Commerce On Lake Superior Retarded -- The Fur Trader And Recovery Run Over The Rapids -- The Astor, The First American Vessel Launched On Lake Superior -- Other Early Craft -- Discovery Of Copper Attracts Settlers -- Vessels Hauled Across The Portage -- First Steamer On Lake Superior -- Speculative Fever -- First Shipments Of Copper -- The Fleets Increase -- Bar At Lake George -- Transferring Freight At The Portage.
THE commerce of Lake Superior was developed long after that of the lower lakes had been established. Settlement was retarded, and the fall of St. Mary's was all but insuperable. In previous chapters the commerce of Lake Superior under French and English rule has been briefly considered. Its development under the isolating conditions which prevailed prior to the opening of the Sault canal in 1855, constitutes an entity which perhaps entitles it to separate review. Its progress has been well sketched by ]. T. Whiting, general agent of the Western Transit Company, Detroit, Mich., whose account was adopted by Charles H. Keep in the latter's "Internal Commerce of the United States," and which is quite largely followed in the brief account herewith.
A vessel of some forty tons burden, named the Fur Trader, was built on Lake Superior for the Northwest Fur Company, in 1812. She was afterward run over the Sault rapids, but sustained such serious damage as to render her useless. She was the first craft that ever hazarded the attempt.
A voyage was made to the Sault by the brig Wellington, in 1817, commanded by Capt. Alexander Mclntosh, and piloted by Capt. James Hacket, of Amherstburg. She took in tow a small vessel of 30 tons burden, named the Axmouth. On her arrival there, the Axmouth was hauled over the portage, on the Canada side, re-launched into Lake Superior, and delivered over to the Northwest Fur Company. She is said to have been the first vessel hauled over the portage.
Another vessel, named the Mink, was on Lake Superior before the war of 1812. She was the second vessel that successfully came over the Sault rapids, an event which took place in 1817. She sustained considerable damage, but was repaired and put into service on the lower lakes. She was a British craft, but was subsequently sold to American parties, and survived for many years afterward.
It is possible that the Northwest Company had no sailing vessel on Superior after the war which closed in 1815. An Act of Congress in 1816, which forbade their doing business within the limits of the United States, led them to sell out to John Jacob Astor, who styled himself the American Fur Company. From 1815 to 1822 Lake Superior was navigated by only one small schooner. In 1822 a schooner bearing the British ensign was sailing on Lake Superior. This vessel was commanded by Lieutenant Bayfield of the British navy, who in that year and the next made an excellent survey and chart of that lake. Bayfield at length became an admiral.
"Point aux Pins, on the Canadian side of the river, six miles above the Sault," writes Schoolcraft in 1820, "was formerly noted as the site of a shipyard, and had a few buildings to accommodate the workmen, but only the vestiges of these remain. The width and depth of the river at this place must have rendered it a favorable spot for launching vessels. The current is very gentle, and the shore sandy and entirely free from rocks."
The Astor is Launched -- About 1834 the American Fur Company decided to build what was then termed a large vessel, for the navigation of Lake Superior. Her timbers were got out at Black River, Ohio, and shipped to the Sault in the schooner Bridget. When completed in 1835, under the direction of Ramsey Crooks and Oliver Newberry, she was placed in command of Capt. Charles C. Stanard, who, in after years, became a very popular commander of steamers in the Buffalo, Detroit and Chicago trade. This vessel was named the John Jacob Astor, and was the first American vessel launched on Lake Superior. It was while in command of this vessel that Captain Stanard discovered the well-known rock afterward named "Stanard Rock," situated in Keweenaw bay, on which the United States Government has since built, though attended with great cost and difficulty, one of its first-class lighthouses for the protection of all mariners and passengers that have occasion to navigate Lake Superior. Captain Stanard remained master of the Astor until the season of 1842, after which Captain J. B. Angus, a well-known navigator of the lake, became master of her, and remained in charge until she was wrecked at Copper Harbor September 19, 1844, while landing a quantity of material to be used in building Fort Wilkins. A storm came up in the night, and she went to anchor and remained for 15 hours, but finally broke loose and went ashore on a cliff of rocks. In this position she was unloaded, and then as the wind changed was blown back into the water again to be dashed against the rocks and broken to pieces.
The American Fur Company built two smaller vessels in the years 1837 and 1838, one of which, owing to faulty construction, was never launched, while the other, the Made-lina, was sailed by Captain Angus, and was employed in the fish trade.
