The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), 29 Oct. 1891

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The terms "steamship," "steamer," "barge" and "vessel," as used among lake vessel owners and sailors are misnomers to say the least. Websters defines a steamship as "a ship propelled by steam," yet the Owego, Hudson, Manola, etc. are called steamships, though none of these is square-rigged. The only boats on the lake which in any way approach the description of a square-riiged vessel propelled by steam are the Michigan and Commodore Perry. It would seem foolish to call the Manola a steamship. She carries one short pole mast with neither sails nor yards. The whaleback Thompson carries a flagstaff at her bow, and is as much entitled to the name as the Manola. There is but one way to get around it, and that is to call a boat propelled by a screw a propeller, regardless of size or rigging unless, of course, she be square-rigged on three masts.

Sailors as a rule will laugh at a landsman who speaks of a steamboat as a vessel. The word vessel as used by them applies only to schooners. Yet Webster's defines a vessel to be "a structure made to float on the water, whether propelled by steam, wind or oars."

Some use the word "barge" in connection with a sailing boat without top-masts or jib-boom. Thus the Redwing a few years ago was a schooner, but when her top-masts and jib-boom were struck, she was turned into a "barge." The distinction is a strained one. She is a schooner still and will be as long as she lasts, and so is any sailing vessel which carries two or even five fore-and-aft sails, so that she keeps without the limits prescribed for a brig or barkentine rig. A barge is an unrigged vessel, i.e.: A boat without masts or propelleing power.

Time was when saior men applied the term "steamer" only to side-wheel boats, but his has grown into disuse to a certain extent, and now a steamer is any boat whose motive power is steam.

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Item Type:
Does this clear things up? Maybe a little. In this article the Free Press forgot that, fortunately, newspapers and dictionaries can't determine the use of the language, only report on it. Lake sailors had their own jargon and usage, regardless of the paper's take on it.
Date of Original:
29 Oct. 1891
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Dave Swayze
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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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Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), 29 Oct. 1891