The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Marine Review (Cleveland, OH), Aug. 8, 1901

Full Text
Mr. Samuel R. Kirby Describes and Illustrates Vessels on Which He Sailed - Sketch of the Ramsey Crooks - Interesting Events of Early Days.

During the past two weeks the Review has received from Mr. Samuel R. Kirby of New York, father of the Kirbys who are so well known in ship building circles, some invaluable data regarding the early vessels on the great lakes. It wishes that many of the old vessel men would emulate the example of Mr. Kirby and send to it their recollections of early times. There is no more interesting subject to vessel men than this. It has the importance of history and has undoubted value in that it shows vividly the evolution through which the lake region is passing. Mr. Kirby's first letter is devoted to the pioneer screw boats of the lakes and is as follows:

"Thinking that perhaps you would like to see and hear something about the pioneer screw boats on the lakes, I enclose you some pen sketches of the very first boats which were fitted out with screws. I resided in Oswego when these hookers, as the boys called them, were built, and afterwards during the seasons of 1845 and 1846 was chief mate of the CHICAGO. We traded between Cleveland and the Sault. This was during the excitement caused by the discovery of' copper on Lake Superior. By the way, it was in the fall of 1846 that we chartered the CHICAGO to the Indian payment commission who were paying the Indians at the Sault to take them to Mackinaw and thence to Green Bay. While on this voyage or when we were on our way back, we were signaled when off the mouth of the Menominee river, which is the boundary between Wisconsin and Michigan. We ran on shore and found that a party of government surveyors wanted passage to Mackinaw or to Milwaukee. We concluded to take them to Milwaukee, where we thought a good freight could be obtained for Buffalo. The party consisted of William A. Burt and eighteen men. They had been all the season surveying the boundary line and also. running preliminary lines necessary to survey the upper peninsula of Michigan. They reported that iron ore was abundant all along the south shore of Lake Superior, causing great disturbance to the compass needles (hence the discovery).* After reaching Milwaukee we fixed up our ship and took on board 4,000 bushels of wheat at 24 cents a bushel, plus twenty tons of pig lead and a dozen casks of potash, at equally good prices. We had a good run to Buffalo and back to Cleveland for winter quarters. This ended my having anything more to do with the pioneer screw ships. These ships burned wood for fuel, twenty-five to thirty cords being taken on board every thirty-six to forty hours. It was piled on the upper deck from end to end of the ship, the watch on deck passing it down to the fireman from time to time during the watch. This occupied them nearly all the time on deck - one man steering and all the rest amusing themselves handling wood. No coal was used in those days. In fact coal was not used until about 1852 and not generally until about 1857 or 1858."

The second of Mr. Kirby's letters is devoted to a description of the brig Ramsey Crooks of the American Fur Co., which was built in 1836, and also to other vessels contemporary with it. There will be found on the opposite page an illustration of the Ramsey Crooks, which is a faithful copy of an old sketch made by Mr. Kirby fifty years ago. As Mr. Kirby is now seventy-eight years old, this copy bears remarkable evidence of steadiness of eye and hand. Describing the vessel, Mr. Kirby says:

"I was two years on this ship, 1843 and 1844, with Capt. John and Capt. Orlando Woods This ship was built in 1836, specially for the fur company's own business, and traded between Detroit and the Sault until 1850 when she was sold. The fur company dissolved after Astor?s death in 1848. This ship was first commanded by Capt. Ben Stannard.. The Chief mate was Chris Goulder, who, I think, was the father of Harvey D. Goulder of Cleveland. and John Wood was third mate. In the fall of 1837 or 1838 the RAMSEY CROOKS was caught in the ice 10 or 12 miles off Bar point at the mouth of Detroit river and laid outside all winter, She usually made a Buffalo trip in the fall before going into winter quartets at Detroit. She was an extra fine and very fast sailer. She was fitted for passengers in splendid style, having a ladies' cabin specially designed. The cabin was entirely on deck, as shown, with caboose separate. She was about 100 ft. by 28 ft. by 9 ft., and of 247 tons measurement. The CROOKS, after being sold, was lengthened 25 ft. and was in commission up to about 1860 I do not recollect how she ended her days. The top sail schooner JOHN JACOB ASTOR on Lake Superior was built about the same time as the CROOKS. They formed the line, Detroit to La Pointe and other places on Lake Superior. The ASTOR was fitted with quarter boats. She had to do all her work from her anchors no wharves or piers to land stuff directly from ships existing in those days. The ASTOR was also fitted for passengers, the same as the CROOKS. She was lost at Copper Harbor in the fall of 1845. We had previously carried up timber for a new vessel on Lake Superior to help the ASTOR, and men to build her, in 1844. This vessel was about the size of the ASTOR with fore-and-aft rig. She was launched in the spring of 1845 and named the NAPOLEON. She was commanded by Capt. John Stewart. Two years afterward she was converted into a propeller. She ended her days on St. Clair flats doing lighterage work to help vessels over the shoals in the north channel of St. Clair river. No government work had then been done to help the navigator."

VANDALIA, 1839-40. Dimensions, 95 ft. over all, 80 ft. keel 19 ½ ft. beam

10 ft. molded depth. She was the first screw boat built on the Great Lakes. She was first intended for a sail vessel, but altered to a screw boat before she went Into commission?in feet before she was launched.

Twin-screw boats CHICAGO and OSWEGO. Built in Oswego N. Y., 1840-41 Dimensions, 95 ft. over all; 19 ½ ft. beam; 10 ft. molded depth, capacity 150 tons on 8 ft. draught; speed 7 knots in calm weather. At the time these ships were built the Welland canal locks were 100 ft. long, 20 ft. wide and 8 ft. deep on sills.

Cast iron former for shaping the buckets when bent out of shape. "About every port or woodyard we visited," writes Mr. Kirby, "one or more of the screw buckets had to be refitted, put in true shape, shipped in place as best we could with water 2 to 3 ft. over the hub of wheel. This former carried on hoard as part of the vessel's outfit."

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Date of Original:
Aug. 8, 1901
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Richard Palmer
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Marine Review (Cleveland, OH), Aug. 8, 1901