomless, and that its bed is filled with huge caverns and fissures a fifth of a mile deep. On this bottom ice never thaws, and once a ship is carried down by the “little ice devils” it remains in its icy shroud for untold centuries; and bodies that sink in its cold depths seldom rise to float ashore.

It is on Lake Superior that the “little ice devils” get in their deadly work. The history of one of these lake tragedies is simple. With freight rates exceedingly high, one more trip means thousands of dollars to the owners of a vessel, and the ship is sent out from Duluth. If the season is very late, the word is passed from port to port, large and small, and to the lights along the coast. Each time the boat appears, word is sent back to the owners. But at last there comes a time when the messages cease — usually after the passage of the Big Sable light, the powerful beacon that stands as a warning on top of the Pictured Rocks. The air may have turned bitter cold. The afternoon brings darkness of night, followed by a terrific gale. If it is night, and the unfortunate vessel is a schooner or a barge, her fate is so much the harder. The waves break over her, and the spray dashes high over her spars and rigging. There it freezes, and it is this freezing that makes the “little ice devils.” The deckhouses, the boats at their davits and every plank above water quickly become coated with ice. Every minute it grows thicker. A ton of water plunges over the bow, but only half of it goes off again. Every man and boy in the crew is set to work with picks and axes, and each of them is given a flask of whisky; but in the darkness and blinding sleet, and with the thermometer down below zero, the sailors are almost helpless. Inch by inch the vessel is weighted down, and with each inch she settles the sea has a greater play over her. Like millions of little fiends the “ice devils” pull down, until she grows “leggy,” founders, and sinks like a piece of lead.

Bulk freighter WILLIAM F. SAUBER

Each year affords new material for most wildly picturesque stories of adventure along the northern lakes. Deeds of heroism are performed, which live forever in marine history, yet story-writers leave them singularly alone. Few acts stand out more heroic than that of Capt. James Jackson, who two years ago won everlasting fame in the wintry seas of Lake Superior. The owners of the freighter W. F. Sauber sent her out from Duluth with one last load of iron ore, with Capt. W. E. Morris in command. It was late in November, and winter was setting in with a number of fierce gales from the north. Off Whitefish Point the Sauber was caught in one of these storms. All one night she weathered the gale, but with morning there came a blinding sleet with the fierce wind and intense cold, that froze the spray as soon as it touched the ship. All that forenoon one might have supposed it was night, with the sun a pale moon above. During those hours the “little ice devils” began to weight the Sauber down. The crew attempted to clear away the ice as it froze, and lighten the ship, but no human being could live in the storm. Upon the lakes, just as upon the sea, there are many strange things that happen. On that day there were just two vessels on Lake Superior, and fate decreed that they should meet off Whitefish Point. While the men on the Sauber were preparing for death, the steamer Yale was tearing her way through the gale toward the Soo; and passing within an eighth of a mile of the Sauber, Captain Jackson sighted the sinking ship. Then occurred that act which won for him a gold medal, and a heavy purse contributed to by half of the seamen of the lakes. Although at the time Captain Jackson was having a hard time in keeping his own vessel above the water, he immediately brought his vessel to. For hours the boat continued to toss in the trough of the sea, which was too heavy for small boats to attempt a rescue in. Night came, and the vessels drifted within a stone’s throw of one another. The Yale was still comparatively free from ice, but the heavily laden ore-boat was sinking inch by inch. With the coming of morning, when the Yale might have been safely in port, it was found that she, too, was gradually settling, and that the Sauber would not live an hour longer. Captain Jackson at once called for those men who were willing to risk their lives in an attempt at rescue, and went out himself in the first boat. If bravery was ever rewarded, it was then. Every member of the Sauber’s crew with the exception of the captain was carried to the Yale. At the last moment Captain Morris went to lower himself into one of the boats, hesitated, then leaped back to the deck of the sinking ship.

“GO on, boys!” he shouted through the gale. “Good luck to you — but I’m going to stay with the old boat!”

Thirty minutes later the  Sauber went under, and immediately after the explosion of her deck, caused by the pressure of air and water, the last cries of Captain Morris could be heard above the gale. A few hours later the Yale came into port a monument of ice, and not an hour too soon.

Lake Superior has been the scene of as weird happenings as any tropic sea, and of all her stories, that of the “Frozen Ship” stands out the most romantic, a tragedy in which a three-masted schooner was lost in a wilderness of ice and snow as completely as if she had been in the polar regions. Her owner washer captain, and he started out with the foolhardy idea of sailing her down to a more southern port than Duluth. Just what happened after the storms of Lake Superior broke upon him there is no living man can say. His crew was small, and all but three or four deserted in small boats soon after the trip was begun.

Then the captain went on. There came storms and the fiercest gales, and the “little ice devils” fought to pull the wooden vessel down; but what the captain and his three or four men did is a part of the story that will never be known. But one day, many weeks afterward, the ice corpse of a ship was discovered at the edge of the pine wilderness on the Michigan side. From stem to stern she was a mass of ice, and when she was entered, two men were found in her, frozen stiff, just as the “Frozen Pirate” was discovered in a story not so true.

