Fathoms Deep But Not Forgotten: Wisconsin’s Historic Shipwrecks

Part III: Milwaukee County 1825-1875


Brendon Baillod


This article is the third in a continuing series examining the historical maritime archeology sites in Wisconsin.  This installment will review the historical shipwrecks of Milwaukee County in its early period.  Milwaukee was one of the busiest and earliest ports on Lake Michigan.  Early on, it rivaled Chicago for water commerce and was the largest grain port on Lake Michigan for much of the 1800s.  The first vessel ever to visit Milwaukee was the British sloop Felicity which anchored off the river mouth in 1779.  The area became the local headquarters for the Northwest Fur Company in 1795 and many small vessels began to call from Mackinac and Detroit.  By 1815 a several vessels were anchoring off the area each year with trade goods.  In the 1830s, Milwaukee began to receive significant settlement when Solomon Juneau and Byron Kilbourn platted a town at the site.  In 1835, Milwaukee received her first visit by a steamboat, when the United States moored off the river.  Soon, the river mouth was dredged and shallow schooners could enter the river.  This shallow entrance required constant dredging as sandbars built up, and many vessels stranded there before the straight cut was made about a mile north in 1857.  Following the improvement of her harbor, Milwaukee became a leading grain port with major trade in lumber and coal.  Milwaukee hosted an enormous volume of shipwrecks in her early period.  Most of these were due to the unimproved harbor, and most of the remains of these wrecks have been removed by subsequent shoreline changes and dredging during the industrialization of the city.  The following list details all the historic total loss shipwrecks known in Milwaukee County from 1825 to 1875.  It is likely that many qualifying wrecks were missed in this listing due to sparse reporting and scant records, but this lists probably comprises the vast majority.


Schooner Sea Serpent (none) – Built 1821 at Cleveland, OH by Captain D. Tyler for John Burtis – 26 gt. BOM, – Fall 1837 – The schooner Sea Serpent was a small, early Lake Michigan coastal schooner that had been brought from Lake Erie where she had been named Lake Serpent. She was wrecked and rebuilt at Michigan City in June 1836, but was lost when she went ashore on the bar at Milwaukee in the Fall of 1837. (Increase Lapham, Losses on Lake Michigan 1834 - 1841, Senate Document 186, 27th Congress)


Schooner H. Marsh (none) – Built 1838 at Cleveland, OH by H.H. Trebout – 47.92 gt. BOM, 54.9 x 16.2 x 6.3 ft. – 11/20/1840 – The schooner H. Marsh was lost trying to enter the harbor in a Fall gale.  She was driven hard aground at the river mouth and broke up.  She was a total loss with her cargo.  (Milwaukee Sentinel – 11/24/1840, Lapham List)


Steam Ferry Badger (none) – Launched 7/4/1837 – 60 gt. BOM, 64 x 12 ft – owned by Byron Kilbourn – Fall 1840 – The steam lighter Badger had been used to ferry in passengers and freight from steamers.  Her cabins could seat about 100 persons and she was the first steam vessel built at Milwaukee.  She had been wrecked on the bar in 1837 but was salvaged.  She was abandoned inside the harbor, after it was enlarged in the Fall of 1840.  Her remains were almost certainly removed. (Pioneer History of Milwaukee I – p. 116, Milwaukee Sentinel – 7/8/1837)


Sloop Clarissa (none) – Built 1836 at Chicago – Fall 1840 – The sloop Clarissa was the first vessel built at Chicago.  She was never enrolled and was probably a small coastal trader.  She was lost in the Fall of 1840 when she was driven ashore at Milwaukee.  (Lapham List)


Sloop Wenonah (none) – Built 1841 at Milwaukee by George Barber – 30 gt. BOM – 11/25/1841 – The sloop Wenonah was a small vessel, built as a lighter.  Runge claims she was built in 1836, but this seems unlikely.  She went ashore at Milwaukee in a gale on 11/25/1841 and disappears from all records, probably a total loss. (Lapham List, Milwaukee Sentinel – 12/1/1841)


