The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Comanche (Schooner), aground, 1 Dec 1886

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In Storm And Darkness
      How the Tug Ferris Got Ashore and Her Remarkable Escape - A Thrilling Experience.
Captain Peter Cronley, who had been engaged to pilot the tug Ferris from Cape Vincent to Ogdensburg, returned to the city last night and gave the following account of the wreck of the Comanche and the adventure of the Ferris: "After getting well out into the lake we found a very heavy sea and a thick snow storm set in. We headed the tug for Stony passage and just as we arrived there the storm let up a little, enabling us to pass through safely.
"It then began to snow thicker than ever, and it was impossible to see anything. We struck about eight o¹clock, and the way the tug got off the beach was the most remarkable thing i ever saw. The schooner struck bottom
first. In a moment after, we struck on the north side of Point Peninsula. Captain Ferris threw his wheel over quickly thus throwing the tug against the beach broadside.
"I cut the tow line and for a few moments there was a lively time. The seas broke over the tug and into the engine room, but the engines were kept working. We bounded along over the rocks and the last time we struck, the last bucket was broken off the wheel. The tug took a sheer out into the seas and the wind caught her in such a manner that she slipped around the point just on the edge of the rocks. We passed close to the schooner and the crew hallooed to be taken off. But we could do nothing because our wheel was gone. The seas were rolling completely over the vessel at this time. The wind carried us along in the direction of Sackets harbor. A little piece of the wheel was left on one side and by keeping the machinery working we managed to get into Sackets. We were more than three hours in making the distance - nine miles. The tug is very badly shaken up."
Captain Cronley speaks in the highest terms of Captain Ferris and the manner in which he handled the tug. he says when the tug first struck all the lights went out and the darkness was impenetrable. While the tow was
making for Stony Passage in the afternoon Captain Cronley says the seas were so big that at times the vessel could not be seen from the tug.
      Aboard the Comanche
The crew of the schooner Comanche arrived here from Sackets Harbor this morning. To a reporter of The Palladium second mate Robert Cooney of Port Dalhousie made the following statement: ³We left here at exactly 12 o¹clock noon on Saturday for Ogdensburg in tow of the tug Ferris. The day was pleasant and there was not much sea off here. When we reached the lower end of the lake we found a heavy dead sea running and the tug took the Stony Island passage to avoid the heavy sea.
"All the afternoon the clouds being threateningly over head and it looked like snow. We had got opposite Stony island when a storm broke upon us, and in a minute we were enveloped in a thick snow storm. At times it was impossible to see the tug which kept constantly tooting her whistle. About 7 p.m. the tug struck on the north side of Point Peninsula about nine miles from Sackets Harbor, where we were going for shelter.
"The tug in her endeavor to work herself off broke the buckets off her wheel, but succeeded in getting into deep water. In the mean time the Comanche swung around and went on the beach good and hard about eight o¹clock. We remained on board all night, but with the first streak of dawn we were discovered by the farmers on shore and although half a mile away we could see them getting ready to launch a boat in the heavy swell. The first man to reach us was a young man named David Tucker - whose parents reside in Sandy Creek.
"He remained aboard all day and in the afternoon was among the last to leave the vessel. In the boat with him were Captain Becker, William Graves and a young man named Spencer. On their way ashore the small fish boat which they were in turned over and they were thrown into the icy waters. They endeavored to climb up on to the bottom of the boat, but they would no sooner secure a good hold than a breaker would wash under them and lift them clear off the cockle shell upon which they were floating.
"Captain Becker got his hand in young Taylor¹s collar and tried hard to keep his head above water, but it was no use, and a big wave broke the hold and young Tucker sank beneath the waves. The other boats which put out from shore when the last boat capsized reached Captain Becker and Graves just in time. The former was carried ashore unconscious, but was speedily revived by the kin hearted fisherman and farmers who did everything in their power for us."
Mate Mooney says the Comanche when they left yesterday morning was fast going to pieces and he thinks ere this is a total loss. He speaks in the highest terms of Captain Becker and the kind-hearted farmers on shore who took the nearly perished sailors to their homes and cared for them tenderly. The sailors saved all their clothing.
      Oswego Palladium
      Tuesday, Nov. 30, 1886

