Routes Of Western Immigration -- Lakes Neglected -- First American Boat On Lake Ontario -- Early Commerce On Lake Ontario -- Pioneer American Vessels -- Shipbuilding In Canada -- Steamers On The St. Lawrence -- The Portage At Niagara -- Shores Of Lake Erie Settled -- Settlement Of Northern Ohio -- American Vessels Prior To 1812 -- Fort Dearborn Established -- Early Vessels On Lake Superior -- Commerce On Lake Erie -- Fur Trade -- American Fur Company.
THE permanent settlement of the region of the Great Lakes was of a slower growth than that of the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys. One cause for this was the close relation between the lakes and the St. Lawrence political system, or Canada, and, until in 1796 Great Britain surrendered the posts commanding the lake trade, the American tide of emigration, which was moving over the Mountains, took a more southerly course.
General Walker, the superintendent of the tenth United States census, has shown that the early emigration from the Atlantic states westward was along four main lines, as follows: (1) Through central New York, following the valley of the Mohawk river; (2) across southern Pennsylvania, western Maryland and northern Virginia, parallel to and along the course of the Upper Potomac; (3) southward down the valley of Virginia, and through the mountain-gaps into Tennessee and Kentucky; (4) around the southern end of the Mountains, through Georgia and Alabama.
Prior to 1796 the last three were the channels almost exclusively. In that year no road had yet been cut through the wilderness of western New York to Lake Erie. Lake Ontario, the Niagara portage and Detroit were in possession of the English. Roads had been cut through to the Ohio Valley both from Philadelphia and from Virginia, and these were the routes traversed even by New England emigrants to the wilderness beyond the Mountains. The tide of emigration having started that way, it was some time before it was diverted to the lakes. Later the lakes became the chief channel of western emigration, the other routes dwindling to comparative insignificance.
American emigration, however, was rapidly pushing westward towards the Great Lakes, while the English still held the fortified posts commanding them. This advancing wave of permanent settlement from the eastern interior had not yet dashed itself upon the shores of the lakes before the English surrendered possession in 1796. While still holding these posts the English prevented the few daring Americans who reached Lake Ontario from engaging in marine trade. At least one American circumvented the garrison at Oswego.
First American Boat on Lake Ontario. -- James L. Barton in a lecture delivered some fifty years ago to the Young Men's Association, of Buffalo, gave an account of this enterprise, which produced the first American boat that ever floated on the waters of the Great Lakes. Mr. Barton said:
"In 1789, John Fellows, of Sheffield, Mass., started from Schenectady with a boat, its cargo mostly tea and tobacco, with a design of going to Canada to trade. On reaching Oswego, the commanding officer refused him permission to pass that place. Fellows returned with his boat and cargo up the Oswego river to Seneca river, up that into the Canandaigua outlet, as far as where Clyde is; here he built a small log building (long known as the block-house) to secure his goods in, while he was engaged in bushing out a sled-road to Sodus bay, on Lake Ontario. He then went to Geneva, and got a yoke or two of cattle, hauled his boat and property across, and then in this frail conveyance embarked with his goods, and pushed across the lake. He met with a ready sale for his tea and tobacco, and did well. He crossed in the same boat, and landed at Irondequoit. The boat was afterwards purchased and used by Judge Porter in traveling the shore of Lake Ontario, when making the survey of the Phelps and Gorham purchase."
Early Commerce on Lake Ontario.- -- Soon after 1796 American commerce sprang up on Lake Ontario, and between that date and the opening of the war of 1812 it attained quite a respectable size. At the beginning of the century the trade of Lake Ontario exceeded that of the four upper lakes.
