The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Watertown Herald (Watertown, NY), Saturday April 16, 1898

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Lake Sailors Prefer to Fight for Uncle Sam
Refuse to Ship For The Season So Long As They Are Prospect Of War- Not To Be Tempted By Good Berths - First Class Men Apply

The enlisting of naval recruits from points on the great lakes is causing no small amount of worry on the part of skippers of vessels now in port in Chicago, as many of the best foremast hands, engineers and mechanics refuse under any consideration to take berths as long as there is a chance of serving Uncle Sam in a brush with Spain.

Recruits have not been enlisted to Chicago as yet, but Lieutenant Simon Cook of the hydrographic office is now making a tour of great lake points, with other officers in the government service, reserving Chicago for the last station. It is expected that enlisting men for the navy will begin in Chicago in the course of a few weeks, when the other available points have been drained of their eligible sailors. The knowledge of this fact has spread among the younger and more enthusiastic element, and a large portion of the fresh water tars is impatiently waiting for the chance to step up and be measured and numbered among the crew on the nations battleships.

Confronted by the two irreconcilable facts that the season is earlier and promises to be bigger than ever and that the best men cannot be induced to sign, the skippers of the ships tied up along the Chicago river are beginning to drift from pleading to profanity.

One sturdy young fellow stood leaning over the rail that skirts the river’s edge near the Dearborn street bridge and turned a deaf ear to the gray bearded man who was exhorting him from the deck of a tight looking little craft that was evidently all ready for the word to sail.

"Come on, Bill" pleaded the man on the deck, "didn’t I treat you all right last year?"

"Finer’n silk , but I can’t come now," was the rejoinder.

"Oh, bush! You’re a sucker for standin in you own light. Come aboard an sign, as I’ll give you the mates birth."

For an instant the young fellow hesitated, but he finally said after a gulp:

"I couldn’t do it-not even for your own berth, Cap’n. I’d rather scrap in the navy than own the best craft in the harbor."

Then he turned on his heel and walked away, as if to get out of reach of the captain’s mesmeric power, while the man on the deck discharged a volley of expletives that contained a condensed and fiery option of all government recruiting officers.

Captains up and down the lines of ships along the river indicate that the same experience is being generally met, and that the best men are obdurate in holding out or are only brought over by the inducement of promotion or larger pay.

There are always plenty of green hands to be had, and there is no danger of running out of common sailors who have a little experience on the lakes, but vessels cannot be entirely manned by such as these, and if the recruiting in Chicago proves as heavy as anticipate it will take the cream of the profession from both the steam and sailing vessels.

The officials in the hydrographic office are delighted with the class of men applying for positions in the navy and Lieutenant Wilson prophesies that when his superior officer returns there will be several hundred first class sailors ready to have their names enrolled. This list will include mechanics carpenters and engineers, who get more pay in the navy than ordinary seamen. A large number applied before the government decided to establish recruiting stations on the lakes. They were referred to the regular recruiting stations in the east and left much disappointed later signing with captains of Chicago vessels.

"I know one first class engineer," said Lieutenant Wilson,"who has a billet on a fine vessel that is scheduled to sail in a short time, He has thrown up his position and is patiently waiting until he can take his examination for government service. I know of similar instances, and from the class of men applying here I have no doubt that the recruiting is

Local government authorities combat the statement that lake sailors are of little use in ocean service. They point to the fact that the government was greatly pleased with the men secured last summer when a recruiting station was temporarily established at the armory of the naval militia, 20 Michigan Avenue. Lake sailors of the better class are fully equipped for sea experience and soon render as good an account of themselves as the recruits from Gloucester Mass, who are reported as ideal from the standpoint of the enlisted officers.

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Date of Original:
Saturday April 16, 1898
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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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Watertown Herald (Watertown, NY), Saturday April 16, 1898