Table of Contents

Title Page
1 Introductory
2 Geological
3 Poetry of the Lakes
4 Description
5 The Aborigines
6 French Discovery and occupation
7 Story of La Salle and the Griffin
8 Struggle for Possession
9 Under English Rule
10 Beginnings of Lake Commerce
11 War of 1812
12 War of 1812, Continued
13 War of 1812, Concluded
14 Growth of Traffic
Commerce Through St. Mary's Canals
15 Early Navigation on Lake Superior
16 The Convention of 1847
17 A Half Century Ago
18 Lake Canals
19 Lake Canals, Concluded
20 Harbors
21 Lighthouses
22 Life Saving Service
23 Development of Lake Vessels
24 The Lake Carriers
25 The Sailor
26 Navigation
27 Lumber Traffic
28 Grain Traffic
29 Coal Traffic
30 Iron Ore and Iron Industries
31 Miscellaneous
33 CHRONOLOGY.The Beginnings
33 After the War of 1812
34 1821-1830
35 1831-1840
36 1841-1850
37 1851-1860
38 1861-1870
39 1871-1880
40 1881-1890
41 1891-1898
42 List of Lake Vessels
Table of Illustrations

Commerce Expands after the War of 1812 -- Character of Early Traffic -- Settlement of Michigan -- Illinois and Wisconsin -- Immigration by Lake -- Helped by the Erie Canal -- Early Commerce West of Detroit -- The Indian Trade -- First Steamboat on Lake Michigan -- From 1833 to 1840 -- Transportation by Land -- Early Lake Fares and Freights -- Growth of Passenger Traffic -- Travel from the South -- Growth of Population -- Benefits from the Canals -- National Extent of Lake Commerce -- Ruinous Effects of the Railways -- Ships that passed down to the Sea -- Modern Traffic -- Commerce Through Detroit River -- Commerce Through the St. Mary's Canals -- Coasting Trade of Ontario, Canada.

ONE natural division of the history of the traffic on the Great Lakes is into two periods; the first, before railroad competition; the second, after railroad competition. Another division would be before and after the construction of the Sault canal, that important waterway exercising an important influence upon commerce. Again, the period of settlement on the shores of the lakes might be considered one phase of lake navigation, and the subsequent period another phase. Quite curiously, all these divisions arrange themselves and blend into much the same periods of time. The first of these two epochs has passed wholly into history. It had its marvelous growth, its prosperous maturity, and had commenced its decline, when the new, or modern, conditions caught up the halting commerce, and are to-day carrying it to a magnitude that can be but dimly discerned. In this chapter will be recorded a few of the features that characterized the first of these two periods.

When peace was restored, after the war of 1812, and the energies of the lake dwellers were directed again to commerce, traffic on the Great Lakes was endowed with a new and vigorous growth. It first attained activity on Lake Ontario, where population was rapidly gaining the consistency and permanency of older settlements. Sail vessels multiplied, and the primitive steamer, Ontario, was launched in 1816. Two years later, the Walk-in-the-Water appeared as a strange and curious craft among the white-winged fleets of Lake Erie. The chief commerce of the lake vessels was in bringing household goods, provisions and various articles of domestic need. Wheat was not uncommonly an article of westbound lake traffic in the early years, following the war of 1812, not only to the few military posts in the distant Indian country, but to the early settlements of the white immigrants; and as this tide of immigration crept slowly and steadily westward, the commerce of the lake country grew more complex and important. But for nearly twenty years after the close of the war of 1812 it had scarcely grown beyond the confines of Lake Erie.

The principal articles of shipment to Buffalo in 1830 were corn, fish, furs, whisky, lumber and shingles, and the points of traffic between Detroit and Buffalo and all ports on Lake Erie. The return cargoes were merchandise and passengers, while there was an occasional clearance from Lake Erie ports and Detroit for Mackinac and Chicago, and the freights thus transported were flour, whisky, beef and merchandise, with invariably small cargoes.

The schooner Detroit cleared from Cuyahoga in 1830 with a full load, consisting of 91 barrels of flour, 101 barrels of whisky, 63 barrels of pork, 51 barrels of dried fruit, 24 barrels of cider and 16 barrels of beef. Captain Robinson sailed her. Vessels plying to Canadian ports from Detroit traded to Goderich, Penetanguishene and Drummond island. Even at this early period Saginaw (Sagana) was not unknown, but was visited only by sail vessels. The schooner Eclipse, Capt. John Shook, during the season of 1830, visited Green Bay with supplies on three occasions. The schooner Cincinnati, Capt. Morris Tyler, made one trip to Grand River, Mich., with whisky, beer, plank boards, 350 bushels of potatoes and 87 cwt. of iron, returning in ballast; also three trips between Cuyahoga and Fort Erie, with dressed hogs for the Montreal market. Considerable traffic was carried on by vessels trading between Maiden and other Lake Erie-Canadian ports to Fort Erie, which was the terminus for all freights destined to eastern Canada. From this point it was conveyed down the Niagara river to Chippewa, thence a distance of nine miles by teams to Queenston.

