The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Mendota (Propeller), sunk, 10 Sep 1875

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The steam barge MENDOTA foundered off Point Betsey, Lake Michigan during the terrible storm of Thursday night. Thirteen drowned and seven reached Manitowoc in the life boat. The MENDOTA was upward bound, with coal and had in tow the barge MORNING STAR, also coal laden. The barge reached Manitowoc in safety. The MENDOTA sank on Friday the 9th.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Tuesday, September 14, 1875

      . . . . .

      (Full Particulars Of Both Disasters.- Chicago Sept. 14.)
      Reuben Burr, who is supposed to be the sole survivor of the propeller EQUINOX, which foundered off Point au Sable, Lake Michigan, on the morning of the IOth. inst., reached this city yesterday afternoon, by the schooner HAVEN, Capt. Ross, having been picked up by that vessel after floating thirty-one hours on the pilot-house of the wrecked steamer. Burr was helmsman. He was picked up eighty miles south-south west of Manitou Island on Saturday last. He stated that the sea was very rough during all the night preceeding the catastrophe, and the vessel sprung a leak while he was at the wheel. Burr and the mate attempted to stop the leak but their efforts were fruitless, and it was decided to lower the boats. At this time the schooner in tow, EMMA E. MAYES, was hailed and asked to come alongside; but either the persons on board did not hear the request, or their vessel was unmanageable. At all events the schooner did not respond. Signals were made and lights displayed, but without avail. A boat was then lowered from the port side of the propeller and the ate, owner, watchman, five deck-hands, an engineer and two firemen got into it, when the vessel went down almost immediately. Burr swam for a long time side by side with the captain and they finally reached a spar, but afterwards got seperated. Subsequently Burr caught the pilot-house and occupied that with the second cook, but the latter after nearly a day's drifting became exhausted, then unconscious, and slipped off. Burr was picked up by the HAVEN in an exhausted condition on Saturday morning, but he is now feeling quite comfortable.
The seven passengers of the steam-barge MENDOTA, who were picked up by the schooner ADDIE, off Manitou, arrived here yesterday. One of the crew states that at one o'clock on Friday morning the waves began breaking over the MENDOTA, and she parted the line by which she was towing the barge MORNING STAR. The water kept gaining till five o'clock, when the other barge was thrown off. Soon after the boats were lowered, and the captain, his son, the first mate, and some of the crew climbed into the larger boat. The smaller one was taken by some of the crew, who almost immediately pulled away. The father and wife of the captain were left. The father was seventy years of age, and tried to reach the boat. When last seen the steward stood with his wife, and went down with her. The story is related also by another of the crew, who speaks in terms of praise of the conduct of the captain and officers. The MENDOTA was eighteen years old, and was owned by Wm. Crossthwaite, of Buffalo. She carried a large cargo of coal, and was valued at $30,000. The cargo was insured, but the vessel was not. It is feared that the barge EVENING STAR is also lost. She had six men on board. The names of the lost and saved in the MENDOTA disaster, as given by the, Chief Engineer, Ness, are as follows :- Wm. Crossthwaite, the owner's son; E. Fairbanks, the captain's father, who was on a pleasure trip; Charles Dean, steward, and his wife of Bay City; Edward Hughes, of Buffalo; Patrick Ryan, first wheelsman, of Bay City, Mich.; Wm. Frankford, watcbman, of Bay City; and Edward Moynehan, Edward Durow, Edward Mulligan, John Carsel, deck hands.
      SAVED:-Albert Fairbanks, captain; the captain's son Franklin W. Fairbanks; John McKinney, first mate; Amos Wess, chief ewngineer; W. Scott Crone, fireman; A. S. Murphy, fireman; James Smith; Spencer; L. Sage; George McKinney, all deck hands.
      Toronto Daily Globe
      Wednesday, September 15, 1875

      Those saved from the MENDOTA now total nine. The schooner PAMLICO is safe in Chicago.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Thursday, September 16, 1875

