Johnson Island Conspiracy. - An interesting war incident on the Great Lakes, in 1864, was the capture of the steamer Philo Parsons and of the Island Queen by Confederates, and the attempted capture of the United States steamship Michigan. A plot had been formed to liberate 3,200 Confederate officers imprisoned on Johnson island, Sandusky bay. While the Parsons was making her regular trip between Sandusky and Detroit, Confederate passengers, led by Major C. H. Cole, a Confederate spy, compelled the officers and crew to surrender. Cole then headed the boat for Put-in-Bay. Lying at the wharf at Put-in-Bay was the steamer Island Queen, bound for Cleveland, with 300 unarmed soldiers aboard on their way to be mustered out. Quickly running along side the Parsons made fast and captured her. The two vessels were steered to Fighting island, where the soldiers were compelled to land. The boats then steamed rapidly for Sandusky, and when within a short distance of the Michigan, then on guard duty at Johnson island, Cole, who was known to the officers of the Michigan as a wealthy oil speculator of Sandusky, and who had arranged to dine aboard the Michigan, was rowed to her in a small boat in order to keep his engagement. His plan was to drug the wine, and by the aid of Confederates seize the ship. Just as he was about to attempt the seizure the plot was discovered through the betrayal of the plans by a Colonel Johnson, who had on the wharf at Malden, where the Parsons had stopped, dropped a note, outlining the plans. Cole was arrested aboard the Michigan. John Y. Beale, a Confederate left in charge of the Island Queen, when he learned of the turn of affairs, scuttled her in sight of the Michigan, and ran the Parsons over to the Canadian shore, where she was sunk. Beale was executed on Governor's island, N. Y., February 24, 1865. Cole was condemned, but escaped a similar fate through subsequent pardon.
Casualties of 1864. - During the navigation of 1864 there were 599 marine casualties on the northern lakes, involving a loss on hull and cargo amounting to $654,100. Of this number eight were caused by explosion, seven capsized, 123 went ashore, 151 sprung a leak, four suffered by fire, 202 damaged in hull and outfit, nine foundered, 47 collided and 45 passed out of existence.
Lake Freights Improve. - There was an improvement in lake freights over the previous season, with an average ruling of 9 cents on wheat, and the highest rates on that cereal, 18 cents. The gradual improvements in freights occasioned the construction of quite a number of lake carriers.
Other Events of 1864. - March 2: Navigation opens at Sandusky; 18, navigation between Detroit and Port Huron unobstructed; 29, navigation open between Detroit and Cleveland. April 13: Opening of Welland canal for the season; 23, navigation open at the Straits of Mackinac; 25, brig Seminole and schooner Tartar collide at Toledo. May 10: Terrific gale on Lake Michigan; 14, propeller Nile a total wreck at Detroit, caused by the explosion of her boilers, six lives lost; money loss, $45,000. June: Propeller Prairie State sunk on Lake Erie. Scow Phoenix sunk at Avon Point. July: Side-wheel steamer Seabird, sunk near Milwaukee last November, raised at an expense of $10,000. Schooner Star wrecked near Conneaut. Bark D. M. Foster and schooner Oneida Chief collide in St. Clair river. August: Propeller Mears burned on Lake Michigan. Propeller Racine lost at Point Pelee, twelve lives lost; insured for $25,000; raised and towed to Buffalo September 5. Schooner Storm Spirit sunk on Lake Huron by collision with the bark City of Milwaukee. Bark Chenango and propeller Wenona collide on Lake Huron. Schooner Mayflower capsizes off Black River, Ohio; eight lives lost. Tug General Lyon sunk at Point Pelee. September: Propeller Scotia sunk on Lake Erie near Dunkirk by collision with the propeller Arctic; nine lives lost. Schooner E. C. Blish lost at the Lake Huron fisheries with all on board. Brig Sultan sunk off Euclid on Lake Erie; seven lives lost. Propeller Ogdensburg sunk on Lake Erie by collision with schooner Snowbird. October: Propeller Montgomery collides with schooner T. Y. Avery, near Skillagalee. Steamer Northern Light collides with scow N. G., resulting in serious damage to the latter. Tug Winslow disabled and dashed against the piers in Cleveland, proving a total loss; five lives lost. Brig Iroquois ashore on Lake Huron. Bark Fontanille raised and brought into port at Cleveland. Bark Danube and schooner Arab collide near Erie. Propeller Kenosha burned at Sarnia. Scow Ida H. Bloom capsizes on Lake Erie. November: Steamer Cleveland wrecked at Two Hearts river, Lake Superior. Schooner Almeda sunk at Buffalo. Schooner James Coleman totally wrecked on Poplar Point, Lake Ontario. Schooner Ketchum sunk at Milwaukee. Steamer Geo. Moffatt sunk at Presque Isle bay. Schooner Geo. Wilson went to pieces on Lake Ontario. December: Schooner C. G. Alvord released from a reef by tug Mayflower, but immediately sunk. Canadian schooner Mountaineer ashore at Georgian Bay; vessel a total loss. Canadian Government authorizes O. Bartley of Windsor, Ont., to make a survey of Bois Blanc island with a view to constructing defenses.
Other losses of the season were as follows: Steamer Pontiac exploded at Grand Haven and three lives lost. Steamer Almighty wrecked on Long point. Steamer Alexander burned on Lake Ontario. Tug Winslow wrecked at Cleveland and five lives lost. Bark Mojave foundered in Lake Michigan and ten lives lost. Bark B. A. Stannard wrecked at Point Betsey. Brig Amazon wrecked at Point Edward. Brig Mohawk sunk by a tug in Lake Erie.
The following named vessels were all schooners: Horace Greeley wrecked at St. Joseph. Emma Jane foundered in Lake Erie and seven lives lost. Storm lost on Lake Michigan with one life. Union wrecked near Milwaukee. A. B. Williams foundered in Lake Huron. Storm Spirit sunk by collision in Lake Huron. Mayflower foundered in Lake Erie and eight lives were lost. Opechee foundered in Lake Erie with loss of six lives. Isabella wrecked on Lake Huron. Cattaraugus foundered in Lake Ontario. Comely wrecked at Point Albino. James Coleman wrecked on Lake Ontario. A. J. Rich wrecked at Kincardine. Forwarder wrecked at Kincardine. Amelia wrecked near Goderich. Altair wrecked at Chantry island. Queen City wrecked near Marquette. Fortune wrecked on Lake Huron. J. C. Wheeler lost on Lake Ontario. Experiment wrecked at Manitowoc. Carrier Dove lost on Lake Ontario. Sardinia wrecked at Oswego. Jennie Lind wrecked on Long point, Lake Erie. Belle lost at Long point. Newark lost on Lake Huron. Perserverance sunk by schooner Grey Eagle in the straits.
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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.