Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Michigan (Schooner), sent over falls, 8 Sep 1827
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We find the following article in the York Observer. It would indeed be a splendid sight to witness the passage of a brig over the Falls of Niagara, and would draw together an immense collection of people. We should suppose the tavern keepers at the Falls would be well paid for every expense they might be at in this business.
      "A brig of 300 tons has been purchased by the tavern keepers at the Falls in order to gratify the curiosity of their patrons, she will be decorated in a splendid manner with all her canvass spread, and piloted by a Frenchman into the rapids above the Horse Shoe. She is to proceed on her voyage in the latter week in September, and must appear when ploughing through the foaming rapids and descending the stupendous cataract, as magnificent a spectacle as ever man beheld. The pilot is preparing a balloon in which he will ascend from off the deck upon the brig's entering the head of the rapids. Were the voyage postponed until June next, thousands would flock from Europe to witness it."
      Buffalo Emporium
      July 23, 1827

The third of September next, at 3:00 P.M. has been fixed on for the descent of the schr. MICHIGAN (Burthen 136 tons) over the Falls of Niagara! She has been purchased by a company of gentlemen on both sides of the river for this purpose, and will be fitted up tastefully. Care will be taken to secure her hatches companion way &c., so that she can reach her perpendicular descent of 160 ft. without injury, she will make a tremendous leap into the abyss below, without breaking! The best site for witnessing this exhibition will be found on Goat Island and the Canada shore. We may expect a vast concourse of spectators to be present on the occasion.
      Buffalo Emporium
      July 30, 1827

Saturday the 8th of September, is fixed upon for the passage of the schr. MICHIGAN down the falls of Niagara. The story of a Frenchman going up in a balloon from her deck, while on her passage, must be a mistake. He would be quite as likely to go down as up.
      Buffalo Emporium
      August 2, 1827

A GRAND SPECTACLE.--The Editor of the Black Rock Gazette says, that he is authorised to state, that on the 8th. day of September, at 3 o'clock P. M. the schooner MICHIGAN, of 136tons burthen, will make her passage over the FALLS OF NIAGARA. She is to be in every way prepared to prevent the admission of water --is to be towed by boats to the head of the rapids and placed in the most eligible situation to make her proper course, andif she should reach the falls in safety and make a fair clearance of the perpendicular descent of 160 feet it is thought that she may rise to the surface of the abyss below, which is supposed to be 600 feet in depth, in good order and well conditioned, the glide thence proudly down the current. On her deck are to be placed several living animals, possessing great muscular strength, such as bears, dogs, cats &c.
This will be a truly sublime sight which can be furnished in no other part of the world than at Niagara.
      Cleveland Weekly Herald
      Friday August 3, 1827 p.3 col.1

      . . . . .

      From the Black Rock Gazette
      A CARD.
      Feeling grateful to a generous public, for the liberal support we have received from them, we have determined to evince our sense of their kindness by an exhibition which we think will attract their notice, and is well worth visiting from the cities on the seaboard. Precisley at 3 o'clock P. M., on the 8th of the ensuing month, it is our intention to set adrift within a mile of the great falls at this place, the largest sail vessel on Lake Erie, with a number of the hardiest animals, such as Bears, Wolves, &c. that can be obtained from the contries bordering on Lake Huron and Michigan. The spectacle will be as subline a one, in our opinion, as is within the power of man to exhibit, should we succeed, of which we have little doubt, in giving the vessel such a direction as will enable hewr to reach the perpendicular fall unbroken.
      When the vessel is put adrift, the animals will be unchained and left on the deck at liberty: should they not be crushed or drowned in the descent - and we think that most of them will not - great interest will be added to the closing scene, in seeing them successfully rise among the billows in the basin below, (of which the spectators will command a most perfect view,) and shape their course to the shore. It is our intention, if they be retaken, to send some of the animals to the Museums of New York and Montreal.
      P. Whitney
      Wm. Forsyth } Keepers of the Hotels at the
      John Brown Falls of Niagara
NOTE -- It is proper to observe, that several public spirited gentlemen, in addition to the Keepers of the Fall's Hotels, have handsomely contributed towards the expense necessarily attending this novel and interesting spectacle. Experiments will early be made, by sending empty hogsheads into the rapids at various places, in order to ascertain the most eligible starting point for the "condemned vessel," which we have learnt will be dressed like a pirate, with her black flag, &c.
      Cleaveland Weekly Herald
      Friday, August 10, 1827; 3; 3.
      . . . . .