      (To the Editor of the Globe)
SIR,-The captain of the steamer BADGER STAE, which called here this moruing, en-route from Chicago, reports seeing thirteen vessels, ashore on Lake Michigan. The names or further particulars he was unable to give,as they were not approached near enough further than
to observe their relative positions with the aid of a telescope.
It is just 23 years since the northern lakes were visited by so severe a gale so early in September, and strange as it may appear, both occurred on the same date, with winds from the same quarter, though attended with far less loss of life and property in the former instance. Among other casualties occurring at that time was the loss of the schooner CLYDE near Toronto, having on board 50 hhds. of sugar, and 100 tons of coal; the wrecking of the schooner BUFFALO, and the loss of all hands, on Long Point; the Canadian prop. REINDEER
beached at Long Point Cut; the schooner OREGON foundered above Erie with the loss of all hands, with many others, the value of property lost being estimated by the underwriters at $47,125, and the number of lives sacrificed 37. It was also noticed in that year (I refer to 1852 ) that the equinoctial gales which usually occur on or about the 2Oth. of the month did not take place, nor did any weather of a violent character set in until towards the latter part of October. In short, the remainder of the season was not violently unpropitious for the shipping, or for navigation continuing uninterrupted until after the middle of December, the last disaster of the season being the loss of the brig JOHN HANCOCK, with a cargo of railroad iron, at Rond Eau,which occurred on the I8th. of that month.
The loss of such treacherous old crafts as the EQUINOX, COMET, and MENDOTA, can occasion no surprise. In the case of the EQUINOX, Capt. Dwight Scott, her principal owner, was the victim of his own recklessness, and the further loss of life has been most deplorable.
There are numerous old crafts yet afloat, and ere the season closes other casualties equally as sad and alarming, will doubtless occur. A Plimsoll would find much to occupy his time in going for these miserable old hulks
      J. W. H. Detroit, Sept. 14, 1875
      Toronto Daily Globe
      Thursday, September 16, 1875

The steam barhe MENDOTA foundered off Point Betsey, Lake Michigan, during the terrible storm of Thursday night last. Her passengers and crew consisted of twenty persons, thirteen of whom were drowned. The survivors, seven in number, reached Manitowoc in the life boat,
      Amherstburg Echo
      September 17, 1875

