Jon Paul’s Maritime Diaries

The schooner Burt Barnes on the left with the scow schooner Farrand H. Williams on the right in Manitowoc Harbor in 1885.

I have been asked many times about what shipwreck lies near Eagle Bluff, and it was on summer vacation in 1976 that I first attempted to dive on the wreck. But, it was very windy that day, and the visibility was bad; so I abandoned the idea. Then in 1998, my friend Pat Labadie was doing a study on scow schooners and was in Door County because he had information about the wreck from David Cooper – the Wisconsin State Underwater Archaeologist at the time. It was late fall, and again, we were washed out from high winds in the harbor. Since then, I have studied scow schooners quiet intensively and have come across a wealth of information on the Farrand H. Williams, which may or may not be the shipwreck that lies near Eagle Bluff.

The Farrand H. Williams was built at Manitowoc in 1882 by Captain Francis Porter Williams for himself and named after his young son. The Farrand H. Williams was 88.85-feet long, 22.8-feet in breadth and had a 6.6-foot depth of hold. With two masts and of 94.85 gross tons and 90.11 net tons, she was made for the lumber and salvage trade.

The Williams, along with the small schooner Coaster, left Sturgeon Bay with a load of Christmas trees and arrived in Chicago on December 6, 1882. The Coaster was flying her colors at half mast, and witnesses on Wells Street in Chicago thought that someone was washed overboard or had died from exposure; but, the flag was flown in distress to get the tugs to come out to tow them in. Eventually, the two vessels, which were covered in ice far into the rigging with the decks covered in blue ice, were towed into the harbor. The flag could not be taken down when in the harbor because it was frozen in that position. Captain Williams had his face badly frozen, and the crews of both vessels had frostbitten hands and feet and were close to death. The Williams would return to her homeport at Manitowoc for the winter lay up.

The Williams would be the first ship to leave Manitowoc the first week of April 1883, starting a tradition of being the first ship out and the last ship in. The Williams was heading for wood at Horn’s Pier in Clay Banks, but a blow out of the south would make her seek harbor in Sturgeon Bay while she was loading at Horn’s Pier.

The schooner J. I. Case was a large schooner for her time of 208 feet in length.

The Williams first salvage job would come at the end of May in 1883. While it was stated the Williams had been built for salvage, it is not clear what modifications were made to make the vessel suitable for that purpose. She had a shallow draft of probably less than five feet loaded with her centerboard up. The most probable equipment on board would be pumps to pump out a sunken craft and a steam powered winch to get close to the vessel and to offload cargo. Both of these could be powered from a small donkey boiler usually located forward in the vessel. In any case, the Williams was called to the Straits of Mackinaw to unload iron ore from an unidentified schooner.

The Williams was called on another salvage mission when the schooner J. I. Case ran up on Hog Island Reef located nine miles east of Beaver Island in Lake Michigan on November 13, 1883. J. I. Case was bound for Buffalo from Chicago with 50,000 bushels of corn. The following morning the U. S. Revenue Cutter Andrew Johnson found the wrecked schooner and brought Captain Harry Gray and the first mate to Cheboygan, Michigan. Once there, they arranged to have the wrecking tug Leviathan and the Williams to help rescue the craft. The Williams lightened 20,000 bushels of corn from the Case in two days before the salvage vessels were chased away by a storm. The Williams would deliver the corn to Mackinac.

Incidentally, the tug Henry S. Sill would be called from Racine to pull the Case off of the reef. When this was accomplished the Sill pulled the Case through Death’s Door and down through Sturgeon Bay. It was late in the season and all of the buoy’s had been pulled, and the Case was accidentally run onto Hogback Reef in Sturgeon Bay. It was released and delivered to Manitowoc for repairs.

The first week in May of 1884 a storm blew up Lake Michigan and the F. H. Williams stranded about seven miles south of Manitowoc. The following week the Williams was released and brought to Manitowoc for repairs although the damage was light. She would resume her wood runs on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan.

The Williams would be called once again to help a distressed schooner in November of 1884. The schooner Christina Nilsson left Escanaba, Michigan on October 23 with 575 tons of pig iron for Chicago. Coming through Death’s Door, the Nilsson sailed right into a gale and snowstorm. Making way to Sturgeon Bay, Captain N. A. Hammer decided to come about and run before the storm. The captain then decided to seek shelter in Baileys Harbor but in the blinding storm approached the harbor too far to the east and hit the reef. She swung around and sank in 15 feet of water. The crew made it to the little island on the east side of the bay.

The schooner Midnight in the foreground with the schooner Christina Nilsson on the outside background.

The Nilsson was insured through the Etna Insurance Company for $8,000 and the cargo for $12,000. The owners abandoned the vessel to the underwriters on October 28. The wrecking master for Etna was Captain W. H. Rounds, and he felt the vessel could be saved. Captain Rounds contracted a Detroit Firm to raise the Nilsson and cargo. The tug John Gregory would do the work raising her, and they sublet the work of raising the pig iron to the Williams.

The Williams arrived at the wreck on November 10 with three divers. They could raise about 50 tons a day in fair weather and raised 250 tons the first week. The load was deposited on Chipman & Raesser’s Pier in Baileys Harbor. The work went on until the end of November, and the Williams raised another 100 tons. The tug Gregory could not budge the wreck, and she was abandoned on December 10, 1884.

Captain Williams was not getting paid from the wrecking company, which left him in a cash flow problem. The Farrand H. Williams was libeled by the U.S. Marshall for unpaid seamen’s wages of $575, and she was sold at Manitowoc in January of 1885 for $1,500.

Part II of this article will conclude the story of the scow schooner Farrand H. Williams.