Sometime previous to 1819 the United States revenue cutter Fairplay arrived at Chicago, outside the bar, and then proceeded to enter the river. This task was successfully accomplished, and for the first time a sailing vessel, other than a yawl or Mackinaw boat, was anchored in the river just north of Fort Dearborn. A few years after the Walk-in-the-Water had been wrecked, various schooners, such as the Chicago Packet and the Virginia, plied in those waters. In 1829 an Ohio distiller, who had touched at Mackinaw, Detroit and Milwaukee, in a vain attempt to dispose of a load of whisky, reached Chicago in his boat. After ridding himself of all but ten barrels, he proceeded on his way to Grand River.

Settlement of Michigan. -- The settlement of Michigan was made almost entirely by lake. It was delayed, in large measure, until Ohio had first been peopled. From 1800 to 1820 the population of Ohio increased fourteen fold, from 42,161 to 581,-295; that of Michigan scarcely more than doubled, from 3,757 to 8,765. It has been remarked by Mr. Hinsdale that had the St. Lawrence originally fallen to England instead of to France, the Great Lakes might not have been explored so promptly, but the adjacent country would have been more quickly peopled. It was not until after the appearance of steamers on the lakes in 1818, and the opening of the Erie canal in 1825, that the lands of Michigan began to be occupied. The political inertia of the French inhabitants was also an obstacle to rapid advancement. They preferred the irresponsible condition of territorial authority to the duties and burdens of self government, and by a decisive majority in 1818 rejected statehood. Not till an influx of fresh citizenship did Michigan finally, in 1827, join the Union.

Illinois and Wisconsin. -- After the war of 1812 was over, the northwestern territory was held by the United States Government by a kind of military occupation for some twenty years, when, the Indian title having been extinguished, white settlers began to occupy northern Illinois and Wisconsin. The Sacs and Foxes, having repented of their surrender of this fair country, re-entered it in 1832, but after a short contest were expelled and driven westward, and the working period commenced.

The breaking out of the Black Hawk war, in 1832, first brought out a knowledge of the richness of the soil and salubrity of the climate of northern Illinois and Indiana, and the territory of Wisconsin, and exhibited the commanding position of Chicago (hitherto an isolated place) for commercial business. This war being closed that same season, and peace being re-established in all those parts, a strong emigration set in that direction the next year, and the rich prairies of that country began to fill with a vigorous, hardy and enterprising population.

Immigration by Lake. -- Flint in his "History of the Mississippi Valley," published 1832, says: "On account of the universality and cheapness of steamboat and canal passage and transport, more than half the whole number of immigrants now arrive in the West by water. This remark applies to nine-tenths of those that come from Europe and the Northern States. They thus escape much of the expense, slowness, inconvenience and danger of the ancient, cumbrous and tiresome journey in wagons. They no longer experience the former vexations of incessant altercations with landlords, mutual charges of dishonesty, discomforts from new modes of speech and reckoning money, from breaking down carriages and wearing out horses. Immigrants from Virginia, Georgia and the two Carolinas still immigrate after the ancient fashion, in the Southern wagon. Perhaps more than half the Northern immigrants now arrive by way of the New York canal and Lake Erie. If their destination be the upper waters of the Wabash, they debark at Sandusky, and continue their route without approaching the Ohio. The greater number make their way from the lake to the Ohio, either by the Erie and Ohio, or the Dayton canal. From all points except those west of the Guyandot route, and the national road, when they reach the Ohio, or its navigable waters, the greater number of the families take water."

Helped by the Erie Canal. -- The opening of the Erie canal, in 1826, was a great factor in promoting the growth of the lake business. It was not felt immediately, but in a few years both freight and passenger business attained tremendous proportions, compared with the previous feeble volume of traffic.

On the Erie canal there were, in 1836, about 3,000 canal boats employed, leaving Albany almost every hour, affording facilities to emigrants to convey their families and property at a small expense. Between what was known as the packet and the line boat, there was but little choice, except that the former moved four miles per hour and the latter three miles per hour. The price of passage by the packet boat, including meals, from Albany to Buffalo, was $14.52; on a line boat, 1 ½ cents per mile for passage, or 2 ½ cents a mile, including meals, making for a passage the whole route in the former case, $5.44; in the latter, including meals, $9.07. For light goods, from Albany to Buffalo, the freight was 75 cents per hundred weight; heavy, $1, and furniture 75 cents per hundred weight.

Early Commerce West of Detroit. -- "Prior to the year 1832," says James L. Barton, "the whole commerce west of Detroit was confined, almost exclusively, to the carrying up of provisions and goods for the Indian trade, and bringing back, in return, the furs and other matters collected by that trade for an Eastern market, and the freighting up of provisions and supplies for the troops at the different posts established around the upper lakes, all of which furnished a limited business for a few schooners.

The Indian Trade. -- Of the Indian trade at Michilimackinac in 1820 Schoolcraft says: "The Indian trade is chiefly conducted by the American or Southwest Fur Company, under the direction of Messrs. Stuart and Crooks. The warehouses, stores, offices, boat yards and other buildings of this establishment occupy a considerable part of the town plat, and the company furnishes employment to a great number of clerks, engages and mechanics, and contributes very largely to the general business activity and enterprise of the town. The trade and operations of this company are confined principally to the northwestern territories of the United States.