During all this time, and on up to 1806, communication between New York City and the Western country was kept up by small boats, propelled by poles up the Mohawk river, wagoned with their contents round Little Falls, and also between Ma-hawk and Wood creek, taken down this creek into Oneida lake, and through that lake and river to Three River point, where the Oneida unites with Seneca river, and thence to Oswego on Lake Ontario, another portage having, however, to be passed at Oswego Falls. At Oswego this property or freight was loaded into vessels for Lewiston or Queenston, according to its destination. That destined for Lewiston or Schlosser was unloaded at Lewiston, while that destined for Detroit and other Western places was unloaded at Queenston and wagoned around the portage at Chippewa, where it was loaded into boats, carried to Fort Erie, whence it was distributed in vessels to the several places to which it was shipped.
By 1810 the commerce of Lake Ontario had so grown that it furnished regular employment to a considerable number of coasting vessels, which were employed in carrying the Indian annuities, stores for Western military posts, the goods and peltries of the fur company, provisions and supplies for straggling and struggling Western settlements, fish, lumber, staves and also Onondaga salt for the Pittsburg market, then one of the principal articles of lake commerce.
Pioneer American Vessels. -- Charles H. Keep, in his "Internal Commerce of the Great Lakes," says that the first American vessel placed on any of the Great Lakes after the Revolution was built at Hanford's Landing, three miles below Rochester, N. Y., in 1798. She was built by Eli Granger, was named the Jemima, and on July 22, that year, she was sold to Augustus and Peter B. Porter.
The schooner Charles and Ann, built at Oswego, N. Y., in 1810, attracted considerable attention on account of her size. The following vessels were also engaged in commerce on this lake previous to the war of 1812: Geneva Packet, Capt. Obed Mayo; Diana, Capt. A. Montgomery; Fair American, Capt. Augustus Ford; Collector, Capt. Samuel Dixon; Experiment, Capt. C. Holmes; and Dolphin, Capt. William Vaughan. The captain of the Charles and Ann was named Pease. The Fair American is said to have been the first vessel built under the Government of the United States on Lake Ontario. She was launched at Oswego, and was built for the American Fur Company.
One of the very first vessels to sail on the waters of Lake Ontario was the Washington, a schooner built at or near Erie, Penn., in 1797. During that season she navigated Lake Erie, and the next year she was sold to a Canadian, and carried on wheels around Niagara Falls to Lake Ontario, and in 1798 she sailed from Queenston to Kingston as a British vessel under the name of the Lady Washington.
On Lake Ontario, prior to 1809, several vessels were engaged in commerce, and besides those already noted were the Island Packet, Lark, Eagle, Mary, Farmer, Two Brothers and Democrat; also the United States brig Oneida, commanded by Captain Woolsey. In 1809 the schooner Ontario was built at Lewiston for Porter, Barton & Co., and sold to the United States Government during the war of 1812. She was 70 tons burden. The same year the schooner Columbia was built on an island at the lower end of Lake Ontario, and brought in an unfinished state to Lewiston, where she was purchased and fitted out by Porter, Barton & Co. and her name changed to Niagara. In addition to the foregoing vessels were the sloops Marion and Gold Hunter in commission.
Ship Building in Canada. -- Ship building was also active on the Canadian side of the waters. In 1797 the Governor Simcoe was built, or at least she was then sailing on the lake. She was constructed for the Northwest Company. In May of the same year there appeared on Lake Ontario a deck boat built and owned by Col. John Van Rensselaer, of Laningburg, on the North river. Colonel Van Rensselaer also built another vessel of the same capacity, "fifty barrels burden," both of which vessels plied between Niagara and Oswego and Kingston. In August authority was given to build a gunboat for service on the harbor at York.
Toward the end of November, 1799, the York was wrecked on a rock off the Devil's Nose. The Genesee and the Peggy were schooners plying between Oswego and Niagara, the Peggy being owned in part by Thomas Berry, of York. There was also a boat named the Jemima, owned in part by Abner Miles. At the close of the last century there were, on Lake Ontario, the schooners Lady Dorchester, Governor Simcoe and York. There was a sloop building at Kingston, and the Polly was building on the Bay of Quinte. The Lady Dorchester and the Governor Simcoe were the largest of the entire fleet, being each of 87 tons burden.
