Early in 1818 Mr. Brown laid the keel at the mouth of Scajaquada creek. There, May 28, 1818, he launched a boat of the following dimensions: Length, 135 feet; width, 32 feet; depth, 8 feet 6 inches; 338 tons, with two masts, carrying mainsail, foresail and foretopmast staysail. On August 25, the Walk-in-the-Water departed on her first passage over the waters of Lake Erie, with twenty-nine passengers on board, bound for Erie, Grand River, Cleveland, Sandusky and Detroit. Her license and enrollment were dated August 22, 1818. She reached Detroit, over this course, in 44 hours and 10 minutes running time, developing a speed of about seven and a half miles per hour. She was commanded by Capt. Job Fish, who had sailed the lakes for several years, master of a trading schooner.
The scene presented when the boat was ascending the Niagara from Black Rock was picturesque. The primitive steamboat struggled with the rapid current, aided by several yoke of oxen on the beach, tugging at the end of a long towline. This was the historical "horn breeze" prevalent on Niagara river, when the current was stronger than the applied steam power.
According to Capt. Barton Atkins, of Buffalo, the origin of the name was as follows: "When Fulton first steamed his boat, the Clermont, up the Hudson, in 1807, an Indian standing on the river bank, gazing long and silently at the boat moving up stream without sails, finally exclaimed: 'Walks in the water.' The man in the forest saw the boat stemming the current unaided by any power known to him. He observed the paddle wheels slowly revolving, and intuitively comprehended that when a paddle struck the water there was a step forward."
It may be here stated briefly that the name, "Walk-in-the-Water," being so long, was not generally used, either in conversation or in print. As she was the only one of her class on Lake Erie she was usually designated as "The Steamboat."
The arrival of the steamboat at Cleveland is thus chronicled by a local historian: "On the first day of September, 1818, an entire novelty -- the like of which not one in 500 of the inhabitants had ever before seen -- presented itself before the people of Cuyahoga county. On the day named the residents along the lake shore of Euclid saw upon the lake a curious kind of a vessel, making what was then considered very rapid progress westward, without the aid of sails, while from a pipe near its middle rolled forth a dark cloud of smoke, which trailed its gloomy length far into the rear of the swift-gliding mysterious traveler over the deep. They watched its westward course until it turned its prow toward the harbor of Cleveland, and then returned to their labors. Many of them doubtless knew what it was, but some shook their heads in sad surmise as to whether some evil powers were not at work in producing such a strange phenomenon as that, on the bosom of their beloved Lake Erie. Meanwhile the citizens of Cleveland perceived the approaching monster, and hastened to the lake shore to examine it. 'What is it?' 'What is it?' 'Where did it come from?' 'What makes it go?' queried one and another of the excited throng. 'It's the steamboat, that's what it is,' cried others in reply.
" 'Yes, yes, it's the steamboat; it's the steamboat,' was the general shout, and with ringing cheers the people welcomed the first vessel propelled by steam which had ever traversed the waters of Lake Erie. The keel had been laid at Black Rock, near Buffalo, in November, 1817, and the vessel had been built during the spring and summer of 1818. It had received the name of 'Walk-in-the-Water,' from a Wyandot chieftain, who was formerly known by that appellation; which was also extremely appropriate as applied to a vessel which did indeed walk in the water like a thing of life.
"The harbinger of the numerous steam-leviathans of the upper lakes, and of the immense commerce carried on by them, was of 300 tons burden, and could carry a hundred cabin passengers, and a still larger number in the steerage. Its best speed was from eight to ten miles an hour, and even this was considered something wonderful. All Cleveland swarmed on board to examine the new craft, and many of the leading citizens took passage in it to Detroit, for which place it soon set forth."
In the Detroit Gazette is found an account of her first passage to that city: "The Walk-in-the-Water left Buffalo at one and a half P.M., and arrived at Dunkirk 35 minutes past six on the same day. On the following morning she arrived at Erie, Captain Fish having reduced her steam in order not to pass that place, where he took in a supply of wood." [The boat was visited by all the inhabitants during the day, and had the misfortune to get aground for a short time in the bay, a little west of French street.] "At half-past seven P.M. she left Erie, and arrived at Cleveland at eleven o'clock, Tuesday; at twenty minutes past six P.M. sailed, and reached Sandusky bay at one o'clock on Wednesday; lay at anchor during the night, and then proceeded to Venice for wood; left Venice at three P.M. and arrived at the mouth of Detroit river, where she anchored during the night.
"The whole time of this first voyage from Buffalo to Detroit occupied 44 hours and 10 minutes -- the wind ahead during the whole passage. Not the slightest accident happened during the voyage, and her machinery worked admirably.
"Nothing could exceed the surprise of the 'sons of the forest' on seeing the Walk-in-the-Water move majestically and rapidly against wind and current, without sails or oars. Above Malden they lined the shores and expressed their astonishment by repeated shouts of 'Taiyoh nichee'! [An exclamation of surprise.]
