The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Griffin (Ship), 1 Dec 1868


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NOTE: This is a translation of a portion of the *Nouveau voyage d'un pais plus grand que l'Europe (Utrecht, 1698)* a published description of the very early exploration of the Great Lakes region by French adventurers by the Belgian Recollet missionary father Louis Hennepin. It describes the building and short career of "Le Grifon," the first European-style vessel on the upper lakes. Please note that it comes from the translation of the original at least through *Hunt's Magazine* and through the *Cleveland Herald* before it gets to the *Free Press*. The dates mentioned do not jibe with other sources. Hennepin, who referred to himself in the third person, also has a reputation for greatly exaggerating his own importance in his narratives. Thus, though the article has many limitations as to its usefulness as source material; it is nonetheless an interesting description. Parenthetical material is my addition, material in brackets is in the original.

The First Vessel Which Navigated the Western Lakes.- The following document, which we extract from that excellent periodical Hunt's Merchant's Magazine, is translated from an old French work, printed in 1698, entitled, "An account of the discovery of a very great country situated in America," by father Hennessin (sic). It will be read with interest by all. - *Cleve. Herald.*
It now became necessary for LaSalle, in furtherance of his object to construct a vessel above the falls of Niagara, sufficiently large to transport the men and goods necessary to carry on a profitable trade with the savages residing on the western lakes. On the 23d of January, 1679, they went six miles above the falls to the mouth of a small creek, and there built a dock convenient for the construction of their vessel.
On the 26th of January the keel and other pieces being ready, LaSalle requested Father Hennessin to drive the first bolt, but the modesty of the good father's profession prevented.
During this rigorous winter LaSalle determined to return to Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ont.); and leaving the deck in charge of an Italian named Chevalier Touti (Henri Tonty), he started accompanied by Father Hennesin as far as Lake Ontario: from thence he traversed the dreary forests to Fort Frontenac on foot, with only two companions and a dog which drew his baggage on a sled, subsisting on nothing but parched corn, and even that failed two days journey from the fort. In the meantime the building of the vessel went on under the suspicious eye of the neighboring savages although the most part of them had gone to war beyond Lake Erie. One of them, feigning intoxication, attempted the life of the blacksmith, who defended himself successfully with a red-hot bar of iron. The timely warning of a friendly squaw averted the burning of the vessel on the stocks, which was designed by the savages. The workmen were almost disheartened by frequent alarms, and would have abandoned the work had they not been cheered on by the good father, who represented the great advantage their perseverance would afford, and how much their success would redound to the glory of God. - These and other inducements accelerated the work, and the vessel was soon ready to be launched, though not entirely finished. Chanting the Te Deum, and firing three guns, they committed her to the river amid cries of joy, and swung their hammocks in security from the wild beasts and still more dreaded Indians.
When the Senecas returned from their expedition they were greatly astonished at the floating fort, "which struck terror among all the savages who lived on the great lake and rivers within 1,500 miles." Hennesin ascended the river in a bark canoe with one of his savage companions, as far as Lake Erie. They twice poled the canoe up the rapids, and sounded the lake for the purpose of ascertaining its depth. He reported that with a favorable strong north or northwest wind the vessel could ascend to the lake, and then sail without difficulty, over its whole extent. Soon after the vessel was launched and anchored in the current about 4+ miles from the
lake, Hennessin left it for Fort Frontenac, and returning with LaSalle and two other fathers, Gabriel and Zenobe Mombre, anchored on the Niagara the 30th of July, 1679. On the 4th of August they reached the dock where the ship was built, which he calls it distant 18 miles from Lake Ontario, and proceeded from thence in a bark canoe to their vessel, which they found at
anchor three miles from the "beautiful Lake Erie."
The vessel was of 60 tons burden, completely rigged and found with all necessaries, arms, provisions, and mechandize; it had 7 small pieces of cannon on board, two of which were of brass. There was a GRIFFIN flying at the jibboom, and an eagle above. There were all the ordinary ornaments and fixtures which usually grace a ship of war.
