Some Lake Ontario resources

At some point I'll post my notes for the bus trip. Also below this list are some selections from my books including the St Peter shipwreck a short biography of Captain Throop and one bootlegger's tale. My various Lake Ontario books are available from Pioneer Library member branches and also can be purchased on line at the chimney bluff artisans co-op store or directly from the author Susan Peterson Gateley 315 594 1906. Only the posted works by Susan Gateley may be printed copied and used for educational purposes in the classroom - please be reasonable and do NOT use anything by other authors cited here without their permission!

Here's the “ad” For more information on Lake Ontario and Little Sodus Bay maritime heritage sailing trips including a new 08 “voyage through time” trip and/or my books here's a link to my home page for Silver Waters

A good general history of Great Lakes commerce and shipping is Mansfield's History of the Great Lakes, posted at Mansfields Website


rum running/smuggling

Troubled Waters article by Katherine McIntyre Peters on smuggling along the St Lawrence

on the web at Waters published in 2005 details present day trade in illegal aliens, cigarettes etc. notes that since 9-11 the Mohawks shut the immigrant trade down, so one assumes illegal immigrants now find their way across the lake and river via other routes...

Whiskey and Ice by C. W. Hunt

book detailing the rum running trade on Lake Ontario, one of several on rum runners by Canadian writer Hunt but this one is still in print. Features the story of Ben Kerr, perhaps the lake's most illustrious run runner

For a small time rum runner's recollections see my “Ariel's World” pages 36-38 (posted below)

a work of fiction just published this year by an Oswego author that includes Prohibition era action along with a scuba based a search for a 18th century warship wreck on the lake is Art Tirrell's “The Secret Ever Keeps” find it at Rivers End Books in Oswego.

underground railroad

Marvin Rapp “Canal Water and Whiskey” pg 113 to 123 a “fictionalized” account of Throop's part in the freedom path that took the slaves to Canada to “shake the lion's paw”

H. Lee White Marine Museum in Oswego also has an exhibit on the underground railroad and Oswego's role, home to Gerritt Smith Twenty-two Years a Slave Forty Years a freeman by Austin Steward 1793 to 1860

An interesting account of a slave who ran away to become a free man. He was brought to Sodus Bay by his owner, then relocated to Bath. Much of the action, though takes place in Wayne County or nearby. Also interesting information on a Canadian settlement of blacks north of London Ontario and their inability to get clear title to their land. ( The author ended up returning to Rochester).The book was published in Rochester in the 1850s and was posted on the net by U of N.C. Here's the disclaimer. It's really interesting reading!!

This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.

Thesis by Pat Johns on Underground Rail Road in Wayne County-Pat lives in Williamson. Don't know about the availability of her work.

Commerce and exploration the French era

on the web

The Jesuit Relations the Relations or Google Jesuit Relations, the entire Relations from 1610 to 1791 are translated and on line. These detailed periodic reports from the field sent by the missionaries provide a wealth of information on natural history, Indian culture and customs, geographic information and also accounts from the so called beaver wars

Book by C.H.J. Snider, Canadian author and maritime historian describes French navigation on the lake includes a bit of French and Indian War information Tarry Breeks and Velvet Garters

Sources on commerce and the days of sail

J.B. Mansfield’s History Of The Great Lakes originally published 1899, scanned on placed on the Internet at

Windjammers Songs of the Great Lakes Sailors annotated collection of chanteys, work songs and other ballads these provide fascinating glimpses into everyday life of working freshwater sailors

along with this is contemporary artist Lee Murdoch with a considerable following who performs both traditional great lakes sailor work songs and his own Great Lakes tunes

Freshwater George A Cuthbertson MacMillan 1931 a maritime history of the Great Lakes includes notes on naval vessels and commercial shipping.

Shipwrecks there is a wealth of internet information including

Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville two Rochester shipwreck hunters who have found a number of wrecks. Their well researched videos such as their most recent on the schooner Milan off Point Breeze includes very interesting information on the salt trade and the historic context of the vessel. These divers also are available to do programs on their work within the Rochester area, contact them via the website Kennard and Scoville website

For educational videos for the classroom check Ric Mixter's offerings at website link He has videos of a number of shipwrecks including the Edmund Fitzgerald phone 989 498 4550 to order

David Swayze’s wrecks database posted at

Palladium Times microfiche collection at SUNY Oswego

Tales From The Great Lakes Robert B Townsend Durndun Press 1995

A collection of some of C.H.J. Snider’s columns detailing daily life, commerce, and personalities from the days of commercial sail primarily Lake Ontario but also other lakes.