The schooner William Brewster,of about 70 tons, was launched in August, 1838, and in that fall, fearing she could not be kept profitably employed, she was run over the Sault rapids, and afterward engaged in general business on the lakes. The timbers of the Brewster were gotten out at Euclid, Ohio, carried to Sault Ste. Marie, carted across the Portage to the head of the rapids, where they were set up and the vessel finished.
Discovery of Copper Attracts Settlers. -- Such was and continued to be the mercantile navy of the waters of Lake Superior until the supposed discovery of copper in working quantities on its shores, about the years 1843 and 1844. This increased the prospective richness of the Lake Superior country, to such an extent that capitalists and explorers began to turn their attention thereto, the principal objective points being in the vicinity of Copper Harbor, on Point Keweenaw, and in the interior some fourteen miles from the mouth of the Ontonagon river. The early pioneers were obliged to make the trip from Sault Ste. Marie to Copper Harbor and Ontonagon in birch-bark canoes, Mackinac boats or bateaux, the latter craft having been introduced on Lake Superior from the river St. Lawrence by the Hudson Bay Company, for the purpose of moving their supplies, furs, etc., from one extreme end of that lake to the other.
These boats were all open, without decks of any kind, and were propelled by paddles, oars and sails, as circumstances required. They followed the coast and its indentations, made their landings upon the shores for the purpose of allowing crews and passengers to camp, sleep, and prepare their food, as well as to seek shelter by day or by night from the storms with which they were unfitted to cope, and which were frequently encountered.
Vessels Hauled Across the Portage. -- This mode of traveling, however, was tedious and distasteful to the copper seeker, and in 1844 and 1845 vessel owners began to seek employment and profit by hauling vessels across the Portage at Sault Ste. Marie, a distance of about one mile, and in July, 1845, the mercantile navy of Lake Superior was increased by several vessels, among which were the schooners Algonquin, 70 tons; Uncle Tom, 40 tons; Swallow, 70 tons; Ocean; Chippewa, 40 tons; Siskowit, 40 tons; Merchant, 70 tons; Fur Trader, 40 tons, and White Fish, 50 tons, the latter being owned by the Hudson Bay Company. The Merchant was lost in June, 1847, while temporarily in command of Capt. Robert Brown, of the Swallow, with several passengers aboard.
The propeller Independence, of about 260 tons burden, and commanded by Capt. A. J. Averill, of Chicago, was the first steam craft that ever disturbed the waters of Lake Superior. She was launched in 1845. The schooner Napoleon, in the neighborhood of 200 tons, built at Sault Ste. Marie for the account of Oliver Newberry, of Detroit, was also put in commission in the same fall (1845). This propeller's maximum speed in good weather is said to have been four miles an hour.
First Steamer on Lake Superior. -- Lewis Marvill, of Parkville, Mich., described in a newspaper article, published in 1882 and re-printed in the "Michigan Pioneer Collections," the first trip by steam to Lake Superior. It occurred in 1845. Mr. Marvill, in substance, said: "In the spring of 1845 a little tub of a sloop of about 15 tons was transformed at Detroit into a fore-and-aft, called the Ocean. The top-sail schooner Merchant, of about 75 tons, and the Ocean were both fitted out for the Lake Superior trade. I shipped on the Merchant and we took on board all the necessary material for taking both vessels over the rapids. We fell to and jerked the Ocean over in short meter, and then tackled the Merchant. Both were taken over on rollers, the same as buildings are sometimes moved. When we had the Merchant about half way across, the steamer Independence arrived from Chicago. A part of the crew of the Merchant quit and left her, and I secured the berth of porter on the Independence. In about seven weeks she was hauled over and launched in the river above the falls. There were many delays and it was quite late in the fall when we sailed. We steamed up the lake, and the first place we touched at was Copper Harbor, or Fort Wilkins, where we found a small garrison and several huts. The next in order was Eagle Harbor, where there were a few prospectors, and then on to Eagle River, where we discharged most of our cargo, but before we could throw off some 50 kegs of powder the wind raised from the northwest, and kicked up such a sea that we had to weigh anchor and leave. We shaped our course for La Pointe, but had to turn about and run before the wind. We made for the lee of Keweenaw point, and laid by for three or four days. We again set sail, reached Eagle River and steamed to La Pointe, where we gave the natives a dreadful scare with the appearance of our craft, and the noise of our steam whistle. We returned to the Sault, and laid up for the winter in company with the Ocean, 15 tons; the Chippewa, 20 tons; the Algonquin, 30 tons; the Swallow, 40 tons; the Merchant, 75 tons; the Napoleon, 150 tons; and the Independence, 365 tons. The first steamer that ever plowed Lake Superior thus ended her memorable trip. We found below the falls the steamer Baltimore, which was hauled over in the winter or early spring. The Napoleon was fitted up with engines the next summer. The Julia Palmer was not the first, nor second, and I doubt the third, steamer on Lake Superior."