      The proposed descent of the MICHIGAN over the cataract of Niagara, on the 8th of September, is notified in nearly all the journals we exchange with. Some of them indeed speak of the exposure of the animals with severity. But we believe that but for a similar novel exhibition, there may be thousands to see the Falls, and the wonders which surround them, who never would have taken upon themselves the trouble of going. There will be five steamboats arrive on that day in the vicinity of the Falls, together with hundreds of carriages, and thousands of wagons ! They will come in "companies, pairs, and singly."
- those who do not wend them with the world to see the events of that day, will be thought singular.
We presume arrangements could be made with the steam-boats which go on the east branch of the Niagara, to take several canal boats in tow with passengers, from Tonawanda.
      Black Rock Gazette
      Cleaveland Weekly Herald
      Friday, September 7, 1827; 3; 3.

      . . . . .
The Fete at Niagara - The schooner MICHIGAN made her descent over the rapids and falls of Niagara on Satu.rday last at 3 o'clock, in the presence of a vast concourse of people; the sight we are informed was highly imposing, and the result of the experiment more successful than anticipated. The particulars will be found in an article which we copy from the Buffalo Journal. On Saturday morning a fleet of five steam-boats crowded with passengers, each boat with a band of music on board, and flags and streamers displayed from various parts of the rigging left Buffalo Creek for the Falls, furnishing high evidence of the enterprise, business and rapid growth of the lake country. Two years ago there was on Lake Erie but one steam-boat - now there are seven and more will be soon required.
By common consent it seems that the MICHIGAN has been branded as a PIRATE, to this we object, for we believe her reputation for honesty and gocd conduct has ever been above suspicion, and this we cannot say of all her traducers. She has done great service upon the lakes - has woo'd the winds with canvas as lofty - danced upon the waves as merrily, and borne as rich freights as any keel that ever furrowed Lake Erie. $uch being the case, we think it quite enough, that our Niagara friends should have consigned her hull to destruction, and they ought most certainly to refrain from loading her hitherto fair name with infamy.
      Another reason operates upon us in Ohio, there is a certain Territory in our vicinity, fast approaching that enviable degree of maturity of body and mind requisite to admission into the sisterhood, with whom we may have to adjust a boundry line of very dubious location, to her therefore at present we wish to be most kind and courteous, and we cannot consent to aid in giving currency to the foul oblique against which we have entered our protest.
      Cleaveland Weekly Herald
      September 14, 1827; 3;1.

      . . . . .

Descent of the MICHIGAN - During the whole of the week strangers were arriving in this village on their way to witness the descent of the MICHIGAN, down the rapids and over the falls of Niagara. By Friday night, our public houses were completely thronged: and on Saturday morning every steamboat, coach, wagon and horse, were put in requisition, and the multitude moved by the different conveyances, to the Falls. By 1:00 there were probably on Goat Island, the American and English shores, from 10 to 12,000 persons, awaiting the appearance of the MICHIGAN. At 3:00 she was released from her moorings and came on shortly and majestically over the bounding billows. She passed through the rapids to the perpendicular pitch of several feet, some distance above the Falls in safety. Here she struck, and for a moment her course was stopped, and it was doubtful whether she had not finished her voyage. This doubt was but momentary; she careened over and slid down the pitch. She soon righted and her mast went by the board. Here bruins thought proper to quit the hazardous expedition, and lay his course for the shore. The wreck was now full of water, and passed down to the great Fall, her timber heads only being seen. When half of her had passed over the precipice, she broke into pieces, which was the last we saw of the MICHIGAN.
Nothing has been seen of the animals which were on board; two geese landed in safety below the Falls.
      We believe that the visitors at the Falls are perfectly satisfied, that the projectors of this experiment have fulfilled every part of their engagement; and judging from the descent of the MICHIGAN, we feel very little doubt but a strong vessel of 35 tons would reach the principal Falls in Safety.
      Buffalo Emporium
      September 10, 1827

      . . . . .

