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Mason County Memories


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History Columns are arranged by year of publication in the Ludington Daily News



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Schooners History Column David K Petersen Nearly 25,000 Schooners graced the Great Lakes during their golden days. From the Griffin built by Robert Sieur de La Salle in 1679 to the last full rigged Schooner on the Great Lakes the "Our Son" they played an important role in the history and development of the region. Initially their role was in the exploration, mapping, and transporting goods. They quickly became tools of the military. After the French surrendered Canada in 1763 the English began building ships on the Great Lakes. These first sailing vessels were under command of the Royal Navy. For a period of almost 20 years all cargo and furs on the Great Lakes had to be transported on these government ships or in a few cases ships were licensed by them. It wasn't until 1797 that an American lake schooner The Washington was launched in Lake Erie and not until after Perry's victory in 1813 did the Americans have full access to the Great Lakes. After the War of 1812 Schooners became the primary method of transportation on the Lakes and their numbers increased dramatically as the demand to move people and goods increased with the westward migration. The size of the new schooners was increasing as well from the 70 foot 100 ton vessels of the early 1800's to the last built up to 300 feet at the end of the century. Steam power was also making it's way into the construction of new ships and many schooners were converted as well. Some of the conversions were to steam and some stripped to a lake barge. Competition for the transportation of package freight became more intense with the westward expansion of rail service in 1869 and by 1874 the end of an era was in sight. Lumber, salt, grain, and other bulk cargoes made up much of the shipments on the Great Lakes after the 1860's. The last surviving commercial Schooner on the Great Lakes was one that was familiar to Ludington as well. The Our Son was built in 1875 at Black River (Lorraine) Ohio. The ship was named in honor of the son of Captain Henry Kelly who fell from the ship while it was under construction and drowned. During it's 55 year history the Our Son retained it's name and it's stature. The ship began it's life as a 3 masted schooner and ended it's career September 26th 1930 as the last commercial Schooner on the Great Lakes. The Our Son had a length of 182 feet and a 35 foot beam a 3 masted schooner capable of carrying over a 1000 tons of ore, or 40,000 bushels of grain. The Our Son, carrying a load of pulpwood had been fighting a gale about 20 miles northeast of Sheboygan and began filling with water. Captain Fred Nelson ordered the stars and stripes to be flown upside down as a sign of distress and the Steamship William Nelson responded and removed the Captain and 6 crew. The Pere Marquette 22 under the command of Captain Van Dyke also responded. J.H. Ferris was aboard the PM 22 with his camera and was able to take the last known photo of the Schooner Our Son with it's flag flying in distress. So ended an era, can you imagine for a moment the harbor and lakes filled with the magnificent silhouettes of these majestic and colorful vessels as they made their way powered by the winds and manned by the hardiest of sailors. It was said wooden ships, were manned by men of steel and steel ships by men of wood. Regardless of what you may feel about that statement you have to give credit to those who sailed by their wits and the winds. If you have anything you would like to share with our readers please feel free to contact met at 757-3240 or davep@blackcreekpress.com Past history columns can be found online at http://ludingtonmichigan.net

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