Steamer C.C. Trowbridge (none) – Built 1838 at Saugatuck, MI by William Wilkin – 42.72 gt. BOM, 73.0 x 16.0 x 4.6 ft. – 12/5/1842 – The C.C. Trowbridge was a small steamer brought to Milwaukee as a harbor ferry and lighter.  She was lost on 12/5/1842 when she went ashore off North Point.  She was condemned and her engines removed.  Her hull was probably also removed.  (Lytle-Holdcamper List, Kit Lane-Built on the Banks of the Kalamazoo)


Sidewheel Steamer Boston (none) – Built 1846 at Detroit by John Robinson – 757.80 gt. BOM, 205.0 x 30.0 x 12.10 ft. – 11/24/1846 – The Boston was Milwaukee’s first major shipwreck.  She lost her smoke stack while trying to depart during a gale and was driven broadside into shallows just south of the old harbor piers.  She was badly damaged and was salvaged in place.  Her hull was left where it lay and may still have buried remains offshore. (Milwaukee Sentinel – 11/26/1846)


Schooner Solomon Juneau (none) – Built 1837 at Milwaukee by George Barber – 86.14 gt. BOM, 72.6 x 19.2 x 7.0 ft. – 11/1846 – The Solomon Juneau was the first vessel ever built at Milwaukee.  She had numerous mishaps and strandings before being driven ashore at the foot of Chicago St. (off the present-day Summerfest grounds) in November of 1846.  She was abandoned after spending the winter on the beach.  (Pioneer History of Milwaukee IV, p. 143)


Sidewheel Steamer Nile (none) – Built 1843 at Detroit by B.F. Goodsell – 642.64 gt. BOM, 183.0 x 26.9 x 13.8 ft. – 9/6/1850 – The Nile stranded at Milwaukee on November 3, 1849 at the foot of Huron St. and was released after spending the winter.  She was towed to Sweet’s Warehouse dock near the Jones Shipyard to be rebuilt, when on 9/6/1850, an arsonist burned the warehouse, also burning the ship’s upper works. The ship’s engines were salvaged and she was abandoned in the mud until November 1860, when Milwaukee shipowner Caleb Harrison announced he would raise the hull and rebuild on it.  It is unknown if he succeeded. (Lytle-Holdcamper List, Milwaukee Sentinel – 11/10/1860)   


Bark Buckeye State (none) – Built 1852 at Black River, OH by Amos Hubbard – 309.85 gt. BOM, 132.5 x 25.1 x 10.0 ft. – 11/5/1852 – The 3 masted bark Buckeye State was brand new when she stranded off South Point with a cargo of railroad iron for the Milwaukee-Mississippi Railroad.  She was released and under tow when she beached again near the old river mouth (at the South end of present-day Jones Isl.) where she went to pieces. (Walter Hirthe Wrecklist, Milwaukee Sentinel 11/13/1852) 


Schooner Mary Margaret (none) – Built 1852 at Chicago, IL – 38.80 gt. BOM, 50.8 x 17.6 x 5.3 ft. – 11/9/1854 – The schooner Mary Margaret, sporting an ornate figurehead and bound Milwaukee to Chicago with lumber capsized about 20 miles ESE of Milwaukee on 11/9/1854.  Her crew clung for hours to the overturned hull before being rescued by the sch. Magic.  (Buffalo Democracy – 11/15/1854)


Sidewheel Steamer Sebastopol (none) – Built 1855 at Cleveland by Luther Moses – 863.00 gt. BOM, 245.0 x 37.8 x 12.6 ft. – 9/20/1855 – The big, new steamer Sebastopol as lost when she went ashore 500 ft from shore, 3 miles south of the Government Pier (south of the present-day South Shore Yacht Club) with a cargo of merchandise and passengers for Chicago.  She missed the harbor entrance, as it’s lights were extinguished and mistook the lights of the stranded schooner Rockwell for the piers.  She was driven broadside to the waves and quickly taken apart.  Seven persons died, despite gallant rescue efforts.  The ship’s remains were located in 1976 and were the subject of an avocational archeology survey. (Milwaukee Sentinel – 9/1855)