      The bears which were aboard the MICHIGAN, succeeded in reaching the Canada shore, above the Falls. Some suppose the buffalo was killed by the falling masts; he was seen going down the falls apparently lifeless.
      Buffalo Emporium
      September 13, 1827

The spectacle, upon which the public curiosity has been greatly excited, was witnessed on Saturday last, by a large concourse of people. For two or three days previous, the multitude had been collecting, and on the 8th., the roads to the Falls were literally crowded from an early hour in the morning until two o'clock in the afternoon, with carriages of every description, filled with persons hastening to witness the novel sight. The Steamboats Wm. PENN, HENRY CLAY, NIAGARA, PIONEER, and CHIPPEWA, were put in requisition on the occasion and, filled with beauty and fashion of the country, contributed not a little to the interest of the scene. The view from the boats was enlivening in the extreme, it seemed as if " The world, Folly, Fashion and all," was in motion, eagerly pressing toone point, led on irresistably by the overruling passion, curiosity.
The MICHIGAN, (or Pirate MICHIGAN, or condemned vessel, as she has been called with her "cargo on board," was towed down the Niagara by the steamboat CHIPPEWA and anchored at Yale's Landing at about half past 12 o'clock. The final arrangements for her descent were made under the direction of Capt. Rough, the oldest navigator on the Lakes.
In her chain-plates were placed two effigies, one on either side, of no prepossessing aspect, which were designated by the names of Adams and Jackson. Other effigies were placed in different parts of the ship, upon which were bestowed apropriate cognomens, such as Natty Ewart, Blue Beard, &c., while the one in the fore top was called Carter Beverly, whose province seemed to be, to lookout for breakers.
The animals on board, consisting of a Buffalo, from the Rocky Mountains, a Bear, from Green Bay, and another from Grand River, in Canada, two foxes, one Racoon, a Dog and a Cat, and four Geese, were cut loose previous to the descent In this condition, at 3 o'clock, P. M., with the American Ensign at her bowsprit, the British Jack at her poop, and the Black Flag at the fore mast head, she was towed down the river to within a quarter of a mile of the Upper Rapids by a boat, and then committed to the mercy of the torrent. The sight now became grand and interesting. She shot down the current with the velocity of an arrow, and passed over the first rapid in gallant style. She struck the second ---reeled for a moment---her masts went by the board, and swinging partly round she presented her broad side to the current; and was swept to the bottom of the short fall quite in pieces. It was at this point that the animals left her.
Her main timbers adhered until they passed over the great fall, when she was dashed to atoms, scarcely one piece remaining upon another, and floated down the river, covering the surface for some distance around.
After the descent, two of the Geese, and the Cat, were picked up below the Falls, uninjured. Both of the Bears swam ashore, above the Cataract, and were secured in good condition. The Dog was subsequently secured, having reached Grass Island, above the Falls, wholly unhurt.
Nothing was seen of the other animals, from the moment the vessel sruck upon the rocks at the foot of the rapids, except the Buffalo, which was observed to pass down ahead of the wreck. The small animals either reached the shore unseen or they were dashed to pieces and carried down the river beyond recovery, to the no small disappointment of the virtuous.
The number of spectators assembled on both sides of the river to look at this sight, has been variously estimated at from 10,000 to 15,000. It was impossible to make any accurate calculation, and there might have been more, and perhaps, less. At all events, there were more than could be accommodated with even necessary comforts, nothwithstanding the great exertions that were made by the "Keepers" of booths to "satisfy" all.
It is questionable whether the assemblage of such a multitude is productive of any good. Brought together from motives the most opposite, and composed of persons of every age and from every walk of life, the force of example may be supposed to produce an evil effect. On this occasion, however, so intense was the interest, that but few scenes of riot and debauchery were exhibited. No accident of a serious nature occurred, and the day, which was fine, passed off with apparent satisfaction, notwithstanding the limited accommoation which was afforded at the different hotels.------Buffalo Journal
      Cleveland Weekly Herald
      September 14, 1827 p.3 col.2

