Report on the Upper Lakes, &c.
Made in the Lyceum at Detroit, by capt. Henry Whiting, 5th reg't U.S. Army.
...Lake Michigan, as I shall exhibit to you, has been very generally explored, and can now be delineated with considerable correctness; but Lake Huron, although more frequently traversed, is probably less known than even Lake Superior. The course of navigation, whether of boats or vessels, has been almost uniformly in a line, not far from the western coast, from the foot of it at Fort Gratiot to Mackinac, and we have little else than conjectural knowledge of any of its shores, excepting those great projections and indentations, which caught the notices of the first navigators, and which appear to have bounded the curiosity or research of all who have followed them.
Without further prefatory remarks, I will now describe the course of the vessel in which general Macomb made his tour, which will exhibit some of the principal geographical features of the upper Lakes. The vessel left Fort Gratiot about the middle of last July, (1818) and steering a N.N. W. course first made Point aux Barques, in latitude 44 d. 42 m. 6 s.-- which, protruding itself into Lake Huron, forms the southern jaw of Sagana or Saganaum Bay, an indentation of the western shore of this lake, about 30 miles wide at its mouth, and 50 or 50 miles deep, receiving at its head a large river bearing the same name, the length and dimensions of which have never yet, as I can learn, been accurately ascertained.--captain Pierce, of the army, who crossed it in the winter of 1817-18, in coming from Mackinac to Detroit, and who explored it to the height of about twenty miles, reports it to be a considerable river, both as to width and depth, and the soil on both sides,so far as it could be judged by appearances during the winter, to be excellent. In steering nearly the same course, the vessel next made Thunder-Bay, another indentation of the same shore, which has derived its name from the thunder that has been reported to prevail there almost continually. In the present instance, however, it was not heard. Whether this calmness and silence was unusual, or whether former travellers have been too credulous or careless must be left to conjecture. Mr. Carver appears to have heard peal upon peal for several hours, and being unable or unwilling to account for it in the ordinary way, philosophizes upon it with his usual weakness and inconclusiveness.-- Bending a little more westerly, the vessel next passed between Middle Island and the main, lat. 45 d. 31 m. 2 s. where there is said to be a good and secure anchorage. The course held from this was N.by W. which made Drummond's Island, lat. 46 d. 23 m. 53 s. a long and comparatively narrow island, stretching across the foot of the strait leading from lake Huron to lake Superior. It is now in military occupation by the English, who have a post on the west end of it, where there is a good harbor, and a strong site for a fort. The usual ship channel to Lake Superior is between this island and the American main, about a mile and a half wide. The inter-location of this island renders it one of those questionable cases of national property between us and Great Britain, which is to be settled by the commissioners appointed under the late treaty, and the result must be regarded as an event of some interest and importance, as the fate of the island of St. Joseph and Sugar Island, both large and valuable islands, may, from the similarity of their positions, rest upon the same decision. Ascending the channel and passing by several small islands, called Mutton Island, Fryingpan Island, &c. the strait expands to the width of several miles, presenting the main land of the American shore on the left, the continuation of the strait and a point of the island of St. Josephs in front, and the passage between St. Josephs and Drummonds Island on the right. The site of the works on St. Josephs, which is upon the above named point, is said to be very beautiful and commanding. The works were destroyed during the late war by our troops. The North West Company has an establishment in the neighborhood.--Continuing an upward course, soon after passing the point, are seen several more small islands, some of them, particularly Isle-a-la-Crosse, of tolerable dimensions. A little higher up, the strait again contracts to a narrow width, and, after a few miles, dilates once more to its usual breadth. The ship channel continues through this bay to a commanding point on the east side of a large island directly ahead (the name of which is not laid down) and runs through another contraction of the strait to the island of St. Josephs. About half way up this bay, a small channel, navigable for boats, called the Little Nibiche, passes around the above mentioned island on the western side, and opens into the great Nibiche above. This great Nibiche is likewise navigable only for boats, although much wider and containing several small islands, and joins the main channel at the head of Sugar Island, about two miles below the falls of St. Mary. The ship channel doubles the point that forms the northern head of the island of St. Josephs, and runs around the foot of Sugar Island in an easterly direction, leaving the passage which runs southeasterly down the other side of St. Josephs on the right, and then taking a northerly course, enters Lake George, an expansion of the strait between the east side of sugar Island and the main land of Canada. At the foot of this lake there is a bar, at which vessels drawing more than five feet of water have to lighten. [the Wellington, a British brig of 130 tons, passed through Lake George up to the foot of the Falls of St. Mary] The continuation of the strait from this Lake to the falls of St. Mary, contracting, with few exceptions, to a very narrow width, and filled with clusters of little islands, describes a segment of a circle around the northern side of Sugar Island. There are several small rapids in the strait before you get to St. Marys, but the principal descent is there. They are situated in latitude 46d. 89m.1on.--- Their width is about a mile, interrupted by two or three small islands; their length about 900 yards, and the descent about 23 feet. Boats ascend them on the American side without much labor and with no danger; more skill and caution are requisite to descend them, but boats are in the daily practice of doing it without any accident. The course of the strait, after passing these falls, is nearly west, widening as it approaches Lake Superior. At Point aux Chenes, a projection of the Canadian shore about 5 miles from the opening of Lake Superior, a view is had of Point Irroquois [sic], on the western side, and Gros Cape on the eastern side of the outlet of Lake Superior. Their separation is about three miles. They are high and precipitous, and unfold a view to the eye a[t] once sublime and interminable. Like another "Pillar of Hercules" the[y] look as if some fabled giant had torn them asunder to liberate the imprisoned waters within.