The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Clayton Belle (Schooner), sunk by collision, 13 Apr 1882

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About 2 o'clock this morning off Lakeport the schooner CLAYTON BELLEwas sun by a collision with the schooner T. PARSONS. Two were saved and four drowned. The BELLE went down almost immediately. The tug MOCKING BIRD arrived down just after the collision and rendered valuable assistance. The BELLE was built at Clayton by J. Oades in 1863.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Wednesday, April 12, 1882
      . . . . .

      A telegram from Port Huron says the schr. THOMAS PARSONS collided with an unknown vessel on Lake Huron Tuesday night and sank her. The PARSONS put back to Port Huron minus her bowsprit and jobboom, leaking some. The PARSONS is owned by S.L. Watson of this city. Capt. George McLeod, with Messrs. Smith & Davis will go to Port Huron this evening to look after the PARSONS. Later advices state that the schooner sunk is the CLAYTON BELLE, coal laden, and owned by Merrick, Fowler & Co., Detroit.
      Buffalo Morning Express
      April 13, 1882 3-6

      . . . . .

Schooner CLAYTON BELLE sunk by collision with the schooner THOMAS PARSONS in Lake Huron. The BELLE sank within three minutes on April 10, 10 miles north of Port Huron. She was bound from Port St. Ignac to Erie with 522 tins of pig iron. The captain and three others of the crew were lost.
      Toronto Globe
      April 13, 1882

      . . . . .

      Offer to buy the wrecked schooner CLAYTON BELLE and her cargo, to strip and salvage.
      Toronto Globe
      April 17, 1883

      . . . . .

      A contract for taking the pig iron out of the sunken schr. CLAYTON BELLE has been awarded to Quinn Brothers, the well known submarine divers. A small schooner has been engaged by them and will be placed alongside of the BELLE and the iron will be hoisted out by steam hoisting gear on board of this schooner, as if the BELLE were at a wharf instead of at the bottom of Lake Huron.
      Buffalo Morning Express
      April 18, 1882 3-6

      . . . . .

      The spars of the sunken schr. CLAYTON BELLE have fallen out. The vessel is in about 35 ft. of water, 3 1/2 miles from the shore, 9 miles north half west from the St. Clair River.
      Buffalo Daily Courier
      April 27, 1882 4-5

      . . . . .

      CLAYTON BELLE, Canadian schooner of 300 tons. Built Clayton 1863. Sunk by collision Lake Huron 1882. Four lives lost.
      'Hist. of the Great Lakes'
      by Mansfield

      . . . . .