Bulk freighter CODORUS

To lake seamen the “little ice devils” seem almost human in many ways. “If they can’t get you in one way,” says an old captain, “they’ll most generally try to get you in another.” And the queer story of the Queen of the West seems to corroborate this. Late in 1903 Captain McKenzie, of the freighter Codorus, was making his last trip across Lake Superior, when he made out the Queen of the West a couple of miles out of her course. Captain McKenzie could clearly make out the signal of distress flying from the Queen of the West, and could also see that she was in a sinking condition. Immediately he changed his course and gave chase. But the Queen of the West continued on her way as if unconscious of the fact that rescuers were near. Mile after mile the chase continued and the crew of the Codorus could plainly see that the fleeing steamer was settling steadily. Also, instead of setting her course toward the Soo, she was taking the wind in the teeth directly toward the barren Canadian coast. There was a mystery about it all, and Captain McKenzie got up all speed. At last the Codorus came within hailing distance. The words of Captain McKenzie have already passed down into lake history.

“You’re sinking, you idiot! Why don’t you heave to?”

“I know it — but I can’t” came back the voice of the Queen of the West’s captain. “The ice has got us, and if we stop for an instant we’ll go down like a chunk of lead!”

The Codorus ran alongside, and for a few instants the Queen of the West stopped, while her crew clambered to the other vessel. Hardly had the Codorus got under way again, when, coming into a trough of the sea, the ice-laden vessel foundered and sank.

These are only a few of the stories which each year add to the history of late navigation on the Great Lakes. There are other and darker tales to relate. The mysterious disappearances which have so long been supposed to belong exclusively to the big oceans and tropical seas have become more and more common among lake shipping, and vessels have disappeared on the lakes as completely as on the ocean, leaving no trace of the tragedy behind them.

Bulk freighter BANNOCKBURN

Two years ago late last autumn the big freighter Bannockburn left Duluth with a crew of twenty-two men. What happened to her will never be known. She went out one morning, was sighted the next evening — and that was the last. Not a sign of her floated ashore, and not one of her crew of twenty-two was found. For eighteen months the ice-cold waters of Lake Superior guarded their secret. Then one day a wandering trapper discovered an oar among the driftwood at the edge of the Michigan wilderness. Around the oar was wrapped a piece of tarpaulin, and when this was taken off a number of rude letters were revealed scraped into the wood — letters which spelled the word B-a-n-n-o-c-k-b-u-r-n. For fear that the letters would not be noticed, the one who made them had filled the cuts with human blood, and after this had frozen stiff had wrapped the tarpaulin about the oar to preserve the lettering. This blood-lettered oar is all that remains today to tell the story of the missing Bannockburn. And now, by many superstitious sailors, the Bannockburn is supposed to be the “Flying Dutchman” of the Great Lakes. There are old sailors who will tell you in all earnestness that on cold, icy nights, when the heaven above and the sea below were joined in one black pall, they have descried the missing Bannockburn, a ghost of white ice, scudding away through the gloom. And this is one more thing to prove that not all of the romance in the lives of men who “go down to the sea in ships” is confined to the big seas alone.

Lake Superior is not the only one of the five Great Lakes where late navigation is attended by great peril, but it is there that occur most of the strange disappearances of the inland seas. It has practically no harbors of refuge. After leaving the Soo a vessel has to make the Portage Canal unless it finds protection at Grand Island, and the chief point of danger lies between Whitefish Bay along the Pictured Rocks, guarded by the Big Sable light, to Marquette. In number alone the wrecks of Lake Superior hardly compare with those of either Lake Michigan or Lake Huron, but her mortality is greater than either.

Lake Huron has another story to tell —  a story in which late navigation plays the same big part, but in another way. This lake is the “grave of the lumber-barge and lost treasure.” Its bottom is covered with innumerable wrecks — wrecks of small wooden vessels which come down from Lake Superior heavily laden with ice, and which sink in the choppy swells, or run aground during the dense autumn fogs so common to Lake Huron. Many years ago the whole of the Saginaw Valley was a great lumbering region, and in those days hundreds of thousands of dollars were brought up to the camps in the barges. It was in those days that a late autumn storm sank the propeller City of Detroit, which had nearly one hundred thousand dollars aboard. Years of search has not revealed the location of the lost treasure. Other barges went down, in the course of a quarter of a century, carrying fortunes with them. To this day no one has found the remains of the Water Witch, which went down with almost half a million dollars’ worth of copper which she was bringing from the Michigan mines. Again and again expeditions have been fitted out to search for these vessels, all lost in wintry seas, but nothing but disappointment has come to them. The great advance of recent years in shipbuilding does not seem to decrease the loss of property and life, and the mysterious disappearance of ships are even more numerous than in the old days of wooden vessels. Then a derelict might drift for weeks without sinking, but now the big steel freighters go down “wi’ jest a gurgle ‘n’ a swish — ‘n’ that’s all.” And each year will continue to add to the mysterious tragedies of the lakes.

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NONSUCH Sails Again- Fall 1970

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

By Richard A. Belford

Gallant ships like gallant men have carved their names in history. This year a replica of the heroic Nonsuch, first ship of the Hudson’s Bay Company, visited Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River in commemoration of the Company’s 300th anniversary.

What a doughty little heroine the Nonsuch was — only 75 tons, 54 feet long and 17 feet, 9 inches beam. But mere figures are not enough, only deeds count with ships.