      The COMANCHE Ashore - At Pillar Point, Near Sackets Harbor
      Ill luck seems to have followed the schooner COMANCHE of this port for several years. She has been sunk in the Welland canal and after she had been repaired a long litigation between her owners, Messrs. Quonce and Becker, and the insurance companies, followed. A few nights since while bound to Ogdensburg from the Welland canal with a load of wheat she was struck by a squall and lost both her masts, jibboom and rigging and was otherwise badly damaged. She finally managed to reach this port, and remained till about 11 a.m. on Saturday last when she left for Ogdensburg in tow of the tug FERRIS, Captain Charles Ferris.
      Early yesterday morning a telegraph was received here from Sackets harbor stating that the tug and vessel were ashore at Pillar Point, a short distance from that village. Later it was learned that the tug had been worked off and had gone to Sackets. The vessel was reported full of water and it was also said that she had been abandoned.
The COMANCHE was built at this city in 1867 by James Navagh and registered 306 tons burden; she was rated A 2 + and valued at $6,000, and insured for that amount.
A special from Sackets Harbor to this paper says that the captain of the tug FERRIS says he cannot give any description of the COMANCHE. His tug is disabled and he has not heard from the vessel since leaving her somewhere on the shore in a snow storm. Capt. Peter Cronley will arrive in Oswego this evening and give full particulars as far as he knows.
A man named Tucker, living at Point Peninsula was drowned yesterday while assisting the crew of the COMANCHE to leave the schooner. Capt. William Becker, who sailed the COMANCHE and was part owner, resided in Pulaski. he was regarded as a competent navigator. His friends sympathize with him in his misfortune.
Mr. Albert Quonce, one of the owners of the COMANCHE, went to Sackets Harbor this afternoon. It is said that, the schooner's freight list was secured.
      Oswego Palladium
      Mon., November 29, 1886

      Marine Casualties - Two Schooners Ashore and Two Lives Lost - Particulars of the Accidents.
      A special to the Times from Cape Vincent today, says the schooner LEM ELLSWORTH, loaded with corn from Chicago to Ogdensburg went ashore on the head of Carlton Island yesterday during the snow storm. The tug PROCTOR went to pull her off, but she was too hard aground and the effort was a failure. A lighter was brought up today, and about 2,000 bushels of corn will have to be taken off before she can be floated. The ELLSWORTH is owned in Oswego and sailed by Capt. Murray. She is not leaking, and her cargo will not be damaged.
Last night while trying to release the schooner Charles W. Vorce, an Oswego sailor on handling the tow line attached to the tug PROCTOR, was caught between the deck and the line, receiving injuries in the region of the chest from which he died this morning.
It seems fortunate that there has been so little loss of life on Lake Ontario during the bad weather that has been experienced during the past week. Last Tuesday the schooner COMANCHE, commanded by Capt. Wm. Becker of Oswego, laden with 21,000 bushels of corn from Chicago to Ogdensburg, was caught in a squall on the lake and her spars partly carried away. The crew did their best to run the vessel into a safe harbor, but were unable to do so.
Saturday night about 8 o'clock the schooner had drifted to the west of Point Peninsula where she ran on a shoal about three-fourths of a mile from the mainland. The COMANCHE had a draft of about 11 feet, and there is about 9 feet of water over the shoal on which she struck. A large hole was stove in her bottom and the cargo will all be damaged.
Lying as she does, it is possible the vessel may be saved. the COMANCHE was owned by Capt. Becker and Albert Quonce of Oswego. There was on board when she struck a crew of eight persons, who were about worn out with their labors to keep the craft afloat. They were taken from the wreck Sunday morning, and while engaged in their rescue, Fred Tucker, a young farmer living on Point Peninsula, lost his life by drowning.
The life-boat, manned by Spencer Holbrook, William Graves and Tucker, had made four trips to the wreck and taken off all the crew except Capt. Becker. On the fifth and last trip the boat was swamped and young Tucker went down. The other occupants narrowly escaped the same fate. Tucker was a single man and his parents live at Sandy Creek. He has a brother living at Three Mile Bay.
      Watertown Daily Times
      Mon., November 29, 1886

