Indignities to the Crew of the Girard. - The excitement consequent upon the Canadian rebellion of 1837 had not yet wholly subsided during the navigation of 1839, and vessels passing through the Welland canal from American ports were frequently subjected to annoyance from the militia stationed along that waterway. The schooner Stephen Girard, Capt. John C. Hugurin, left Oswego April 15, for Cleveland. She passed through unmolested to the last lock at Gravelly Bay. On her arrival there she was assailed by about 150 soldiers in uniform, under mounted officers. The ordered the captain to haul down the stars and stripes. The captain made no reply, when one of the officers ordered soldiers to cut the halyards, which order was obeyed, but in hauling the colors down they got foul in the cross-trees. The captain was then ordered to send one of his men aloft and haul down the flag. He obeyed. The sailor threw it on deck, and the master under command sent it ashore. He then attempted to get his vessel out of the lock, and when she was nearly through the officer ordered his men to shut the gates upon her, in which attempt they caught the small boat, hanging upon the davits, and stove it in. The captain succeeded in making sail, and after receiving a good pelting from stones got away. The soldiers manned a boat and followed the vessel, but did not overtake her. The flag was torn in strips, amid the yells of the soldiers. Subsequently a new flag was sent the master by the Canadian authorities to Cleveland, with a letter denouncing the outrage and deploring its occurrence. The officer and soldiers taking part in the affair were placed under arrest and a court of inquiry instituted. This letter of apology was signed by C. J. Baldwin, the colonel commanding the forces.
Seizure of the Weeks. -- Another exciting episode was the seizure of the schooner G. S. Weeks, of Oswego, by the Canadian authorities at Brockville. The Weeks had merchandise for that port, and was seized immediately after discharging her freight, under pretext, it was said, of her having on board one piece of State ordnance for a company of State artillery at Ogdensburgh. As soon as informed of the seizure, Colonel Worth left Sacket's Harbor in the steamer Oneida for Brockville, with a company of United States troops on board. Colonel Young, the commander, at Brockville, demanded the surrender of the schooner to her owner, but the militia, who had possession, refused to give her up. Aid was sent for to Kingston, and two companies of the 83rd were dispatched to Brockville by steamboat. After the arrival of the troops from Kingston the schooner was surrendered to her officers, upon the formal demand of Colonel Worth.
Attempt to Burn the Great Britain. -- On June 6, 1839, an attempt was made to burn the British steamer Great Britain, by conveying on board a trunk filled with explosive materials. The explosion designed occurred, but the flames caused thereby were soon extinguished. Lett and Defoe, two Canadian refugees, were arrested, charged with the outrage, confessed to the design of burning the vessel, with the hope of renewing the difficulty between the two governments. For a year or two afterward a steamer was kept in commission on the lake, and troops were stationed at Madison barracks, for some time after the boat went out of commission. However the troubles came to an end, and there has been no further difficulty between the United States and Canada.
Loss of the Neptune and Victor. -- A distressing casualty was the loss of the brig Neptune, Capt. John Sims, of Cleveland, at Point au Sable, Lake Michigan, in November. Eleven passengers, comprising four families, were drowned. Five beside the captain reached shore, where they soon after perished. The captain had both feet badly frozen, one of which was subsequently amputated. His mate, John W. Webster, had both legs badly frozen, and they were afterward amputated. The Neptune had on board a general cargo, including iron, liquor, leather, wagons, etc. In the latter part of November, the same season, the schooner Victor, laden with 4,000 bushels of wheat, shipped from Michigan City, was lost with all hands on Lake Erie. These were the two most serious disasters of that season.
Some Fast Runs. -- The steamer St. Lawrence was the fastest boat plying on Lake Ontario during the season of 1839. In a heavy gale, with the sea continually breaking over her, the St. Lawrence made the run from Oswego to Lewiston in 12 hours and 7 minutes, and passengers by her, who took tea in the evening at Oswego breakfasted the follow- ing morning in Buffalo. She was long, sharp and narrow, and was propelled by two powerful, low pressure engines.
During the season there was considerable rivalry in regard to speed, and not unfrequently in company a high pressure of steam was carried. The steamer Cleveland claimed to be the fastest boat, without the necessity of racing, a statement which was inserted in her bills. She claimed to make the run between Cleveland and Buffalo in 14 hours, and from Detroit to Buffalo on one occasion, with a fair freight and 100 passengers, in 21 hours and 38 minutes, the distance being 300 miles. Not long after this, however, the steamer Buffalo, Capt. Levi Allen, made the distance between Detroit and Buffalo in 19 hours, and carried the broom for the remainder of the season.
