Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Design Embroidery For: Schooner Days DXXXVI (536)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 2 May 1942
Full Text
Design Embroidery For
Schooner Days DXXXVI (536)

by C. H. J. Snider


WHAT a tapestry of lake lore could be woven from Mrs. Scott's simple question as to what the Mary Ann Rankin looked like! She wanted to embroider a coverlet for her boy with a likeness of the vessel from which his grandfather rescued four perishing sailors. The vari-colored threads of this wreck's background would keep Penelope occupied till the last suitor gave up in despair.

There would be gleaming threads from the Gold Coast and the Klondyke and Ukrainian wheat fields, and indigo strands from the Far East and from Odessa and the Black Sea where the Argo passed the blue clashing rocks to Colchis' strand in quest of the Golden Fleece. There would be the muddy greens and browns of Erie waves, littered with floating cargo and drowned sailors. There would be the icicle hues of the fishing waters around Squaw Island in the fall, and the soft grey yarn of the misty island and lone shieling in the Hebrides; and scarlet from the tunics of British soldiers of the thin red line in long forgotten wars. You'll see.


First the Mary Ann Rankin herself, commemorating, it maybe supposed, the little daughter of Wm. Rankin of Charlotte.

All Schooner Days knew about her was that he had seen her entered in the Port Whitby harbor book of 1858 for import tolls on 820 barrels of plaster for Chester Draper, and that she had been built at Charlotte, now the Port of Rochester, by Wm. Callister for Wm. Rankin in 1857, the year before. Thomas' Register noted her as of 126 tons and repaired in 1863, with an insurable value of $3,400. She was therefore a rather small schooner and would have two masts and probably a clipper bow or cutwater knee at her stemhead.

We have in mind just such a vessel as the American schooner Raney, rebuilt by Shickluna at St. Catharines in 1854 and re-christened the Fred L. Wells. She was owned in Buffalo, like the Mary Ann Rankin at the time of her wreck, but survived her by thirty years. The Fred L. Wells was a frequent visitor to Toronto's waterfront in the 1890's, and hailed from Oswego then. She was wrecked there in 1900. The picture offered as a probable Mary Ann Rankin is developed from a memorandum of the Fred L. Wells made in 1895 at Oswego. Schooner Days' embroidery lessons have yet to come, but she is outlined for Mrs. Scott's consideration.


Then there are the vessels which lay in Port Colborne while the Mary Ann Rankin pounded to pieces under the Sugar Loaf. They supplied the volunteer lifeboat crew, completed by the hero horseboy, Tommy Scott, who did the bailing while his horses rested.

As told last week, it was Capt. Wm. Noble, of the schooner Hippogriff, who organized the successful rescue with his own vessel's yawl boat, after three efforts had failed and three volunteers had been drowned.

The Hippogriff, with her unusual name, indicating a horse-shaped griffin, or flying horse, was a fine American schooner, large for her time—-402 tons register, and built at Buffalo in 1863 by Wm. Crosthwaite for J. Kelderhouse. Another schooner was named after him, and the Hippogriff was of the same appearance as the John Kelderhouse. She classed A and was insurable for $16,000. From her tonnage it seems doubtful whether she could get all the way through the Welland Canal of 1870. Tommy Scott may have only towed her down to Port Robinson. The Kelderhouse was afloat at the time of the Mary Ann Rankin's wreck, having been launched in 1867, and she kept going for fifty-three years. Saw her in Chicago.


The writer played in the wreck of the Dan'l. G. Fort at Oswego, N.Y., a long time ago. She was a plump white two-masted schooner twice the size of the Mary Ann Rankin, and came to grief in 1894, the night before the Baltic came ashore at the same spot, under the guns of old Fort Ontario at Oswego. She was built at Tonawanda, and when she first came to Lake Ontario was painted green and had a raffee and squaresail. Later she dropped these embellishments and put on white raiment.

One of the sailors of the Dan'l G. Fort, a stranger of whose very nationality was uncertain, English or Norwegian, was drowned, the third time the boat of the propeller Young American put off with four volunteers to try to rescue the Rankin's crew.

The S. J. Halley, whose mate, John Crangle, alone survived the third attempt at rescue, was a Lake Erie vessel, one of 20 schooners built at Milan, Ohio, in 1855 and 1856 at the beginning of the reciprocity boom. She was built by Ruggles, but not of Red Gap.


Capt. E. P. Dorr, who rewarded the rescuers and buried the dead and looked after their dependents for J. M. Smith, the owner of the Rankin, seems to have been a specialist in good deeds of this sort. It was Capt. Dorr who came from Buffalo in November, 1854, to the bleak wilderness of Long Point, to appraise the damage to the vessel of a Capt. Jones, then stranded. Here he learned of the heroism of that strong young woman Abigail Becker, who could not swim, but had waded out till the water was up to her lips, and rescued the whole crew of the schooner Conductor. Through Capt. Dorr her great deed became known to the world and her place beside Grace Darling in history was assured.

