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Edward lived a charmed life.  But then, so did everyone who sailed the Great Lakes and lived to tell about it.  Shipping disasters were commonplace in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries on the inland seas.  The height of shipping on the Great Lakes occurred in the late 1800’s into the first half of the 1900’s.   Ship traffic was so congested on the lakes that it may be compared to traffic on the highways of today.  The ships that sailed on the Great Lakes carried a wide variety of cargo and people.  Some historians have equated their importance with Great Lake development to that of the covered wagons and the westward movement.  Without the ships and the cargo they carried, development of the United States would have occurred at a much slower pace.  The ships on the Lakes carried everything from grains, livestock, iron, coal, lumber, cement, stone and even Christmas trees.  Major Great Lakes shipping ports as well as minor ports dotted the inland sea’s coastlines.  After the railroads were built, it was possible to transport goods from the interior of the country to the ports of the Great Lakes.  These ships sailed fully loaded with cargo across the vast expanses of water to be docked and unloaded then further transported by rail, canal or land. 

The Great Lakes are divided into the upper Great lakes and the lower Great Lakes.  There are five Great Lakes covering a surface area of roughly, 94,000 square miles.  They represent the largest system of fresh surface water on earth and contain about 18 percent of the world supply, only the polar caps have more fresh water (this may soon be an out dated statement).  The Laurentian Great Lakes were formed about 20,000 years ago during the last ice age.  As the earth’s climate began to warm the last glacial continental ice sheet started to retreat.  The glacier was up to 2 miles thick.  Because of its enormous size and weight, it gouged the surface of the land.  In some places such as the area of the Great Lakes, it formed basins large enough to hold the melting ice.  This ice formed the melt water and filled the five basins.  The Great Lakes as we know them today attained their water levels and appearance about 3,500-4,500 years ago.  Each lake is very different even though they represent a single “lake” system.

The upper Great Lakes consist of Michigan, Huron and Superior.  The lower Great Lakes consist of Erie and Ontario.  Lake Superior is the largest of the lakes.  It is the deepest and the coldest.  The land surrounding the lake is quite hilly.  Because it is further north, the climate tends to be much colder.  Lake Michigan is the second largest lake.  It is also the only one to be contained entirely within the borders of the United States.  It is 320 miles long and considered to have some of the most dangerous shores on the lakes.  Lake Michigan is home to the major port cities of Chicago, Milwaukee and Grand Haven.  Lake Huron is the third largest lake.  It is 190 miles wide and 250 miles long.  Lake Huron also includes the Georgian Bay.  While the shores of Lake Huron are for the most part sandy, Georgian Bay consists of very rocky shores.  Lake Erie is the southern most lake.  It is also the shallowest of all the lakes.  Because it is the least deep, the lake is capable of freezing over in the winter.  Lake Erie is well known for its often violent and ferocious storms that spring up quickly and without mercy for those who suffer their wrath.  The land surrounding this lake is fertile, agricultural and industrial.  Major port cities include Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo.  Lake Ontario is the smallest of all the five lakes although it is deeper then Lake Erie.  It is 180 miles long and 35 miles wide.  The name comes from the Native American word for “beautiful”.  The Niagara River separates Lake Ontario from Lake Erie.  The river, a connecting waterway between the two is not accessible for transportation because of Niagara Falls.  The area immediately around Lake Ontario is much warmer then the rest of the land.  It is in a very different climate zone (all of the immediate area lake climates are affected by the lake temperatures and the term “lake effect” is used to describe certain weather conditions and patterns such as snowstorms in the winter).  Known as the fruit belt, this area produces much of the apple and peach orchards of New York State.  The major port city for Lake Ontario is Toronto, Canada. 

The culture of the Great Lakes can be traced back to the first people who crossed the Bering Strait, eventually settling around the Great Lakes.  The more famous of the first settlers were those groups who comprised the Iroquois Confederacy.  The Confederacy was a sophisticated network of five tribes.  With an advanced culture, government and language the Iroquois Nation was well adapted to the Great Lake climate and environment.  The first European explorers to reach the Great Lakes were the French.   The next to come were the British.  The earliest forms of trade were fur.  The Native Americans had established sophisticated trade routes along the Great Lakes and the French fit into the well-established framework. 

The first recorded sailing vessel on the Great Lakes was around the mid 1600’s.  The earliest “steam” ships sailed the Great Lakes in the early 1800’s.  Prior to that sails propelled all ships.  However, during the 1800’s and very early into the 20th century, schooners, a ship using sails were still in use. Some ships were a combination of both steam and sails.  A side paddle, called side-wheelers, moved steamships.  The ships were entirely built of wood and iron.  Ships built of steel would not sail the Great Lakes until the end of the 1800’s.  Edward’s inland sea journey began on that very first ship. 