Brig Orleans (none) – Built 1846 at Clayton, NY – 173.55 gt. BOM, 100.75 x 20.0 x 8.5 ft. – 10/21/1855 – The brig Orleans was bound with lumber for Chicago when she was driven aground just south of the Government Pier at Milwaukee.  Citizens staged a gallant rescue of the crew but the captain and mate perished.  Vessel and cargo were a total loss.  (Milwaukee Sentinel – 10/23/1855)


Schooner J. Steinhart (none) – Built 1853 at Milwaukee – 68.64 gt. BOM, 72.83 x 18.67 x 5.67 ft. – 10/21/1855 – The schooner Steinhart was bound from Green Bay to Chicago with lumber when she became waterlogged and capsized 6 miles north of Milwaukee on the same day the Orleans wrecked.  Her mate and cook perished. (Erie Weekly Gazette – 11/1/1855)


Schooner John F. Porter (none) – Built 1842 at Buffalo, NY on hull of steamer Cincinnati – 124.49 gt. BOM, 87.8 x 21 x 7.6 ft. – 10/22/1855 – The schooner Porter was bound from Chicago with provisions for the lumber camps when she capsized 3 miles off North Point.  All but one of her crew made it ashore in the yawl, but the vessel was a total loss.  She drifted into the shallows where she broke up.  (Daily Wisconsin – 10/23/155)


Sidewheel Steamer Alleghany (none) – Built 1849 at Cleveland by Luther Moses – 468.02 gt. BOM, 177.2 x 25.0 x 10.11 ft. – 10/24/1855 – Only a month after the Sebastopol loss, another big sidewheeler was unable to find the unlighted harbor entrance and was driven aground just north of the Sebastopol wreck.  The Alleghany was bound from Buffalo to Chicago with heavy merchandise when, failing to find the harbor piers, she anchored off shore.  The storm felled her stack and she dragged ashore, fetching up barely 100 ft. from shore.  (Milwaukee Sentinel – 10/22/1855)


Brig Nebraska (none) – Built 1849 at Milwaukee by Hubbell – 240.71 gt. BOM, 121.3 x 23.9 x 9.0 ft. – 10/19/1856 – The Nebraska was run down by the propeller Oriental off Racine and began sinking with her cargo of brick.  She tried to run for Milwaukee harbor but fetched up very near the Sebastopol wreck where she broke up.  The Oriental was libeled for her value of $5,500.  (Milwaukee Sentinel 10/25/1856)


Schooner Emily (none) – Built 1853 at Milwaukee by J.M. Jones – 69 gt. BOM, 65.0 x 19.25 x 6.5 ft. – April 1857 – The little schooner Emily vanished on a trip from Milwaukee to Sand Bay with 5 crew, including the captain’s wife.  She left on April 16th and was never seen again.  A storm struck soon after she departed.  (Milwaukee Sentinel – 4/27/1857)


Brig Cumberland (none) – Built 1844 at Cleveland by S.W. Turner – 195.87 gt. BOM, 100.6 x 23.6 x 9.2 ft. – 10/20/1859 – The Cumberland was moored near the end of the south pier of the new straight cut when she was struck astern by the schooner Curlew.  Her stern settled and the waves pounded her against the pier until she broke up.  She was carrying lumber from Oconto to Chicago.  (Milwaukee Sentinel – 10/21/1859, 11/5/1859)


Schooner Twin Brothers (none) – Built 1848 at Milwaukee by George Barber – 143.40 gt. BOM, 90.5 x 21.5 x 8.2 ft. – 3/11/1860 – The Twin Brothers had departed for Sheboygan when she was found to be leaking. She ran back inside the piers and was pounded on the south pier until she stove a hole in her hull.  She capsized and sank broadside in the channel, a total loss.  (Milwaukee Sentinel – 3/13/1860)


Bark Emily A. Roelofson (none) – Built 1854 at Buffalo, NY by George S. Weeks – 385.23 gt. BOM, 138.0 x 26.0 x 11.5 ft. – 11/18/1863 – This 3 masted bark had been wrecked on a reef near Eagle Harbor in Green Bay in 9/1855.  She was freed and towed to Milwaukee for rebuild, but was abandoned in the Milwaukee River (SHSW Wisconsin Shipwreck Database)