      Sending a Schooner over Niagara Falls: once She Was a British Man-of-war
They had some fool ideas of fun a hundred years ago, among which "Schooner Days" begs to include sending somebody else over Niagara Falls. The objection applies whether the somebody else is a man in a barrel or a pig in a punt. Recently the secretary-manager of the Port Huron Chamber of Commerce, Mr. H.A. Hopkins, who, of course, merits no such criticism, gave an historical instance in a broadcast. It was an account of how the old schooner MICHIGAN went over the falls in 1827. And it was taken, after various transcriptions, from an old letter written in Buffalo, September 9, of that year.
"The schooner MICHIGAN, as you have already learnt from me, was the largest on Lake Erie, and too large in fact to enter the various harbours on the lake, and being somewhat decayed in her upper work, the thought struck the owner, Major Frazer, formerly of New York, that she would answer the purpose of testing the fate of a vessel that by accident might approach too near the stupendous cataract of Niagara, and also the fate of animals that might be caught in the rapids of these swift rolling waters, and carried over the falls.
"The proprietors of the large public houses at the Falls, on both sides of the river, and of stages and steamboats, made up a purse to purchase the schooner, aware that they would be repaid by the company which the exhibition would attract; and in this calculation they were not deceived.
"For several days previous to the September 8, the stages came crowded, as well as the canal boats, so much so that it was difficult to find a conveyance to the Falls: and such was the interest that the descent was the only topic of conversation among all classes. On Friday night, September 7, wagons filled with country people rattled through the town, and on Saturday morning Buffalo itself seemed to be moving in mass towards the grand point of attraction. To accommodate those who could not find passage in carriages, five steamboats had advertised to leave here on Saturday morning, and great numbers chose this conveyance ...
"The CHIPPEWA was appointed to tow down the pirate schooner (as she was termed) the MICHIGAN: which service she performed. I took my passage in the boat, and we got under way before the others, passed through the basin at Black Rock, and about a mile below the Rock took in tow the vessel destined to make the dreadful plunge. As soon as we got under way the scene became interesting. The sun shone in full splendor, the waters of the Erie were placid, there being scarcely a ruffle upon its surface, and a few miles astern. of us four steamers crowded with passengers, and with bands of music on board, were plowing their way down the rapids of Niagara.
"Our little boat towed the MICHIGAN as far as Yales's Landing on the British shore, within three miles of the Falls where she anchored: and at this place the CHIPPEWA landed her passengers as well the WILLIAM PENN, and they were convened from thence to the Falls in vehicles of all descriptions. The three other steamboats landed their passengers on the American side.
"Three o'clock was the hour appointed to weigh anchor on the MICHIGAN. The task of towing her from Yales's Landing to the rapids (and a most hazardous one it was) was entrusted to Captain Rough, the oldest captain on the Lake. With a yawl and five oarsmen, of stout hearts and strong arms, the old captain got the schooner under way, and towed her till within one-quarter of a mile of the first rapids, and within half a mile of the tremendous precipice - as near as they dare approach - and cutting her adrift she passed majestically on, while the oarsmen of the yawl had to pull for their lives to effect their own safety. Indeed such was the fear of the hands, as I have understood, that on approaching near the rapids they cut the tow line before they had received order from their commander. And now we approach the interesting moments of the exhibition.
"The high ground on both sides of the American and British shores were lined with people, having a full view of the rapids and of the approach of the vessel. And now it was that a thousand fears and expectations were indulged, as the MICHIGAN, unguided by human agency, approached, head on, the first rapid or descent, and apparently keeping the very course that the most skillful navigator would have pursued, having an American ensign from her bowsprit, and the British Jack displayed at her stem.