During the year 1800 the Prince Edward was built in the dock at Marysburg, a short distance west of the Stone mills, by Captain Murney, father of the late Hon. Edmond Murney, of Belleville. She ran upon Lake Ontario for many years, and was large enough to allow of the stowing underneath her deck of 700 barrels of flour. During the same year a schooner of 100 tons was brought to Clifton, and in the following winter she crossed by the portage on immense runners down to Queenston, where she was launched in the Niagara river. In 1804 this vessel was lost on Lake Ontario with all on board. On May 16, 1801, the Toronto reached York with the lieutenant-governor on board, and he opened Parliament on the 28th of the same month. The sloop Mary Ann and "Skinner's sloop" were then afloat.
On May 10, 1803, the Canadian Government schooner Duke of Kent arrived at Little York from Kingston, with a detachment of troops on board. The Lady Washington, which had been built at Four-Mile creek, near Erie, Penn., in 1797, and which came down on Lake Ontario after one year's service on Lake Erie, was lost in a gale of wind near Oswego on her passage from Niagara, on November 24, 1803.
The Speedy, Capt. O. Paxton, left York October 7, 1804, for Presqu'Isle. She was descried off that island on Monday following just before dark, and great preparations were made for her reception and that of her passengers; but the wind coming round from the northeast with such violence as rendered it impossible for her to enter the harbor, she shortly afterward disappeared. A large fire was built on shore to guide her in case of necessity; but she was never seen afterward, and all on board were lost. Among her passengers were Justice Cochrane; Robert J. D. Gray, solicitor-general; Angus McDonell, advocate; John Fisk, high constable at York, and George Cowan, an Indian interpreter. They were proceeding to the district of Newcastle to hold the circuit, and for the trial of an Indian, also on board, indicted for the murder of John Sharpe, formerly of the Queen's Rangers. Besides the above there were also others on board, to the number of about twenty-four, all of whom were lost.
During 1808 two vessels were built at Missisaga Point, at the mouth of the river Cataraqui. They were the Elizabeth and the Governor Simcoe, the latter being built to take the place of a former vessel of the same name. The yacht Toronto was wrecked early in the summer of 1812 off the island opposite York, and for many years portions of her hull were to be seen on the beach.
Steamers on the St. Lawrence. -- It was about this time that steamers appeared on the St. Lawrence. A steamer called the Dalhousie was built in 1809 at Prescott, and was chiefly employed on the St. Lawrence, and also during the same period the Accommodation, which arrived at Quebec from Montreal, about November 5 of that year. Neither of these boats, however, come strictly within the province of the history of the Great Lakes. The latter boat, it may be stated, was 70 feet long. She had an open, double-spoked, perpendicular side-wheel on each side, without any circular band or rim. To the end of each double spoke was fixed a board, which entered the water and by the rotary motion of the wheel acted like a paddle. A mast was fixed in her, and a sail to be used when the wind was favorable. She was thirty-six hours performing the trip between the above named points.
By a statute passed by Congress March 5, 1805, the "Buffaloe Creek District" was established, for the collection of customs. The State of New York owned a strip of land one mile wide extending along Niagara river from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, which was called the "Mile Strip." In 1803 and 1804 this strip was surveyed according to directions from the surveyor-general. A piece of land one mile square, where Fort Niagara was situated, was held for garrison purposes. The survey began one mile from Lake Ontario, and the mile strip was laid off into farm lands averaging from 160 to 175 acres to the plat. At Lewiston a village plat was reserved, one mile square. Here was the lower end of the portage round the Falls where the State owned a warehouse and dock. The upper end of the portage was on what was known as the Steadman farm, which had to be left intact, as also the two-mile square below, and adjoining Scajaquada creek, known as the Jones and Parrish tracts, on part of the latter of which North Buffalo was laid out and built. After crossing Scajaquada creek four more lots were surveyed, and then 100 acres higher up and adjoining, called the "Ferry lot." Then, with the exception of a triangular piece of land, the residue of the mile strip extending to the village of Buffalo, was surveyed into the village of Black Rock, afterward more generally known as Upper Black Rock.
