Loss of the Pewabic. - The most serious disaster of the season of 1865 was the loss of the Pewabic August 9, by collision with the propeller Meteor, both of the Lake Superior line. The Pewabic was bound down, laden with a valuable cargo of copper. She had a large passenger list. The accident occurred on Lake Huron, about six miles off Thunder bay light. It was about 8:30 o'clock in the evening, and twilight still lingered over the lake. The approaching vessels saw each other when miles apart. They kept their course until near each other, when the Pewabic put her helm aport, and had just commenced to swing when she was struck in the vicinity of the pilot house by the Meteor, cutting her down to the water's edge. A number of men were killed in the terrible crash, both vessels going at full speed.
Confusion followed aboard both vessels. The Pewabic had on board about 175 passengers. Many were below, but others were forward to see the Meteor pass. When it became evident that a collision was inevitable they ran for safety to the after part of the vessel. Before the vessels separated a few of the passengers on the ill-fated Pewabic jumped aboard the Meteor. Captain McKay of the Pewabic remained cool and collected, doing his utmost to save the passengers by preventing a panic. The boats were at once lowered, but within five minutes of the crash the Pewabic went down. Captain McKay was one of the last upon the wreck. Many had thrown themselves overboard, and others were still below when the heavily laden vessel disappeared from sight. The boats of the Meteor were lowered and Captain Wilson and his crew picked up many of the men, women and children struggling in the water. As the Pewabic went down her hurricane deck was forced up and floated upon the water with pieces of wreckage of all kinds. The Meteor remained in the vicinity all night, and in the morning signaled the passing propeller Mohawk, which came alongside and took the survivors to Detroit. The loss of life was about seventy.
The Meteor was slightly injured, but proceeded on her way to the Sault. There fire was discovered in her hold, caused by the wetting of a quantity of lime which she carried as freight. To save her from total loss by fire she was scuttled and sunk in the pool of the upper lock of the canal. The Pewabic had come out at Cleveland in October, 1863, and was valued at about $100,000.
This collision was ruinous to the owners of the vessels. In a letter to the Marine Review John M. Croneweth, of Detroit, said: "J. T. Whiting & Co. were among pioneers in vessel business of Lake Superior. In the early sixties they controlled about two-thirds of this trade. In those days all contracts ended on the first of October, and for the balance of the fall vessels could charge what they saw fit. I have seen $22 a ton paid for carrying copper from Ontonagon to Detroit, and $6 a ton paid as freight on pig iron from Marquette to Detroit. On our way up the estimated value of every square foot of room was $1, and there was always enough freight left on dock when we were leaving to load another boat. Often the mate would have a $10 bill slipped into his hand by an anxious shipper who wanted a jag of freight moved at once and would not wait for the next boat. But the ups and downs of life were with us then as now, and the steamboat business lacked stability. Take the case of J. T. Whiting & Co. In the spring of 1864 they owned seven boats, namely, the steamer Illinois and propellers Meteor, Pewabic, Detroit, Mineral Rock, Gen. Taylor and Skylark. Not needing all of them, they sold the Detroit, Gen. Taylor and Skylark, and during the summer they laid up the Mineral Rock for a rebuild. A short time before the Meteor-Pewabic collision, the Illinois broke down and made a complete wreck of her engine. Then, with the Pewabic sunk and the Meteor tied up, the company was without a single vessel. They were forced to charter vessels to fulfill their contracts, and as a result of the collision the firm was practically ruined. * * *
"Among officers of the Pewabic who were lost was Mr. Jackson, the chief engineer. His young wife, who was making a trip with him, was also lost. He was a noble fellow, a good engineer, and he had many friends. No doubt, he might have saved himself had he made the effort, but he stood at his post of duty like a true 'knight of the throttle' and went down with the ship, his wife with him. He died as he had lived, unselfish to the end. In early days of steamboats on the lakes it was customary, when boats were meeting in the day time (not at night) to check down and pass close together, so as to give an opportunity to throw a bundle of newspapers from one to the other. At this particular period, during the late internal war, passengers were particularly anxious to get war news from the papers. There were no railroads and no telegraph connections, even with the upper Michigan peninsula."
Freight Rates Remunerative. - The lake navigation of 1865 was fairly remunerative, freight ruling at good figures throughout the season, the lowest on wheat, Chicago to Buffalo, was six cents, and the highest 19 cents. Business commenced at the usual period, with but limited new tonnage. In consequence of the boom in freights in 1865 early in the season and its continuance later on, there was considerable activity in the exchange of vessel property. But, notwithstanding the high freight rates prevailing during the season, many lake vessels entered the foreign trade.
Many Disasters. - There were 421 disasters during the season on all the lakes and rivers, distributed as follows: Lake Michigan, 107; Lake Huron, including Georgian Bay, the Straits and St. Clair river, 98; Lake Superior, 12; Lake Erie, including Detroit river and the Welland canal, 134; Lake St. Clair, 22; Lake Ontario, 48. The total loss on hull and cargo were not estimated, though netting upward of $1,300,000.
Fast Sailing. - Special mention is made of some fast sailing. Tugs, in quest of tows, did not then extend their visits far outside the rivers, and vessels oftener than otherwise neared the rivers before throwing out the tow line; it accordingly behooved every captain to make time with his competitors, or he would soon be displaced.
Among the quick trips was that of the schooner Bonnie Doon, a fore- and-aft rig. This vessel made the passage from Milwaukee to Detroit in 56 hours, sailing the entire distance to the St. Clair river, where a tug met her soon after entering.