As said last week, Capt. Dorr had a schooner named after him, the E. P. Dorr, and her fate is entangled with the sombre and shining threads in the lives of more lake men, among them three Canadians.


WHEN a November gale strewed the E. P. Dorr all along the lake shore between Port Maitland and Fort Erie, fresh water quenched a fiery spirit whom Yellow Jack and African Fever and all the salt of the seven seas had failed to daunt. This was Donald MacArthur of Collingwood, one of the seven drowned with the Dorr. She went under with all hands; just where, no man ever found out. Her cargo of oak plank, white wood and sycamore columns, was strewn for forty miles. With the exception of a piece of her mainmast, a hawser box and name board, which came in at Point Abino, the scattered cargo was all that was ever seen of the Dorr, after Capt. Woods, of the schooner W. H. Oades, lost sight of her in the grey of the November twilight one Sunday. The two vessels had left Toledo in company on the Sunday before, Nov. 13th, 1883. They may have had a slow passage down Lake Erie, for apparently the Dorr was lost a week later. When Woods last glimpsed the Dorr she was wallowing in the sea and making bad weather of weather that was already decidedly worse. She was very heavily laden.


The Dorr, built by J. W. Banta, at Chicago, 1861, and repaired or rebuilt four times afterwards, was a two-masted schooner, registering 215 tons. She was 120 feet long, 26 feet one inch beam and 10 feet deep in the hold. She rated A2 1/2 and was valued at $6,900. In that gale in which she was lost, the fine new steamer, John B. Lyon, rolled out both her smokestacks on Lake Michigan, and the schooner John M. Hutchinson, which she had in tow, lost all her sails. The passenger propeller Toledo, from Green Bay to Buffalo, also rolled her smokestack out, and the schooner Helvetia reached Milwaukee with six inches of ice all over her. Her staysail and squaresail were frozen so stiff, that the tug Mason had to pump boiling water on them from a hose before they could be lowered. The steam barge Bell Cross, bound from Buffalo to Bay City, had to lie at anchor under Long Point for nine days, and was two weeks on the voyage.

The E. P. Dorr was owned by Capt. Peter Dufresne (or Dufrane), Jr., an Oswego man who had recently moved to Buffalo. She carried down with her her master and owner, his mate, James Renaud of St. Catharines, and a crew of four men and a woman cook. The other members of the Dorr's crew were: James Henderson, of Kingston, Ont.; James Blakely, of Detroit; Michael Rooney, of Toledo, and Mrs. Minnie Brainard, of Detroit, cook.


Donald MacArthur was one of the MacArthurs who came from the Island of Islay, in Scotland, and farmed on the tenth line of Nottawasaga Township, near Collingwood. Donald, the youngest son, had a full share of the salt water blood of his sea-going father. In 1869, five years after the family had settled down to Simcoe County farming, young Donald ran off to sea. The first his folk heard of him, he was on a timber vessel in Montreal, bound for Liverpool. In Glasgow, two months later, he met a boy with whom he had gone to school in Islay, and they both shipped on the barque Mona, bound for Callao, in Peru.

Capt Collins of the Mona was a good Christian, and instead of hazing the runaway youngster according to the best nautical traditions of Hollywood, he found where his home was and promised to put him on board a vessel bound to Canada when they returned to Glasgow. But, after eighteen months trading in the southern ocean the Mona was run down by a steamer, and Donald MacArthur and all the others, after a close call from drowning, were landed in Bahia, in Brazil, with nothing but the clothes they wore.

Donald reached New York, penniless, and beat his way homeward as far as Thorold, where he got hard and fast aground. Capt. James McCannel, a neighbor, was then at the commencement of his lakefaring. When joining a vessel in Thorold in May, 1871, he tried to find Donald there, but learned he had shipped in another craft going to Montreal.

From Montreal MacArthur made a voyage to Glasgow. Here he joined the ship Ancilla, bound for the west coast of Africa. Most of the crew were shanghaied, waking up on board with the ship at sea, and learning that they were signed on for three years' service in a white man's graveyard.


As soon as they arrived the dreaded African fever broke out on board. Several men had died when Donald was stricken. He recovered, but saw too many going overboard sewn up in hammocks and never coming back. There was a ship lying near the Ancilla, homeward bound but shorthanded, for the fever had decimated her crew also. Donald got a word with her captain, and in the dead of night he slipped down a rope over the Ancilla's side, dropped into a waiting boat, and joined the outward-bounder. She sailed for Glasgow before he was discovered. Of the thirty-six men shipped or shanghaied aboard the Ancilla, only ten came back to the Clyde. Twenty-six died of the African fever.