      The Wreck of the COMANCHE
      An Account of the Disaster by One of the Sailors - The Wreck a Complete One This Time
Robert Cooney, one of the crew of the COMANCHE, now on the beach at Point Peninsula, arrived home this morning accompanied by two others of the crew. He says that they went through Stony Island Passage and after getting through, finding that the sea was getting up and the wind rising, the captain concluded to make for Sackets Harbor.
It was rather thick and snow was beginning to fall and they were deceived by a light upon the shore. The first hint they had of danger was when the tug Ferris struck. The schooner went on immediately after and struck the first reef and worked over it and struck the second and went up high and dry. The pumps were set going but the schooner was leaking badly and they could make little impression in it. In the morning it was up to the forecastle floor and it was of no use to try and keep her free. In the morning the farmers along the shore began to work with a will but there was no large boat near them and they had to send a wagon seven miles to get one. In the meantime Fred Tucker, the young farmer who was afterward drowned, came aboard in a skiff and stayed with them until a large boat came and did not leave until the captain did, who stuck to the schooner to the last. The first of the crew who got ashore wanted to take the boat and go out for the balance of their shipmates but the people would not permit it, and hurried them off to a house nearby to be taken care of. The last of the crew, with Captain Becker and Fred Tucker started for the shore and had made about half the distance when the boat capsized. They clung to it as well as they could but the sea kept the boat rolling and they lost their hold repeatedly.
Captain Becker and another man were trying to keep Tucker up but he was apparently helpless and in spite of their efforts they could not keep his head above water. Another boat was pushed out and the men struggling in the water were saved, with the exception of Tucker, who was drowned. Captain Becker was nearly unconscious and it was some time before he recovered after the usual means had been employed to restore him. He still remains in the house of a nephew who lives not far from the scene of the wreck.
It is remarkable that the wreck occurred almost in sight of the place where Captain Becker has lived for many years. During Sunday morning the sea was very heavy and was making a clean breach over the schooner and she was breaking up and it was the general opinion that she could not be saved. Captain Becker who was very much exhausted, did not come back. Capt. Cronley, who went down to look the wreck over, returned with the rest. The tug FERRIS is still at Sackets Harbor. But for the accident to her wheel, she might have been able to do something but as it was, she was helpless.
The crew are under the deepest obligations to the residents along the shore who worked hard to save their lives.
      Oswego Times Express
      Tues., November 30, 1886

      Disasters on Lake Ontario.
      The wreck of the GEORGE B. SLOAN on the Oswego piers in the spring was considered a bad opening of the season, but Lake Ontario behaved well until the close of the season which thus far has proven disastrous. Within a fortnight a number of disasters have occurred and two lives lost. A Canadian vessel laden with grain went ashore on Four Mile Point and is supposed to be a total wreck. The schooner LEM ELLSWORTH, corn from Chicago to Ogdensburg, went ashore on Carlton island Sunday, and has since been relieved by the tug PROCTOR after a part of the cargo had been lightered. A sailor was caught under the hawser and received injuries from which he died in a few hours. The schooner COMANCHE went ashore on the head of Point Peninsula in a blinding snow storm while in tow of the tug FERRIS. The hawser was cut and a moment later the tug went bounding over a shoal, stuck for a moment and then swung off into the long swells with a portion of one bucket left on the wheel. She came with the wind to Sackets Harbor, the remnant of the wheel giving her barely steerage way. At daylight a number of farmers on the shore discovered the wreck and saw the crew in the rigging, and immediately set about the rescue which was not accomplished until the afternoon. On the return from the last trip to the wreck the boat was overturned and a young farmer named Tucker was drowned and the others barely escaped a similar fate. The COMANCHE was owned by Capt. Wm. Becker and Albert Quonce, of Oswego, and was laden with corn from Chicago to Ogdensburg, and encountering a gale on Lake Ontario, ran into Oswego stripped of her canvas. The Ferris was engaged to tow her to Ogdensburg. After making Stony Island passage the tug attempted to run to Sackets with the above result.
      Watertown Herald
      Sat., December 4, 1886