The Julia Palmer had often been named as the first or second steamer on Lake Superior. She was a remarkable boat in at least two ways. She was built by Ransom Palmer and named after his wife. She was the first steamer that went over the Sault, as the Independence was the first propeller. Mr. Palmer went to great expense in making perfect chains and anchors, with extra strong ground tackle. Many of Mr. Palmer's friends thought at the time that he was wasting money in thus making such expensive anchors and tackle, but his wisdom was fully justified by his subsequent experience with his schooner, for this extra strength in her chains and anchors saved her from being wrecked twice, once in the northern part of Lake Superior and once at Buffalo during the fearful storm of October 18, 1844, a full account of which maybe found in the chronology for that year.
The Speculative Fever in the copper mining regions was thus described in 1847 by Charles Lauman: "The number of mining companies, which purport to be in operation on the American shore of Lake Superior and on our islands, is said to be one hundred; and the number of stock shares is not far from three hundred thousand. But notwithstanding all the fuss that has been, and is still made, about the mining operations here, a smelting furnace has not yet been erected, and only three companies, up to the present time, have made any shipments of ore. The oldest of these is the Lake Superior Company; the most successful the Pittsburg and Boston Company; and the other is the Copper Falls Company, all of which are confined in their operations to Point Keweenaw.
"This point is at present the center of attraction to those who are worshiping the copper Mammon of the age. It is a mountainous district, covered with a comparatively useless pine forest, exceedingly rocky and not distinguished for its beautiful scenery. As to the great majority of the mining companies alluded to, they will undoubtedly sink a good deal more money than they can possibly make; and for the reason that they are not possessed of sufficient capital to carry on the mining business properly, and are managed by inexperienced and visionary men -- a goodly number of whom have failed in every business in which they ever figured, and who are generally adventurers, determined to live by speculation instead of honest labor. The two principal log cabin cities of Point Keweenaw are Copper Harbor and Eagle River. * * *
"Altogether perhaps five hundred miners and clerks may be engaged on the whole Point, while about as many more, during the summer, are hanging about the general stopping places on the shore, or the working places in the interior. This brotherhood is principally composed of upstart geologists, explorers and location speculators. From all that I can learn, about the same state of things exists on the Canada side of the lake. Twenty companies are already organized for that section of country, the most promising of which is the Montreal Mining Company; but not a pound of ore has yet been smelted or taken to market." * * *
First Shipments of Copper. -- John Hays, of Cleveland, Ohio, purchased three of these sections, one at Copper Harbor, one at Eagle Hill and one on Portage Lake. He formed what was called the Pittsburg & Boston Mining Co. Took nine men in the spring of 1844 and found the famous black oxide vein at Copper Harbor. Late in November, 1844, he found "Cliff Mine," thirty miles west of Copper Harbor. In the spring of 1845 he opened the veins of mineral at Copper Harbor and took out 26 tons of black oxide, and shipped it to Roxbury, Mass., where it was converted into blue vitriol. In the same spring he opened at Eagle River a vein on the top of a mountain, two miles south of Lake Superior. He went to the base and removed the rock and found about six tons of pure metallic copper. One piece weighed 3,100 pounds. Digging down 14 feet they found one piece of copper which weighed 14 tons. Driving into the mountain 75 feet they found a mass of pure copper, which weighed 81 tons. In the winter of 1846 they took out $60,000 worth of copper. This mine was worked 12 years and declared $2,618,000, in dividends, making dividends eight years before any other mine.
The Fleets Increase. -- At intervals prior to the opening of the Falls canal at Sault Ste. Marie in 1855, the propellers Manhattan and Monticello, the schooner George W. Ford, the propeller Peninsula, and the side-wheel steamers Baltimore and Sam Ward, were added to the Lake Superior fleet. In the meantime the schooner Napoleon had been converted into a first-class passenger propeller, about the year 1850. The foregoing sail vessels and steamers ranged from about 25 to 500 tons burden.
One of the Lake Superior pioneers of 1845 made his first trip in July of that year on board the schooner Chippewa, 25 tons burden, commanded by Thomas Clark, sailed by himself and one man, who officiated in the capacity of mate, deck hand and cook. At the time there were some forty passengers on board the vessel, among whom was the late Hon. David Henshaw, of Boston, president of one of the first copper mining companies organized (the Boston and Lake Superior Mining Company), and formerly Secretary of the Navy. The passengers were obliged to feed themselves and sleep the best they could, Mr. Henshaw occupying the captain's berth in the cabin, while the balance of the passengers slept, as circumstances permitted, in the hold of the vessel or on deck.
