Steam Navigation Begins. - The steamer Ontario made her first trip in April, 1817. The Ontario was the first steam vessel ever placed on water subject to a swell, and hence the real meaning of her being built to "test the power of steam against wind and wave." She was built under a grant from the heirs of Robert Fulton, and marks an important era in steam navigation. Previous to her construction steam navigation had been confined to rivers, and the mere weight of the paddle wheels and shaft was relied on as sufficient to deep them in place on their bearings. It was on this plan that the Ontario was constructed, because it was not known that any other plan would be necessary; but on her first trip she encountered considerable sea, and the waves lifted her paddle wheels off their bearings, causing the revolving wheels to tear away their wooden coverings. The Ontario was taken back into port disabled, but her repairs included a proper device for securely holding the shaft in its place.
Early in 1817 the steamer Ontario was completed and started on her first trip, being everywhere greeted with the most lively demonstrations of joy. Bonfires, illuminations, and mutual congrat- ulations of friends expressed the satisfaction with which this achievement was regarded, and the event was hailed as the opening up of a new era in commerce on the lakes. Weekly trips from Ogdensburg to Lewiston were at first attempted, but on July 1, 1817, the owners of the steamboat advertised that, finding the trip of above 600 miles too extensive to be performed within that time, it would be changed to once in ten days. The fare through was fixed at $15. Capt. Francis Mallaby, U. S. N., was her first master. The Ontario continued to run until 1832, seldom exceeding five miles per hour. In the year last named she was broken up in Oswego.
First Trip of the Frontenac. - On June 5, 1817, the Frontenac left Kingston for her first trip to the head of the lake. She was 500 tons burden, and the first Canadian steamer on the lakes. She had no guards, except at her wheels. She carried three masts, was painted black and presented much the appearance of an ocean steamer, but carried no yards. Her deck was 170 feet long, her breadth being 32 feet. She cost in the neighborhood of £20,000. Capt. James McKenzie, a retired officer of the Royal Navy, was her commander. She began her trips in 1817. At first Captain McKenzie was not over-confident of his vessel, for advertisements were thus qualified: "The steamer, Frontenac, will sail from Kingston for Niagara, calling at York, on the 1st and 15th days of each month, with as much punctuality as the nature of lake navigation will admit of." But, later on, becoming familiar with his boat, he became more confident, and announced his days of departure with greater precision.
An Adventure on Lake Erie. - The adventure of Salmon Sweatland, of Conneaut, who crossed Lake Erie in an open canoe, in September, 1817, is one of unusual interest. He had been accustomed, with the aid of a neighbor, Mr. Cousins, and a few hounds, to drive deer into the lake, where, pursuing them in a canoe, he shot them with but little difficulty. The circumstances which took place at this time, are vividly given in the annexed extract from the records of the Historical society, published in Howe's "Historical Collections of Ohio":
"It was a lovely morning in early autum(sic), and Sweatland, in anticipation of his favorite sport, had risen at the first dawn of light, and without putting on his coat or waistcoat left his cabin, listening in the meantime in expectation of the approach of the dogs. His patience was not put to a severe trial ere his ears were saluted by the deep baying of the hounds, and on arriving at the beach he perceived that the deer had already taken to the lake, and was moving at some distance from the shore. In the enthusiasm of the moment he threw his hat upon the beach, his canoe was put in requisition and shoving from the shore he was soon engaged in rapid and animated pursuit. The wind, which had been fresh from the south during the night and gradually increasing, was now blowing nearly a gale, but intent on securing his prize, Sweatland was not in a situation to yield to the dictates of prudence. The deer, which was a vigorous animal of its kind, hoisted its flag of defiance, and breasting the waves stoutly showed that in a race with a log canoe and a single paddle he was not easily outdone.
"Sweatland had attained a considerable distance from the shore and encountered a heavy sea before overtaking the animal, but was not apprised of the eminent peril of his situation, until, shooting past him, the deer turned towards the shore. He was, however, brought to a full appreciation of his danger when, on tacking his frail vessel and heading towards the land, he found that with his utmost exertions he could make no progress in the desired direction, but was continually drifting further to sea. He had been observed in his outward progress by Mr. Cousins, who had arrived immediately after the hounds, and by his own family, and as he disappeared from sight, considerable apprehensions were entertained for his safety.