In 1805 all the surveyed lands, farms and village lots were put up for sale at Albany, and the docks and warehouses at Lewiston, Schlosser, together with the Steadman farm, were offered for lease. At the time of the sale, Augustus and Peter B. Porter, Benjamin Barton and Joseph Annin, who surveyed the mile strip, attended, for the purpose of purchasing lands along the river and of bidding for the lease. They agreed to form a partnership under the firm name of Porter, Barton & Co., bid for the portage lease and to make a purchase of lands. They obtained the lease for thirteen years, and purchased the land around the Falls and other farms and village lots. Four farm lots, containing over 700 acres and lying on the south side of Scajaquada creek, were purchased by the four gentlemen above named and Rev. John McDonald, of Albany, and in 1811 they had these lots surveyed into a village plot by Apollos Stephens, and called it Black Rock, or afterward Lower Black Rock, to distinguish it from the State village of the same name.
In 1806 Porter, Barton & Co. began the transportation business over the portage, boating up the river to Black Rock, and provided themselves with vessels to carry freight up the lakes. This was the beginning of the first regular and connected line of transportation on the American side that ever did business on the Great Lakes. The line was formed in this way. Mathew McNair was at Oswego, and Jonathan Walton & Co., at Schenectady. These two parties, together with Porter, Barton & Co., at Black Rock, formed a transportation line, and in forwarding freight this line of forwarders, the first that ever carried on such a business from tide water to Lake Erie, on the American side of the Niagara river, sent the property in boats up the Mohawk, down Wood creek and other waters to Oswego, from which point Mathew McNair carried it over Lake Ontario, and Porter, Barton & Co. took it from Lewiston to Black Rock and then sent it up the lakes. This latter firm built warehouses at Lewiston, Schlosser and Black Rock. They also sunk piers in the bay or eddy near Bird island, upon which piers they erected a warehouse at which vessels could receive and discharge freight. River boats were sometimes drawn up the Black Rock rapids to this warehouse by what was facetiously termed the "horn breeze," which consisted of from six to twelve yoke of oxen, kept by the company for the purpose. These oxen were attached to a hawser made fast at the other end to a mast of the vessel, and supported in the middle by small boats.
On the portage the company generally kept three yoke of oxen, the load from Lewiston to Schlosser being twelve barrels of salt, or its equivalent in merchandise. Only one trip a day could be made. The company gave employment to all teamsters that offered themselves, who often used horses, carrying seven barrels of salt when the roads were good. They received from two shillings to two shillings and six pence per barrel, and from 15,000 to 18,000 barrels of salt were hauled up over the portage in a season. The charge on salt from Lewiston to Black Rock was seven shillings per barrel, and from Schlosser, three shillings. On freight the rate was six shillings per hundred weight from Lewiston to Black Rock, on down freight the rate being three shillings per hundred weight from Schlosser to Lewiston.
The Hon. Alvin Bronson arrived at Oswego in the spring of 1810, and in connection with his partners, Jacob Townsend and Sheldon Thompson, established a warehouse and forwarding business on the lakes. For two years before the war of 1812 and for two years afterward the firm of Townsend, Bronson & Co., in connection with Porter, Bronson & Co., conducted most of the transit business on the Great Lakes, comprising salt for the Pittsburg market, Indian annuities and military stores for frontier posts, the fur company's goods and peltries, and the merchandise and products of the lake region.
In 1812 a commission appointed by the State Legislature arrived at Oswego to explore a canal route between tide water and the Great Lakes, consisting of DeWitt Clinton, Thomas Eddy and Peter B. Porter. This project, delayed by the war of 1812, was resumed in 1817, and the overland route for the canal was adopted.