Other Events of 1839. -- The schooner Globe, Captain Rosseter, was capsized in a squall six miles off Cleveland. She was from Buffalo, with a small quantity of pig iron on board. The crew was picked up by the schooner Agnes Barton. She was subsequently righted and towed into port with no serious damage. The steamer Great Western, which came out in 1839, was burned in Detroit in September. She had been in Chicago, and on returning took fire while crossing Lake St. Clair. The flames were apparently extinguished until reaching Detroit, when they burst forth anew, and consumed the boat almost to the water's edge. She was subsequently rebuilt at almost her original cost, which was $80,000. The steamer Minnitunk, a Canadian craft, was sunk by the steamboat Erie on Detroit river, above Malden. She was afterward, raised, enlarged, and had her name changed to Goderich. The old barkentine Detroit, captured by Commodore Perry, in the memorable engagement of 1813, but later on converted into a merchant craft for service on the lakes, was condemned at Buffalo as unfit for further wear. Business on the Erie canal was unusually active, emigrants and merchandise arriving hourly at Buffalo, and creating quite a stir among lake craft. The steamer Michigan, which up to this time had been propelled by two low-pressure engines, had one taken out, and was run by only one, making slower time. On the evening of October 11, while the steamboat DeWitt Clinton was lying to off Milwaukee, on her passage down, a tremendous gale swept over the lake and capsized her. Four lives were lost. The steamer Lord Syndenham ran down the St. Lawrence rapids that season, the first to attempt such a feat. The first vessel to leave Chicago for Buffalo was the schooner James G. King, April 19, with 57 passengers. January: Steamer Cincinnati leaves Cleveland for Detroit: 16, first departure of the season: returns 17th, being unable to enter Detroit river on account of ice. March: Navigation opened 16th between Detroit and Cleveland by steamer Erie. April: Welland canal opened 1st for the season. Steamer Cincinnati ashore near the mouth of Sandusky bay. The Chautauqua launched at Buffalo. Steamer Oliver Newberry sunk by collision with a rock in the Maumee river. Schooner S. Juneau ashore near Milwaukee. The Western trader ashore near Chicago. Steamer Columbus first boat to arrive at Chicago this season from lower ports. May: Schooner Atlas, of Dexter, in command of Captain Westcott, sunk in a gale near Oswego: seven lives lost. Schooner Globe capsized near Cleveland: crew rescued by schooner Agnes Barton. July: Schooner Queen Victoria launched at Garden island. September: Steamer Great Western, of Huron, burned at the dock in Detroit: 800 tons: cost over $80,000. Steamer Erie damaged by collision with the Daniel Webster in Detroit river. Severe storms on Lakes Ontario and Erie Sept. 12. Schooner New York wrecked on Lake Ontario: wreck went ashore near Port Hope: six lives lost. Schooner Matilda, in command of Captain Cameron, ashore on Canada side of Lake Ontario: the captain and three men perished. October: Steamer Illinois disabled on Lake Erie and towed to Fairport by the steamer Rochester. Schooner Kingston ashore on the Isle of Tonti. Schooner Welland, ashore at Point Misery, released by steamer Cobourg. Severe storm on Lake Michigan. Schooner Milwaukee ashore near Little Fort. Steamer New England sustains injuries during a storm on Saginaw bay. The Virginia, John Kinzie and White Pigeon ashore near Michigan City. November: Schooner Buffalo sunk by running on a reef in the Niagara river. Steamer Brothers, in command of Captain Eberts, of Chatham, burned. Schooners Caroline and Essex collide off Sodus, by which the former was severely injured. Schooner Norton damaged during a storm on Lake Erie. Schooner Bolivar wrecked near Presque Isle: 25, Brig Neptune wrecked at Little Point au Sable: many lives lost, among whom were eight members of the crew. December: Toll-fees at Welland canal during the season, $27,241.67.
The population in 1839, at certain lake ports was given as follows: Buffalo, 20,000; Erie, 3,500; Cleveland, 8,400, Sandusky 3,500, Lower Sandusky, 1,500; Perrysburg, 1,600; Maumee, 2,000; Toledo, 2,000; Detroit City, 6,500, Monroe, 3,500; Chicago, 5,000; Milwaukee, 3,500; Michigan City, 1,000; Huron, 1,500, Dunkirk, 1,300. It had quadrupled in eight years time.
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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.