First Steamboat on Lake Michigan. -- "In 1826 or 1827," says James L. Barton, "the first steamboat sailed on Lake Michigan. She made an excursion with a pleasure party to Green Bay. These pleasure excursions were annually made, by two or three boats, until the year 1832. This year, the necessities of the government requiring the transportation of troops and supplies for the Indian war then existing, steamboats were chartered by the government, and made their first appearance at Chicago, then an open roadstead, in which they were exposed to the full sweep of northerly storms, the whole length of Lake Michigan."

Travel on the lakes was very flourishing in 1836. During May of that year there were 90 steamboat arrivals at Detroit, each one with passengers for Michigan and the West. The steamer, United States, which arrived May 23, carried over 700 people. It is said that the steamboat owners that year earned from 70 to 80 per cent, on the cost of their vessels.

Trade from 1833 to 1840. -- In reviewing the trade of Lakes Erie, Huron and Michigan between 1833 and 1840, Mr. Barton says: "In 1833 there were employed eleven steamboats, which cost the sum of $360,000: they carried to and from Buffalo, and other ports on the lakes, that summer, 61,485 passengers. Of these, 42,956 were taken from Buffalo, bound west; the remaining 18,529 were all landed at Buffalo, excepting some few distributed at the different ports along the lake. There were made, that season, three trips to the Upper Lakes, two to Chicago, and one to Green Bay; the amount of receipts for which was $4,356.

"By way of contrasting the time employed in making trips to Chicago in those days and the present, I will state that one of the boats left Buffalo June 23, at 9 P. M., and returned on July 18, at 10 P. M. The other left Buffalo July 20, at 4 P. M., and returned August 11.

"In 1834, the number of boats on the lakes was 48, of various sizes, from 150 to (one of them only) 750 tons, and cost in the construction $2,200,000. Some of these boats were run and others laid up. The business this year west of Detroit reached the sum of $201,838; this amount of business is made up (with the exception of some $12,000 or $14,000 paid by government for transportation of troops) by passengers, and freight of merchandise, going to the different towns (I cannot say ports, for there is none that a boat can enter with safety) on the borders of Lake Michigan; and passengers and produce, of which latter there was a good deal this year from the same quarter. In 1834 two trips were made to Green Bay, and three to Chicago, and the amount of business done was $6,272; the greatest part of this sum was for business west of Detroit, as the trips to Chicago were made by a boat running from that place to Chicago.

"In 1835, as the spirit of land speculation had commenced west, the number of passengers crossing the lake was much increased, and, consequently, the aggregate

business done must have presented a much enlarged margin over 1834.

"As speculation was rife, and bank bills plenty, and everybody getting rich, a greatly increased business to the West took place in 1836, of passengers, merchandise and provisions.

"A great revolution in the trade of the country had taken place, in 1837, and a general suspension of specie payments by the banks occurred in May of that year. A less number, or, at least, no greater number of passengers crossed the lakes, in either 1837 or 1838, than in 1836; and a great decrease of goods going west also had a tendency to diminish the business of those years. In all probability, could the business of either of those years be ascertained, it would prove to be less than was done in 1836.

"The increase of business to Chicago and ports west of Detroit, in 1839, had become so large that a regular line of eight boats, varying in size from 350 to 650 tons each, was formed to run from Buffalo to Chicago, making a trip in every sixteen days. The increase in the business was by emigrants with their household furniture and farming implements, and others going west, and not from any freight from Lake Michigan, as the rapidly increasing population of that section of the country required provisions to be imported into rather than exported from it.

"The boats were run in the same manner by association, in 1840, and in 1841, with this exception: six boats of the largest class ran from Buffalo to Chicago, making fifteen day trips, and one to Green Bay a part of the season. The Chicago and Green Bay boats earned, in 1841, the sum of $301,803, from the increased quantity of agricultural productions brought from the shores of Lake Michigan this season, also a good many tons of lead and shot from the mines in that section of the country, now, for the first time, in any considerable quantity, seeking a market by the lake route. I estimate that three-fourths of the business done by the Chicago and Green Bay boats this year is made from legitimate business west of Detroit, and amounts to $226,352. Business is found to have grown, in the short period of seven years, from 1834 to 1841, from the trifling sum of $6,272 to the magnificent amount of $226,352."


The cost of travel and transportation in those days of early navigation was almost immeasurably greater by land than by water, and it was that fact that so greatly stimulated the early traffic on the Great Lakes.

At the beginning of the present century the average cost of moving a ton of freight, by road, 300 miles, was $100, or 33 1/3 cents per ton per mile. This made utterly prohibitive the shipment of agricultural products from the lake region to the Atlantic seacoast.

About the beginning of this century, freight designed for Lake Erie and the West was transported over a route leading from Lake Ontario, and from the mouth of the Niagara river to the head of the falls was a portage of 28 miles. The charge for transporting a bushel of salt for this distance, according to the report made by Mr. Geddes, in 1809, was 75 cents; and for a ton of general merchandise $10. This was at the rate of 35 5/7 cents per ton per mile.

"Progress of Nations" says of the United States, in 1852, that "the average price for transporting by teams in this country a bushel of wheat, or corn, or 50 pounds of merchandise, 50 miles, has been about 20 cents, and 40 cents for 100 miles, equal to about 15 cents per ton per mile for grain, and 18 cents per ton per mile for merchandise.