Pierre Esprit Radisson & Medard Des Groseilliers meeting with an Indian tribe

In 1666 Radisson and Groseilliers, intrepid wilderness explorers and traders, journeyed to London and persuaded a group of courtiers and financiers to underwrite a voyage to Hudson Bay, where they promised magnificent rewards in furs. Fired by the lure of such wealth, the London Adventurers fitted out two vessels, the Nonsuch and the Eaglet. On June 2, 1668, the ships set out together.

During the voyage the vessels were besieged by a violent storm. The Eaglet was damaged so extensively that she was obliged to return to Plymouth. Alone, the little Nonsuch turned her bow toward the northwest and sailed on.

In early August, while “sailing N.W. by N. along the shear,” Captain Zachariah Gillman of the Nonsuch saw “many islands of ice, some very great and some small ones.”

It was not until September 29 that the Nonsuch reached a river emptying into the southeast corner of James Bay. This river Gillman and his companions named the Rupert in honor of Prince Rupert, one of the backers of the adventure. The crew carried their provisions ashore and built a house of upright logs caulked with moss, and named the place Fort Charles in honor of the king. Here they spent the winter of 1668/69 trading with the peaceful Cree Indians of James Bay. The name “Fort Charles” was later changed to “Rupert’s House” as it is still known today.

The Hudson’s Bay Company has erected a cairn of stones on which is mounted a copper plate bearing the following inscription:









Up to that time only two vessels had previously visited James Bay.2 Henry Hudson explored the area in 1610/11 and wintered somewhere in the area of the Rupert River. The following spring his crew mutinied and set him, his son and seven crewmen adrift in the bay. They were never heard from again. Captain Thomas James, for whom the bay is named, came in 1631/32 and spent the winter nearby on Charlton Island.

However, it was the explorers Radisson and Groseilliers who recognized the great potential harvest of fur-bearing animals of the region and brought it to the attention of the English merchants.

The following account of the return of the Nonsuch was published in the London Gazette of October 11, 1669: “Last night came in here the Nonsuch ketch, which having endeavored to make out a passage by the North-West, was in those seas environed with ice, which opposing her progress, the men were forced to hale here on shear and to provide against the ensueing cold of a long winter, which ended and they returned with a considerable quantity of beaver, which made some re- commence for the cold confinement.”

“Some recommence” amounted to furs valued at 19,000 pounds which, in that day, was considered such a successful voyage that a charter was granted by Charles II, on the 2nd of May 1670, to the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay. This is known today as the Hudson’s Bay Company, often referred to in Canada as “The Bay.”

NONSUCH deck plans

As one reads over the specifications of the Nonsuch, he is reminded of how very similar she was to LaSalle’s Griffon, which was built in 1679 on the Niagara River. Both vessels have approximately the same tonnage, length and beam. Though the Nonsuch was the product of a British shipyard and the Griffon was whipsawed from a nearby frontier forest, they were “sisters under the skin.” A close look at the new Nonsuch will give those interested in 17th century shipbuilding a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era.

La Salle’s GRIFFON

The Hudson’s Bay Company has gone to infinite pains to build the full-sized replica of the Nonsuch as near perfection as possible. The builder chosen was J. Hinks & Son Shipyard at Appledore, Devon. In preparing the design, Rodney Warington Smyth, a naval architect and managing director of the Falmouth Boat Construction Limited, Falmouth (Cornwall), took months of research. He gained his information from Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, 17th century models and paintings, and accounts of shipbuilding techniques housed in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, England. Plans and specifications were then prepared and approximately five months of research and development came to an end. Every detail of the ship had been drawn, even to the carvings on the stern and the six-foot anchors with their wooden stocks.

The carvings which decorate the Nonsuch from bow to stern were done by Jack Whitehead, an artist from the Isle of Wight. The instructions called for the carving of lion masks, two life-sized crouching clogs, a magnificent stern decorated with two infant cupids amid foliage, and a number of nude female figures. The justification for the latter is based on an old maritime superstitution to the effect that, by removing her clothes, a woman could calm the stormiest of seas!

In the spirit of historical accuracy, no synthetic fibre, no brass eyelets, no machine-stitching and no wire was used to make the sails for the Nonsuch. Instead, hemp, canvas and sewn eyelets were used to give a centuries-old air to the little ketch. The Lucas Sail Loft of Portsmouth, England, carried out this unique assignment. The best quality of Navy flax canvas woven in Scotland was used for the sails. According to a news item printed in the local Portsmouth paper, “Sail makers and apprentices have relished this change from sails of modern synthetic material. But the striking thing about the finished product is how little things have changed over 300 years.”

Replica of the NONSUCH

The building of the vessel called for the revival of old skills now rapidly passing out of use. Some of the tools needed could no longer be found and replicas had to be made from originals in the National Maritime Museum. The woods throughout the entire hull were English oak and elm. No laminated woods or plywoods were used.

However, there is a little of the 20th century incorporated into the finished ketch. The ship has been given a coat of anti-fouling paint, she has an electrical supply system and it is equipped with a 100-horsepower diesel engine to help her maneuver in and out of port. In addition, she has an up-to-date galley.

The new Nonsuch was launched on August 26, 1968. When she was put on display in London, she was visited by an estimated 17,000 people.