Captain John Williams Master Mariner Robert b. Townsend Odyssey Publishing 2001 also based on selected C. J. Snider columns a biography of a Lake captain, who started out as a sailor aboard his family's small cargo carrier, and worked his way up to ownership and command of his own schooners before transitioning to steam, a move perhaps akin to the early bird biplane pilots shifting to jets, one that comparatively few of the schooner men managed

W.H. McIntosh The History of Wayne County originally printed in 1877 recently reprinted includes several page long biography of Capt Throop of Pultneyville and three lithographs portraying the Captain, the steamer Ontario and his yacht the Magic.

Later military action on the lake

Snider's In The Wake of the Eighteen Twelvers- published for the centennial in 1913- he uses “creative nonfiction” techniques but is highly accurate when it comes to the actual battles and details of the men and ship's involved.

Snider's books are out of print but some can be found through and other used book searches and sources

Current Affairs

There is a huge amount of information on the web. A good starting point for Environmental contemporary and emerging issues are the various SOLEC ( State Of The Lake) reports​

excerpts from books by Susan Peterson Gateley below the bookstore link has information on the books.

They include The Edge Walker's Guide to Lake Ontario Beach Combing, Passages On Inland Waters, Sweet Waters stories of Lake Ontario, Ariadne's Death, tales of heroism and tragedy, The Edge Walker's guide to lakeshore birding hotspots, and The Great Atomic Lake ( available as an e book from the author)

Excerpt from Ariel's World An Exploration of Lake Ontario copyright by Susan Peterson Gateley 1995 now out of print.

Ariel's Word includes information on the lake's last commercial fishery for eels, on lake weather, fruit farming and other “lake effects”, local history of Sackets and oswego and on contaminants and alien invaders. It's at most local libraries.

interview with an old bootlegger and Oswego NY native


Ariel's travels about the lake have brought me in contact over the years with a number of interesting "old salts". One who grew up in Oswego resided near our homeport of Chaumont and enjoyed recalling his youth wandering the city's waterfront. Leo Garlock's father worked for a railroad coal trestle, loading ships bound down the St. Lawrence. Seventy years later Leo could recall the individual members of the collier fleet, a half dozen or so little vessels called "the iron boats" by the locals. He also recalled at about age eight or ten going beach combing for bits and pieces of wrecks. Oswego is near the lake's treacherous lee end when a westerly gale blows, and so has had its share of wrecks. More than once it was so rough just off the entrance that a schooner under tow or a low powered steamer would make it to the entrance only to be smashed against one of the breakwaters by the big waves. Leo remembered farmers driving their teams down to the shore to shovel up coal from a wreck, and he remembered vividly the sinking of the little steamer John S. Parson about 1914. She was loaded with lumber for the match factory when she sprang a leak. It was a November afternoon, and word got out around town about her troubles as she proceeded to sink right off the western gap. Leo joined a number of onlookers on shore and recalled " We were all there when a boat rowed up with the cook, mate and captain in it. You could look out and see the boat was all sunk, just the spars sticking up." When they got onshore, Leo remembered the cook started crying 'We lost the cat!' 'Ah', said the mate in disgust, evidently not a cat lover, 'quit hollerin, he left before the rats!' " "Just then" remembered Leo, "the cat came along walking down the beach. He saw the cook and came over and rubbed up against her legs happy as could be to see her again!" Another vivid memory Leo has of Oswego is that of the impact of Prohibition on the busy little port. Oswego stayed busy all through Prohibition as it was a favorite port of entry for the smugglers. By 1992, though, most of those old bootleggers were gone. Surprisingly, after so long, even the grand children of some of the St. Lawrence River smugglers didn't want to discuss where family houses and inheritances had come from. But my neighbor, one time bootlegger on a modest scale, figured that he had pretty well out lived everybody as well as the statue of limitations, and looked back on those days with a laugh. Once on a rainy day in early March, while Ariel was still laid up on her trailer in the side yard, I went over to the Garlock home a few blocks away and had a cup of coffee with Leo and his wife Theresa, a native "river rat" from Alexandria Bay. They both got to remembering days afloat long ago and inevitably Theresa suggested that her husband tell me a bit about bootlegging. He launched into several anecdotes with typical directness which I scribbled down in an impromtu attempt to document a bit of living history. The memories went something like this;