      . . . . .
      Statement Of A Survivor
      (From the Chicago Tribune, Sept. I4.)
      John Coney, the mate of the MENDOTA, is an old aeaman, who took his first lesson in the English marine. He is a well spoken, rough-visaged, weather beaten old tar of forty-six years. He has a family in Buffalo where he resides. It was, judging by his statement, through his cool efforts that the lives of eight persons were saved. He was interviewed by a `Tribune' reporter, and the following statement taken:-
      We left Buffalo on the 1st. inst, at midnight, with 591 tons of coal on board, in good order, and in fair weather. There was a light breeze blowing,and we made good time up Lake Erie with our tows, the schooners MORNING STAR and EVENING STAR, coal laden. No leakage occurred beyond that ordinarily experienced, and we landed at Stanley's dock on the St.Clair River, all O.K. Saturday midnight, and left Sunday morning after taking on 80 cords of firewood. We had a good passage up Lake Huron to the Straits, and after proceeding on our voyage, called at Duncan City, and remained there an hour and a half. Then we went up to McGulpin's Point, and finding a fresh breeze blowing, turned round to come back. The wind died away, and we put about in good condition, and reached Glenn Harbour at 6 P.M., Wednesday. We laid alongside the barges during Thursday forenoon. The wind shifted in the afternoon, and we put out to go up Lake Michigan, with a fair wind blowing north and north-east, but not heavy. The wind increased, and the sea began to roll heavily. I went below at 8 p.m., leaving everything all right. At 10 p.m., Wm.Orossthwaite, the owners son, called me, and Capt. Fairchild ordered me to call all hands up, and rig the pumps; that
I manned three pumps, and the syphon and bilge pump were also at work. At midnight it blew very heavy, and the sea rolled on the vessels stern. We fastened up all the hatchways and openings to keep the water out. At 2 a.m. the MORNING STAR broke adrift, and at three o'clock I was obliged to cut the EVENING STAR's line and cast her off. I found we were diaabled, and could not help ourselves. The arches next gave way, one of them breaking. All hands were ordered to heave the cordwood overboard, and did so for an hour and a half. All our efforts were of no avail, and I began to despair of saving the vessel. Soon the forwarad and main pump gave out, and when the arch gave way the steam-gauge raised up. I went on deck and hove the covers off
and put six pails in each of the two boats, and five oars in one end four in the other, which I lashed with spun yarn ready to cut adrift at a moments warning. I took the lashings off the metallic life-boat, which was fastened with patent springs, ready to unhook quickly. The other was an air-tight lifeboat,and I took a fore-sheet-a davy tackle fall-for the purpose of hoisting her up. I asked the men to assist me to hoist her over the arch, so that we could get her ready to lower so that we could save ourselves, but no one came to my aid, all seemed to be awe-striken and stupefied with fear. I believe I preserved my presence of mind so that I acted as coolly as I do now, I next ran to my room and put on my life-preservers and coat, and ran to the bow of the boat. I said to the Captain, "We have no time to spare, and everybody must look to themselves or help me." The Captain and the owners son assisted me, and did all in their power. The propeller
rapidly,and the Captain's son unkooked the stern tackle of the life-boat while I Jumped to the forward tackle and out it. The owners son Jumped into the boat, but fearing, evidently, that I could not cut the line loose in time, and seeing the bow nearly under water, Jumped out again on to the arch, to the top of the cabin. The boat up-righted, and when I looked around again I saw eight men in the boat- the Captains son, first engineer, two firemen,and two deck hands. The sea struck us and washed us fifty feet from the Captain's wife and second engineer, so that we could not assist them. We got out the oars and pulled towards the wreck and saved what we could in a sea rolling mountains high and threatening every moment to engulf us. We could make no progress by our own efforts,but kept drifting away, and
was passengers and crew floating on doors, pieces of cabin, etc., and hallooing and screaming in a most piteous manner. I saw the women on top of the cabin, dumb-struck with fear, and remaining quiet. We
could not get near them, but I believe if they had all come to the boat before I cast her loose we could have saved them. While I do not wish to flatter myself, I think I can say with propriety, that it was through my management of the boat that eight of us were saved. Had any other course been pursued, all would have been lost. The metallic boat went down in the wreck. The last I observed of
Willie Crossthwaite, was on a pieoe of the cabin alone, and busy lashing himself to it. He was standing upright, like a brave fellow that he was, and making cool preperations to bear the worst. He had on his
life-preservers, a pair of rubber boots, and was well clothed. After suffering great hardship and danger for twenty nine hours in an open boat, during which I managed to keep our little craft headed to the sea, we drifted to within eight miles of Port Washington Lighthouse, and fell in with the schooner ADDIE, of Benton Harbour, Capt. Small. We were taken on board, and the noble Captain did all in his power for our comfort. He took us to Manitowce, where the Mayor and Custon House Officer sent us to a boarding-house, and provided those who had none, with clothes. The next morning the MORNING STAR came in, in distress, and we were agreeably surprised to see her at that point. I got all my men to assist her, and we arrived here this afternoon a little the worst for weather, and with rather a poor prospect. I am thankful, however, that our lives are saved, and shall take steps to secure another position. I hope you will compliment Captain Fairbanks and his son and William Crossthwaite for their brave conduct and noble qualities. The sea is the heaviest I ever experienced, and the disaster the first I have been in during a service of over twenty years on the ocean and lakes.
in that dreadful sea, a three fore-and-after vessel passed us within easy sight, I waved my handkerchief, and made every effort possible to hail her. A man looked at us over the rail, but the vessel made no movement towards us. She had a round stern, and as near as I could discern, her bottom was green. There is but one vessel on the lakes having a stern like that mentioned, and if that vessel is in Chicago, she is the one we spoke, and which so meanly refused to help us.
      I shall remain for the present on the MORNING STAR, with those members of the MENDOTA's crew who were saved.
that William Crossthwaite drifted safely until some vessel picked him up, and I have great hopes for his safety yet. The MENDOTA was sixteen miles from Big Au Sauble and ten from Little Au Sable when she went down. She was built in Cleveland at the (Yioughiogheny ?) Works, eighteen years ago, and notwithstanding her age,
I considered her seaworthy. Her tonnage was 795, and she was valued at $18,000 by the owner, W.F. Croasthwaite of Buffalo. He had no insurance, and it was not his practice to insure his Vessels. He also owns the two schooners we had in tow.
was commanded by Oapt. Jim Bennett, of Bay City, and I am afraid she has been lost, as nothing has been heard from her up to the present time. The Captain's son and wife, and a crew of seven men, were on board of her. She was loaded with 1,225 tons of coal, and was considered a staunch vessel.
      Amos Ness, the Chief engineer, was found on the deck, near the barge, and was willing to tell the story of the loss. He himself had escaped by a mircle, and he expressed his desire to leave the lakes forever. This was, he said, his third shipwreck, and he had about concluded that he had enough of it. In the present case he had escaped with barely his life, with hardly any clothes, and even barefoot, and he hardly cared to try it again. Ness is an intelligent appearing man, and told a straight story. In reply to questions, he gave the following particulars:-
      We had twenty persons on board and were loaded with coal, were from Buffalo for Chicago. We had the twin barges, MORNING STAR and the EVENING STAR, in tow, and were getting along first rate until
about six o'clock Thursday evening. There was soon after a heavy sea on, and the propeller laboured greatly, but did not leak a drop. It strained her terribly to hold the barges, but she made out to keep hold of them until about 12.30 that night, when the line parted and they both got loose. Then the storm struck her she was about twenty-two miles from Kilderhouse' s wood yard. We got along until about four o'clock in the morning before she shipped any water; then she began to take in some. This was about ten miles from Little Sauble, about five a. m.
and then she had to go.Just as soon as the arches caine the steam-pipes parted there. We couldn't do anything with her. About half-past five on Friday morning she went down for good. There were plenty of life-preservers on board and everyone had on one or two. The Captains wife had two. We had two boats on board, both life-boats. We tried to get them out, but it was no use, the seas were running too high; all we could do was to let the vessel sink under us, and then
      Our boat, that afterwards had eight in, got safely afloat, and then the people on board jumped for her, some of them got in at the first attempt, some others jumped into the water between the boat and the vessel, and were hauled into the boat. The second boat was launched all right, but was swamped by being caught by one of the davits when the vessel went down. After the vessel had gone down we were several times within a short distance of the Captains wife, but were driven away by the waves; she was floating with two life-preservers; the last we saw of her she was being hauled on board a portion of the wreck by the second engineer; we were then a mile away from the wreck, and couldn't get any nearer; we had three oars on board but couldn't make much headway.
After we lost sight of the propeller entirely we drifted till about four o'clock in the afternoon, when
that I did not know, and could not see the name of, came to only a little way from us and within plain sight. Her crew were on deck, and must have seen us, but the Captain put about, and left us where we were without making any effort to save us.
About ten o'clock Saturday forenoon, after we had been in the boat thirty hours, we were picked up by the little schooner IDAHO, Capt. Small. The IDAHO was a little thing, but she came round to us bravely and picked us up. She took us up and carried us to Manitowoc, where we found the MiORNING STAR, which had been taken in. We got on board her, and the TRUESDELL brought us over here.
In reply to further questions, the engineer said that he did
She had been terribly wrenched by trying to save her tows before they parted. In his opinion, any boat would have sunk after being subjected to the pounding that she received. He considered the MENDOTA a staunch old boat, and thought she stood the storm well.
      Toronto Globe
      Friday, September 17, 1875