By the late 1800’s the Great Lakes shipping industry had developed a vocabulary peculiar to the culture of the inland seas.  Ships that sailed the Lakes were generally referred to as “boats” mainly due to their smaller size.  Conditions for travel on the Lakes required smaller construction then travel on the oceans.  Yet, many referred to the vessels as ships, even those who sailed them.  Canals by now connected the Great Lakes to major waterways enabling cargo to be transported by canal barge to the larger ocean bound ships.  Some ocean ships small enough to enter the Lakes were called “salties”.  Ships that carried freight were called lakers.  Boats were designed and built for the specific conditions of the Great Lakes transportation.  One such design was the whaleback.  When Edward first signed on a Great Lakes ship, there were a variety of boats sailing the Lakes and oceans.  A sample of those vessels includes the following;  Barque: a sailing vessel with 3 or more masts, Barkentine: a 3 masted vessel with sq rigged on fore mast only, Brig: a two masted vessel with both masts square rigged, Brigantine: a two masted vessel fore mast being square rigged, Cutter: a sailboat with one mast and rigged a mainsail and two head sails, Schooner: sailing ships with at least two masts with the main mast being taller, Steamship: a vessel powered by coal burning steam, and side paddle, Propeller: a sailing vessel using a screw driven propeller rather then side wheel, Barge: a boat built for carrying cargo usually long, flat decks, Tug boats: a small boat used for pulling ships, Passenger Steamships: built especially for transporting people, usually several decks high and crews expanded to include musicians, waiters and chambermaids. 

The crews for the sailing vessels depended on the type of vessel.  A typical crew for a steamer carrying passengers consisted of the following: Captains, First Mates, Second Mates, Clerks, First Engineers, Second Engineers, Carpenters, Wheelmen, Lookouts, Watchmen, Cooks, Assistant Cooks, Seamen, Deckhands, Oilers, Firemen, Stewards, Waiters, Boys, Chambermaids, Porters, and Musicians.  These ships were luxury passenger vessels and provided guests with all comforts including sumptuous meals.  The typical crew for working vessels consisted of Captains, First Mates, Second Mates, Engineers, Carpenters, Cooks, Seamen, Boys, Watchmen, Oilers, Firemen, Wheelmen, and Deckhands. A working vessel could have a crew of up to 40 people depending on the design and function of the vessel.   

The ports around the towns and cities reflected the marine environment needs and necessities.  There were sailor’s benevolent societies, banks for sailors, sail makers, sail repair shops, steam ship merchants, rope makers, vendors for food for Great Lakes ships, products for the repair of the ships as well as products specific for sailors and ship passengers (whiskey and tobacco the most prevalent and sought after).  There were also grim reminders of what the inland seas were capable of taking.  In addition to the merchants selling marine products, were the makers of coffins.  If the port was large enough and dangerous enough, there might also be a lighthouse and keeper and a Life Saving Service Station and crew.  These bustling environments dotted the coastlines up and down the five Great Lakes. 

Except for his day book, no correspondence records Edward’s decision to sail the Great Lakes.  Certainly, he would have been very aware of the dangers surrounding sailing ships of the inland seas.  World events would not provide any clues. By 1899 the Spanish-American War had ended. The paper clip was invented by a Norwegian, and the aspirin was recently patented and produced by the Beyer Company. Weather, it seems, was the biggest news maker.  The winter of 1899 produced the Great Blizzard, plummeting temperatures well below freezing in the southern half of the country and major snowstorms with record-breaking snows from Florida to Maine.  Washington D.C. recorded over 20 inches of snow breaking the record for that century. 

With the approach of summer, world events were once again making the front page of America‘s newspapers.  Replacing record-breaking winter weather news, headlines now focused on America’s involvement in another military conflict.  The month of June 1899 was the beginning of the Philippine-American War.  By October 11, 1899, the South African Boers had declared war on Great Britain. Probably for most Americans dinner table conversations reflected the uncertainty of the new American war and the coming of a new century.  (The Philippine-American War, coming on the heels of the Spanish-American War officially ended in 1902, claiming about 4,000 lives, only half of which died due to combat.  Most died of disease.) 

When the Great Lakes navigational season finally opened in the spring, the country was just ending a war.  And, although another conflict loomed on the horizon, the months in-between were quiet and uneventful.  Therefore, Edward’s decision to sign onto his first Great Lakes ship cannot be traced to any one specific event.  He was 21 years old and answering the call of the inland seas.  His mother was probably less then happy to have her son embark on this dangerous career. 