Schooner Union (none) – Built 1848 at Racine, WI, 87.90 gt. BOM – 5/11/1864 – The schooner Union of Racine was reported lost when she drove ashore at South Milwaukee on 5/11/1864.  She disappears from all lists and enrollments following this accident and is believed to have been a total loss.   (Erik Heyl Wrecklist, Herman Runge Wrecklist)


Schooner Free Mason (none) – Built 1854 at Green Bay, WI – 26.96 gt., 51.9 x 14.5 x 5.6 ft. – 4/2/1866 – The Free Mason was bound Chicago to Milwaukee when she was swept from her moorings below Walker’s Point Bridge and out through the straight cut into the Lake.  She was towed in by the tug Davidson and made fast to the south pier where she lay a total wreck. (Milwaukee Sentinel – 4/3/1866)


Scow Schooner Tempest (none) – Built 1854 at Fairport, OH – 60.21 gt. BOM, 80.25 x 18.84 x 4.93 ft. – 11/24/1867 – The Tempest was riding out a storm with a cargo of lumber for Chicago when she dragged her anchor and went aground off South Point.  She broke her keel and was abandoned where she lay. (Milwaukee Sentinel – 11/27/1867)


Scow Schooner Sunshine (23057) – Built 1856 at Mt. Clemens, MI by Jerris Deprees – 60.21 gt. BOM, 97.0 x 24.0 x 6.2 ft. – 9/29/1869 – The Sunshine was bound from White Lake, MI to Milwaukee with lumber when she became waterlogged and stranded on North Point.  She broke up and became a total loss. (Milwaukee Sentinel – 10/5/1869)


Schooner Adell (none) – Built 1860 at Milwaukee – 19.03 gt. BOM, 48 x 12 x 4.7 ft. – 11/16/1869 – The little schooner Adell was out in the disastrous gale of 1869 and was driven ashore at the south pier, 1 mile below the Bay View pier where she reportedly completely broke up.  (Milwaukee Sentinel – 12/8/1869)


Schooner A.B. Ward (383) – Built 1854 at Philadelphia, PA as a tug – 32 gt. – 4/25/1870 – The A.B. Ward was bound Pentwater to Milwaukee with a cargo of potatoes and shingles when she was blown over by a squall 20 mi NE of Milwaukee.  Her three crew perished but her hull was towed in by the scow D.R. Owen and abandoned at Milwaukee.  She was a total loss.  (Milwaukee Sentinel – 4/27/1870, Annual List of US Merchant Vessels)


Schooner Liberty (14805) – Built 1835 at Avon, OH by Hawley Reed – 54.49 gt., 54.6 x 17.5 x 5.8 ft. – 4/6/1872 – The Liberty was by far the oldest ship on the Lakes when she was smashed against the Milwaukee pierheads and sank while trying to enter during a gale.  One of her crew perished.  She had been a pioneer Lake Erie vessel and may have been built on the bed of the original schooner Liberty, built by Hawley Reed at Buffalo in 1818.  The venerable schooner refused to die, as in 1898, a storm brought up her remains and dashed them against the pierhead light once again. (Milwaukee Sentinel – 4/16/1872)


Schooner St. Peter (23516) – Built 1868 at New Baltimore, MI by Peter Perry – 119.66 gt., 90.0 x 23.8 x 8.5 ft. - 5/5/1874 – Bound Chicago to Buffalo with 8000 bu of corn, the St. Peter was found to be leaking, which soon overwhelmed her pumps and sent her to the bottom.  Her crew reported that they rowed the yawl 35 miles in a SW direction to reach Milwaukee (Milwaukee Sentinel – 5/7/1874, 5/9/1874)


Schooner Union (25045) – Built 1861 at Menekaunee, WI by N. Saunders – 17.94 gt., 54.0 x 18.0 x 5.5 ft. – 6/15/1874 – Many schooners Union plied the Lakes in the 1800s, but this one reportedly went ashore at South Milwaukee, a total loss.  She was owned out of Manitowoc and disappears from lists and enrollments after 1874.  (Milwaukee Public Library – Runge Card)