When divers discovered the wreck of the lost schooner CLAYTON BELLE in Lake Huron in 1993, they also came upon a century old mystery. They said they were perplexed at first why the hull was split from stem to stern, with the port side of the ship lying about twelve hundred feet away from the rest of the wreck. "The hull is separated. The deck is gone, and the ship is stripped of anything of any value," said diver Paul Schmitt of Port Huron. One old news story suggested that the ship was severed when the schooner THOMAS PARSONS struck the BELLE's port bow on the morning of April 12, 1882. "The BELLE lies in thirty six feet of water off Lakeport and is in very bad shape," the story in the Port Huron Daily Times said. "The PARSONS struck her on the port bow and that part of the wreck is on top of the water."
Schmitt, an economics professor at St. Clair County Community College, said he doesn't think the impact of the crash could have cut the ship's one hundred and thirty nine foot long oak hull in that way. Instead, he developed a different theory:
The BELLE was loaded with pig iron. I think they tore it apart to get at the cargo. I can just picture an old steam tug pulling on that hull under full throttle. The schooner was written off as a total loss so to them it didn't matter.
Capt. Fred A. Colvin and three other members of the BELLE's crew drowned when the iron laden ship flooded and foundered less than three minutes after the crash. Also lost were first mate Nathaniel Brotherton, his brother, Dell Brotherton, and the ship's cook, identified only as Mrs. Gifford. Survivor Thomas Irwin said everybody got on the ship before it sank, but then they perished from exposure before the tug MOCKING Bird stopped to look for survivors an hour later. The second mate, John Dillon, and sailors Charles Chesbro and William Sullivan, escaped by climbing to the deck of the other ship while the two vessels were locked together. All three were asleep in the forecastle, at the bow of the BELLE. They scrambled from their bunks, climbed to the deck, and find their way to the deck of the PARSONS before the schooner sank. Irwin said he and the other sailors working near the stern were trapped on the sinking ship. He said he wanted to launch the lifeboat but discovered that the boat was damaged by the ship's falling boom.
The captain of the PARSONS fell under strong criticism for failing to launch a life boat and search for survivors. Dillon told the Detroit Free Press the next day that he and the other men from the BELLE found the Parson's life boat lying on the deck, but out of its davit. He said they tried to launch the boat anyway, knowing that their friends were struggling in the water, but only got help from one of the crew members on the PARSONS. By the time they got the boat launched, it was too late.
Dillon said the CLAYTON BELLE was on a starboard tack, running south, southeast with her sails close hauled against a wind out of the west, southwest. The Thomas PARSONS, bound northwest, was on a port tack, and could have turned to avoid the accident. The collision happened because the crew of the PARSONS was reefing sail as the two vessels approached, and a partially hanging sail prevented the PARSONSÆ wheelaman from seeing the other ship until it was too late.
A story in a Port Huron newspaper on April 18 said the CLAYTON BELLE came to rest upright, with its masts showing out of the water. The sails were still set. It was easy for the Quinn Brothers, a Detroit diving and salvage company, to find the wreck and extricate the five hundred and twenty two tons of pig iron from its holds. Once the wreck was opened up, a barge was anchored at the site, and the iron was raised in buckets. Schmitt said the salvagers also stripped the schooner. The sails and rigging are gone. So are the iron and brass fittings, the wheel, and even the rudder. The hull, cargo deck, keelson and other parts of the wreck lie in about forty feet of water. The BELLE was found by Schmitt and divers David Losinski, Roy Young and Tracy Sweet, all of Port Huron. They were aided by a magnetometer, a device that measures changes in the magnetic field on the bottom of the lake. Schmitt said the BELLE was one of several vessels he had been searching for since 1980.
The BELLE was traveling from St. Ignace to Erie, Pennsylvania at the time it was lost. The schooner was built in 1868 at Clayton, New York.

Chicago Inter Ocean, "Two Schooners Collide with Fatal Effect in the Waters of Huron," Apr. 13, 1882, news clipping, Institute for Great Lakes Research, Perrysburg, O. Evening News, Detroit, "Down to Death," April 12, 1882, microfilm rolls, State Library of Michigan, Lansing, Mich. Notes from interview with diver Paul Schmitt in October, 1993, in personal file.
Port Huron Daily Times, The Schooner CLAYTON BELLE Goes Down on Lake Huron And Four of The Crew Drowned," Apr. 12, 1882; "The CLAYTON BELLE,. Apr. 13, 1882 microfilm file, State Library of Michigan, Lansing, Mich. Detroit Free Press, "Collision on Lake Huron," Apr. 13, 1882, from microfilm Michigan, State Library of Michigan, Lansing, Mich.
      Schooners in Peril
      James L. Donahue
      . . . . .

August 17, 1996, the 80 foot long port side of the 139 foot schooner, CLAYTON BELLE, was raised from the bottom of Lake Huron, towed 1,200 feet and re sunk next to the main wreck site. The circa 1863 schooner was sunk in a collision with the schooner THOMAS PARSONS in 1882 off Lakeport, Michigan. It is believed that the hull section was separated during the salvage of the BELLE's pig iron cargo. The discoverers of the wreck: David Losinski, Tracey Sweet, Paul Schmitt, and Roy Young, led the volunteer scuba diver effort.
      Inland Seas
      Winter 1996 p. 276

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Reason: sunk by collision
Lives: 4
Remarks: Total loss
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  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 43.11503 Longitude: -82.4902
William R. McNeil
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Clayton Belle (Schooner), sunk by collision, 13 Apr 1882