It is stated that previous to 1824 the cost of transporting a ton of merchandise, between Buffalo and New York, over earth roads, was $100, and that the time consumed was twenty days.


Lake charges in early years were much higher than now, both in freight and passenger traffic, though far. below transportation charges by land.

In 1815 and 1817 the trip between Buffalo and Detroit occupied about 13 days, and the fare was $15.

On the Walk in the Water, in 1818, the cabin passage between Buffalo and Detroit cost $18. On her first trip she carried 29 passengers, but later she sometimes carried 100 passengers.

These are the rates of passage on the early steamboat for 1820, being a reduction from former prices: From Black Rock to Erie, $5; to Grand River, $7; to Cleveland, $10; to Sandusky, $13; to Detroit, $15. The most fastidious of present steamboat managers would be pleased with these rates for double the distance.

The rates of passage on Lake Ontario during the steamer Ontario's latter years (to 1832) were: From Genesee river to Youngstown or Lewiston, $4; from Genesee river to Sacket's Harbor, $5; forward cabin passengers, with board, at three-quarters of the above prices.

The charges for passage by steamboat on Lake Ontario in 1836 were as follows: From Ogdensburg to Lewiston, $8; from Sacket's Harbor or Oswego to Lewiston, $6; from Genesee river to Lewiston, $3. These charges were for cabin accommodations, while for those taking deck passage the rates were usually one-third less.

The cost of down freight per ton from Buffalo to Albany, by Erie canal, including tolls, which made up about one-half the expense, was in periods of four years as follows: 1830, $8.84; 1834, $7.15; 1838, $6.94; 1842, $5.93; 1846, $5.90; 1850, $5.07; 1854, $4.86; 1858, $3.54; 1862, $4.66; 1866, $4.13.

Sardis Burchard, of Sandusky, in connection with Richard Sears, of Buffalo, bought the schooner John Richard, 39 tons burden, for $4,000, and by her the first cargo of wheat was shipped from that port to Buffalo, the freight being 16 cents per bushel.

Freight from Buffalo to Detroit, in 1836, by steamer, for heavy goods was 38 cents per hundred weight, and for light, 50 cents. The price of cabin passage from Buffalo to Cleveland was $6; to Mackinac or the Sault, $12; to Chicago, Green Bay or St. Joseph, $20; Buffalo to Detroit, $8; deck, $3, and so in the same proportion to all intermediate ports. The passage by sail craft was much less.

Prices of down freights of Lake Erie, in 1836, from Detroit, Cleveland and all ports on Lake Erie: Flour, 25 cents, Buffalo charges 5 cents per barrel; rye, wheat, and all grain, 8 cents, Buffalo charges 2 cents per bushel; beef, pork, ashes, whiskey, 10 cents, Buffalo charges 3 cents per 100 pounds; skins and furs, 25 cents, Buffalo charges 6 cents per 100 pounds; staves from Cleveland, $5 per M., Buffalo charges $1.25 per M. net; staves from Detroit, $6 per M., Buffalo charges $1.25 per M. net.

Prices of freight, Buffalo charges of 10 cents per 100 pounds, included on Lake Erie and the upper lakes in 1837, were as follows per 100 pounds.

Sail Vessels Steamers
1837 Heavy Light Heavy Light
From Buffalo to Dunkirk 28 c. 36 c. 37 c. 46 c.
Grand River and Cleveland 34 c. 46 c. 44 c. 60 c.
Maumee River and Detroit 38 c. 50 c. 48 c. 64 c.
Green Bay and Mackinac 95 c. 100 c. 95 c.

All goods for the upper lakes had to arrive at Buffalo by September 15, and for ports on Lake Erie October 15.

Following were the prices of down freight on the Erie canal in 1837: Flour, per barrel, 80 cents; ashes, provisions and whiskey, per 100 pounds, 50 cents; grass seed, per 100 pounds, 60 cents; tobacco, per 100 pounds, 60 cents; corn and wheat, 25 cents per bushel of 60 pounds weight; feathers, furs, and all light articles per 100 pounds, $1.10; wool and hemp, per 100 pounds, $1.00.

The rates of fare and transportation on the lakes by the steamboat combination company in 1839 were as follows: Buffalo to Cleveland, cabin fare, $4; steerage, $2. 50. Detroit, cabin, $8; steerage, $3. On freight to Chicago, light, per 100 pounds, 87 ½ cents; heavy, 62 ½ cents; barrel bulk, $1.50. Silver Creek, Dunkirk and Barcelona, 25 cents and 35 cents; Erie, Grand River and Cleveland, 27 cents and 40 cents; ports above Cleveland to Detroit, 30 cents and 46 cents.

The price of passage and freight from Buffalo to Chicago, from 1838 to 1840, was for cabin passage, found, $20; steerage passage, $10; and for freight, 75 cents per 100 pounds for light, and 50 cents per 100 pounds for heavy goods, excepting for a month or so at the close of the season, when freights alone are usually higher. When the business first commenced westward of Detroit, the price of cabin passage and found, to any place on Lake Michigan, was $30, and freights in proportion.

After 1840, the price of fare and freight by steamboats fell in a few years to, cabin passage and found, $12; steerage, $6; light goods, 35 cents, and heavy to 20 cents per 100 pounds, except late in the fall months, when an advance is usually made in freight alone.