In April of 1970 the Nonsuch arrived in Canada after crossing the Atlantic on the deck of the SS Bristol City. Although the little ketch had proven herself to be most seaworthy, the Hudson’s Bay Company decided against a crossing under sail because of the time factor — approximately two months would have been involved.

This summer, starting at Montreal on the 1st of June, the Nonsuch began a fourteen-week tour of a number of cities along the St. Lawrence River and into Lake Ontario, her last stop being at the Toronto Exhibition from August 19 (P. M.) to September 7.

The Nonsuch will eventually be taken to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where she will form the nucleus of a transportation section in the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature. There she will be permanently exhibited for future generations to see.

  1. Radisson was on the Eaglet and did not reach Rupert’s House on the first
  2. Radisson and Groseilliers in their previous explorations went to James Bay by the overland route from the

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About the Author: Mr. Richard A. Belford, with the Marine Department of the Sherwin- Williams Company, Cleveland, Ohio, is a member of the Great Lakes Historical Society. He has written before for INLAND SEAS and is particularly interested in photography related to the Great Lakes area. Mr. Belford’s attachment to the Great Lakes began when he spent two summer vacations aboard the Amasa Stone, as an oiler, in order to supplement his income during college years.

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Ports of Entry and Collectors of Customs in Upper Canada, 1797-1841 – Summer 1970

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

By Fredrick H. Armstrong

When the old Province of Quebec was divided into Upper and Lower Canada in 1791 the English-speaking residents of the new upper province, the modern Southern Ontario, were given the opportunity to develop their colony in the British tradition as they desired. At the same time, however, they were presented with a host of new problems, some of them resulting from the very division itself. One of these was the question of trade with the outer world, with the concomitant questions of collection of customs revenues – a vital part of the total provincial income – selection of ports of entry and appointment of collectors of customs. These last two involved the most important issue of the distribution of patronage, for, although the Imperial Commissioners of Customs and the Treasury in England had the right to ratify these nominations, for practical purposes the local authorities had a free hand.

Port of Montreal

The geographical position of the new province, together with the recent political cleavage of the continent, meant that outside trade could be directed in two quite different ways. First there was the trade down the St. Lawrence River to Lower Canada and Great Britain. With the river itself not yet navigable to ocean ships, all goods destined for Upper Canada had to enter through the ports of Quebec and Montreal. Obviously, control of these ports lay with the government of the lower province, but, equally evident, the customs duties collected at these ports would have to be divided between the two colonies. The question of how they were to be apportioned was a perpetual bone of contention, that was finally regulated in 1822, but remained enough of a sore point to be a factor in the reunion of 1841. The history of this question has already been examined in sufficient detail2 and, from an administrative point of view, really did not concern Upper Canada directly as these ports were outside the province’s jurisdiction.

Where Upper Canada was able to develop its own customs service was in the regulation of the trade to the south: across the Great Lakes to the United States, and beyond the United States to Great Britain, whose commerce could enter Upper Canada via New York as easily as along the St. Lawrence. In the years following the Revolutionary War there were naturally restrictions on this trade, but, as relations improved, these were gradually reduced. By 1787 the English Government had made it clear that they intended to leave the regulation of commerce to the local governor and council, and by 1790 American produce was being given favourable treatment.3 Although Canada remained under British economic control, the way was open for the evolution of Upper Canadian-United States trade on the Great Lakes, even before the new province was established.

Map of Upper & Lower Canada, 1791

The first local step in this process came in 1797, five years after the meeting of the first parliament of Upper Canada, when a temporary act was passed regulating trade with the United States for two years.4 Although this legislation expired in 1799, no further action was taken until 1801, when the first comprehensive provincial customs act was brought into force5 – many of the clauses of which remained unchanged throughout the Upper Canadian period. By this statute provision was made for the creation and operation of ports of entry, for the appointment and duties of customs officers, and for the establishment of tables of fees. During the next two decades the only additional legislation was in the form of special statutes, empowering the lieutenant governor to open a close port of entry as required during a specific term of years. The first of these, in 1802, stated that he could open “one or more” ports during a subsequent three-year period; similar acts followed in 1807, 1816, and 1819.6

The major revisions in the system came in the 1820s. In 1822 the British Parliament, in order to regulate the distribution of customs revenues between the two Canadas, passed the Canada Trade Act, which incidentally gave the lieutenant governor permanent authority to open and close ports of entry.7 Two years later the 1801 act, regulating the customs service, was completely overhauled. With some amendments in 1837 this new legislation provided the framework for customs administration up to the 1841 reunion.8

Under these new acts the administration of the individual port remained in the hands of the collector, who was required to both post a bond himself and provide two sureties for the proper performance of his duties. He was responsible for keeping the customs office open, although he could turn the operation over to a deputy, whom he appointed and paid himself. This “nonresidence” clause meant that the lucrative collectorships would normally be granted to a gentleman who would basically devote his time to other interests. The hours for the customs offices, which were set in 1801 and remained unchanged, were 9 :00 A.M.-12 :00M. and 3:00 P.M.-6:00 P.M. from May 1 to October 1, and 10:00 A.M.- 3:00 P.M. from October 1 to April 30. Sundays, Christmas and Good Friday were the only days that the offices were closed.