* * * *

"It was in 1926. I had a friend. I met him in the L restaurant." ( Leo took time to sketch the L, an oddly shaped building on the corner of First and Bridge Street back in pre urban renewal Oswego). " He said, 'Got any money? I know where we can get a boat. They built it out at the Normal School vocational arts class' ( Now Oswego State University). " " She had a four cylinder Universal about thirty horsepower. She was built for the lake, double plank, had a deep keel so she'd hold a course. She was pretty much open with the engine in a box way aft. She swung a big wheel, but she never had enough power. She was slow! Sometimes she'd go backwards when it was real rough." Thinking of my own experiences bucking a headwind and chop with Ariel I said I knew exactly what he meant. My host continued, "Mike said 'I know where we can get some beer'. We took a helper along, Jackie Taylor. He worked on a fish tug normally. Mike told me 'You gotta buy the booze, you're the only one with any money.'" ( At the time Leo had a job selling cars.) "We started out and it was stormy. Even the iron boats were staying in. The waves went up and down like an elevator. Then we shipped water on the motor and she conked out and she REALLY rolled. I got seasick. Finally we got the wires and plugs dried out and got going again. We got up around Simco Island and got a guide there to take us into Ivy Lea " ( A tiny Canadian village about thirty miles down river.) " First we went into Kingston to register with Customs. We gave them a twenty dollar tip. I guess it wasn't enough." "We got to Ivy Lea and a fellow met us and we went around with an old Ford. It had hard rubber tires. We went house to house and got one or two bags each place. Then we pulled back early in the morning with thirty bags of beer and twelve boxes of whisky. " Leo explained to me that bootleggers generally carried beer in burlap bags, twelve to twenty five or so quart bottles to a bag. When the hungry smugglers got to Garden Island after a busy all nighter, they decided to stop. "Let's go up and get some breakfast and let Jackie watch the load. Breakfast was very slow. They held us there a good hour. We had duck eggs, smoked Canadian bacon and coffee. The coffee was terrible!" " We got back to the boat and Mike said 'Let's get going'. We got just off Stony Point when we decided to check the load. Mike pulled back the tarp and said 'where's the whisky?' Then he wanted to throw Jackie over the side! " " I figured Taylor was too dumb to be corrupt so I talked Mike out of it. What happened was that two girls came along after we'd gone to the restaurant and asked him if he wanted breakfast. He went along with them only he didn't go for breakfast!" Alas, explained Leo, while Jackie was VERY preoccupied with the girls, their conspirators took the whisky. "Finally we got in at night and unloaded the boat and got the beer to our hiding place. Then we went down to the Businessman's Club [a local hangout] to deal. We sold the beer, tallied up, and came out with a couple hundred each. It was the first good beer to hit Oswego in a long time." Leo decided to continue bootlegging with Mike, and the novices soon headed back to Ivy Lea for a second try. "We registered in Kingston, gave 'em twenty dollars, again- no questions asked. At that time there were easy forty or fifty boats a day running up and down the river with booze. We got our load, went down inside Simco and a big black boat pulled along side with two shot guns pointed at us. They had Canadian Customs on their hats and we knew Customs had a big black boat. 'Any arms?' they asked. 'No we said. 'Well, we won't seize your boat, but we gotta take your contraband'. Mike got to looking at them real close, meantime. One guy's hat didn't fit. It was right down over his ears. 'You guys aren't customs!' he said. 'We'll make you a deal. you take the whisky and let us keep the beer.' So they did. Back we went to Oswego, sold it, and made some money. But the next time Mike says 'Let's take the numbers off the boat. Maybe they'll think we're Canadians.' Canadian boats didn't have numbers on them back then. " Leo then explained to my question that obviously the "tip" going to customs each visit was not sufficient to keep the word from getting passed along to the hi jackers who obviously were paying Customs more than twenty dollars for their information. But that was not the end of the story. Some months later while Leo was at work in the show room, another local small time Oswego boot legger came in and asked Leo 'Do you know where we can get a truck?' Leo got him one and off they went to a little creek just east of Oswego much favored by bootleggers bringing cargoes across from Ivy Lea or Main Duck. Here they joined a line up of trucks. When the time came, they pulled up and got a load from the boat and drove off- as neat a little hi jack as you could want. The unsuspecting crew that had just loaded their truck was the same one that had hi jacked Leo and Mike on their second trip! Things were going well for the novice smugglers. On their third trip they didn't stop at customs. They went straight to Ivy Lea, got their load and returned to Oswego unmolested. But then they tied up at their usual spot near the Coast Guard station and a Coast Guardsman came down. "Where you guys been? "Out fishing!" " Well you fellows been out fishing a lot lately. I wonder if we couldn't get some of that 'fish' to have with our meals?" Leo chuckled and added "After that, every run we took one bag of beer up to the station so they could have fish with their meal and the Coast Guard didn't bother us anymore." Leo and Mike continued a modestly successful smuggling operation throughout much of Prohibition. One day while Leo was at the L restaurant he recalled "In comes a tall skinny red haired guy with freckles. A few minutes later in comes Mike. Drunk. The fellow had bought Mike's share of the boat. Only Mike didn't remember selling it. So all three of us went up for a load that time.". The trio continued to make their trips until Roosevelt's election and the repeal of Prohibition. Leo remembered "That's when the partner proposed a new idea. 'Let's take the boat up to Niagara and run China men for five hundred dollars a head. All we gotta do is build a cabin on the boat forward to hide 'em in.' Right then I says I've made my last trip! You can buy my part of the boat for a thousand dollars!" Leo couldn't tell me if any illegals ever were smuggled over in his former bootleg boat, but he confirmed the practise was far from unknown on the Lake. And I've since read that once in a while when a night running boat was approached by the law, hapless illegals were shoved overboard into deep water miles from shore to fend for themselves. Ariel and I also encountered another "old salt", who had seen and associated with rum runners but scrupulously avoided getting involved. He was a retired fisherman, Cecil Laub, and one quiet evening he was watching the grandchildren catch perch off the dock in a little Canadian harbor called Fisherman's Cove by U.S. boaters. Laub recalled the days when Main Duck island was a smugglers roost. He had a well made sturdy boat that he netted whitefish and lake trout with there, and was once approached to make a run late in the season when conditions did not favor the sort of small low powered launch that Mike and Leo had used. "They offered me more for that one trip than I could make in a whole season of fishing" he said. But he turned them down for he'd also seen boat windshields shattered by gunfire and had heard of worse things happening to rum runners. Bootlegging could and did get rough on Lake Ontario. There were potentially huge sums of money involved and particularly later in the Prohibition era there was plenty of gunfire and more than one bloody hi jacking. The lake also claimed it's share of victims . Nowdays the smuggling activity has reversed direction and mostly shifted to the St. Lawrence where booze and cigarettes go duty free illegally into Canada. Looking at Oswego's urban renewed waterfront today and seeing mostly parking lots, I find it had to picture the port in the times of Leo Garlock's childhood. Then schooners and small steamers rafted up four or five deep sometimes to unload, and teamsters with their heavy horses were still a common sight on city streets. Lake Ontario has as rich and colorful a maritime history as any of the Great Lakes, but because it's greater population is Canadian, the lake's history seems to have been largely overlooked by U.S. writers. ( see the list of books at the end of this work on Lake Ontario history for those wanting to read more of it.) Lake Ontario also has a fascinating natural history only a tiny portion of which I have as of yet explored with Ariel. It wasn't long, though, in our cruising before I came across several examples of how man and nature have interacted on the lake with sometimes surprising results. Some of these were encountered in the lake's Canadian waters. A short biography of Captain H.N.Throop from Ariadne's Death Tales of Heroism and Tragedy copyright 2006 pg 66-77