Settlement of Northern Ohio. -- Meanwhile emigration had extended westward along the shores of Lake Erie. The Connecticut Land Company, owners of the Western Reserve in Ohio, a tract of land about 120 miles in length, on the south shore of Lake Erie, in 1796 sent a surveying party of fifty persons to this tract. It assembled at Schenectady, and ascended the Mohawk to Fort Stannix. The majority of the surveyors proceeded thence with boats and stores via the portage to Wood creek, thence down that stream, Oneida lake and Oswego river to Lake Ontario. The British garrison, holding Fort Oswego, caused them some inconvenience, one of the surveyors observing, "such are the effects of allowing the British government to exist on the continent of America." A few of the party made their way by Canandaigua to Buffalo creek. From Buffalo the surveyors proceeded westward along the south shore of Lake Erie to the mouth of Con-neaut creek, where they established headquarters. A little later Gen. Moses Cleave-land, the agent in charge of the party, continued westward to the mouth of Cuyahoga river, which he reached July 22, 1796. Here he surveyed the city, which has since borne his name. The survey was not completed for several years, and New England settlers soon after appeared on the shores of Lake Erie, traversing the same routes as those taken by the surveyors. In 1800, twenty or thirty settlements had been commenced, and the population was 1,302. In 1810 there were 16,092 inhabitants on the Reserve. The full tide of emigration did not begin until after the war of 1812.
At the close of the last century there were on Lakes Huron, Erie and Michigan the following schooners: The Nancy, 94 tons, Swan and Neagel; the sloops, Sagima, Detroit, Beaver, Industry, Speedwell and Arabaska; on Lake Superior, the sloop Otter.
The little vessel of Capt. William Lee (name not known), propelled by sails and oars, was the only one on the south side of Lake Erie in 1795. Captain Lee had no crew, and made trips only when he could have "passengers enough able and willing to man his boat." He resided at Chippewa.
The sloop Detroit, of 50 tons, was bought from a merchant by General Wayne, at Detroit, in 1796. She carried the General to Erie a short time before his decease, and was wrecked the following autumn near Erie.
In 1796 the Erie Packet, built and owned at Fort Erie, sailed regularly to Presq' Isle (Erie), which was the chief place of trade on the south side of the lake, a road having been opened from thence to Le-Boeuf (now Waterford) during the French war.
In 1797 the United States schooner Wilkinson, of 80 tons, was built at Detroit under direction of Captain Curry. She was sold in 1810, overhauled and renamed the Amelia. In 1812 she was repurchased by the government and formed part of Perry's squadron.
In September, 1798, Eliphalet Beebe launched a sloop of 36 tons at the mouth of Four-mile creek (east of Erie), called the Washington. This was probably the first vessel built on the south side of the lake. It was built for the use of the Population Company, was sold in November, 1801, to Joshua Fairbanks, of Queenston, for land and salt, taken across the portage from Chippewa to Queenston, and lost on its first trip on Lake Ontario. In 1799 Capt. William Lee built the Good Intent, 30 tons, R. S. Reed part owner, at the mouth of Mill creek. She was lost at Port Abino in 1806 with all on board. In 1800 Eliphalet Bee-be built the Harlequin, which was lost her first season, with all on board.
In 1802 the United States Government built two vessels at Detroit, viz.: The brig Adams, of 100 tons, sailed by Captain Bre-voort, and the schooner Tracy, of 53 tons. The Tracy was stranded and lost on the reef off Fort Erie. The Adams continued in commission until the war of 1812, when she was surrendered by Hull to the British, at Detroit, and was called the Detroit. She was afterward recaptured at Fort Erie by Lieutenant Elliot, and stranded and burned on the outside of Squaw island, at Black Rock.
In 1802-3 Porter, Barton & Co., contractors for the army, built at Black Rock the sloop Contractor, of 64 tons. Sill, Thompson & Co., at the same place, built the Catharine. These were both purchased by government in 1812; the name of the former was changed to the Trippe, and the latter to the Somers. They participated in the battle of Lake Erie.
In 1803-4 a small sloop, called the Niagara, was built at Cayuga creek on the Niagara river, by the United States Government, but was never commissioned. She was purchased by Porter, Barton & Co., in 1806, and her name changed to Nancy, and was sailed by Capt. Richard O'Neil.
