The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Oswego Palladium (Oswego, NY), Aug. 14, 1919

Full Text
Old Sailorman 60 Years Married
Captain Wilber J. Vincent Was Master of Many Craft That Traded Into the Port of Oswego.

Captain and Mrs. Wilber J. Vincent are today celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary at their home in Clayton. Captain Vincent is now retired, but for forty-three years sailed the Great Lakes, being master during that time of many schooners that sailed out of Oswego.

When he started his career on the barque Northern Light, at fourteen years of age, in 1854, things were much different on the lakes. Huge steam-driven freighters did not then ply their way up and down the waters, but in their stead sailed solid old schooners which carried the grain and iron ore from the West.

Captain Vincent today was thinking of the old days when he served as seaman and skipper, and referred to the changes since that time, he said:

"My first days of sailing were on the wind propelled boats, but gradually they gave way to steam. The steamboats ran the sailing ones out because they could make better time. I have had thirty-three cents for carrying a bushel of wheat from Chicago to Oswego. That was about the year 1876. Now they get about three cents a bushel for carrying it. Then if we carried 18,000 bushels of wheat we considered it a big load going through the Welland Canal. Today they carry 100,000 bushels on a boat. In 1875, I think, iron ore was carried for $3.50 a ton from Marquette on Lake Superior to Cleveland.Today it is carried for twenty-five or thirty cents, but in 3,000 ton cargoes, while in those days we carried only about 500 tons to a cargo. That was because of the low draught of the Sault river.

"You take it on the Detroit river, we had only ten or eleven feet of water at the Lime Kiln crossings and also at the Lake St. Claire canal, and so we could not use a load that would make any deeper draught in the water. Now they can load to a depth of twenty feet, so the boats today have a much greater capacity. When I first went sailing in1854, the old Welland Canal at St. Catharines, had two old wooden locks. The stone locks were being built then. The stone canal was built to nine feet of water. Then they raised the locks and made ten feet of water, They used that up in my time and the built the large Welland canal, and they enlarged in recent years."

More Science Used in Those Days

Captain Vincent when asked about the difference between the character of the crews in the old days and that of the sailors of today, replied:

"There was more science in sailing a schooner in those days than there is today in running one of the steamboats. Any sailing man can tell you that. The sailors in those days had to learn all about ropes, climbing, and this and that, while about all they do in the steamboats is to handle cargoes a. There are no more of what we call the windjammer sailors. If you wanted to fit out a sailing vessel today I doubt if you could find anyone to do it except perhaps some like old Captain Bill Wells of Round Island. It was a hard life in the old days before the mast. Real work. I have not been on the lakes in about eighteen years. Once in awhile you see a sailboat on the lakes, a Canadian, but I have seen only one in the last two years. They are practically all gone and are not coming back. They had their day just the same as candles and kerosene oil.

"The danger on the water is fully as great as it was in the old days. Today if they would give men a good schooner like the Belle Mitchell, drawing ten feet, I would rather take her out in any gale in any time of the year than the most modern equipped craft, but I would enjoy taking a yacht with about eight persons aboard up the lakes, touching the South shores on the way over and the North on the way back. I know so many people who live on the shores of the lakes."

Captain Vincent was born in Clayton in 1840 and the boats he has sailed on and sailed follows:

1854, Northern Light; 1855-6, Northern Belle; 1857, Manchester; 1858, Star of Hope; 1858, Manchester, which was lost that spring at Madison Dock, Ohio, an Fairfield; 1860, 61,62, Northern Belle; 1863, Saranac; 1864. Flying Cloud and Monterey; 1865, Supply; 1866, Northern Belle; 1867 to 1871, Montgomery; 1872. Grace Mulney and Frank Barker; 1873, skipper of Elk and later mate in John R. Noyes under Captain E. Chateau; 1874, mate of Oliver Mitchell, built at Algonac; 1875 to 1881, commanded schooner Belle Mitchell; 1881 to 1883, Mary Copley; 1884, O.M. Bond; 1887, Owasco; 1888, A. G. Mowry; 1889, Typo and William House; 1890, Unadilla and Montcalm; 1891, schooner George; 1892, schooners Columbian and Corsair; 1893, Columbian; 1894, Selkirk; 1896, General Francis Sigel; and 1891, schooner barge Alis.

In 1896 Captain Vincent retired and for years since has been in charge of the Pullman property at the Islands.

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Aug. 14, 1919
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Richard Palmer
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Oswego Palladium (Oswego, NY), Aug. 14, 1919