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Algonquin Historic
Commission

Birth of Algonquin and
Portage Around St. Mary’s Rapids
1839

The ALGONQUIN was built in 1838-39 by the Cleveland North Western Lake Company to compete with Hudsons Bay and American Fur Companies on Lake Superior. The entire fleet on the Big Lake consisted of five schooners and, at 55 feet, ALGONQUIN was the largest of the bunch.

The schooner ALGONQUIN built by famous ship builder, George Washington Jones, in Black River (now Loraine), Ohio. Mr. Jones was master ship builder at age 21 17 years old. He came from a family of well known builders of ships on the Great Lakes signed Certificate of Master Builder on October 24, 1839 at Cleveland. D. B. Rockwood was the first master according to official enrollment of the schooner. This same ship builder built the first American ship, John Jacob Astor for the American Fur Company which was assembled on the shoures of Lake Superior.

Cleveland North Western Lake Company was formed by Messrs. Cyrus Mendenhall, Samuel Richardson, Horatio W. Converse and James A. Converse. Samuel Ricardson was connected to Ohio Fishing and Mining Company. The company purchased the ALGONQUIN. The new schooner was fitted up expressly for the expedition from Cleveland to Lake Superior. The schooner left Clevland on November 13, 1839 for Sault Ste. Marie. The company took their vessel over land by St. Mary’s Falls and launch the schooner into the river above the rapids. The company wanted to establish a trading post at the Sault Ste. Marie and erect a store house during the coming wino their bateaux (flatbottom boats), the fur companies had built a few decked vessels - Alhabasca, Otter, Invincible, Mink, Dister, and in the spring have the ALGONQUIN in operation. Another trading post was established at La Pointe, on Madeline Island which was located in the Apostle Isands.

Lake Superior was in need of a commercial fleet. In addition tcover, and Siskawit. But larger ships such as the ALGONQUIN were needed for Lake Superior commerce. State of Michigan saw need for a lock system at Sault Ste. Marie but it was not completed until 1855. There was canal for canoes, but most of the furs, fish and ore was portaged around the St. Mary’s Falls and loaded onto ships headed to the eastern lake ports. Until the canal was built, ships were built in places like Ohio and assembled on the shores of Lake Superior. Others like the ALGONQUIN were hauled across the land by men and oxen down Portage Street, Sault Ste. Marie.

A couple of schooners like the John Jacob Astor and William Brewster were put together on the shores of Lake Superior in 1835. The timbers and gear were shipped to the Sault Ste. Marie for assembling. Others like the ALGONQIN made the portage, inching along Water Street past the shops and cabins of the village.

ALGONQUIN was first large decked schooner to be cribbed up in timbers and hauled on rollers by a horse and capstan, with Achilles Calotte shouting orders in the frosty winter air.10 The portage of the schooner took more than three months.2 The boat was dragged five boat lengths each day.

The man who accomplished this amazing feat was Acille Cadotte. His methods were to be used to transport other vessels around the Saint Marie Rapids during the years of 1840-1855 before the first locks. Schooners and steam boats were cribed up in timbers and draged down what is now known as Sault Ste. Marie’s Portage Street.

Captain J. D. Aligns, decided to put the vessel into the fur trade on Lake Superior and hauled her nearly two miles overland around St. Marys Falls. She carried flour from the Sault Ste. Mary to Superior for $ 1.25 a barrel and her arrival at Superior created more of a sensation than the launching of a whale.

ALGONQUIN first recorded call was at La Pointe, Madeline Island of the Apostle Islands in beginning of October. One of her first crew members was George Perry McKay, young son of Lake Superior Captain McKay.

On November 19, 1840, the tonnage was change from 54 to 56 tons. The Managing owner was James H. Converse, Cyrus Mendenhall, Haratio W. Converse, Samuel Richardson, J. L. Converse with James Southwind being the captain.

James Smithwick was the master of the ALGONQUIN in 1841.

William H. Wheeler as child traveled with his parents to La Pointe located on Madeline Island. His parents were missionaries to the Chippewa Indians and planned to live at the mission house that was built by a Rev. Sherman Hall earlier. Rev. Hall translated the New Testament into the Ojibway language. The family left Mackinac in open boat and transferred to the little schoonerALGONQUIN which he claimed was the only commercial ship on Lake Superior at this time. The schooner John Jacob Aster was involved in fur trading with the American Fur Company which had factories scattered along Lake Superior shoreline.

