Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Grain Carrying at 50c a Bushell: Schooner Days MCCLXXIII (1273)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 16 Jun 1956
Full Text
Grain Carrying at 50c a Bushell
Schooner Days MCCLXXIII (1273)

by C. H. J. Snider

The NANCY's Story - 11

THE broadsheet of Leith and Shepherd, Detroit agents for the Nancy in 1790, reproduced last week was from the admirable Burton Collection in the Detroit Public Library, through the kindness of the Great Lakes Historical Society.

If the reader then waded through the f's which typographical limitations compel us to use in place of the original long s's of the text, he is entitled to know that "barrel bulk" mentioned was a convenient measure of capacity in early commerce. It was something like the present "shipping ton," which is not a measure of weight but of space, 42 cubic feet. Barrels were of all sizes, and when filled might contain from 200 to 300 lbs., according to contents. Barrel-bulk as a unit of measurement, seems to have been limited to 300 lbs. weight in a cubic space of around 42 feet. If it ran over in either dimension the unit increased in number. Thus puncheons, the largest of barrels except tuns, if they contained 120 gallons, were 3 1/2 barrel-bulk units. Four barrels of pork, weighing up to 800 lbs., counted for 3 barrel-bulk units. Six jars of oil, about 20 gallons, would weigh less than 200 lbs., but the space they occupied was 1 barrel-bulk.

That paint in "rundlets" of 28 lbs. each means in small straight sided casks; what we would call drums. Cans had not apparently been used yet as paint containers.

Stoves, single and double, counting as one or two units of barrel-bulk, are understandable. The two-story stove would take up twice the space of the one burner, whatever its weight. It is cheering to know that in 1790 they were shipping cast iron stoves into the frozen wilds of Canada.

Fur packs, it will be noted, weighed 120 lbs. and were five feet long. If this custom dated back to the ill-fated Griffon her 1,200 packs of beaver pelts were a dead weight of 72 tons, a fair cargo for a vessel of 45 tons carpenter's measurement.

LOOKING over the old schedule of freight rates - the oldest Schooner Days has yet - came across the quotation:

"Freight from Detroit to Mackinac at the rate of 4 shillings New York currency, or 2 shillings and 6 pence Quebec currency for a bushel of corn."

In our own time schooners would jump at the chance of 3c a bushel for carrying corn from Lake Erie to Kingston. From Detroit to Mackinac was counted 286 miles. The Lake Erie to Kingston trip would be longer, depending on where you loaded, and it involved canalling, but sometimes freight hungry schooners bit at as little as 1 1/4c a bushel. They usually went in the hole on that, for the "Old Canallers" capacity only ranged up to 25,000 bushels. The latter was considered a record load. The big bulk freighters of today, with 600,000 bushel capacity, do considerably better.


In schooner days we still heard of "York shillings" and "Halifax currency" though we never saw either. The Halifax shilling was worth 20 cents before the changeover to dollars, and "Quebec currency" would be about the same. The New York shilling, which our great grandmothers would remember in buying a "York shilling crock," was rated at 12 1/2 cents here.

So this old freight schedule would sell for 50 cents a bushel for "corn," which meant any kind of grain, from Detroit to Mackinac. A schooner should have been able to make money then. There has been no quotation on grain shipped in the early days. A grain shipped from Detroit to Mackinac in this century, as far as is known, but for the distance 1c a bushel would be enough.

When grain was carried up Lake Huron at 50 cents a bushel, the carrier was our old friend the schooner Nancy. She could load at the most 3,000 bushels, and needed nine men to sail her. The voyage would take from a week to a month. It is not known that the Nancy ever received $1,500 or its equivalent for a single freight of "corn" or anything else, but this shows the possibilities of schooner earnings in the early days.

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
16 Jun 1956
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 42.33143 Longitude: -83.04575
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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Grain Carrying at 50c a Bushell: Schooner Days MCCLXXIII (1273)