"The alarm was soon given in the neighborhood, and it was decided by those competent to judge that his return would be impossible, and that unless help could be afforded he was doomed to perish at sea. Actuated by those generous impulses that often induce men to peril their own lives to preserve those of others, Messrs. Gilbert, Cousins and Belden took a light boat at the mouth of the creek and proceeded in search of the wanderer, with the determination to make every effort for his relief. They met the deer returning toward the shore nearly exhausted, but the man who was the object of their solicitude was nowhere to be seen. They made stretches off shore within probable range of the fugitive for some hours, until they had gained a distance of five or six miles from land, when meeting with a sea in which they judged it impossible for a canoe to live, they abandoned the search, returned with difficulty to the shore, and Sweatland was given up for lost.
"The canoe in which he was embarked was dug from a large white-wood log for a fishing boat; it was about fourteen feet in length and rather wide in proportion, and was considered a superior one of the kind. Sweatland continued to lie off, still heading toward the land, with the faint hope that the wind might abate, or that aid might reach him from the shore. One or two schooners were in sight in course of the day, and he made every signal in his power to attract their attention, but without success.
"Fortunately Sweatland possessed a cool head and a stout heart, which, united with a tolerable share of physical strength and power of endurance, eminently qualified him for the part he was to act in this emergency. He was a good sailor, and as such would not yield to despondency until the last expedient had been exhausted. One only expedient remained, that of putting before the wind and endeavoring to reach the Canadian shore, a distance of about fifty miles. This he resolved to embrace as his forlorn hope.
"It was now blowing a gale, and the sea was increasing as he pro- ceeded from the shore, and yet he was borne onwards over the waters by a power that no human agency could control. He was obliged to stand erect, moving cautiously from one extremity to the other, in order to trim his vessel to the waves, well aware that a single lost stroke of the paddle or tottering movement would swamp his frail bark and bring his adventure to a final close. Much of his attention was likewise required in bailing his canoe from the water, an operation which he was obliged to perform by making use of his shoes, a substantial pair of stoggies, that happened fortunately to be upon his feet.
"Hitherto he had been blessed with the cheerful light of heaven, and amidst all his perils could say, 'The light is sweet, and it is a pleasant thing for the eyes to behold the sun;' but to add to his distress, the shades of night were now gathering around him, and he was soon enveloped in darkness. The sky was overcast, and the light of a few stars that twinkled through the haze alone remained to guide his path over the dark and troubled waters. In this fearful condition, destitute of food and the necessary clothing, his log canoe was rocked upon the billows during that long and terrible night. When morning appeared he was in sight of land, and found that he had made Long Point, on the Canada shore. Here he was met by an adverse wind and a cross sea, but the same providential aid which had guided him thus far still sustained and protected him; and after being buffeted by the winds and waves for nearly thirty hours, he succeeded in reaching the land in safety.
"What were the emotions he experienced on treading once more 'the green and solid earth' we shall not attempt to inquire, but his trials were not yet ended. He found himself faint with hunger and exhausted with fatigue, at the distance of forty miles from any human habitation, whilst the country that intervened was a desert filled with marshes and tangled thickets, from which nothing could be obtained to supply his wants. These difficulties, together with the reduced state of his strength, rendered his progress towards the settlement slow and toilsome. On his way he found a quantity of goods, supposed to have been driven on shore from the wreck of some vessel, which, although they afforded him no immediate relief, were afterwards of material service.
"He ultimately arrived at the settlement and was received and treated with great kindness and hospitality by the people. After his strength was sufficiently recruited, he returned with a boat, accompanied by some of the inhabitants, and brought off the goods. >From this place he proceeded by land to Buffalo, where, with the avails of his treasure, he furnished himself in the garb of a gentle- man, and finding the Traveler, Capt. Charles Brown, from Conneaut, in the harbor, he shipped on board and was soon on his way to rejoin his family. When the packet arrived off his dwelling, they fired guns from the deck, and the crew gave three loud cheers. On landing he found his funeral sermon had been preached, and had the rare privilege of seeing his own widow clothed in the habiliments of mourning."
Other Events of 1817. -- January 1: Seven vessels enrolled in Buffalo district for navigation of the season. April 1: A steamer put on the route between Ogdensburg and Niagara, touching at Sacket's Harbor and Oswego. April 29: Ice leaves Lake Erie ports. August 19: Schooner Tigress sustains damages during a storm on Lake Erie. Her cargo of furs considered the most valuable ever floated on the lake. December 31: Fishing interests near Sacket's Harbor cleared $6,000 during the season. One hundred arrivals and clearances during the season at Buffalo. The first bridge connecting Goat Island, Niagara Falls, with the mainland was built in 1817 by Judge Porter.
In 1817, very soon after Fort Dearborn had been reconstructed, at Chicago, the schooner Heartless arrived off the lake shore. Attempting to run up the Chicago river she was beached in the sand. Efforts to float her proved unavailing, and there she remained, a complete wreck, the first one which occurred within sight of Fort Dearborn.
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Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.