There is no record of the position Edward held on his first ship or any other ship except in the Revenue Cutter Service.  It was common practice for young men of his day to sign on as crew.  Most started as deckhands. Young men sailed for various reasons.  Some because opportunities for employment were limited, while for others it was a way of seasoning one’s self for other careers.  Future ship captains, authors, politicians, businessmen and even presidents all had humble beginnings on Great Lakes ships. For many young men the dangers of the adventure coupled with the discipline of working along seasoned sailors provided them with valuable skills and experiences.  Some would go on to make fortunes and names for themselves.  Others would go into the military.  A hearty few eventually entered the US Lighthouse Service, or the US Life Saving Service.  For those who chose the latter path, encounters with the many ship disasters and the keepers who saved lives no doubt influenced their decision.  Edward was no exception.  He managed to escape disaster at sea many times, mostly by luck involving ship changes.  In one case, an officer recently promoted to the rank of captain in the Revenue Cutter Service grounded his second ship. He had asked Edward to return to serve as Master-At-Arms of the first ship.  Edward declined the offer, another chance of luck.  One ship in particular was so well known for marine disasters it had trouble signing on crews.  Edward signed on knowing the reputation of her vessel.  Although just barely, he still managed to avoid disaster, her future sailors were not so lucky.  The ships Edward signed on with represent the different types of vessels sailing on the Lakes.  This probably reflected a conscious decision on his part to gain experience on a variety of ships.  His decision provided him with useful skills, a necessary advantage for a later career sailing on a Revenue Cutter ship and as a lighthouse keeper. 

The first ship recorded in Edward’s day book was dated 1899.  The S.S. Rosedale (the English ship) was built in 1888 by the Sunderland Shipbuilding Company, Sunderland, England, hull #147.  It was an important ship for several reasons.  Prior to this ship, all vessels were built entirely of wood or a combination of wood and iron.  They also did not have the capacity to sail directly from Europe to a city on the Great Lakes.  Her construction changed this.  The Rosedale was the first propeller ship to be built of steel made for bulk packing freight.  She was also the first steel steamer to sail direct from Europe to Chicago.  With a cargo of cement loaded from the docks of Liverpool, England, she made her maiden voyage on June 29, 1888.  While technically an “English” ship, she had a Canadian registry, #95265.  On December 4, 1897, the Rosedale was stranded during a North West gale with a cargo of wheat after leaving Fort William, Ontario, Canada.  Rescued and released to underwriters Donnelly Towing & Salvage Co., Ltd, she was towed stern first into Kingston, Ontario, Canada on December 16, 1897.  Repairs were made over the winter.  Fit once again for sailing, the Rosedale was Edward’s first ship.  Despite her sturdy steel construction, disaster struck again.  On April 18, 1919 bound from Cardiff, Wales for Bordeaux with a cargo of coal, she was involved in a collision in the Bristol Channel and sunk.  She was declared a total loss and taken off registry. 

Ships of the Great Lakes were capable of having a very long life if they did not sink as a total loss.  Because the Great Lakes did not produce bodies of corrosive, salt-water lake vessels were not prone to rust as quickly as ocean sailing vessels.  A fifty-year life span or more for a Great Lakes ship was possible.  Since they could survive a lengthy span, the ships were usually “recycled” once they fulfilled their original purpose.  Therefore, cutters were re-done to use as lake barges, passenger ships were remodeled adding on more deck space to accommodate larger numbers of travelers, and other ship models were cut down or built up and rearranged according to the needs of the next owners.  It was also common for one vessel to have multiple owners, names and registry numbers during the course of their sailing life.  In some cases, they were used as stationary floating structures such as restaurants and marine museums when they outlived their sailing days. 

The Great Lakes navigational season varied according to the lake.  Some were longer since the lakes were deeper and did not freeze.  Other smaller and shallower lakes such as Erie had shorter seasons.  Lake Erie froze, and produced dangerous ice flows in late fall and winter and again with the early spring thaws.  Therefore, sailors signed on for one navigational season at a time unless you were a “specialized” seaman.  The navigational season often lasted through the middle of December.  Cargo ships always tried to make one last run before the onset of the brutal lake winter storms.  It was a chance taken with often-tragic results.  Sailors and their ships who were caught locked in the ice faced starvation, hypothermia and death if they could not be rescued.  Returning ships covered in ice from the freezing water spray presented a ghostly picture.  Working under such extreme conditions took its toll on even the most hearty and seasoned sailor.  The warmer open navigational season presented another set of challenges.  Spring and summer storms on the Great Lakes were sudden and violent.  They were capable of producing hurricane force winds and high seas.  Numerous ships wrecked or disappeared without a trace during these storms.  Ship traffic in and out of harbors was another danger to the lake sailor.  Around the lakes and harbors, congested waterways caused horrific accidents.  Some disasters sustained large numbers of deaths.  Unfortunately, this was true for both sailor and passenger. 

Often looked down upon by their saltwater cousins, the sailors of the inland seas knew what it was like to face extreme maritime danger on a daily basis.  The ocean sailor’s disdainful view of the lake sailor was well known among the Great Lakes. However, when some ships began to sail both the oceans and the inland seas, salt-water sailors obtained a completely different perspective.  They also gained a healthy respect for the Great Lakes and the sailors of the inland seas. 

