The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Black Rock Beacon (Buffalo, NY), 27 March 1823, page 2

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To the Editor of the Beacon


Observing in the Buffalo pamphlet, an affidavit signed Wm. T. Miller, the purport of which is to prejudice the public mind in favor of Buffalo harbor, at the expense of Black Rock, and lest it should have that effect I am induced to make the following observations. I navigated lake Erie for twenty years previous to the late war; six of which was in a vessel owned at B. Rock. There were no teams at that time to haul vessels up the rapids. We were of course obliged to depend entirely upon the wind--when it was fair, no matter whether during the day or night, it was instantly embraced. In no instance during that time, or any other did I meet with any accident. On the 25th of Nov. 1807, I ascended the Rapids in the night for the first time, under circumstances which some people would now think impossible.-- In the evening the wind suddenly changed to the north west, and soon became a gale, accompanied with snow--the vessel then drawing 10 feet water. Having understood that several vessels were lying up at Bird Island roadsted [sic], I ordered a lantern to be hoisted at the foremast head, in order to apprise them of our approach. One of the vessels that lay farthest in the offing, had no light on board, and was only discovered by their hallooing and begging us to steer clear of them. Capt. Miller, the signer of the affidavit, who was then a boy, and a passenger on board, conveyed the intelligence to me (then at the helm) that a vessel was under our lee, and in danger of being run down by us. This was at the very spot where those dreadful rocks are represented to be by our harbor opponents. It is true, vessels do not generally come into the harbor in the night, but for quite a different reason from the one stated in the affidavit. Those who are acquainted with the currents of wind in this country, know that they are very generally from the southward and westward. Masters of vessels therefore when they cannot gain the port before night, especially those who are not acquainted with the channel, commonly gage their time so as to be able to enter at day light, thinking they have lost nothing by the delay. Had the gentleman correctly informed himself of the channel into the river, he would have found that the bottom on each side of the channel is composed of very different materials. They are so distinct, that by throwing the lead overboard, information may be had in a moment which side of the channel the vessel is on. This being the case, is it surprising that a seaman should know when and how to bring his vessel into deep water, when it shoals. On the 20th of October, 1808, I was lying a little above Fort Erie, waiting for a wind, when a most tremendous gale came on from the southwest, between 12 and 1 of that night. In a short time the vessel parted both anchors and cables; and such was her speed, that when we got her before the wind, we had passed all the rocks, shoals, and quicksands, and landed safe on the upper end of Squaw Island, before we had time to hoist three feet of jib. This vessel drew 10 feet 4 inches water. These rocks and reefs, of which so much has been said, are dangerous only in the imagination of some men. I will mention another instance of a more recent date, and under circumstances peculiarly fitted to test the goodness of the channel. On the night of the 9th or 10th of October, 1812, the brig Adams, & Snow Caledonia, were cut out from Fort Erie; and such was the darkness of the night, that when in the Rapids they were not visible, although there were hundreds of eyes on the look out for them, and it was only by the noise and confusion on board, that those on shore could judge of their position. These vessels did not sustain the least injury, or even experience the least difficulty in passing these very frightful lime kiln rocks, although they were taken out but a short distance above them. Indeed, from the confusion incident to taking a vessel in such an unprepared state out of a harbor, that it may be said they literally drifted down. There is now a gentleman in Buffalo who was on board one of these vessels, and took a very conspicuous part in the transaction, and should I have stated any thing erroneous, it will be in his power to correct me. Who among us has forgot the steam boat Walk-in-the-water, when Mr. Davis was mate of her? Did he not bring her at all hours of the night into the river? Have we not heard the gun, sometimes just after dark--at midnight--and often just before day? I have no hesitation is saying, that the Niagara river possesses decided advantages as a harbor, over any other river I have been acquainted with. I am certain that there is no river harbor in Europe, that can be entered at night, immediately from off the sea; nor have I heard or known one in America; and it is questionable whether there is one in the world, that can be entered with the same facility and safety at night, as the Niagara river, without a pilot from land.

If the canal commissioners, or any of the engineers should deem this a subject worthy of personal examination, I pledge myself to substantiate the above statements by occular demonstration.


Black Rock, March 27.

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27 March 1823
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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.
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Black Rock Beacon (Buffalo, NY), 27 March 1823, page 2