The remuneration of the collector, especially at a busy port, represented a very large sum of money for that era; it consisted of both an allowance and specific fees. With regard to the allowance, by both the acts of 1801 and 1824 the collector was “authorized to retain the sum of fifty pounds per centum on the amount of duties by him collected until the same amounts to one hundred pounds per annum, no more.” In 1837 this was amended so that he could retain £l2.10, out of every £100 collected, up to a total collection of £l000. Above £l000 revenues for the port he was allowed £5 out of every £l00 collected. It was specifically provided that he could not retain a total of more than £300 on the duties collected in any one year.

The fees were of two types. The first, established in 1801 and elaborated upon by the act of 1824, was the fee charged for a permit to unload. For ships under five tons burthen this was one shilling and threepence; from five to 50 tons it was two shillings and sixpence and over 50 tons, 10 shillings. Canoes, rafts, sleighs, carts and wagons were all rated the same as ships under five tons. The other fee, which appears in the 1824 act, was for a report which had to be furnished by all vessels on arrival at a port of entry. The collector charged one shilling and threepence for providing the form.

The development of a system of ports of entry reflected the increase and concentration of population in the province. The original act of 1801 provided for eleven ports, which were, moving from east to west: Cornwall, Johnstown [ Grenville County], Kingston, Newcastle, York [Toronto], Niagara [on-the-lake]) Queenston, “Fort Erie Passage,” Turkey Point [Norfolk County], Amherstburg and Sandwich [Windsor]. Except for Niagara, which does not appear to have become a port of entry until 6 July 1847, these were all opened effective 9 July 1801. The same 1801 legislation, in a rather confusing manner, attempted to provide that each port would be the entry point for one of the seven administrative districts – each comprising two or more counties – into which the province divided.

There were, however, two ports for the Niagara District, which was split for navigational purposes by the falls. Also, the Counties of Northumberland and Durham, which were about to be separated from the Mid- land District, were given their own port of entry in anticipation. The nine ports thus scheduled, with the areas they were to service, were as follows:

Cornwall – Eastern District
Johnstown – Johnstown District
Kingston – Midland District
Newcastle – Counties of Northumberland and Durham
York – Home District
Niagara – 1st, 2nd and 3rd Ridings of County of Lincoln, Niagara District
Fort Erie – Rest of Lincoln and County Haldimand, Niagara District
Turkey Point – London District
Sandwich – Western District

From the very first, however, this schedule, which admittedly conflicted with the list of ports of entry earlier in the act, was not put in force, for Queenston was opened, instead of Niagara, and in the Western District Amherstburg became a port as well as Sandwich.

Within a year more ports were found to be necessary. Under the 1802 act the lieutenant governor opened Chippawa and Gananoque, and in 1807 the port of St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s was added at the head of Lake Huron. This remained the picture until after the War of 1812 when, under the new authority of the 1816 act, the governor established ports at Bath, Belleville, Brockville, Burlington Bay, Port Dover and Prescott. In 1817 Drummond Island also made its appearance, which may have been a transfer from St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s. These were still not adequate, and in 1819 the last special law authorizing the governor to set up ports was enacted, followed by the creation of custom’s offices at Port Hope and Port Talbot in that year, and Hallowell in 1821. After the 1822 change in Imperial legislation, further special powers for the governor were unnecessary and new ports were opened as re- quired: five in the period 1822-29, thirteen from 1830 to 1841. Many of these were growing towns in the rapidly expanding western part of the province, such as Chatham, Goderich and Penetanguishene. But new ports were also opened on Lake Ontario: Cobourg and Oakville are examples.

In a developing area there was little need to close ports, but there were two cases before 1841. The first was Drummond Island in 1828, which was discontinued when the area was transferred to the United States. The other was Johnstown which declined rapidly, particularly after the district administration was transferred to Brockville in 1808. By 1818 the latter town was also a port of entry, usually with one collector for both ports, and in 1837 Johnstown was closed. Other declining ports may have been left open for patronage purposes, even if the volume of trade was very small.

The holders of the collectorships of customs provide an interesting study. As these were quite lucrative posts, especially in the larger ports, the offices were naturally much sought after, particularly since there was no regulation against holding a collectorship along with other government appointments and the work could be turned over to a deputy. Frequently the collectors were prominent men in the district in which their port was located – an example of the judicious use of patronage that helped to keep the ruling aristocracy in power from before 1800 until the mid-1830s. Although that Toronto-based group, known as the Family Compact, have been frequently castigated for their aristocratic rule of the province, they always had considerable local support and were able to win almost every election. One reason for this support was their careful regulation of the province-wide net of patronage, which meshed their interests to those of the elite in the local centres.

William Henry Merritt

Several of the men who held collectorships were prominent in provincial as well as local politics: James Kerby of Fort Erie was both collector of that port and a member of the Legislative Council, the upper house of the Provincial Parliament; William Hamilton Merritt of St. Catharines, the man who was both the instigator of the Welland Canal and later a leader in the Reciprocity movement, was a member of the Legislative Assembly, the lower house, from 1830 and collector of Port Dalhousie. Other leading local figures held collectorships at the beginning of distinguished provincial careers. Christopher Hagerman of Kingston and Levius Peters Sherwood of Brockville were both collectors of their towns at the start of their rise to legal fame. Hagerman later was attorney general, both were elected to the Legislative Assembly, and both ended their careers as judges of the Court of the King’s Bench, the high court of the colony. Possibly the most important of all was William Allan of York/Toronto, who held the collectorship of that port for the first quarter of the century, together with almost innumerable other offices.9 Beginning as a poor emigrant he rose to become the financial genius of the Family Compact and died in 1853, probably the richest man in the province.

