ANCIENT civilizations clustered around a great inland sea, and from its broad expanse of waters inhaled the breath of life and national dominion. Upon its fruitful shores thrived the hardy and courageous Phoenicians, whose fabulous riches were gathered from many climes by brave and daring mariners. There the refined luxury of Egypt basked in the light of many centuries. The imperishable brilliancy of Greece flashed upon the white-capped waves of the same great waters. There, too, uprose the might of Rome, breaking all previous civilizations beneath the resistless advance of her legions. Large fleets of stanchly built triremes, bristling with a soldiery that never knew defeat, sailed its billows and drew tribute from the nations of the earth. The great Mediterranean, "in the midst of the world," was the life and the pathway of all commerce.
In the new world lies a cluster of inland seas, matchless in extent, about which has been growing for three centuries a new civilization, surpassing in splendor and in might the sea-girt empires of the past. Upon these Great Lakes are fleets that excite the wonder of the world. Commerce has here established a new domain, developing with marvelous rapidity in recent years, and the future of which no man dares measure by existing standards. Cities, peopled by a progressive and dominant race, have sprung up along the shores of these Great Lakes, and attained conspicuous eminence" and wealth.
The third century since the eyes of white men first fell upon the broad expanse of inland waters is approaching its close. For two of these centuries the destiny of the Great Lakes, their ownership and control, and the tremendous factors for civilization that lay back of that ownership, hung trembling in the balance of unknown forces. For two centuries their vast extent was explored and the early voyageurs trafficked in the products of savage life. For two centuries the commerce possibilities of the favored region lay dormant, waiting for the coming of the conquerors. In 1615, Champlain, the intrepid French explorer, first looked out upon the restless sheen of Lake Huron. In 1815, two centuries later, the region of the Great Lakes was welcoming the earliest permanent pioneers. When the treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States was under consideration at Ghent, in 1815, suggestions to the United States were made by the British commissioners that the waters of Lake Superior be withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the former country. The suggestion was declined; but the terms of peace, as there formulated, marked the close of the early and unsettled period of lake marine history and the dawn of modern commerce. All that belongs to the merchant marine, as now understood, is bounded within the years of the present century.
The first two centuries of occupation and navigation by the white men are rich in stirring romance and heroic struggle. Stretching inland a thousand miles from the seacoast of a new-found continent, the lakes became the highway for adventurous explorers long before the American colonies had become firmly established. Upon the lakes the fervid zeal of religious devotees found expression in deeds of rarest heroism and self-sacrifice. Embassies of European sovereigns unfurled their banners, and when claims conflicted struggled for the mastery of the great waterways. Traders sought in the remote and desolate waters the rewards of daring venture. The compassionate ministrations of religion, the pompous acts and executions of kingly power, the dominant ambitions of individuals, mingled and composed the picturesque fabric which forms the background of modern lake history.
Nor must there be forgotten the primitive races, found dwelling in this region. The aborigines were skillful navigators upon the inland seas, and in fleets of bark canoes sailed coastwise up and down the lakes. The fate of these Indian tribes was soon involved in the designs of the ambitious white invaders. Friendships were formed, and the fires of Indian hatred kindled. Back and forth rolled the tide of Indian supremacy upon the lakes -- just as it had rolled for centuries before -- as crowning victory or crushing defeat had marked these savage combats.
Among all the Indian tribes that lived in the region of the Great Lakes none were so powerful, none so feared as the proud, relentless Iroquois, then seated in calm security and undisputed possession upon the southern shores of Lake Ontario. Almost at the first approach of European invasion, this haughty people was attacked by the French explorers, an aggression that proved to the latter a most fatal step. Aroused to implacable fury, the Iroquois, or Five Nations, for a century and a half became a terror to the settlers of Canada and to their Indian allies, wreaking vengeance with pitiless fury, exterminating whole tribes or driving them far and forever beyond the region of the Great Lakes.
And when the English colonists, who had settled upon the Atlantic seacoast, finally reached out toward the lakes, they found willing allies among the Iroquois. For many years this spirited race, alone and unassisted, had withstood the repeated invasions of French troops, determined to crush all opposition to Gallic dominion upon the lakes. Slowly the Five Nations melted away, but they stubbornly held their ground until the advance of English colonization and claim gave them aid, and brought to a climax the supreme struggle for the mastery of the great lake waterways.