I never tire of talking of sailors and I am sure Oswego people never tire reading about them, especially at this time of the year when they are exposed to so much danger and hardship. If we could follow a lake vessel on one trip during the Fall, when heavy gales are blowing almost continually, we would see many graphic and thrilling pictures.
When a vessel leaves port after the middle of November to go any distance worth speaking of, every man on board knows that he takes his life in his hands and that the vessel is certain to be storm lashed. Gales follow one another in quick succession and their violence at times is almost beyond comprehension.
The next time you come near a schooner just take a good look at the strong, heavy masts - hewn from the best of timber. Look at the strong rope and wire rigging that stays them on either side, fastened with heavy bars and bolts of iron. Both your arms would not reach more than half way around those masts at the bottom, while as for the heavy wire shrouds, it would be difficult to conceive of any human agency that could pull them asunder. Try and imagine then the mighty forces of nature that took three huge spars out of the schooner COMANCHE the night before Thanksgiving, stripped her of everything in the shape of canvas and rigging and left her drifting a complete and hopeless wreck.
And by the way, there are some peculiar features about that storm or whirlwind, that are quite interesting. The schooners BLAZING STAR, F.D. BARKER and the unfortunate COMANCHE were within two or three miles of each other before the squall struck them. The night was fearfully dark, a brisk wind was blowing that drove all three vessels along towards home at a speed that assured the sailors would eat their Thanksgiving dinner with their families. But how rudely were they disappointed. Sailors, as is well known, are superstitious mortals and many of them believe that they are always forewarned when threatened with disaster. They were certainly warned of impending danger on this occasion and the warning saved two of the vessels from disaster and probably death to their crews. The warning came in the form of a quick, sharp flash of lightning - a very unusual occurrence at this season of the year. It was not more than three or four minutes after the flash that the storm burst upon them with all the fury of a whirlwind, but in that shore space of time the vessels had prepared to meet the attack.
Captain Griffin of the BLAZING STAR had gone into the cabin, it being his watch below. He had taken off his coat preparatory to "turning in" when he started to go on deck for something. Just as he poked his head through the cabin doors he saw the electric flash in the storm cloud. he knew that something was wrong, and hastily donning his coat again he dashed on deck and shouted his orders to let the vessel "come up in the wind," and take in all sail. The vessel came up quickly, the jibs were hauled down and the mainsail and mizzen were "let go by the run." The foresail was part way down when the squall came.
The force of the wind was terrific and with a little piece of sail up the vessel was forced over so far on her side that several loose planks were washed off the deck. Had the vessel met the storm with all her canvas up, the chances are that she would not be resting quietly on the bottom of the lake. so much for the experiences of the BLAZER.
Captain Scott of the schooner F.D. BARKER, ever alert for danger, also saw the warning flash and at once set about shortening sail. While the crew were still at work the squall struck the vessel with awful force. Captain Scott says it was one of the hottest squalls he ever saw. The vessel was forced on her beam ends and for a time a part of her cabin was completely underwater. The water rushed down the stove pipe hole and was soon knee deep in the cabin.
Imagine a big staunch vessel drawing ten or more feet of water, forced over in that condition by a wind that could only use its force on a small portion of her ordinary allotment of canvas, and it will readily be seen with what terrible fury these lake squalls rush along. Nothing but prompt action and the best of management kept the Barker afloat. Sailors have calculated that that storm traveled 80 miles in thirty minutes that night or at the rate of 160 miles an hour.
They do it in this way: The tug NAVAGH, Captain William Scott, was standing guard at the mouth of the harbor to assist any vessels into port that might come along. The captain happened to be looking up the lake with his glass at the moment the heavens spit forth that warning electric flash. Now, the vessels spoken of in the foregoing, were at least 80 miles from Oswego at the time and the storm cloud was in their immediate vicinity. In just thirty minutes from the time the tug captain saw the flash the storm struck the harbor, showing that it had traveled eighty miles in thirty minutes.
There is also a peculiar coincidence associated with the storm. At the time of the dreadful Carlyon disaster a few years ago it was the same kind of storm that blew the box cars from the siding of the main track. It also dismasted a black three-masted vessel directly opposite the place where the accident occurred. The storm of a week ago Wednesday night blew some empty cars from a siding into the main track of the same railroad, a collision occurred in the same manner as at Carlyon, though not with fatal effect, and the same storm dismasted a black three-masted vessel off in the lake - the COMANCHE.
      Oswego Palladium
      December 4, 1886