At the purely local level many prominent politicians were also collectors, such as Mayor Thomas Kirkpatrick of Kingston. Others belonged to the local squire class: the Joneses in Eastern Ontario, the Burwells in Western Ontario, and George J. Ryerse of Port Dover are all examples. A few were from families prominent in the politics of the provincial capitol. George S. Jarvis of Cornwall was related to Chief Superintendent of Indian Affairs Samuel Peters Jarvis, Home District Sheriff William Botsford Jarvis, Provincial Secretary William Jarvis and Home District Registrar Stephen Jarvis. The necessity of forming alliances with the local oligarchies, however, meant that the governing families of Toronto could make no real effort to dominate the local ports. One of the most interesting of those collectors who were local powers was William Hands of Sandwich, who officiated at that port from 1809 until his death in 1836, and has been described as “a one man civil service” for the Western District of the province. He was simultaneously postmaster, sheriff, treasurer and judge of the Surrogate Court, as well as being the holder of many other offices at various times.

Except for the above-mentioned case of the ports of Brockville and Johnstown there appears to be no example of one man holding two collectorships concurrently. There are, however, several cases of a family holding more than one collectorship and in some half-dozen instances the office was “inherited” by a member of the same family: William Hands passed both the Sandwich collectorship and the Western District treasurership on to his son Felix, as well as handing other offices on to his sons-in-law.

Such was the state of the customs service at the reunion of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada as the new Province of Canada in 1841. This reorganization united all the customs offices in these provinces, both lake ports and seaports, under one administration, and ended the struggle over division of the Lower Canadian customs duties. It did not, however, really have much effect on the Upper Canada customs organization. New ports continued to be opened after the same manner, and at about the same pace – thirteen were created from 1841 to 1849. The appointment of collectors continued to operate on a patronage rather than a professional basis, but, though a new group was now in power, the old officeholders were not displaced, even though some lost other offices. William Kerby of Fort Erie ceased to be a Legislative Councillor, but continued as collector for another eleven years. This lack of change probably demonstrates both that the service operated reasonably efficiently, and that the new men in power in the capital were loath to upset the old local patronage system.

  1. I would like to thank the Canada Council for providing a leave grant to enable me to continue my research on the structure of the government of Upper Can- ada, and also my colleague at Western, Professor Peter F. Neary, for his many helpful comments. Much of the information in this article was obtained while engaged in the research for my Handbook of Upper Chronology and Territorial Legislation (London, Ontario, 1967) which contains preliminary tables of the ports of entry and collectors of customs on pages 212-24.
  2. See Helen Taft Manning The Revolt of French Canada, 1800-1835 (Toronto, 1962) and Gerald M. Craig, Upper Canada the Formative Years, 1784-1841 (Toronto, 1963).
  3. L. Burt, the United States, Great Britain and British North America (New Haven, 1940), pp. 67-70.
  4. Upper Canada, Statutes, 1797, 37 Geo. III c.
  5. Upper Canada, Statutes, 1801, 41 Geo. III, c. 5. This was amplified in 1803 by 43 Geo. III, c.
  6. 6, Upper Canada, Statutes, 1802, 42 Geo. III, c. 4; 1807, 47 Geo. III, c. 4; 1816, 56 Geo. III, c. 8; and 1819, 59 Geo. III, c. 22.
  7. Great Britain, Statutes, 1822, 3 Geo. IV, c.
  8. Upper Canada, Statutes, 1824, 4 Geo. IV, c. 11; and 1837, 7 Wm. IV, c.
  9. See Edith Firth, The Town of York 1815-1834 (Toronto, 1966)) pp. 50-51.

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About the Author: Dr. Frederick H. Armstrong is an Associate Professor at the University of Western Ontario, specializing in the History of British North Amer- ica, 1759-1867, and in Urban History. He has written before for INLAND SEAS and is also a contributor to Ontario History and Canadian Historical Review. The author of Handbook of Upper Canadian Chronology and Territorial Legislation, published in 1967, he is co- author, with Professor Hugh A. Stevenson, of Approaches to Teaching Local History: Using Canadian and Ontario Examples, published last year. Dr. Armstrong attained his Ph.D. degree in Canadian history at the University of Toronto.

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Painting Commemorates Lewis Cass – Spring 1970

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

By Ernest H. Rankin

Many have written of the Lewis Cass expedition to Lake Superior in 1820. Both James Duane Doty, the official secretary, and Henry Rowe Schoolcraft kept journals which have been published; these have provided much source material. However, few have ever written on the basic reasons for the undertaking.