France lost her Canadian provinces, and for a few years, save during the irruption of Pontiac and his confederates, the flag of St. George floated triumphantly from the head of Lake Superior to the mouth of the St. Lawrence. When revolution swept through the American colonies, and a new nation was created, most fateful among the issues of peace arising between it and the mother country was the disposition of the lake country. The genius of Franklin on this occasion rose superior to French and Spanish diplomacy, and gained for the United States and for Great Britain each a borderland upon the Great Lakes, and to each free access to their wide and commerce-bearing waters.
Years passed away before the mutual rights, then outlined in the treaty of peace, became effective. Not in a day nor in a year could expire the fierce glow of animosity engendered by that struggle. Various stipulations remained to be fulfilled, and in their fulfillment there was mutual delay and irksomeness. English garrisons held possession of the southern shores of the lakes until 1796. And when the smoldering embers of strife burst forth anew in the war of 1812, the Great Lakes again became the scene of spirited engagement, adding fresh laurels to Anglo-Saxon bravery and seamanship. That contest happily ended, the free navigation of the lakes, as pledged at the close of the previous war, became cemented by national agreement substantially as now enjoyed.
Then the dawn of modern commerce faintly limned against the eastern skies the hues of coming greatness. Bright and brighter grew the flush of morn, as fleets grew strong and powerful, as hardy pioneers pressed westward, possessed these favored shores and built prosperous cities, as bountiful crops were garnered in adjacent States and freighted eastward on the lakes to distant markets, as mineral resources were developed and grew to almost magic importance in the industrial economies of the world. The day is still sparkling in the freshness of morning dew. The. noonday splendor of the Great Lakes, as measured by the cycles of time, is far in the unexplored future.
It is difficult to fully appreciate the debt which America owes to her inland seas. The destiny of the nation is now unfolding to a magnitude that was unsuspected a year ago. Large maritime enterprises will be undertaken. One of the great works of the immediate future will be the construction of the Nicaragua canal. It will unite the distant shores of the nation, and give insularity to her dominion. But more important far to the North American continent than even this stupendous enterprise has been the development of navigation on the Great Lakes.
Piercing the heart of the nation, reaching the rich prairies, where grow the most bounteous crops, linking the rich iron ore of the West and the choicest fuel of the East, touching on every shore a verdure of forest growth of untold depth, it is little wonder that the lakes attracted a courageous and enterprising people, little wonder that cities and towns sprang up, and that white-winged ships appeared and multiplied to freight the commerce of this thrifty people.
Agricultural wealth in the west owes its success to the Great Lakes. Washington perceived the need of transportation facilities to the interior of the country, as it existed more than a century ago, and he advocated and encouraged the construction of waterways; but for years the energies of the land proved unequal to the task. Farming languished beyond the Alleghanies until the completion of the Erie canal. Then was given an impetus to Western emigration which continued until the region of the lakes was populated; and when settlements penetrated still farther into the interior, railroads were constructed to unite the farms and the Great Lakes. To-day the western farmer with his teeming acres, located some fifteen hundred miles or more inland from the seacoast, owes to the cheap lake freights his ability to reach the markets of foreign lands.
Manufacture, now rising as a formidable rival to agriculture in commanding the material prosperity of America, is to an even greater extent the beneficiary of lake navigation. Pittsburg, for many years the recognized iron center of the United States and now of the world, owes its supremacy to the ore traffic of the lakes. New England's many hives of industry maintain a close industrial relationship with the West by means of the freighters of the lakes. The diversified industries of populous Chicago are indebted for their prosperity to the same unexampled transportation facilities, and the same remark must be applied to the many other manufacturing ports upon the Great Lakes. Nowhere has the growth of American cities been more conspicuous than here. Nowhere has prosperity more benig-nantly smiled than upon the shores of America's great inland seas.
The history of the Great Lakes is an interesting theme. It directly concerns many people -- those who sail the waters of the lakes, those interested in their tributary resources, those who dwell in their populous cities. Few, indeed, are the residents of America to whom there have not come benefits, direct or indirect, from the masterful influences radiating from their shores. A picturesque charm pervades the scenes of early traffic and adventure. The transformations from time to time in the size and construction of the lake craft, the forces that created fleets, the invincible spirit of enterprise that developed the tremendous resources of the region, the energies both of government and individuals put forth to overcome the obstacles to a more extended and efficient navigation of the lakes, a chronological review of the important marine incidents, sketches of the individuals whose lives have been devoted to the building of the lake marine; these and many other features teem with interest and come within the purview of this work.
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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.