The barque NAIAD arrived at Chicago on Wednesday, having picked up both Wm. Crosthwaite, as already reported, and the second engineer of the MENDOTA. The steward who was on the same piece of the wreck for a long time, finally became crazy and died. The first watchman too, was washed away while the engineer was asleep. The total number now known to be saved is nine.
      Toronto Globe
      Saturday, September 18, 1875

The Chicago Tribune of yesterday makes the following comment on the disaster: "In the construction of the MORNING STAR great carrying capacity was studied, to the utter disregard of fine lines. A degree of strength proportionate to the burden she was calculated to bear was also lost sight of by her builder, who used quantities of pine where oak should have been substituted. Hence she never classed above B 1, and at the time of her loss had graded down to B 1 1/2. Pine will do well enough for lumber carriers, but grain freighters should be constructed either entirely of oak or of iron, to make them perfectly seaworthy in heavy weather. It must therefore be held that the underwriters are greatly to blame for the terrible calamity that has befallen the craft and her crew, for it was their power to confine her to the trade for which she had originally been intended. An interesting reminiscence connected with the disaster is that the EVENING STAR, a full sister of the MORNING STAR, in tow of the prop. MENDOTA, went down on Lake Michigan off Pt. au Betsy in Sept. 1875. The MENDOTA and several others foundered at the same time.
      Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
      November 17, 1880 1-8

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Reason: sunk
Lives: 10
Remarks: Total loss
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  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 44.69111 Longitude: -86.25537
William R. McNeil
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Mendota (Propeller), sunk, 10 Sep 1875