"She passed the first rapid unhurt, still went on, making a plunge, shipping a sea, and rising from it in beautiful style, and in her descent over the second her masts went by the board, at the same moment affording those who had never witnessed a shipwreck a specimen of the sudden destruction of the spars of a ship at sea in case of a wreck. Expectation of her fate was now at highest. She swung round and presented her broadside to the dashing and foaming waters, and after remaining stationary a moment or two was, by its force, swung round, stem foremost, and having passed to the third rapid, she bilged but carried her hull apparently whole, between Grass Island and the British shore to the Horse Shoe, over which she was carried stern foremost and launched into the abyss below.
"In her fall she was dashed into a thousand pieces. I went below the falls immediately after the descent, and the river exhibited a singular appearance from the thousands of floating fragments, there being scarcely to be seen any two boards nailed together, and many of her timbers were broken into atoms. Such was the eagerness of the multitude present to procure a piece of her that before sunset a great part of her was carried away.
"I believe I have neglected to inform you of the animals on board. They consisted a buffalo from the Rocky Mountains, three bears from Green Bay and Grand River, two foxes, a raccoon, a dog, a cat, and four geese. The fate of these you will probably wish to learn. When the vessel was left to her fate they were let loose on deck, except the buffalo, who was enclosed in a temporary pen. Two of the bears left the vessel shortly after she began to descend the rapids and swam ashore, not withstanding the rapidity of the current. On reaching the British shore they were taken. The buffalo was seen to pass over the falls, but was not visible afterwards. What became of the other animals is not known. Those who had glasses could see one of the bears climbing the mast as the vessel approached the rapids. The foxes, etc., were also running up and down, but nothing was seen of them after the schooner passed over. Two of the geese were the only living things that passed over, and they were taken up unhurt. Major Frazer obtained one, and an Englishman purchased the other for $2.
Respecting the effigies, of which there were several, the only one I saw below the falls was Gen. Andrew Jackson, apparently uninjured, throwing his arms about and knocking his legs together in the eddies, the only one of the crew of fancy that escaped unhurt. There were over 30,000 people in attendance, and you may judge of the situation of affairs when I assure you that I stopped at Forsyth's about 4 p.m. and was unable to obtain even a cracker or glass of water. It was the same on the American side."
Who and what was this schooner MICHIGAN, too big for Lake Erie early harbours? Why was she built?
One thing which makes this old letter of particular interest to Canadians is that it may - one cannot say that it did -settle the ultimate fate of the British ship Detroit, flagship of Commodore Barclay, captured by the Americans in the ill-starred Battle of Put-in-Bay in 1813. Lossing in Field Book of the War of 1812, compiled for Harper's in the early 1860s, when memories were still fresh, says the Detroit became an American merchant vessel and, not proving profitable, was striped and sent over the falls with live animals on board, in a sort of public festival organized by hotelkeepers. But later historians, a hundred years and more after the time, have questioned this, and pointed out that there is no official record of the Detroit's fate such as an in a custom house or marine registry.
Might it not be that the name of the British ship Detroit, already born by two American brigs, was changed to MICHIGAN when she was sold as a prize, and used as a commercial freighter? All official entries thenceforward would refer to the MICHIGAN. The fact that she was too big for contemporary lake harbours would fit in with this theory. For the Detroit was built for battle. The American men-of-war which captured her were also too big for most Lake Erie harbours, and had to floated away from their launching places on "camels" or pontoons. The fact that the MICHIGAN went over the falls "with the British Jack displayed at the stem" would indicate a British origin and signal an American triumph, even if the position of the flags was wrong by every know rule: ensigns are carried aft, jacks forward.
It was fool cruelty to send a cargo of animals over with the MICHIGAN, which is what we started out to suggest. The "DV" at the head of this 505th number of "Schooner Days" need not be taken as the equivalent of DV, as the skypilots say in the church announcements. The big V is for a big victory with divine help.
      Schooner Days, July 26, 1941
      Snider, C.H.J.