The passenger and freight arrangements in 1841 were published early in the season to continue until November 1. The passenger fare was as follows: Buffalo to Dunkirk, cabin $2, steerage $1.50, horses. $2 each. Erie, cabin $3, steerage $2, horses $3. To Conneaut and Ashtabula, cabin $4.50, steerage $3.50, horses $4. Fairport, cabin $5, steerage $2.50, horses $5. Cleveland, cabin $6, steerage $2.50, horses $5. Sandusky, cabin $7, steerage $3, horses $6. Maumee and Detroit, cabin $8, steerage $3, horses $6.

The prices of freight were as here noted: From Buffalo to Dunkirk, heavy 25 cents, light 35 cents per barrel; bulk 38 cents. To Erie, Conneaut and Fairport, 27 cents, 40 cents and 50 cents; to Sandusky and Detroit, 30 cents, 43 cents and 50 cents. Down freight as follows: Flour per barrel, 20 cents; provisions, etc., per 100 pounds, 10 cents; tobacco, per 100 pounds, 15 cents; grass seed, per 100 pounds, 15 cents; ashes, per 100 pounds, 10 cents; wood and peltries, 25 cents.

Passenger rates from Buffalo to ports on Lake Michigan, as follows: To Mackinac, cabin $16, steerage $8, horses $10 each; to Milwaukee, cabin $20, steerage $10, horses $15 each; to Racine, Southport and Chicago, the same.

Prices of freight from Buffalo to Mackinac, 100 pounds, heavy 50 cents, light 75 cents; to Milwaukee, heavy 62 cents, light 87 cents; to Racine, Southport and Chicago, the same; double wagons $7, single $5; furniture, heavy, $1.50. Down freight: Flour, per barrel, 40 cents; provisions, per barrel, 60 cents; ashes, per 100 pounds, 20 cents; hides, each, 15 cents.

There was a lake steamboat combination in 1843 consisting of two lines, one of which was between Buffalo and Detroit, calling at way ports, with daily arrivals and departures, and between Buffalo and Chicago on alternate days. The fares were slightly reduced from the previous season. Cabin passage, Buffalo to Chicago $15, steerage $7. Between Buffalo and Detroit, also Toledo, cabin $6. The basis of the combination was similar to that of former years.

The combination line of boats met with strong opposition from outside boats, causing a reduction in fares, which, for a time, was reduced between Chicago and Buffalo to $5. Each steamer carried a band of music, with numerous dock runners at all the principal ports, all of which eventually broke up the old line.

The cabin fare from Buffalo to Cleveland was fixed at $5, to Detroit $7, and to Chicago, 14; steerage to Detroit $3, to Chicago, $7. The price of freight was considered low upon the lakes. From Lake Erie ports to Buffalo, wheat at 4 to 5 cents; flour 16 to 18 cents; pork 25 to 28 cents per barrel; wheat to Oswego, via Welland canal, at 8 ½ cents; from the upper lakes to Buffalo, wheat, 11 to 12 ½ cents per bushel, flour, 35 to 37 ½ cents per barrel according to circumstances.

In 1846 the price of cabin passage from Buffalo to Detroit had fallen to $6, the reduction being due to competition, which not only affected the cost of fare but led also to frequent tests of speed.

The steamers running from Buffalo to the upper lakes in the latter part of 1847 formed an association, regarding both passenger and freight rates, as follows: cabin fare to Chicago or any ports on Lake Michigan $10, steerage $5; to Erie, cabin $2,

steerage $1; to Cleveland, cabin $3, steerage $1.50; Detroit, cabin $4, steerage $2; freight, 50 cents per 100 pounds and $1 barrel bulk.

After the close of navigation in 1852 travel between Detroit and Buffalo was kept up by a line of stages via Chatham, London and Hamilton, the trip occupying usually three days; the fare was $12, which included all ferryage.

The fare from Chicago to Buffalo was .$19.50. The mails were carried in a separate conveyance. On the opening of the Great Western railway, in 1853, this route was completely broken up, after an existence of twenty-five years.

Lake freights from upper lake ports to Buffalo in 1855 commenced at 18 cents on wheat, and afterwards came down to 16 cents. Quite a fleet of vessels were taken at the latter figure.


In 1845 there were three daily lines of large steamboats leaving Buffalo for Toledo, Detroit and Lake Michigan, as far as Chicago. A careful count of the business done that year makes an aggregate of 93,367 through passengers, 5,369 passengers from way ports, total 98,736. Including other vessels about 200,000 persons, independent of the crews of the steamboats and vessels, crossed these upper lakes in 1845. And to this great number may be added 50,000 more, passing and repassing on Lake Ontario in various ways, and including those taken to and from the upper lakes in the propellers and vessels which passed via the Welland canal; making the total aggregate of all the passengers passing, on all the lakes in 1845, about one-quarter of a million.

Writing of the commerce on Lake Michigan in 1846, James L. Barton says: "I would here remark that so far as steamboats are concerned, owing to the entire want of harbors around Lake Michigan to afford them protection, their whole business is now confined to the western shore of that lake. During the past season, in midsummer, two or three boats touched at Michigan City and St. Joseph. With these exceptions, Milwaukee, Racine, Southport and Chicago, are the places where they have regularly done business."