She started on her voyage from Milwaukee in the afternoon at about 3 o'clock, at which time the owners telegraphed to Detroit, to be advised of her passing that point, as one of them wished to meet her at Buffalo, and in this manner facts were learned. It was afterward learned that she had a wholesale breeze the entire distance, and did not have occasion to make or shorten sail while en route.
Other Events of 1865. - March 19: Navigation opened in Cleveland, by the arrival of schooner W.L. Manning. June 24: Brig Canapus, 386 tons, sunk on Lake Erie by collision with the bark Republic. July: Schooner Illinois, 110 tons, sunk on Lake Erie near Vermilion, and abandoned. Barge Empire breaks in two during a storm off Buffalo. Tug Samson totally destroyed by fire at Bar Point, Lake Erie. A new sailing vessel, named the Jacques de Molay, arrived in Toronto, one of the finest vessels that has ever appeared on Lake Ontario. She was 148 feet long and 600 tons burden. She was built in Liverpool, and was the first of the Templar line of packets, to run from Liverpool to the northwestern lakes. August: Steamer Traveller, 603 tons, burned on Lake Superior; cargo a total loss. September: Tug Stockton destroyed by fire at Bear Creek. Schooner Chas. Y. Richmond sunk in Cleveland harbor. Schooners Eclipse, B.F. Davy, Ketchum, and Ethan Allen sustain damage from collision on the Flats. Steamer Buckeye strikes a rock near Brockville in the St. Lawrence river, and sinks in 70 feet of water. Schooner Wm. O. Brown, 400 tons, and bark A.P. Nichols collide at Bar Point, Lake Erie; the Brown is sunk in 24 feet of water. October: Scow Lake City sunk in Detroit river. Schooner Rambler, of Chicago, 137 tons, driven on Cooley's pier on Lake Michigan; total wreck. Schooner Genoa sunk at Erie, a total loss. A new harbor called Lac La Belle opened on Lake Superior. One of the severest storms on Lake Erie in memory of old lake men. Schooner Garibaldi lost on Georgian Bay; four persons drowned. Propeller Marquette sunk at Bear Point. November: Schooner Algerine sunk at Port Colborne, Lake Erie. Propeller Mineral Rock sunk at Ottawa Harbor. Schooner Wanderer sunk at Port Stanley. Propeller Her Majesty sunk at Port Colborne. Bark J.P. Mack sunk at Port Bruce on Lake Erie. Schooner Alvin Bronson sunk at Oswego. Brig Standish and bark S.V.R. Watson collide off Port Wawgochance. Propeller May Flower sunk at Detroit. Schooner Driver went to pieces on Lake Michigan. Tug Volunteer's boiler exploded. Tug Pilot burned at Algonac. Schooner Flight, 249 tons, abandoned at Bois Blanc island. Propeller Dunkirk and schooner C. Amsden collide near Malden. Schooner Fish Hawk went to pieces at Sheboygan. Scow L.P. Fortier, 167 tons, wrecked near Grand Haven; five lives lost. December 4: Schooner Knight Templar sunk on the Flats. Propeller Magnet sunk at Cornwall at the head of Long Sault, St. Lawrence river. Other losses for the season were as follows: Steamer J.P. Ward, 160 tons, burned at Bay City; steamer Watertown, 22 tons, burned at Cape Vincent; steamer Canada, 165 tons, wrecked at Bar Point; propeller Illinois, 525 tons, wrecked at Point Pelee; propeller Brockville, 398 tons, wrecked in Lake Michigan; tug P.F. Barton, 40 tons, burned on the St. Clair river; tug F. Spafford, 35 tons, exploded at Chicago; tug Monitor, 40 tons, burned at Muskegon; bark S.A. Marsh, 340 tons, wrecked at Port Maitland, Lake Erie; brig Ocean, 240 tons, wrecked on Lake Huron; brig R. Hollister, 273 tons, wrecked near Chicago.
The following named were all schooners: Whip, 40 tons, wrecked at St. Joseph. L.D. Cowan, 165 tons, wrecked at Point aux Barques. Fremont, 288 tons, sunk by bark American Union, Lake Michigan. Mary Frances, 157 tons, wrecked at Rondeau. Frederick, 61 tons, foundered in Lake Michigan. Susquehanna, 270 tons, sunk off Conneaut. Willard Johnson, 400 tons, wrecked at Point aux Barques. Eugenie, 38 tons, wrecked on Peche island. Lochiel, 223 tons, foundered in Lake Ontario. Triumph, 120 tons, wrecked near Chicago. Lewis Cass, 191 tons, wrecked at Bailey's Harbor. W.O. Brown, 400 tons, sunk by bark A.B. Nicols in Lake Erie. Homeward Bound, 106 tons, wrecked on Lake Ontario. Frontenac, 152 tons, wrecked at Port Burwell. Palmetto, 240 tons, wrecked on Lake Huron. Rambler wrecked on Lake Michigan. H.L. Lansing, 364 tons, wrecked near Chicago. Cornwall, 148 tons, wrecked on East Sister. Flight wrecked in the Straits. Fancy, 143 tons, wrecked on Lake Michigan. International, 389 tons, wrecked on Lake Ontario. Heligoland, 84 tons, wrecked at Muskegon. Mary, 84 tons, wrecked at same place. Lillie Danay, 120 tons, wrecked at Kincardine.
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.