Robert Thom print of the Lewis Cass expedition

Robert Alan Thom

More recently, artist Robert Thom of Birmingham, Michigan, executed a series of twenty-five pictures, A History of Michigan In Paintings, and chose for one of his subjects the Cass Expedition. For the background of this particular painting he selected a scene of the Grand Portal, Pictured Rocks, as it appeared in the 1840s and similar in effect to a lithograph which is included in Part II, of Report of the Geology of the Lake Superior Land District, by Foster and Whitney, published in 1851. However, it remained to Thom, through his deep imagination and study, to fully dramatize the scene, enlarging it to a considerable extent, accentuating the great height of the limestone cliffs, the huge portals carved by the seas of Lake Superior, and above, the extensive forests of the hinterland ending abruptly at the edge of the cliff.

The legend for this painting, by Dr. F. Clever Bald, author of Michigan in Four Centuries, states, in part: “The picture shows the five-canoe flotilla after leaving Sault Ste. Marie. The canoes were cargo vessels and despite their size, 35 feet long and six feet wide, could make four miles an hour in calm water when propelled by eight paddlemen. Each canoe was fitted with a rudimentary sail to take advantage of favorable winds.”

In the painting the five craft, one under sail and all filled to the gunwales with crew and cargo, are portrayed in delicate detail under the menacing, towering cliffs, with a flight of sea gulls overhead, undoubtedly resenting the intrusion. Thom, in this painting, has brought out the massiveness of nature through the Pictured Rock scene as compared to the smallness of man who would brave the uncharted seas and the mysterious wilderness beyond.

Through pen and picture this event of the 1820s has been well delineated. However, none of the writers has laid any great stress on the reason and occasion for this enterprise — this great expedition upon the unknown waters of the largest of the Great Lakes. Its southern shore was as yet uninhabited by any white settlements, with only a few groups of Chippewa (Ojibway) Indians making their summer encampments there, usually at the mouths of the larger streams. Lewis Cass was the Governor of Michigan Territory at that time — it was to be another seventeen years before Michigan was to gain statehood — and he was duly concerned as to the full nature of the extensive region which came under his administration.

Portrait of Lewis Cass

Possibly the best reason for undertaking this venture is contained in a letter by Cass addressed to John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War, and dated at Detroit, November 18, 1819, as follows:

“Sir: The country upon the southern shore of Lake Superior, and upon the water communication between that lake and the Mississippi, has been but little explored, and its natural features are imperfectly known. We have no correct topographical delineation of it, and the little information we possess relating to it has been derived from the reports of the Indian traders.

“It has occurred to me that a tour through that country, with a view to examine the productions of its animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms, to explore its facilities for water communication, to delineate its natural objects, and to ascertain its present and future probable value, would not be uninteresting in itself, nor useless to the government. Such an expedition would not be wholly unimportant in the public opinion, and would well accord with that zeal for inquiries of this nature which has recently marked the administration of the War Department.

“But, however interesting such a tour might be in itself, or however important in its result, either in a political or geographical point of view, I should not have ventured to suggest the subject, nor to solicit your permission to carry it into effect, were it not, in other respects, intimately connected with the discharge of my official duties.

“Mr. Woodbridge, the delegate from this territory, at my request, takes charge of this letter, and he is so intimately acquainted with the subject, and every way so competent to enter into any explanations you may require, that I shall not be compelled to go as much into detail, as, under other circumstances, might be necessary.

“The route which I propose to take, is from here to MICHILIMACKINAC, and from thence, by the Straits of St. Mary’s, to the river which contains the body of copper ore, specimens of which have been transmitted to the government, and to the extremity of Lake Superior.

“From that point, up the river which forms the water communication between that lake and the Mississippi to the latter river, and by the way of Prairie du Chien and Green Bay to Lake Michigan.

“The political objects which require attention upon this route, are:

“1st. A personal examination of the different Indian tribes who occupy the country, of their moral and social condition, of their feelings towards the United States, of their numerical strength, and of the various objects connected with them, of which humanity and sound policy require that the government should possess an intimate knowledge. We are very little acquainted with these Indians, and I indulge the expectation that such a visit would be productive of beneficial effects.

“The extract from the letter of Colonel Leavenworth, herewith enclosed, and the speech of the Winnebago Indians, transmitted to the War Department by Mr. Graham, from Rock Island, February 24, 1819, will show how much we have yet to learn respecting these tribes, which are comparatively near to us.

“2d. Another important object is, to procure the extinction of Indian titles to the land in the vicinity of the Straits of St. Mary’s, Prairie du Chien, Green Bay, and upon the communication between the two latter places.

“I will not trouble you with any observations respecting the necessity of procuring these cessions. They are the prominent points of the country, the avenues of communication by which alone it can be approached.

“Two of them, Prairie du Chien and Green Bay, are occupied by a considerable population, and the Straits of St. Mary’s by a few families. The undefined nature of their rights and duties, and the uncertain tenure by which they hold their lands, render it important that some step should be taken by the government to relieve them. I think, too, that a cession of territory, with a view of immediate sale and settlement, would be highly important in the event of any difficulties with the Indians.

“My experience at Indian treaties convinces me that reasonable cessions, upon proper terms, may, at any time, be procured. At the treaty recently concluded at Saginaw, the Indians were willing to cede the country in the vicinity of MICHILIMACKINAC [sic], but I did not feel authorized to treat with them for it.