"A report that had circulated among them that a 'big canoe' would soon come from the 'noisy waters,' which, by order of the 'great father of the Chemo Komods' [Long Knives or Yankees] would be drawn through the lakes and rivers by a sturgeon. Of the truth of the report they were perfectly satisfied."
The cabins of the Walk-in-the-Water were fitted up in a neat, convenient, and elegant style, and a trip to Buffalo was considered not only tolerable, but truly pleasant. She made an excursion from Detroit to Lake St. Clair, with a party of ladies and gentlemen, and returned to Buffalo in time to be again at Detroit the following week.
Tradition has it that Captain Fish was not particularly pleased with the lake, and returned in a short time to his former command on the Hudson, the Firefly, running between Poughkeepsie and New York. Capt. John Davis being a thorough and accomplished seaman (which Captain Fish did not profess to be) amused himself by exciting his fears and magnifying the dangers of lake navigation. Captain Davis had been master of the schooner Michigan, had command of the Walk-in-the-Water after Captain Fish resigned, and previous to the appointment of Capt. Jedediah Rogers.
The fleet on Lake Ontario in 1818 numbered 60 vessels. There was a considerable commerce in timber and staves, picked up on the south shore of the lake. But as there were then no harbors on the lake the timber was floated out to the vessels, and the staves carried out in scows. These articles were carried by vessels down to Cape Vincent and Carlton's island, and other points at the head of the St. Lawrence river, where they were unloaded, made into rafts, and floated thence down the St. Lawrence to Montreal and Quebec.
On April 22, 1818, a second steamboat was launched at Ernettstown, named the Queen Charlotte. This vessel ran twice each week from Wilkin's wharf to Prescott. Up to the time this vessel commenced running the stage coach had run between Kingston and Prescott, but it now ceased to make its trips.
Wreck of the Hercules. -- Late in October, 1818, the schooner Hercules was wrecked in Lake Michigan between the two Calumet rivers, and all on board perished. The first intelligence of the fatal catastrophe was communicated by the finding of the wreck of the vessel, and the bodies of the passengers strewed along the shore. Several days, however, had elapsed before this discovery was made, and the bodies were so beaten and bruised by the spars of the wreck that the deceased could not be recognized by their features. Among these was Lieut. William S. Evileth, an intelligent and promising young officer of engineers, whose death was much lamented. He had been employed in the rebuilding of Fort Dearborn at Chicago, and had embarked, the day previous to the shipwreck, at Chicago, to return to his friends, after a summer spent in arduous and useful service. When the unfortunate young man was found his face had been so gnawed by wolves that he would not have been identified, had it not been for the military buttons of his clothes.
The marine interests of Chicago during these early years were centered in the Mackinac trading-boats, which belonged to the American Fur Company, and an occasional craft which stopped at the fort on government business.
Other events of 1818 -- March 6: Capt. John Mach dies at the age of 58 years at Chattaraugus Creek. April 15: Navigation opened at Sacket's Harbor by the sloop Arcadia, cleared for Niagara. April 21: Ice leaves many Lake Erie ports. April 25: Schooner Nancy, in command of Captain Fairbanks, of Putneyville, ashore near Eighteen Mile creek. July 16: Steamboat Sophia launched at Sacket's Harbor; built by Mr. Roberts, to play between Sacket's Harbor and Kingston. August 18: Lighthouse completed at Erie. August 23: Steamer Walk-in-the-water leaves Buffalo for Detroit, on her fist trip, in command of Captain Fish. September 27: Steamboat Walk-in-the-water sustains injuries by running aground near Erie. October 10: Capt. Daniel S. Dexter, commandant of the Naval Station on Lake Erie, dies at Erie. October 21: Schooners Eagle and Commodore Perry ashore near Buffalo creek during a storm. November 3: Schooner Hercules in command of Captain Church, wrecked on Lake Michigan during a violent gale. Several lives lost. November 15: Schooner Independence, commanded and owned by Capt. John Brooks, capsized and wrecked off Black river; crew drowned and cargo lost. November 15: Schooner Paulina, loaded with salt, ashore near Grand River. Crew saved; cargo lost. Schooner Boxer sustains serious injuries at Grand River during the storm. Schooner Wasp, dismasted and driven ashore at Cunningham's creek; crew saved; cargo lost. British brig Lord Wellington, wrecked at Point Albino; crew saved; cargo lost. November 18: Schooner General Brown driven ashore and severely damaged, at Black river; crew saved. December 26: Schooner Dolphin wrecked by the ice at Putneyville, Lake Ontario. December 31: Ninety-six arrivals and clearances at Buffalo during the season.
Return to Home Port
For an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research see the site maintained by Brendon Baillod.