Next Donald joined a clipper ship in Glasgow, and sailed for Ceylon, and came back with a cargo of tea. Then out of Glasgow he made his only venture in steam. He shipped as boatswain in a steamer for Calcutta. When the voyage was completed, he went back to sails. He joined the full-rigged ship Morning Light, and again went out from Glasgow to Calcutta, and back to Belfast. Crossing to Glasgow again, he sailed for Havana aboard the Scotch ship John Ure, with a cargo for Cuba.

The yellow fever was as bad in Havana as the black had been on the Guinea Coast, but Donald did not get it. From Havana the Ure sailed in ballast to Pensacola to load timber. On arrival in Florida the ship was quarantined for ten days, and fumigated with her hatches sealed. When the crew took off the hatches to commence loading, they were over an hour carrying out dead rats.


From Pensacola he sailed for Belfast with a timber cargo, and there took his discharge. He came back as a passenger in the steamer Bolivia for New York, and then came by rail home to the farm near Collingwood. He arrived in October, 1879, after having been away at sea for ten years and furrowing fifty thousand miles of salt water, twice the distance around the earth's circumference.

After a winter in the lumber woods near Menominee, Michigan, he joined the Canadian schooner Jane McLeod, Capt. Finlay McPherson, of Goderich, at Collingwood. In the fall of the year this vessel was wrecked at the lower end of Lake Ontario. The cook was drowned, the others escaped in wet shirts, and Donald went back to the lumber woods. In the spring he joined a vessel in Sheboygan, and sailed in her all season until she laid up at Detroit, early in the fall.

Thriftily desirous of making a few more dollars before going back to the lumber woods, Donald joined the schooner E. P. Dorr, which was lying in Toledo, laden for Buffalo, and so sealed his doom.


Two other Nottawasaga neighbors went to salt water in that stirring decade of the 1870's, and if they did not sail with MacArthur they must have crossed tacks with him.

Archie Carmichael and Malcolm McLeod sailed from the lakes to England in the Toronto schooner Jessie L. Scarth in 1875. She was one of an argosy of six timber-laden lakers that sailed from Sheboygan to London with square timber and deckloads of staves laden in Montreal, the other five being the Edward Blake, in which Aemilius Jarvis sailed before the mast; the W. W. Grant, Thistle, T. C. Street and City of Manitowoc. These vessels were schooners, square-rigged forward for the ocean voyage. The Scarth went on from London or Liverpool to Odessa in the Black Sea, and the golden fleece she brought back to Britain was Russian wheat.

There is a story that among the spoils of Sebastopol in the Crimean War was a mountain of Russian wheat, winch had been heaped up in the open, for lack of storage facilities, and was allowed to lie there for years. The outer grain sprouted and formed a thatch which protected the grain below so that years afterwards when the mountain was quarried like a mine the "ore" of wheat below was found sound and sweet. It seems impossible or improbable that the Jessie L. Scarth went after that particular wheat, twenty years after Sebastopol fell. But then again the story of Jason and his acquisition of the fell of the ram that carried Helle and Aphrixus out of Asia, is, er, challenging. The ascertained facts are that the Scarth did come back to Liverpool with Russian wheat, and lay there idle for two years for sale.

Archie Carmichael was ship-keeper aboard the Scarth during this period, and came back with her to Collingwood as mate in 1879, when she went into the Chicago-Collingwood grain trade. He was the first man to deck in the forward part of his fishboat in the fleet of Collingwood skiffs. These boats would go as far north as Squaw Island in Georgian Bay, a hundred miles from Collingwood, and come home through northwest gales of such force as would drive the oceangoing steel steamer Campana to take shelter in Tobermory. He was drowned off Squaw Island in September, 1886, being struck in the head by the main boom when his fishing boat capsized. Several men were with him. They climbed on to the bottom of the boat and were saved. They could see his body, standing motionless in the water, ere he sank out of sight. He had been the survivor of many shipwrecks; once in the Mediterranean, in the Crimean War, when a troopship in which he was serving was lost and only seven men survived; once on the coast of Scotland; and once on the Great Lakes.

McLeod and McArthur did not come back to Lake Ontario when the Scarth did in '79, but were in the Allan Line steamers and other vessels. It was in 1883 that McLeod came home in one of the C.P. R. steamers. He joined a party in the Klondyke gold rush of 1898 and none of them was ever heard of afterwards.




Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Date of Publication
2 May 1942
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.25506 Longitude: -77.61695
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.45535 Longitude: -76.5105
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 42.85556 Longitude: -79.1025
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 42.90012 Longitude: -79.23288
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.03342 Longitude: -79.21628
Richard Palmer
Copyright Statement
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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Design Embroidery For: Schooner Days DXXXVI (536)