“Upon this subject, I transmit extracts from the letters of Mr. Boyd and Col. Bowyer, by which it will be seen, that these gentlemen anticipate no difficulty in procuring these cessions.

“3d. Another important object is the examination of the body of copper in the vicinity of Lake Superior. As early as the year 1800, Mr. Tracy, then a Senator from Connecticut, was dispatched to make a similar examination. He, however, proceeded no further than Michillimackinac. Since then, several attempts have been made, which have proved abortive. The specimens of virgin copper which have been sent to the seat of government have been procured by the Indians, or by the half-breeds, from a large mass, represented to weigh many tons, which has fallen from the brow of a hill.

“I anticipate no difficulty in reaching this spot, and it may be highly important to the government to divide this mass, and to transport it to the sea board, for naval purposes.

“It is also important to examine the neighboring country, which is said to be rich in its mineral productions.

“1 should propose that the land in the vicinity of this river be purchased of the Indians. It could doubtless be done upon reasonable terms, and the United States could then cause a complete examination of it to be made.

“Such a cession is not unimportant in another point of view. Some persons have already begun to indulge in speculations upon this subject. The place is remote, and the means of communicating with it are few. By timely presents to the Indians, illegal possession might be gained, and much injury might be done, much time might elapse, and much difficulty be experienced, before such trespassers could be removed.

“4th. To ascertain the views of the Indians in the vicinity of Chicago respecting the removal of the Six Nations to that district of country. An extract from the letter of Mr. Kenzie, sub-agent at Chicago, upon this subject, will shew the situation in which this business stands.

“5th. To explain to the Indians the views of the government respecting their intercourse with the British authorities at Malden, and distinctly to announce to them that their visits must be discontinued.

“It is probable that the annunciation of the new system which you have directed to be pursued upon this subject, and the explanations connected with it, can be made with more effect by me, than by ordinary messengers.

“6th. To ascertain the state of the British fur trade within that part of our jurisdiction. Our information upon this subject is very limited, while its importance requires that it should be fully known.

“In addition to these objects I think it very important to carry the flag of the United States into those remote regions, where it has never been borne by any person in a public station.

“The means by which I propose to accomplish this tour are simple and economical. All that will be required, is, an ordinary birch canoe, and permission to employ a competent number of Canadian boatmen. The whole expense will be confined within narrow limits, and no appropriation will be necessary to defray it. I only request permission to assign to this object a small part of the sum apportioned for Indian expenditures at this place, say from 1000 to 1500 dollars.

“If, however, the government should think that a small display of force might be proper, an additional canoe, to be manned with active soldiers, and commanded by an intelligent officer, would not increase the expense, and would give greater effect to any representations which might be made to the Indians.

“An intelligent officer of engineers, to make a correct chart for the information of the government, would add to the value of the expedition.

“I am not competent to speculate upon the natural history of the country through which we may pass. Should this object be deemed important, I request that some person acquainted with zoology, botany, and mineralogy, may be sent to join me.

“It is almost useless to add that I do not expect any compensation for my own services, except the ordinary allowance for negotiating Indian treaties, should you think proper to direct any to be held, and entrust the charge of them to me.

“I request that you would communicate to me, as early as convenient, your determination upon this subject, as it will be necessary to prepare a canoe during the winter, to be ready to enter upon the tour as soon as the navigation of the lakes is open, should you think proper to approve the plan.

Very respectfully, &c.

(signed) Lewis Cass”

Portrait of John C. Calhoun

Calhoun sanctioned the exploration for the Government in a letter to Cass, dated January 14, 1820, at Washington, D. C.

Also of interest is Calhoun’s letter to Cass, dated February 25, 1820, in which Schoolcraft’s association with the expedition is explained:

“Sir: Mr. Schoolcraft, a gentleman of science and observation, and particularly skilled in mineralogy, has applied to me to be permitted to accompany you on your exploring tour on Lake Superior. I have directed him to report to you for that duty, under the belief that he will be highly useful to you, as well as serviceable to the government, and the promotion of science.

“You will furnish him with the necessary supplies and accommodation while employed, and every facility necessary to enable him to obtain a knowledge of the mineralogy of the country, as far as practicable.

I have, &c. (signed) J. C. Calhoun.”

Although Schoolcraft had already travelled extensively in Missouri and Arkansas this was his initiation to the Upper Great Lakes. He served as Indian Agent at Sault Ste. Marie from May 8, 1822 to April 17, 1841.

Cass, who wrote, “I think it very important to carry the flag of the United States into those remote regions,” has not been forgotten by the people of Marquette, Michigan, for at the northern end of Big Presque Isle, the city ’s public park, is an historical marker which reads:











This marker is of cast iron, about two feet square, and is mounted on a standard about ten feet in height. Among many other historical markers, it was erected by the Marquette County Historical Society many years ago, a mute acknowledgement of the greatness of General Lewis Cass, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and the others who accompanied them, subjecting themselves to the terrors of an unknown Gitchi Gumee!

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About the Author: Until his resignation, effective October 1st, 1969, Mr. Ernest H. Ran- kin was Executive Vice President of the Marquette County Historical Society and Editor of its quarterly journal Harlow’s Wooden Man. A frequent contributor to INLAND SEAS and to Michigan journals and newspapers, he is now residing in Deming, New Mexico.

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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.”

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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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