The First Steamer on Lake Ontario. -- In the summer of 1816, the side- wheel steamer Ontario was build at Sacket's Harbor, but did not go into service until April of the following year. This was the first steamer on the lakes, the Frontinac coming out, at about the same time, on the Canadian side. The Ontario measured 232 tons and had beam engines and 34-inch cylinders of a 4-foot stroke.
According to the Kingston Gazette: "On Saturday, September 7, 1816, the steamboat Frontenac was launched at the village of Ernettstown. A numerous concourse of people assembled on the occasion; but in con- sequence of an approaching shower a portion of the spectators withdrew before the launch actually took place. The boat moved slowly from her place and descended with majestic sweep into her proper element.
"The length of the keel of this boat was 150 feet, the length of her deck, 170 feet, and her tonnage about 700 tons. Her proportions struck the eye very agreeably, and good judges pronounced her to be the best specimen of naval architecture that had ever proceeded from an American [Canadian] shipyard."
After giving the above account the Gazette says: "A steamboat was lately launched at Sacket's Harbor. The opposite sides of the lake, which not long ago vied with each other in building ships of war, seem now to be equally emulous of commercial superiority." From this it would appear that the Frontenac was the second steamboat built on the Great Lakes, the one built at Sacket's Harbor, named the Ontario, and mentioned above, being the first.
A Monopoly of Steam Navigation on Lake Ontario. -- The subject having been investigated in the summer and fall of 1815, articles of agreement were drawn up early in 1816, between Harriet Fulton and William Cutting, N. Y., executors of Robert Fulton and Robert R. Livingston, and Edward P. Livingston, of Clermont, owners of the right and privilege of steam- boat navigation in the State of New York, by special Act of the Legis- lature, on the one hand, and Charles Smyth, Joseph C. Yates, Thomas C. Duane and David Boyd, on the other hand, by which the latter acquired the sole right to navigate boats or vessels (steamships and vessels of war excepted) by steam on all or any of the waters of Lake Ontario, within the State of New York, and the full and entire and exclusive right of employing in the navigation of the same waters such inven- tions and improvements in the navigation of boats by fire or steam, to which the grantors or any of them had or thereafter might have right or title by patent.
It was provided and stipulated that but one boat should be employed at a time on any route to be established on the said waters by virtue of this contract without the consent in writing of the grantors, and until the net proceeds of the same should or said one boat should exceed 20 per cent. per annum. One boat was required to be built within two years. The grantees paid $10 on the execution of this agreement, and covenanted to pay annually on the 1st of January (deducting $1,500 from the gross receipts of each year, and the current expenses of running the boat) one-half of all moneys received above 12 per cent. on the investment. The $1,500 was to be withdrawn annually until it should amount to $12,000, which sum was to consti- tute a sinking fund for re-building the boat. Should the grantees acquire from the British Government any privileges for the navigation of the lake, these privileges were to be shared equally between the contracting parties, and these privileges were not to be transferred. Application was to be made for the incorporation of an association to be styled the Ontario Steamboat Company with a capital of $200,000.
In February, 1816, a petition from Charles Smyth, David Boyd, Eri Lusher, Abraham Santvrood, John J. De Graff and their associates was granted, in which the essential facts above stated were given, and an Act of incorporation solicited. A Bill was prepared and passed the House by a vote of 76 to 40, but did not become a law in consequence of the early adjournment of the Legislature. On the 16th of August, same year, Eri Lusher and Charles Smyth became by assignment of DeGraff and Boyd, partners in the enterprise, and a boat was commenced at Sacket's Harbor the same summer, after the model of the Sea Horse, then running in the Sound near New York. She was 110 feet long, 24 feet wide and 8 feet deep, and of 237 tons burden. The boilers are said to have been 17 feet long and 3-½ feet in diameter, with a cross-head engine. The cylinder was 20 inches in diameter and 3-feet stroke; the wheels were 11 feet 4 inches across, and the engine was of 21-horse power.
Warehouse at Black Rock. -- In March, 1816, the forwarding and commission house of Sill, Thompson & Co., took possession of the warehouse built the previous year at Black Rock. This one warehouse furnished ample storage for all property required to be put under shelter, going to or coming from the West, during all that time; and the company owning it and transacting all the business was called an "overgrown monopoly." As much business is transacted in a single day now as was then transacted in an entire season.
Other Events of 1816 -- May 14: Ice disappears at several Lake Erie ports. Navigation open at Ogdensburg. June 11: Schooner Erie, 80 tons, launched at Black Rock. Owned by Col. J. Thomas and William Miller, and built by Capt. Asa Stanard. July 23: Brig Union, in command of Capt. James Beard, aground near Grosse Isle; released July 24. July 24: Captain Alien drowned at Erie. September 7: Steamboat Frontenac launched at Ernettstown, Lake Ontario. Keel 150 feet long; deck 170 feet long. December 31: Eighty arrivals and clearances at the port of Buffalo during the year.
The schooner Washington, in command of Capt. Daniel Dobbins, made a voyage in 1816 to Green Bay, as a government transport to convey troops to establish Ford Howard. At this time Captain Dobbins discovered and anchored in Washington harbor at the entrance of the bay, the schooner Washington being the first vessel that ever entered it.
During the year 1816, and the three following seasons, there were plying on the British side of Lake Ontario, between Fort George (now Niagara) and York (Toronto) the schooners Crazy Jane, Catherine and Asp, transporting passengers and freight.
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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.