Tug Ida H. Lee (100058) – Built 1865 at Buffalo, NY by Hingston Bros. – 35.66 gt., 44.8 x 10.0 x 5.0 ft. - 4/23/1874 – The Ida H. Lee was towing the schooner Ida 2 miles NE of the harbor entrance when the schooner struck her stern, holing her.  She took on water, capsized and foundered in 50 ft. of water, a total loss, with one life.  She has yet to be found.  (Milwaukee Sentinel – 9/15/1875, Port Huron Daily Times – 4/25/1874)


Scow Sloop Hurrah Boys (95341) – Built 1872 at Racine, WI by Anthony Beffol – 13.68 gt., 37.1 x 13.0 x 3.6 ft. – 7/23/1874 – The Hurrah Boys was carrying stone for the water works cribs when she was driven ashore off Milwaukee’s Third Ward.  She was initially thought salvageable, but was dismantled and abandoned where she lay. (Milwaukee Sentinel – 8/1/1874)


Bark Tanner (24236) – Built 1863 at Milwaukee by Ellsworth & Davidson – 434.95 gt., 157.9 x 32.3 x 13.2 ft. – 9/9/1875 – The big bark Tanner with a full cargo of wheat from Chicago to Buffalo was under tow into the harbor, when the line parted.  The ship was driven south past the straight cut and fetch up on the old harbor piers where she sank with her decks submerged. Her back soon broke and her spars fell.  She was declared a total loss. (Milwaukee Sentinel – 9/11/1875)


Vessel reported lost at Milwaukee in error or salvaged


Steamer Dewitt Clinton (b.1836) – This steamer is erroneously stated as lost of Milwaukee in 1839 in many sources.  On 10/11/1839, her yawl capsized while ferrying passengers in, drowning five.  The Clinton was lost at Dunkirk, NY in 1852.


Brig Algomah (b.1845) – This brig was stranded and reported lost at Milwaukee in March 1856 and again in July 1861. However, she appears in traffic lists and enrollments well into 1862.  Her ultimate fate is unknown.


Schooner Rover (b.1854) – The Rover was sunk with only her mastheads showing on 9/13/1856 off South Point.  She was carrying brick and was reported a total loss.  However, she was raised and lost off Portage, Michigan in September of 1858.


Schooner Storm King (b.1856) – The Storm King is erroneously listed in the SHSW database as lost off Milwaukee in 1856.  She was recovered from an 1856 Milwaukee stranding and lost off the Manitous in a June 1861 collision with the steamer Michigan.


Schooner Elizabeth (b.1856) – Listed as crushed by ice at Milwaukee in 1864 on the SHSW database, this vessel was actually recovered and lost at Kenosha on 8/11/1866.


Steamer May Queen (b.1853) – Listed by SHSW as lost when she burned off Milwaukee on 1/15/1866, the May Queen was rebuilt as a barge and foundered off Saugatuck, MI on 10/31/1868.


Schooner Challenge (b.1853, Rochester, NY, #4574) – This schooner Challenge wrecked at Milwaukee on 11/11/1873 and was declared a total loss. She was recovered and taken overseas by Captain Kelly of Racine.  She was engaged in the British coal trade and never returned to the Lakes.  Two other Challenges also existed.  The famous clipper built at Manitowoc in 1852 was lost near Sheboygan in 1910, the other, built at Vermilion OH in 1842 was lost at Muskegon, MI in 10/1872.


Scow Schooner Angelique (b.1855, #29299) – This vessel (called Angeline in news reports) was driven on Milwaukee’s north point on 11/18/1863 bound Chicago to St. Joseph with shingles.  Her captain drowned and the vessel was declared a total loss.  However, she was recovered and sailed until at least 1887.  Her ID is verified as Angelique in the Customs House Wreck Report Index.


Tug Traffic (b. 1853, #24506) – This vessel is reported by several sources including an original Milwaukee Sentinel news account to have burned at Milwaukee on 10/11/1869.  However, she actually burned on the Saginaw River in Michigan where she was owned.


Schooner Buena Vista (b.1847, Chicago) – Listed as stranded at Milwaukee in 1875 on the SHSW database, this vessel was actually lost in 1875 at Perry’s Pier which was near present-day Manistee, MI.



Copyright © 2009 Brendon Baillod and Great Lakes Shipwreck Research