Maritime History of the Great Lakes

Scanner, v. 26, no. 2 (November 1993), p. 16

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THE LIFE, DEATH AND REAPPEARANCE OF THE MAPLE LEAF Over the wi nt er of 1850-1851, the beam-engined, sidewheel pas s e n g e r and freight ste amer MAPLE LEAF was built at K i n gston for Donald Bethune and C o m pany, of Toronto, for service on Lake On tario and the upper St. Lawrence River. She was 1 7 3 . 2 (between perp endiculars) x 2 4 . 7 (inside the guards) x 1 0 . 6, and was launched on June 18, 1851. The steamer hers e l f was a success, but the Bethun e oper ations were plagued by financial problems, and in 1855 M APL E LE AF was sold to the Lake Ontario I n t e rnational Steamboat Company, of Rochester, for the sum of $ 5 0 , 000 - which was some $ 2 0 , 000 less than she had cost to build. M A P L E LEAF was transferred to U . S. registry. The only p h o t o g r a p h ever kno wn to have been taken on MAPLE LEAF was an amb ro ty pe made by Edward T. W h i t n e y at Charlotte, New York, on April 19, 1856. As well as n u m e r o u s sa i ling vessels, the photo g r a p h caught the s t e a m ers MA PLE LEAF, HIGHLANDER, ONTA R I O and NORTHERNER. The new owner of MA PL E LEAF also ran into financial troubles, these related to the e c o no mi c panic of 1857 and 1858, and in 1859 the steamer was sold to former co mp a n y director, George J. Whitney, who soon resold her to Capt. George Sc h o f i e l d and associates. The 1862 season was an other bad one on the lakes, wit h the ec on om y depressed, p a r t i c u l a r l y as a consequence of the Civil War raging amongst the States. Broker s were, however, seeking any vessels available to assist in the war effort and, in August of 1862, MAPLE LEAF was sold and left the lakes. Her ne w owners were Bostonians who char tered M APLE LEAF to the U . S. A rmy Q u a r t e r m a s t e r D epartment for use as an army transport. In the p r e - d a w n hours of Friday, April 1st, 1864, M APLE LEAF was on the St. Johns River of N o r t h e a s t e r n Florida, inbound to Jac k s o n v i l l e on a voyage from Hi l t o n Head. She was c a r r y i n g a number of soldiers, together with the camp equ ip ag e and baggage of three Union regiments. Without warning, MAPLE LEAF struck a Co n f e d e r a t e "torpedo", or what we w o u l d know better as a p ri mit ive "mine". Severe damage was inflicted, and the steamer sank up to the level of her upper (or "saloon") deck, in a position off M a n d a r i n Point. The fol lo wi ng day, the C o n f e d e r a t e forces responsible for the sinking of MA PLE LEAF bo ar ded the w r e c k and burned off the superstructure. The wreck re mai ned as it lay until the 1880s, w hen efforts were made to level the wr eck as it was c o nsidered to be a menace to river navigation. In recent years, the w e l l - p r e s e r v e d wreck of MAPLE LEAF was r e d i s c o v e r e d and e x t e n s i v e l y e x p l o r e d by divers. Numerous invaluable relics of life during the Civil War have been rec o v e r e d and p r eserved ashore, al though most of the w rec k and its contents remain in their resting place, undisturbed. MAPLE LEAF is co ns i d e r e d to be one of the most important e x i sting relics of its period. Now a book, e n t itled The M A P L E LEAF - An E x t r a o r d i n a r y A m e r i c a n Civil War S h i p w r e c k , has been p u b l i s h e d by some of the parties involved in the d i s covery and e x p l o r a t i o n of the wreck. It contains numerous chapters dealing with the si nki ng of the ship and the wreck itself, but the longest of all of the chapters, w r i t t e n by longtime T . M . H . S. member Gerald T. Girvin, of Rochester, ou tlines in con s i d e r a b l e detail the hist o r y of MAPLE LEAF when she ope ra te d on Lake Ontario. We would r e c ommend the book as an a d d i t i o n to the li bra ry of anyone interested in early Lake Ontario stea mboats or shipping of the Civil War era. The 205-page book, wit h colour painting of MAPLE LEAF on the cover, is av ail abl e in har d c o v e r (U. S. $ 3 2 . 50) or softcover (U. S. $ 1 9 . 95), plus U . S. $ 3 . 50 per copy postage and packing. (We are not aware of any a d ditional costs to C a n a d i a n p u r c h a s e r s . ) Inte rested parties should address St. Johns A r c h a e o l o g i c a l Expedi t i o n s Inc., 4114 H e r schel Street, Suite 105, J a c k s o n ville, Fl or id a 32210, U . S. A., or phone (904) 387-2308. * * * * *

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