They endeavored many times to ascend the current of the Niagara into Lake Erie without success, the wind not being strong enough. Whilst they were yet detained, LaSalle employed a few of his men in clearing some land on the Canadian shore opposite the vessel, and in sowing some vegetable seeds for the benefit of those who might happen to inhabit that place.
At length the wind being favorable they lightened the vessel by sending most of the crew on shore, and with the aid of their sails and ten or a dozen men at the tow-lines, ascended the current into Lake Erie. Thus on the 7th of August, 1679, the first vessel set sail on the untried waters of Lake Erie. They steered southwest, after having chanted the never-failing Te Deum, and discharged their artillery in the presence of a vast number of Seneca warriors. It had been reported to our voyagers that Lake Erie was full of breakers and sand-banks which rendered safe navigation impossible; they therefore kept the lead going, sounding from time to time.
After sailing without difficulty through Lake Erie they arrived on the 11th of August at the mouth of the Detroit river, sailing up which they arrived at Lake St. Clair, to which they gave the name it bears. After being detained several days by contrary winds at the mouth of the St. Clair river, they at length succeeded in entering Lake Huron on the 23rd of August, chanting Te Deum through gratitude for a safe navigation thus far. Passing along the eastern shore of the lake, they sailed with fresh and favorable wind until evening, when the wind suddenly veered, driving them across Saginaw Bay. The storm raged until the 24th, and was succeeded by a calm which continued until the next day noon, when they continued their course until midnight. As they doubled a point which advanced into the lake, they were struck by a furious wind, which forced them to run behind the cape for safety. On the 26th the violence of the storm compelled them to send down their top-masts and yards, and to stand in, for they could find neither anchorage nor shelter. It was then the stout heart of La Salle failed him; the whole crew fell upon their knees to say their prayers and prepare for death, except the pilot whom they could not compel to follow their example, and who on the contrary "did nothing all that while but curse and swear against M. La Salle, who had brought him thither to make him perish in a nasty lake, and lose the glory he had acquired by his long and happy navigations on the ocean." On the 27th, favored with less adverse winds, they arrived during the night at Michillimackinac and anchored in the bay, where they report about 6 fathoms of water and clay bottom. - This bay they state is protected on the southwest, west, and northwest, but is open to the south. The savages were struck dumb with astonishment at the size of their vessel and the noise of their guns. - Here they regaled themselves on the delicious trout which they describe as being 50 to 60 lbs. in weight, and is affording the savages their principal sustenance. On the 2nd of September they left Mackinaw, entered Lake Michigan [Illinois] , and sailed 40 leagues to an island at the mouth of Bay de Paens [Green Bay]. From this place La Salle determined to send back the ship laden with furs to Niagara. The pilot and five men embarked in her, and on the 18th she fired a gun and set sail on her return with a favorable wind. Nothing more was heard from her, and she undoubtedly foundered in Lake Huron, with all on board. Her cargo was rich, and valued at 60,000 livres.

Thus ended the first voyage of the first ship that sailed over the western lakes. What a contrast is presented between the silent waves and unbroken forests which witnessed the course of that adventurous bark, and the busy hum of commerce which now rises from the fertile borders, and the thousand ships and smoking palaces which now furrow the surface of those inland seas!
There can be little doubt that the place they selected for building their bark, was the mouth of Cayuga Creek, about six miles above the falls. - Governor Cass says, "The vessel was launched at Erie." Schoolcraft in his Journal says, "near Buffalo;" and the historian Bancroft locates the site at the mouth of Tonawanda Creek. Hennessin stated the mouth of the creek was two leagues above the great falls; the mouth of the Tonawanda is more than twice that distance and the Cayuga is the only stream that answers the description.
      Detroit Free Press
      December 1, 1868


Media Type:
Text
Newspaper
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Notes:
history
Date of Original:
1868
Subject(s):
Local identifier:
McN.E.382
Language of Item:
English
Donor:
William R. McNeil
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Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
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Griffin (Ship), 1 Dec 1868