Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Old Lake Sailor And Blue Jacket
Watertown Times (Watertown, NY), 7 Sep 1917
Full Text
Old Lake Sailor And Blue Jacket
John Hunter of Henderson Tells Reminiscences
On Gun Boat in Civil War
Started Life as Lake Sailor at Seven and Retired at 70, Now Tilling Little Farm in Henderson at Age of 82

The one regret John Hunter of Henderson, old lake sailor and veteran blue-jacket of the United States Navy in Civil War days, when he saw the Watertown boys assembling to depart for the front today, while here to visit the county fair, was that age prevents his getting into service with the navy again to help hunt down submarines; for Mr. Hunter comes of a race of fighters, his grandsire having been a colonel of continentals in the days of '76, while his father was a soldier of the War of 1812.

Ever since he retired from sailing aboard a windjammer up the lakes a score or more years ago to his little place a mile west of Robbe Corners in the town of Henderson, Mr. Hunter, who is now in his 84th year, but doesn't look it, by a dozen summers, has annually made a visit to the city during fair time to meet with the old messmates of his lake sailing days and the Civil War comrades who chance to come to the fair, and this year he wandered in to The Times building to see a new press and gave the following sketch of more than commonly interesting life of toll and adventure.

Mr. Hunter, whose father, Elijah Hunter, moved soon after the War of 1812 to to Canada, which he with his regiment of Wilkinson's army of invasion had marched and fought over during the Canadian campaigns, was born at Violet, 16 miles west of Kingston on the old military pike to Toronto, 84 years ago. When a wee lad his mother died, and with the hard times prevailing in the Dominion as well as on this side of the border, the by from the age of about seven years had to go out and fend for himself.

About the first employment he found was with a timber schooner that plied between the Bay of Quinte country and Oswego, whose master, Capt. Moore, took the lad aboard as "horse boy," his duty being to ride a nag around the capstan and snaked the big sticks of hewed lumber aboard when loading and ashore when discharging cargo. After a year or two with Capt. Moore, who in his rough way was kind to the little lad, Johnnie Hunter became a sailor boy aboard lake vessels, and up to the breaking out of the Civil War followed the lakes, not a port from Sackets Harbor to Duluth being strange to him. When he left sailing in 1862 to enlist in the navy, he was second officer of the boat Sir Edward Head under Capt. Guinan.

In the United States Navy he served aboard the receiving ship Princeton, off New Orleans, and during the time he was aboard participating in many a chase of blockade runners seeking to get out from the passes of the Mississippi with cargoes of cotton, then worth its weight in gold almost, ad in keeping out of the Confederate city the fast sailing European clippers laden with arms, ammunition and hospital supplies so badly needed by Jeff Davis's government.

From the Princeton he was transferred to the Gertrude, a sloop of war of the West Gulf squadron, engaged in chasing down blockade runners and commanded by Captain Benjamin Deane, and was aboard and at the breech of a long swivel gun when The Echo, a famous privateer, was run down and captured off Galveston. He participated as well in the capture of many cotton boats.

Next he was transferred to the United States gunboat Monongahela, and participated aboard her in the fight of the federal Gulf fleet with the Confederate iron-clad Tennessee. The Tennessee was a twin of the famous Merrimac, with sloping roof-shaped deck of railroad iron from which 40-pound shot would bound and glance like peas thrown against a wall. The Monongahela's beak struck a glancing blow.

As the gunboat sheered past, Hunter was one of the gunners who poured a broadside of red-hot shot int the exposed see of the ram, tilted by the blow of the federal boat until the timbers showed below the railroad iron, and a minute later a little federal monitor shot way the wheel chains of the big ram at he rudder head and she lay helpless, with smoke from the hot shot pouring into her side belching up from her hatches. Her crew scrambled out and deserted her like a lot of water rats, and she was a prize of the Monongahela.

The Monongahela was sent up past capitulated New Orleans to participate in ramming the batteries at Vicksburg, and was fifth in the line on the first day, when in the rain of shell and shot one federal gunboat slipped by, her quarter exposed to the land batteries being protected somewhat by layers of iron cable chain hung down the side.

The Monongahela, a side-wheeler steamer converted into a gunboat, got a Confederate shot right through her paddle wheel and became unmanageable like a winged bird, and had to turn back and drift out of the fight, the other 12 boats of the squadron being driven back also. The second day three boats got past the batteries, the Monongahela, paddle wheel repaired, again getting winged as on the day before, and being driven back. On the third day the nine boas below passed the inferno of sot and joined the four boats above he city, and the Confederacy was cut in twain.

At the close of the war Mr. Hunter received his honorable discharge at Philadelphia, Pa., Aug. 11, 1865, and in 1866 was back again at Henderson, where he resumed his calling as a lake sailor, running between Buffalo and Duluth on the John B. Armstrong, until advancing years made the strenuous life of the lakes impossible, and he retired about 12 years ago to his little farm.

Mr. Hunter has been twice married, his first wife, Mary Jane Peters of Henderson, whom he married in 1865, just after returning from the war, having died 15 years ago. A few years ago he married as his second wife, Mrs. Susan Davis of Adams Center. Of seven children by his first wife, five are living, being Mrs. Emma David of Clyde, N.D., Mrs. Jessie Jones of Henderson, Mrs. Effie Muzzy of Butterville, and J.S. Hunter of Henderson and W.R. Hunter of Utica.

Mr. Hunter is a member of Piper Post, G.A.R., of Henderson, and is well known in Grand Army of the Republic circles throughout this section.

Item Type
Date of Publication
7 Sep 1917
Personal Name(s)
Hunter, John ; Hunter, Elijah ; Moore, Capt. ; Guinan, Capt. ; Peters, Mary Jane ; Davis, Susan ; Davis, Emma, Mrs. ; Jones, Mrs. Jessie ; Muzzy, Mrs. Effie ; Hunter, J.S. ; Hunter, W.R.
Richard Palmer
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.84701 Longitude: -76.18187
Copyright Statement
Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Old Lake Sailor And Blue Jacket