Schooner Days CCXCII
by C. H. J. Snider
The Blood Boat and M.J. Cummings
Here is the three-masted Oswego schooner M.J. Cummings, with her tug also named M.J. Cummings, "M.J." was like the Motts, and Finneys, and Lyonses, an Oswego shipowner with a fleet of over a dozen schooners sailing out of the port. Sometimes his was called the Star line, because, in addition to eight other vessels, he had the Rising Star and the White Star and the Mystic Star and the Blazing Star and the Guiding Star.
Her picture's on the wall, too, in Parsons' ship chandlery store in Oswego, They nicknamed the Guiding Star the Blood Boat because her poles were painted a flaming red. Her bones lie off Fox Point on Lake Michigan. Bucko Brennan was mate of her. He came from Bond Head way in Canada and died in Sailors Snug Harbor, that port of aged seamen. The Blazing Star was wrecked on Fishermen's Shoal, Lake Michigan, 1887, and the Mystic Star sank in Lake Ontario or Lake Erie in 1892.
It seems there was another Star line out of Oswego the Red Star at one time. This was in the 1840's or 1850's and the Red Stars were the first lake schooners to use center-boards, or at least the first large ones. After their demonstration of success and handiness centerboards were adopted all over, Capt. Solomon Sylvester used to say
Strange thing about the tug M. J Cummings. She was built in the same yard in Oswego as the tug E. J. Redford and launched on the same day. They were as like as peas . The E. J. Redford went on the ledges just east of the breakwater, in 1892, trying to save a schooner, and was completely wrecked with her. We'll have the story of that later. That same night her twin, the M. J. Cummings ws totally destroyed by fire in Cape Vincent. Down the St. Lawrence River.
Strange thing about the schooner M. J. Cummings, too. I remember well her arrival in Toronto with coal, in the spring of 1894. After one or two trips to Toronto she loaded coal at Oswego for Lake Michigan and climbed the thousand mile stairway up the lakes. We hand a wet and stormy May. I can still see the lilacs tossing in the rain in the old Upper Canada College grounds from Simcoe Street west. On the 18th of the month, with eleven other vessels, the Cummings was driven ashore near Milwaukee. She went in on a flat, sandy beach near the piers with the seas breaking all around her, far from shore. The crew took to the rigging, but they were all, or nearly all, drowned. Six of the eleven schooners that went on in that gale were total wrecks. When the news came to the Toronto waterfront there was much shaking of heads, for one of the Cummings; crew was a reputed Hoo-Doo. Lists were recited of vessels in which the poor fellow had sailed, and which had been burned; capsized wrecked or foundered; and satisfaction was expressed that now he himself was gone.
Another of M.J. Cummings vessels pictured on John S. Parson's wall is the Cortez, lost in Mexico Bay east of Oswego , not south of the United States- in 1880. There is the Gilbert Molison, too, lost ten miles off Oswego in 1876, and the Delos De Wolf, sunk at Cedar Point, Lake Erie, May 13, 1899. Typical old time lake Ontario American vessels, with plumb stems four jibs, two masts and the occasional squaresail and rafee. Most Oswego schooners were two masted, or fore and afters although Oswego had lots of three-masters as well. These, however, were more numerous on the Upper Lakes, for the lumber trade, than "down below on Lake Ontario, where grain-carrying was the great industry. IT was the grain trade that built the Oswego fleet, although Oswego vessels brought in lumber as well and carried out coal, iron, rails, salt and manufactured wares.