The schooner Mary was built at Erie in 1805, by Thomas Wilson, for trade between Buffalo and Erie. She was sold to the United States, and was included in the surrender of Detroit by General Hull. She was subsequently burned by the British, at the River Thames, on the approach of Harrison's army, in pursuit of Proctor, October, 1813.
The first vessel built at Buffalo was the schooner Surprise, of about 25 tons, which must have been built about 1805. In 1806 the schooner Ranger, of 30 tons, was built at the river St. Clair, by Alexander Harrow, a half-pay British officer. The Ranger was at first commanded by Capt. Peter Curry, and afterward by Capt. Daniel Dobbins. She was purchased in 1808 by Porter, Barton & Co., from George Wilbur, and sailed by Captain Hathaway.
In 1807 the Provincial Government of Canada built, at Amherstburg, the armed brig Caledonia, of 86 tons, which was captured in company with the Detroit (formerly the Adams), by Lieut. Jesse D. Elliott, October 8, 1812, while lying at Fort Erie. This vessel subsequently comprised one of Commodore Perry's squadron, and was commanded by Lieut. Daniel Turner. After the war of 1812 was over she was sold by the government to John Dickson, of Erie, Penn., was repaired and renamed by General Wayne, and commanded by Capt. James Rough.
In 1808 the schooner Zephyr was built on the hill in the village of Cleveland, by Major Carter, and was hauled down to the river with oxen. She was of 45 tons burden. This was the first vessel built in Cleveland, and was commanded by Captain Cummings.
In 1809 the Provincial Government of Canada built, at Amherstburg, the armed brig Queen Charlotte, which was commanded by Captain Finnis, of the royal navy, and was captured in the battle of Lake Erie.
In 1809 the schooner Catharine was built at Moy, by Alexander Mclntosh, and was purchased by R. S. Reed and Capt. Daniel Dobbins, of Erie, Penn., who gave her the name Salina. She was commanded by Captain Dobbins up to the year 1812, and arriving at Mackinaw in June of that year, with a cargo of merchandise and produce for the market, she was, together with the schooner Mary, commanded by Capt. James Rough, the sloops Erie (built at Black Rock in 1810), Captain Norton, and Friends Good Will, Captain Lee, captured when that place was taken by surprise by the enemy. Upon arriving at Detroit they were ordered by General Hull to stop, and they were again captured when that post was surrendered by General Hull to the British. By the British she was used the remainder of the season, and late into the fall as a transport. While on her passage from Maumee to Fort Maiden she was caught in the ice and abandoned. In 1813 a vessel was discovered in the ice off Erie, and Captain Dobbins and a party of men went out some ten miles to her where she lay. The vessel was found to be the Salina with some fresh beef and other provisions on board. She had drifted from the head of the lake to where she was found. A few days afterward Captain Dobbins stripped her, taking out such provisions and other materials as were of value, and then set her on fire. In 1811 the Salina had a remarkable cargo for value, which consisted of $120,000 worth of furs, at the Mackinaw valuation. At Montreal their worth would be doubled. The agent of the Northwest Company, to whom the furs belonged, was on board, and the furs were stowed upon deck as well as below.
In 1810 the Provincial Government of Canada built the armed brig, Lady Prevost, 97 tons, at Amherstburg. She was captured in Perry's victory. In 1815 she was sold by the government to R. S. Reed, of Erie, who subsequently sold her to parties in Canada. She was employed many years in the merchandise service, commanded by Capt. Robert Maxwell.
During the same year the sloop Commencement, of 30 tons, was built at Buffalo creek, and was commanded by Capt. William P. Dexter, and also in the same year the sloop Erie was built at Black Rock, by Porter, Barton & Co., and was commanded, first by Capt. Richard O'Neil, and afterward by Capt. Walter Norton. As before stated, she was captured at Mackinaw. Also in 1810 the sloop Friends Good Will, 60 tons, was built at Black Rock, by Capt. William Lee, who commanded her after she was launched. She was also captured at Mackinaw, fitted out as a man-of-war by the British, and re-named the Little Belt. She was captured in the battle of Lake Erie.