      Captain Becker's Statement -- His Version of the Wreck of the COMANCHE and to Whom Honor is Due
      Bravery of the Men Along Point Peninsula..
Captain William Becker, of the wrecked schooner COMANCHE, has arrived here from Point Peninsula and in conversation with a Times Express representative makes a statement which ought to be given in justice to the brave men who worked so nobly to save the crew of the COMANCHE. The facts in regard to the wreck have already been given.
Capt. Becker says: "The first men who came on board were Windsor Angels, Peter Dingham and Fred Tucker, the young man who was afterward lost. The men on shore hoisted a signal early in the morning to show that they meant to bring help and about 8 o¦clock these three came out and I at once sent the mate and his wife ashore with instructions to go and telegraph. In the meantime the men on shore had sent a wagon for a large boat and when it arrived Spencer Holbrook and William Graves came out and took ashore two men with their baggage.
"They came back and took off the balance of the men leaving the captain and Fred Tucker on board. On the last trip we started all right and had made about half the distance when they were obliged to cross a little bar. The first comber shook us up a little and the second threw her into the trough of the sea and rolled her over and all the men were struggling in the water. We all rolled over four or five times underwater and sometimes on top.
"Tucker soon gave out and was pulled up in the boat two or three times, but the last time I pulled him up he was gone and the next wave swept him away. We finally drifted through the breakers and I got astride of the boat at the stern and Graves at the bow and Holbrook in the middle. Those on shore saw the trouble and got out the other boat but there was some hesitation about who should go out in her. At last Eleazer Watkins threw off his coat and pushed off the boat alone. As he passed us Graves, who was on the bow, sung out to him. "Go to the captain first; he won't last a minute longer."
      Watkins did so and by throwing his arm over the gunwale of the boat was able to support myself and finally tumbled into the boat utterly exhausted.
"Graves stayed on the drifting boat and some men got a skiff and went out and saved him. A wagon was ready and we were taken to a house where every attention was paid us. I wish to say that I owe my life to William Graves, Spencer Holbrook and Eleazer Williams, who worked like heroes."
      Oswego Times Express
      Mon., December 6, 1886

      Monday, December 14, 1886 the schooner OCEAN WAVE, which went ashore near Port Ontario a few days ago, has been stripped of her canvas and rigging and will be hauled out on the shore for the Winter About 2,500 bushels of her cargo have been taken out dry and the rest will be saved. The schooner COMANCHE, ashore at Point Peninsula, is reported to be lying on a gravelly bottom and as far as can be ascertained is in pretty good condition. It is thought she can be got off and repaired, leaving her good for several years of service.The propeller MYLES, which sank in Kingston Harbor several weeks ago, still lies on the bottom. Something over $5,300 has been expended in the effort to raise her and nothing further will be done until ice forms in the harbor of sufficient thickness to allow working upon it. The vessel has been badly broken up by the late storm.
      Watertown Daily Times
      December 14, 1886.

Media Type:
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Reason: aground
Lives: nil
Remarks: Got off
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Geographic Coverage:
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 44.0195 Longitude: -76.21743
William R. McNeil
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Comanche (Schooner), aground, 1 Dec 1886