Coincident with the building of the Astor on Lake Superior, in 1834, the American Fur Company also built a brig, the Ramsey Crooks, as a connecting link in their trade between the waters of Lake Erie (Detroit being the principal point) and Lake Superior, via the Portage at the "Soo." That vessel, with the schooner General Warren, built about the same time and owned by the late Dr. John L. Whiting, of Detroit, with the exception of an occasional steamer going to Sault Ste. Marie with troops and government supplies for Fort Brady and Fort Wilkins, formed the only water connection between Lake Superior and the lower lakes until after the discovery of copper. This warranted the placing of the side-wheel steamer Detroit, owned by the late Capt. E. B. Ward (then of St. Clair, Mich.), on the route between Detroit and Sault Ste. Marie, and in 1845 she commenced making regular weekly trips.
In the spring of 1846 the steamer Ben. Franklin was put on the route, where she continued to run until 1850, when she was wrecked at Thunder Bay, Lake Huron. These were followed at intervals, as the exigencies of the trade required, by the steamers Northerner, London, Tecumseh, Albany, Illinois, E. K. Collins, North Star, and the propellers Goliah and Peninsular, as well as two small steamers, the Gore and Plow-boy, which were put on the Canadian route as between Owen Sound (Georgian Bay) and the Sault.
Bar at Lake George. -- These as a rule were all light-draught vessels, and had comparatively little difficulty in navigating the St. Mary's river as it then was, the greatest obstacle being found on that part known as Lake George, where the channel ran in close proximity to the Canadian shore, and in which about two miles from the western end of the lake a bar existed that at all times caused serious trouble, so much so that the American Fur Company, after the building of the brig Ramsey Crooks, in the then absence of tugs or other steam assistance, was forced to build a crib on either side of the bar, for the purpose of heaving the vessel over it and at times lightering her, again transferring the freight by small boats or scows to the vessel after getting her over the bar into deep water.
This same pier, being kept in repair, was used more or less for the same purpose by other vessels until the deepening of a more direct channel through Lake George by the United States Government after the opening of the Sault canal in 1855.
Transferring Freight at the Portage. -- With a view to showing the extent of the transportation of freights, baggage, mining company supplies, etc., between Lake Huron, the Sault river, and Lake Superior, it may be here well to state that the late Sheldon McKnight, of Detroit, holding an official position from the government as connected with permits for the exploration of the copper lands of Lake Superior, and residing at Sault Ste. Marie, during the years 1844 and 1845, did all the transferring of such articles across the portage thereat by means of one old gray horse and cart.
In the spring of 1846 the volume of business seemed to justify Mr. McKnight in building a warehouse and dock below the rapids of Sault Ste. Marie to better facilitate the handling of freights. During 1846 and 1847 this was done by the firm of L. W. Tinker & Co. (composed of L. W. Tinker and Sheldon McKnight). The volume of freight had so increased in the meantime that they were obliged to add to the old gray horse and cart two double teams.
In the spring of 1848 the firm of L. W. Tinker & Co. having been dissolved, Mr. McKnight employed J. T. Whiting, then of Detroit, to take charge of the business. Mr. Whiting found himself again obliged to increase the teaming facilities by adding thereto two more two-horse wagons and the necessary horses.
In 1850 the business had increased to such an extent that additional facilities for carrying freights in either direction across the portage induced Mr. McKnight to procure a charter for the formation of the Chippewa Portage Company, under which a light tram road was built, running across the portage, operated by horses, and connecting the warehouses and docks at either end thereof, which, with sundry changes in the location of the tram, in consequence of the building of the canal, continued in use most of the time by day and by night through each season of navigation until the completion of the canal of 1855. By this tramway under favorable circumstances the company could move from 300 to 400 tons of freight, including mass copper, every twenty-four hours.
About 1851 the firm of Spaulding & Bacon, general merchants of Sault Ste. Marie, with a view of accommodating business, brought to them by the steamer Northerner, running from Cleveland and connecting with the propeller Manhattan, on Lake Superior (said two boats being owned by Samuel W. and A. A. Turner, of Cleveland, Ohio), placed teams on the route across the portage, but after some two years abandoned the same, and all such freights, as well as those carried by the steamer E. K. Collins on the Lake Huron route, and the sidewheel steamer Sam Ward, on Lake Superior, were diverted into the hands of the Chippewa Portage Company, and there remained until the opening of the canal.
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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.