Travel From the South. -- While emigrants constituted the principal passenger business up bound, there was also a fair amount of travel down the lakes. Prior to 1840 there sprang up a considerable traffic between the Southern States and the Atlantic seaboard via Chicago. There was a very large increase of fashionable travel from New Orleans to the Northern States, during the hot season of the summer months early in the forties, this route being preferred in consequence of its being more speedy, less expensive, more healthy than the lower route, and affording the traveler a view of the magnificent scenery of the islands and shores of the Great Lakes.

A writer gives this picture of passenger traffic on the steamboat Chesapeake, in 1842: "The Chesapeake posed as the bully boat with the bully crew of the period. She ran on the Chicago line, and in general was crowded with passengers, among whom were the bloods of the country, especially on her down trips. Capt. D. Howe in general spent his winter vacations in New Orleans, and mingled there with the Southerners who usually traveled with him on the lakes in summer. These Southerners would congregate in Chicago in time for the Chesapeake, this boat being well advertised in the South. On these occasions games of brag, where gold coins stood in columns on the saloon tables, were constant, and night suppers of prairie chicken were alike constant. Then was the heyday of passenger steamboating on the Great Lakes."


From 1830 to 1840 the population of Michigan increased from 31,639 to 212,267 and in 1850 it reached 397,654. It came largely by way of the lakes.

Wisconsin was peopled largely by a thrifty foreign population, during the decade between 1840 and 1850. The population in 1840 was only 30,945; in 1850 it had reached 305,391. It received its citizenship almost exclusively via the lakes, but was obliged to wait until Michigan had been at least partially settled, just as Michigan in time had to wait until the shores of Lake Erie had first been peopled by the emigrants.

The emigrant traffic from Fort Erie (Canada) to western ports was nearly equal to that on the opposite shore, which was chiefly of a foreign class. The tide of immigration rolling westward often caused the transportation facilities of the time to be stretched much beyond the point of safety. Pioneers who came west on the passenger boats of the early fifties and before tell of passengers being packed so closely that it was almost impossible for the crew to do their work. Every boat bound up carried from three to five hundred passengers in the cabins and steerage, while many more than this was not at all unusual. Pioneers tell of going down to the piers at points on the west shore of Lake Michigan to see steamers which brought up 1,300 to 1,500 passengers.

In addition to the boats and lines run in 1845 there was, in 1846, one boat running from Buffalo to Green Bay, and two from Cleveland and Detroit to the Sault Ste. Marie, and one from Mackinac to the Sault for the accommodation of the business then commencing with the copper regions around Lake Superior.

Mr. Barton estimated that on the Great Lakes, in 1846, the aggregate value of commerce was $81,000,000, distributed as follows: At Buffalo, to and from Erie canal, $28,000,000; other Buffalo and Black Rock commerce, $5,000,000; other coastwise commerce, including that to and from connecting canals and railroads, $33,000,000; commerce on Lake Ontario, $15,000,000.

In 1846 the value of exports and imports at the principal cities on the lakes were reported as follows: Buffalo, $49,000,000; Cleveland, $12,549,000; Toledo, $9,519,000; Detroit, $8,705,000; Erie, $6,373,000; Chicago, $1,927,000.

The traffic continued to grow until about 1855. There were in that year a large number of steam vessels engaged in coastwise traffic. Among the regular lines in that year was the large through service between Buffalo and Lake Michigan ports, with intermediate stops. There was a north shore line of five propellers between Buffalo and Detroit. Three propellers plied between Detroit and Dunkirk; three between Cleveland and Detroit; one between Sandusky and Detroit; two between Toledo and Detroit; one steamer between Detroit and Chatham; one between Buffalo and Green Bay; four between Cleveland and Lake Superior; two between Detroit and Port Huron; one between Detroit and Saginaw.


Lake traffic was wonderfully stimulated by the streams of commerce which poured into it from the canals that had been constructed to various ports. First of all in importance, perhaps, was the Erie canal, completed in 1826. Its beneficial effects were not immediately felt, for in the earliest years of its operation its through east-bound traffic originated chiefly at Buffalo. But the percentage of commerce from Ohio ports grew steadily year by year. Ohio was well settled, but in the interior of the State there was no market for agricultural products; there was no means of transportation to distant Eastern markets. Public sentiment led to the undertaking of canal construction by the State, and three north and south canals soon joined the waters of Lake Erie and the Ohio river. Farming lands within easy access of the canals jumped in value immediately, for here was the desired outlet. Grain and other products began to start east, and a vigorous and growing trade was soon established. The greater part passed to the seaboard via Buffalo, but the Welland canal received a fair proportion of the early trade. The completion of the Illinois and Lake Michigan canal to Chicago in like manner added very materially for a few years to the traffic from Lake Michigan.

"Much lake traffic," writes Mr. Barton, in 1846, "passes on the railroad between Buffalo and Albany; via Erie, through the Pennsylvania canal; Cleveland and Toledo, through the Ohio and Indiana canals, and Erie and Kalamazoo railroad; Monroe and Detroit, by the Michigan railroad; and yet more through the Welland canal to Canadian markets; and to New York via the Oswego canal. These canals and railroads not merely carry off the down commerce of the lakes, but, like the Erie canal, they furnish a very large amount of up commerce."