In 1810 the schooner Ohio, of about 60 tons, was built at Cleveland, Ohio, by Murray & Bigsbey, and was commanded by Capt. John Austin. She was sold to the government at Black Rock in 1812, and was one of Perry's squadron, commanded by Captain Dobbins. In 1814 she was captured, together with the schooner Somers, at Fort Erie, being then commanded by Lieutenant Conckling, and the Ohio by Sailing Master McCulloch.
In 1810 the schooner Chippewa, of 30 tons, was built at Maumee, by Capt. Bud Martin, and she was sailed by him. She was captured by the British, fitted out as an armed vessel, was a part of the British fleet in the battle of Lake Erie, and was there captured.
About this time several armed vessels were built by the British, viz.: the brig Hunter, in 1806, 10 guns; the Camden, of 100 tons, 1804, carrying 10 guns; the sloop Hope, lost near St. Joseph's, Lake Huron; the flag ship Detroit, 19 guns, in 1813.
The British also had in the merchant service, at an early day, the sloop Nancy, 38 tons; the schooner Nancy, 94 tons; and schooner Thames, of 80 tons. The schooner Eleanor is also mentioned as being on Lake Erie before the war of 1812.
The United States Government maintained garrisons at Detroit, Mackinaw and other posts, and decided to establish one on Lake Michigan also. By the Treaty of Greenville, executed August 3, 1795, the Pottawatomie Indians ceded to the United States a tract of land six miles square at the mouth of the Chicago river. It was a favorite trading post of the Indians, and a French mission and fort had existed somewhere in the vicinity prior to 1700. In 1803-4 the United States built a fort on the south side of the river, naming it Fort Dearborn, in honor of the then Secretary of War. It had first been intended to establish this post at St. Joseph, on the east shore of the lake, but some difficulty arising in securing title from the Indians the site was changed to Chicago.
Mrs. John H. Kinzie, daughter-in-law of John Kinzie, the first permanent settler at Chicago, says respecting the lake navigation for a few years after the fort was established there in 1804: "The vessels came in the spring and fall (seldom more than two or three annually) to bring the supplies and goods for the fur trade, and took the furs already collected to Mackinac, the depot of the Southwest and American Fur companies. At other seasons they were sent to that place in boats, coasting along the lakes."
John Whistler, who had been a soldier in the British army that surrendered at Saratoga in 1777, and who afterward enlisted in the American army, was captain of the company which in 1804 was ordered from Detroit to build the fort at Chicago. Lieutenant Swearingen marched the company overland, 280 miles, but Captain Whistler and family took passage in the United States schooner Tracy, Dorr master, bringing baggage and supplies. The schooner stopped first at St. Joseph, Mich., whence the passengers came to Chicago in a rowboat. The schooner, on arriving at Chicago, anchored half a mile from shore, discharging her freight by boats, for the river's mouth (then at Madison street) was not usually fordable, and was always far too shallow to admit any sailing vessel. Mrs. William Whistler, daughter-in-law of Captain Whistler, says that some two thousand Indians visited the locality during the vessel's stay, to see the "big canoe with wings."
In 1809 Ramsey Crooks arrived at the fort on board the Salina. In 1814 the first merchant brig, Union, was placed on the lakes, but being considered too large, 96 tons, she was laid up until the growth of trade called her again into service.
During the first years of the nineteenth century, several other decked vessels besides the Otter appeared on Lake Superior. At the beginning of the year 1812 the Northwesters reported to the Canadian Government that in case of war they would put at its disposal one vessel of 120 tons that could carry six or eight guns, and another of sixty tons. Nor were these two the whole of the Superior fleet, for in July, 1814, three others were captured by the Americans, namely: The Perseverance, of 85 tons, the schooner Mink, of 45 tons, and the sloop Nancy, of 38 tons. As an indemnity for two of them ?3,500 were paid the company by the British Government.