The Great Lakes ships and sailors produced a rich maritime culture similar to their saltwater counter parts.  However, the canals and rivers gave a unique flavor to the culture of the inland seas.  The saltwater sailor’s songs, folk art, stories and poetry, were shaped by whaling and adventures on the vast oceans and seas.  Not only did the ethnic backgrounds of the sailors influence them, but also the exotic ports the ships entered.  Lake sailors developed their own rich culture of songs, folk art, stories and poetry.   In addition to songs about the Great Lakes, the canals generated songs.  The lyrics reflected the unique conditions specific to both the Great Lake sailor and the canals connecting the inland seas.  

The sea shanty, the working songs of the sailor had a unique flavor specific to the Great Lakes.  The shanty was never sung by the military sailor and was not referred to as such by the average lake or sea sailor.  Sung as a means of learning the routines and to break the monotony of work, they were colorful and lively.  The Great Lakes produced their own varieties of Lake “shanty”.  The diverse ethnic groups inhabiting the areas around the five Great Lakes influenced the tunes and lyrics. Unlike the saltwater shanty, the lake shanty began to disappear during the early 20th century.  They survive today largely due to the efforts of one man, Ivan H. Walton.  An American folklorist, he began his first collecting trip in search of the vanishing songs of the Great Lakes sailors during the summer of 1932.  Through his extensive research and field collecting, songs and a culture on the verge of extinction were saved and preserved.  He compiled four field logs and was responsible for assembling one of the greatest occupational folklore collections in the United States.

After spending two years on the S.S. Rosedale, Edward was immersed in this culture and becoming very comfortable on the inland seas.  So acclimated was he that his next ship had the potential to become his last.  In 1902, Edward signed on with the S.C. Baldwin.  The Baldwin was known as a “Jonah” and had trouble securing crews.  Built in 1871 by the Detroit Dry Dock Co., owned by Campbell and Owen it was a propeller bulker hull #13.  Perhaps indicative of its hull number it was destined to live up to the superstition.  The Baldwin’s troubles began shortly after construction.  In 1876, she was nearly destroyed in an accident.  One year later in 1877 she went ashore near Alpena and then to add insult to injury the Baldwin burned while waiting repairs from another accident the same year.   The Baldwin had major repairs done in 1876,1877,1881,1895 and was rebuilt in 1884.  Edward signed on during the navigational season of 1902.  This was the only recorded season without a major marine disaster for the ship.  She was not so lucky the following year.  On November 26, 1903, the Baldwin was stranded on Long Tail Point, Green Bay, Wisconsin.  It was declared a constructive total loss, released and converted to a barge.  Even then, her troubles did not end.  While in tow of the tug Torrent, with a cargo of stone for Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, the barge turned “turtle” in heavy seas off Twin River Point, Wisconsin.  Finally, on Lake Michigan the Baldwin sank the summer of August 27, 1908 with one life lost.  Edward’s charmed life saved him from her deathly grip and on to another ship and navigational season. 

Perhaps by the time Edward learned of the Baldwin’s stranding he had already made the decision to sail on a completely different type of Great Lakes boat, the schooner.  The last two ships Edward sailed before his Great Lakes adventures took him in a different direction were both schooners.  In 1903, he signed on with the A. Stewart, also known as the A.E. Stewart.  The F. Wheeler Co., located in Bay City, Wisconsin, built her in 1902.  The Great Lakes Transportation Company owned the Stewart and her registration number was US #107778.  A bad financial time for the company occurred when they lost two major vessels in three days.  By 1917, the Stewart was sold to a Canadian Company and renamed.  Fog, the ever-present danger to all sailors eventually spelled her end.  Many sailors could recount the means by which ships sailed the Great Lakes steered by a magnetic compass, having to estimate the degree of error in navigational calculations.  They were also able to recount the sheer terror of meeting ships in the dense fog.   If lucky enough to avoid a collision they survived to tell the story of how close by the ships came in passing.  On October 29, 1924, the Stewart’s sailors lived to tell their story, but the ship did not.  In dense fog, she collided with the steamer Leonard B. Miller 6 miles southeast of Harbor Beach, Michigan on Lake Huron.  There were no lives lost, but the Stewart sank, a total loss.  The steamer sustained between $80, 00 to $100,000 dollars in damage. 

 Long before then Edward’s charmed seafaring life took him to another ship.  Sailing on a schooner the name of which is not located in any of the registries, he records in his day book the date, 1903 and the name, M. Putnam.  It is unclear from the handwriting, but it is possible the ship’s name could be a variation of that spelling.  This fact may explain why there is no record found of this schooner and thus no tale to tell of Edward’s last journey before joining the Revenue Cutter Service. 




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