      . . . . .

      The schooner MICHIGAN to be sent over the Falls; 136 tons.
      Upper Canada Gazette
      August 18, 1827
      Schooner MICHIGAN sent over Nigara Falls as a specticle with one Buffalo two Bears an Eagle and a Goose.
      Upper Canada Gazette
      September 15, 1827

Built 1817 of 132 tons burthen, the schooner MICHIGAN, piloted by Capt. James Rough and Harry Weishuhn as far as they dared, of the two bears on board one of which escaped to the shore and was presented to the notorious Sam Patch, and acconpanied him on his last leap over Rochester Falls.
      Marine Disasters of the Western Lakes
      During 1871, by Capt. J. W. Hall

There were already several steamers on the lake, and a large fleet of sail vessels. Two or three small steamers had also been built to run on the Niagara. A curious exhibition was seen on that river in September, 1827. The schooner Michigan, which was found to be too large to enter the lake harbors, and had beside become partially unseaworthy, was purchased by several hotel owners and other, and public notice given that and a certain day it would be sent over the Falls. The novel exhibition drew immensely. Strangers came for days beforehand, and at the time appointed the number of people on Goat Island and the neighboring shore was estimated all the way from ten to thirty thousand. Five steamers, all there were on both lake and river except the Superior, went down from Buffalo loaded with passengers, beside thousands who took land conveyance.
      The Michigan was towed by one of the steamers to Yale's landing, three miles above the Falls, on the Canadian side. In the afternoon it was taken in charge by Captain Rough, the oldest captain on the lake, who with a yawl and five oarsmen undertook to pilot the doomed vessel as near the rapids as was possible. The Michigan had been provided with a crew, for that voyage only, consisting of a buffalo, three bears, two foxes, a raccoon, a dog a cat and four geese. It had also been officered with effigies of General Jackson and other prominent men of the day.
      Captain Rough took the schooner to a point within a quarter of a mile of the first rapids, and but little over half a mile from the Horse-shoe Fall. Then it was cut adrift, and the oarsmen had to pull for their lives, but succeeded in insuring their safety. Both shores were lined with immense crowds, eagerly watching this curious proceeding.
      With the American ensign flying from her bowsprit, and the British jack at her stern, the Michigan went straight down the center of the stream, keeping the coarse the best pilot would have pursued, and was soon dashing over the first rapids. Then there was trouble among the amateur crew. One of the bears was seen climbing a mast. The foxes, the coon, the dog and the cat were scampering up and down, apparently snuffing mischief in the air, but not knowing how to avoid it. Two of the bears plunged into the seething rapids and swam to the Canadian shore. The poor buffalo was inclosed in a pen and could do nothing but meet his fate in dignified silence.
      Passing the first rapids uninjured, the schooner shipped a sea, but came up and entered the second, still "head on." There its mast both went by the board, Then is swung around, entered the third rapid stern foremost, and the next instant plunged over the Horse-shoe Fall. Of course it was shivered into ten thousand pieces, many of the largest timbers being broken into atoms. Two of the geese survived the tremendous plunge and swam ashore, being the only animals, except fish, ever known to have descended alive over the fearful precipice. Their compagnons de voyage all disappeared; even the buffalo was never heard of more. Of the effigies, General Jackson¹s alone passed uninjured over the cataract, and was seen with head, arms and legs complete, riding triumphantly around one of the eddies-which was doubtless considered by the friends of the real General as an omen of success at the next Presidential election.
About the same time that this singular pageant was attracting a multitude of spectators, the old orator of the Senecas was being metaphorically sent over the Falls, as an unseaworthy hulk, by his countrymen. The school at the Seneca village was then in a forward condition, and many of the most prominent Indians began to profess their belief in Christianity. Red Jacket's opposition became more bitter than ever, while his personal habits were those of a perfect sot.
      His wife had lately joined the Christians whereupon the angry old pagan abandoned her, and lived for several months with another woman on the Tonawanda reservation. At the end of that time, however, he returned to his wife, and afterwards manifested no opposition to her attending church.
Twenty five of the chiefs determined to depose him from his sachemship. They accordingly had a written deposition drawn up, which they all signed. The list was headed by Gayanquiaton, or Young King, followed by the veteran Captain Pollard, White Seneca, Seneca White, Captain Strong and the rest.
      History of Erie County, N.Y.
      by Chrisfield Johnson, 1876

Item Type
Reason: sent over falls
Freight: animals
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original
Local identifier
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.1 Longitude: -79.066666
William R. McNeil
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Michigan (Schooner), sent over falls, 8 Sep 1827