There was yet another schooner on the uppermost lake before 1812. This was the Recovery, which through fear of American privateers was secreted in one of the deep water canyons at the northeast end of Isle Royale. Her spars were taken out, and being covered with brushwood she lay undetected until the termination of hostilities. Then, put again in commission, she was after a while run down the rapids, and under Captain Fellows she was engaged in the Lake Erie lumber trade. Wrecked at last near Fort Erie, opposite Buffalo, her skeleton there was long pointed out to strangers.
Commerce on Lake Erie, between 1805 and 1812, consisted mainly in the transportation of salt from points on the Niagara river to Erie, Penn., whence it was conveyed to Pittsburg. Four or five vessels were owned by Porter, Barton & Co., of Black Rock, they being engaged in lake commerce. Each vessel carried from 125 to 150 barrels of salt. When the wind was blowing down the lake these vessels were frequently wind bound at Fort Erie for a long time, salt accumulating at such times to the extent of 500 or 600 barrels. Black Rock was then the salt exchange of the lakes.
The trade of the upper lakes during these beginnings of American inland commerce was chiefly in furs. In 1808 John Jacob Astor established the American Fur Company, with its line of posts across the continent. He was born in Waldorf, Germany, July 17, 1763, sailed for Baltimore in 1783 with a quantity of musical instruments to sell on commission. One of his shipmates was a furrier, who filled his imaginations with stories of the large profits in trading with the Indians. He resolved to learn the details of the trade, and entered the establishment of a Quaker furrier. It was about 1809 that he conceived the idea of rendering American trade independent of the Hudson Bay Company, and in 1816 secured the passage of an Act, forbidding British interests from trading in furs in American territory. Astor established a chain of trading posts to the Pacific coast. His fortune at his death, in 1848, was estimated at twenty million dollars.
The American Fur Company was organized with a capital of two million dollars. It had no chartered right to a monopoly of the Indian trade, yet by its wealth and influence it virtually controlled that trade through a long series of years. The outposts of the company were scattered through the West and Northwest. Mackinac island was the great central mart. The goods were taken to the company's storehouses there from New York by way of the lakes, and from Quebec and Montreal by way of the Ottawa, Lake Nipissing and the French river, and from Mackinac they were distributed to all outposts, while from all the Indian countries the furs were annually brought down to the island by the company's agents, whence they were sent to New York, Quebec, or the various markets of the Old World. The traders and their clerks who went into "the countries" were employed by the company at a salary of from $400 to $600 a year, but the engages, or boatmen, who were engaged in Canada, generally for five years, received, besides a yearly supply of a few coarse articles of clothing, less than $100 per annum. Generally at the end of five years, the poor voyagers were in debt from fifty to one hundred and fifty dollars, which they must pay before they could leave the country; and the trader often took advantage of this, even encouraging the men to get in debt, that they might avoid the necessity of introducing new and inexperienced men into the country. The men were fed mainly on soup made from hulled corn, or sometimes of peas, with barely tallow enough to season it, and without salt, unless they purchased it themselves at a high price. The goods were put up in bales or packs of about eighty pounds each, to be carried into the countries. Upon setting out, a certain number of these packs were assigned to each boatman, which he must carry upon his back across the portages, some of which were fifty miles over. They performed the journeys over these portages by short stages, or by carrying the packs but a short distance at a time, thus never permitting their goods to be separated. The route of travel to the head waters of the Mississippi was by way of Lake Huron, St. Mary's river. Lake Superior, and such rivers as would take them nearest the particular points to which the various parties had been assigned. The valleys of the Mississippi and the Missouri were reached by Green Bay, Fox and Wisconsin rivers. The traders often occupied nearly the whole summer in the trip from their trading posts to Mackinac and back. Mr. Astor's principal agent at Mackinac island was Ramsey Crooks, to whom, with others, he sold out in 1834; but the company soon became involved. In 1848 the business was closed.
Return to Home Port
Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.