Captain Wilson wanted to make a tack but the ship was like iceberg. Sails, ropes and nor a rag would move. Captain ordered Courtney to cut away ropes and let down the mainsail. The brave lad went up but failed. He fell ten feet but was caught in the sail with hands cold and stiff.

Captain Wilson then asked Mr. Watts give it try. He was unable to accomplish the deed and came down with stiff and bloodless hand. Captain Jack grabbed an ax and tied it to his body with a sash. In the distance of half mile were frozen rocks, directly in the schooner path. ack cut the ropes and sail came down. Five more minutes and the vessel would have struck the rocks outside of Grand Island. The captain came down and went to the cabin where he became unconscious. A fire was built, blankets were used to covered him and after a time he came back to life and asked, “Boys, are you all Safe?” This story was told for purpose of raising funds for a memorial stone for his grave in the Chicago Tribune by one of the passengers on the ALGONQUIN during that passage.

©2016 All rights reserved. This page and other pages in the book are property of the
Algonquin Historic Commission and its creator Donald V. Purn. Pages may be copied
for eductional uses only. Pages or any part can be reproduced for profit enterprizes.

1835 - 1838
Pre Schooner
Year

1839 - 1841
Algonquin
Built

1842 - 1844
Great Copper
Rush

1845 - 1852
King of
the Lake

1853 - 1856
End of
an Era

1857 - Now
Final
Resting Place

Falls

View of Rapids from Indian Point
St. Mary Rapids

Courtesy of Chippewa Co. Hist. Society

WaterS
Capstan

Capstan

Water Street Looking West in 1850

MapSteMarie1848

Winter of 1839-1840

November 30, 1839 - The ALGONQUIN was out othe water and moving.p.407
January 29, 1840 - The schooner was at the foot of the hill, adjoining mill race.p. 408
February 12, 1840 - The ship was moving on rollers, one horse and capstan.p. 409
March 12, 1840 - At the spot where John Jacob Astor and Wm. Brewster were launched.p. 409

Source from Otto Fowle, “Sault Ste. Marie and Its Great Waterway”

First Year

Beginning of Trade or the End of Aster Empire

MadIs
CaptWilson

Jack Wilson was employed by Cyrus Mendenhall and Converse as the Captain of the ALGONQUIN, one of the only two vessels then in the trade that year on Lake Superior. Early in November, which is late for vessels to be traveling on Lake Superior, the schooner ALGONQUIN left La Pointe to sail east to the Salt St. Marie, for the purpose of wintering the vessel. After the schooner had sailed from Isle Royal and passed Copper Harbor, a gale from the east arose, accompanied by rain and sleet. The ALGONQUIN tacked about - and there was no harbor nearer than thirty-eight miles and two hundred miles. The schooner was in the worst place off Point Kewenaw, where the waves ran the highest. With a headwind, sleet, rain and hail mingled in the dismal fall air. The winds moaned and whistled in the rigging of the vessel according to a passenger caught in the November storm.

By midnight everything was in ice. The deck, spars, ropes, and in the cabin were coated with ice. The crew was ordered to heave the deck load overboard. The ALGONQUN headed away from land - as the crew had hoped but then at 2 o’clock the wind changed to the Northward, and with it came a snow storm, by which the poor passengers-five in number-could not even see the other end of our vessel. Crew during the day before lost sight of land, and they were afraid that they might soon be driven to the shore and onto the rocks. For along on each side of the Kewenaw Point were bold and rugged. There was no star light, no light-house, and at dawn no sight of land!

MapRouteWilson

Captain Jack Wilson

Captain Wilson then asked Mr. Watts give it try. He was unable to accomplish the deed and came down with stiff and bloodless hand. Captain Jack grabbed an ax and tied it to his body with a sash. In the distance of half mile were frozen rocks, directly in the schooner path. ack cut the ropes and sail came down. Five more minutes and the vessel would have struck the rocks outside of Grand Island. The captain came down and went to the cabin where he became unconscious. A fire was built, blankets were used to covered him and after a time he came back to life and asked, “Boys, are you all Safe?” This story was told for purpose of raising funds for a memorial stone for his grave in the Chicago Tribune by one of the passengers on the ALGONQUIN during that passage.

Grand Island, Michigan
Photo by Donald V. Purn

1835 - 1838
Pre Schooner
Year

1839 - 1841
Algonquin
Built

1842 - 1844
Great Copper
Rush

1845 - 1852
King of
the Lake

1853 - 1856
End of
an Era

1857 - Now
Final
Resting Place

GrandIs
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