The lakes constituted an important link in a trade that was national in extent. Just as the main current of emigration to the west was via the lakes, just as the most popular route for east-going travelers was also by way of the great inland seas, so, too, the mighty currents of freight traffic of the country was drawn to this great waterway. Its magnets of cheap transportation drew bulky freight from regions as far in the south as Louisiana, then on the verge of southwestern civilization, and from the east as far as the manufacturing cities of Massachusetts and of the other New England States. New England sent out to the lake regions her manufactures, and received in return the agricultural products and the minerals of the west. Louisiana won by virtue of the transportation facilities of the Great Lakes a rapidly increasing market for her sugar and molasses. Missouri in 1845 contributed 47,170 pounds of lard oil to the lake trade, Kentucky 610,415 pounds of hemp, via the Toledo canal; these and other Southern States, a diversified and expanding trade.


Two systems of transportation struggled for recognition and supremacy in the years the United States was building itself into a nation -- the canals and the railways. The canals had the advantage of some slight history. The railroads were a complete innovation. The statesmen of the country, beginning with Washington, foreseeing the future magnitude of the growing nation, were earnest in their endeavors to devise and execute a plan for the vast inland commerce of which the country was evidently capable, but the struggling government, rent by contrary views, and engaged with other vital and momentous problems, could not give the subject its deserved consideration and support. It remained for the States to begin the vast undertakings.

There were rivalries among the seaboard cities, each seeking to gain the Western trade. New York, within comparatively easy access of the magnificently proportioned inland seas, bent her energies to link the waters of the Hudson and Lake Erie. Baltimore, hemmed in by a mountainous background, resolutely adopted the railroad as a passage way across the high lands to the fertile regions beyond. For years the canals had the best of it, and the country was pierced with many water ways, joining the lakes and creating a wonderful commerce.

But steadily the fleeter railroads en-crouched upon the canals, and when the struggle for survival came the latter were invariably defeated. There was no cessa-ation in the onward strides of the iron track. A maze of railway lines was completed to and beyond the Great Lakes, gridironing the whole inhabited land. The first effects were beneficial to the lakes -- they brought traffic and fed the lake tonnage.

A sail vessel carried the first locomotive to Chicago, in 1837, and from that port railways rapidly extended westward through fertile prairies, and brought additional traffic to the lakes.

But early in the fifties the lakes were paralleled by the iron tracks. The lines now forming that part of the Lake Shore road between Toledo and Buffalo, were completed in 1852. The Great Western, through Ontario, was finished in 1854. In a very few years traffic arrangements were so perfected on these new rail lines that the current of commerce was diverted from water to land.

Passenger traffic went first, on account of the quicker time, and the business gained by the roads, when navigation was closed, helped them to develop an all-year traffic. Moreover, the tide of immigration had almost ceased. This diversion of commerce to the railroads was a severe blow to the lakes and to lake interests. Forces were already adjusting themselves to give ample recompense for the loss, and to direct in new channels the carrying capacities of the inland fleets. The opening of the Sault canal, in 1855, afforded relief. By it, the modern commerce of the Great Lakes began. But the revolution came slowly, and for a few years just prior to the war of the Rebellion the tonnage of the Great Lakes was excessive. Fortunately for this surplus there was an outlet. It was in the passing of vessels down to the sea.

It is, therefore, fitting to note in this chapter upon the growth of traffic, during the period of settlement and until the railways proved successful competitors for the commerce of the West, a brief account of the ships that passed down to the sea.


Prior to 1856 few vessels had left the Great Lakes for river or ocean navigation. The schooner Dolphin, in 1843, passed down the Ohio canal from Cleveland to New Orleans, laden with white fish. The brigantine Pacific, in 1844, took a cargo of wheat and flour from Toronto to Liverpool. The United States revenue cutter George M. Bibb left the lakes for New Orleans, in 1845, and the revenue cutter Dallas for New York, two years later. The barge Eureka, of 350 tons, was an Argonaut, sailing from Cleveland, in 1849, with 59 passengers and a full crew for California, and reaching her destination in safety. The propeller Ontario, of 400 tons, in 1850, made a successful passage from Buffalo to San Francisco, and was the first steam vessel to leave the lakes for ocean navigation. Between 1850 and 1856 several sail vessels made successful voyages from Canadian ports on Lake Ontario to Europe.

Modern Traffic. -- It was during the year 1856 that the first direct clearance was made from Lake Michigan for Europe. The consignor, C. J. Kershaw, of Montreal, hoped to ship a full cargo of wheat from Chicago; but there he could obtain only 5,000 bushels, and was forced to seek the balance (9,320 bushels) at Milwaukee. The steamer Dean Richmond (a new vessel) left Chicago about July 14, had her full cargo on the 18th, and sailed for Europe on the arriving in Liverpool September 29. The bark C. J. Kershaw, with a cargo of staves and lumber, left Detroit July 22, 1857, and reached Liverpool September 5. She returned to Detroit the following spring. The Madeira Pet, which had come to the lakes from Europe in 1856, sailed with merchandise from Chicago and staves from Detroit in 1857. In 1858 fifteen vessels with lumber, staves and wheat sailed from the lakes for England; of these eleven were from Detroit. In 1859 sixteen vessels left Detroit for Liverpool and London, besides many from other ports, the aggregate being forty-one. In 1860 at least thirty-nine lake vessels passed down the St. Lawrence to the sea coast. Dull business on the lakes, consequent upon the diversion of commerce to the railroads, encouraged this foreign trade. During the war of the Rebellion there was continued demand for lake vessels on the ocean, partially because much of the ocean tonnage had either been destroyed or was employed in the naval service of the government. With the close of the war this exodus of inland craft was checked. The new traffic on the Great Lakes was expanding and requiring greater tonnage.

