The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Messenger (Propeller), U16654, fire, 12 Nov 1890

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The steambarge MESSENGER, partly laden with cedar, burnt to the water's edge at her dock at Rogers City. The fire was discovered in the hold and shot up around the engine and boilers and soon enveloped the whole boat. The lines were cut and she drifted out 5 miles into the lake, where she was last seen burning fiercely. The crew arrived at Cheboygan on the FLORA. The MESSENGER was insured for $5,000.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Thursday, November 13, 1890

      THE STEAMBARGE MESSENGER BURNED ON LAKE HURON Cheboygan, Nov. 12. -- The old steambarge MESSENGER, while loading cedar at Rogers City, was found to be on fire last evening, and soon the flames spread all over the boat. The lines were cast loose, and the wind being off land, she drifted out upon Lake Huron, where she was last seen still burning and over five miles from land. She is undoubtedly afloat, as she was partly loaded. The owner refused $10,000 for her a short time ago. She was insured for $5,000, and was owned by Herman Hoeft, of Rogers City. The crew arrived here this morning.
      Saginaw Courier-Herald
      November 13, 1890

When the November gales were due, insurance companies even in 1890 were cautious enough to increase the costs of coverage for both ships and cargo. The rates went high enough that the owners of the steamer MESSENGER thought it prudent to cancel the policy they had on the ship and take a chance. After all, there was only one last trip planned.
It was a mistake. The ship took fire the next day while taking on a cargo of cedar logs at Rogers City, Mich. As the period newspaper writers liked to say, the MESSENGER "burned to the water's edge." (Nobody can recall a wooden ship burning any lower than that.)
After 24 years of service the wooden hull was showing signs of age. The 150-foot-long vessel was no longer considered safe enough for passenger service. The cabins were removed and the MESSENGER was converted for use as a steam barge, or coastal freighter. The ship arrived at Rogers City the morning of Nov. 10 with a heavy cargo of general merchandise destined for the shelves of many of the town's stores. The cargo was unloaded by about noon. After that the ship's crew and some hired dock workers began loading a heavy cargo of cedar posts. By 5 p.m. the holds were full. The ship steamed across the harbor to Crawford's ferry dock to take on a deck load of more cedar. While on the way, the crew took time for dinner.
Something happened during the break for a meal that brought about the destruction of the MESSENGER. Perhaps a carelessly tossed ash from someone's after-dinner pipe, or a hot cinder from the engine room? Nobody really knew. The fire probably started in the engine room. The first indication anyone had that the ship was burning occurred when flames broke through the deck around the smoke stack with a roar that sounded "like a volcanic eruption." By then it was too late.
The fire jabbed its deadly fingers across the dried wooden decks and superstructure, sending the workers fleeing. There was no time for anyone to save clothes and personal items left below in the forecastle. The captain grabbed the ship's books, but left his clothes, money and a valuable gold watch behind.
The MESSENGER was moored to a wooden dock next to a lumber pile. To keep the fire from spreading, workers cut the lines and let the ship drift off into the harbor. The fire ravaged boat kept right on drifting out of the harbor and into Lake Huron. It took a final voyage to nowhere with a fire demon to stay its course. The MESSENGER was last seen that night. still burning fiercely, about five miles offshore. (Article by James Donahue, weekly series run in paper.)
      Port Huron Daily Tribune
      October 6, 1997

Steam screw MESSENGER. U. S. No. 16654. Of 444 tons gross. Built at Cleveland, Ohio, in 1866 by E.M. Peck. 142.0 x 30.0 x 9.2
      Herman Runge Notes

Steam screw MESSENGER. U. S. No. 16654. Of 444 tons gross. Built at Cleveland, Ohio, 1866. First home port, Cleveland, Ohio. DISPOSITION.-- Lost. Burnt Rogers City, Mich., Feb. 17, 1891
      Merchant Steam Vessels of the U. S.
      Lytle-Holdcamper List, 1790 to 1868

Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: fire
Lives: nil
Freight: cedar
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original:
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 45.4214 Longitude: -83.81833
William R. McNeil
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Messenger (Propeller), U16654, fire, 12 Nov 1890