The traffic of the Great Lakes, as it is known to-day, is mainly a growth of the past thirty years, a growth that has been continuous, fluctuating for a series of a few years only to rise to a higher and broader level during the succeeding series. Trade is no longer of a local character. The Great Lakes belong no longer to the bordering States. They are a vital influence in the life of one nation, a growing and important influence in the life of another nation. They are rising above national lines and becoming one of the most powerful influences in the history of the world. They are giving cheap food to populous Europe, and are making possible an industrial expansion of the most momentous character. The Great Lakes are developing a manufacturing growth in America that is lifting the new continent to a commanding supremacy in the markets of the world. At no time in the history of their commerce has the future looked brighter than at the close of the season of 1898.

The growth of modern traffic in lumber, in grain, in coal and in iron ore is shown in subsequent chapters devoted to those respective interests.

In conclusion, here may be noted the present volume of lake traffic through the Detroit and St. Mary's rivers.

Regarding the traffic between Lakes Superior and Michigan there are no statistics. Its largest item is the 1,500,000 tons of iron ore annually brought to South Chicago and Milwaukee. Neither are there any comprehensive statements showing the movements of freight between Lake Michigan and the lower lakes, save as it may be estimated from the Detroit passages.

Commerce Through the Detroit River. -- The growth of commerce on the Great Lakes in recent years is reflected by the amount of traffic passing through the Detroit river. The following figures, taken from the reports of United States engineers stationed at Detroit, indicate this traffic in recent years:

1881 17,572,240
1882 17,872,182
1883 17,695,174
1884 18,045,949
1885 16,777,828
1886 18,968,065
1887 18,864,250
1888 19,099,060
1889 19,646,000 19,717,860
1890 21,684,000 21,750,913
1891 22,160,000 23,209,619
1892 24,785,000 26,553,819
1893 23,091,899
1894 26,120,000 24,263,868
1895 25,845,679
1896 27,900,520
1897 30,000,000

The Coasting Trade of Ontario, Canada, which is mainly that of the Great Lakes, has grown rapidly during the past twenty years, as shown by the following statement of vessel tonnage: 1876, 3,360,-588 tons; 1877, 3,491,763 tons; 1878, 5,205,538 tons; 1879, 6,158,529 tons; 1880, 7,774,922 tons; 1881, 7,995,898 tons; 1882, 7,864,085 tons; 1883, 7,823,501 tons; 1884, 7,157,144 tons; 1885, 6,460,929 tons; 1886, 6,581,088 tons; 1887, 6,670,488 tons; 1888, 6,484,394 tons; 1889, 6,913,546 tons; 1890, 7,679,890 tons; 1891, 9,679,403 tons; 1892, 9,701,471 tons; 1893, 9,832,803 tons; 1894, 11,299,718 tons; 1895, 10,799,497 tons; 1896, 11,687,217 tons; 1897, 10,995,311 tons.

Vessels arriving at and departing from Canadian ports on inland waters between Canada and the United States in each year since 1867, have been as follows:

1868 26,682 4,826,780 13,432 3,836,724
1869 22,967 3,576,867 11,082 1,887,612
1870 24,558 4,030,768 12,112 2,300,229
1871 26,558 5,068,831 15,151 2,941,164
1872 21,505 3,798,138 12,164 3,063,318
1873 22,491 3.126,579 13,961 2,536,883
1874 19,279 2,814,654 12,733 2,533,842
1875 15,325 2,235,829 11,882 1,962,418
1876 15,392 2,184,790 11,192 1,815,645
1877 15,431 2,207,832 13,522 2,238,590
1878 18,003 2,955,331 12,508 2,415,175
1879 18,122 3,314,829 12,718 2,243,433
1880 22,858 4,985,753 11,648 1,805,378
1881 20,492 4,029,027 12,197 1,669,068
1882 22,252 3,830,109 12,230 1,613,211
1883 20,041 3,950,692 13,281 1,847,266
1884 19,464 4,058,738 13,349 1,815,987
1885 18,926 4,849,856 11,033 1,590,241
1886 18,153 4,116,674 12,804 1,807,987
1887 18,059 3,931,523 13,726 1,797,039
1888 19,567 4,320,402 13,929 1,699,103
1889 21,543 5,036,438 14,970 1,721,182
1890 24,527 6,000,194 16,774 2,117,621
1891 22,002 5,724,339 16,006 2,383,113
1892 19,224 5,546,243 15,158 2,393,238
1893 19,612 5,108,226 16,022 2,822,697
1894 20,989 5,917,145 16,727 3,155,400
1895 16,866 5,196,811 15,547 2,927,323
1896 16,355 5,967,917 18,827 4,443,732
1897 14,171 4,913,143 19,124 6,449,810


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Volume II

Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.