Captain H. N. Throop: A Hero

In the path of life are many thorns as well as flowers”

Horatio Nelson Throop of Pultneyville New York was twelve years old when his father Samuel died in a November gale. Samuel Throop aboard his 45 ton schooner Nancy was attempting Big Sodus Bay’s treacherous unimproved entrance when his vessel was swept by a heavy sea knocking her captain overboard. The schooner was wrecked and her captain drowned.

Horatio, the oldest son, was now the family breadwinner. He had to help keep a younger brother, two sisters and his mother financially afloat. Throop chose to follow in his father’s wake and became a freshwater mariner. Sixty-five years later, when Horatio Nelson Throop himself passed on to Fiddler’s Green, he died a rich man one of the most respected and successful Lake Ontario captains of his day. His career as a freshwater mariner coincided with the most prosperous and perhaps the most romantic era of navigation on the lake. He narrowly missed being the father of one of the great maritime innovations of history, the screw propeller, and despite his share of hard knocks and disappointments during his life, Throop never lost his love for being afloat. For fifty-six years he was closely associated with commerce upon the lake, and the local newspaper recorded that on the morning he died he was looking forward to the first spring run of his steam yacht the Magic.

Fate and fortune play a part in what course we shape as we steer through life, but so too do old fashioned hustle and hard work. Perhaps a clue to Throop’s gritty determination comes from the names Samuel bestowed upon two of his sons- Washington and Horatio Nelson, great leaders and heroes of their time.

Samuel Throop at age twenty shipped aboard a whaler from Lebanon, Connecticut and sailed around Cape Horn. After he married perhaps he found life ashore in New England too dull, so he packed up his family in 1802 and moved to the western frontier. First he settled in Manchester, Ontario County, but three years later, possibly drawn by the possibilities of an inland sea, he took his little family north to the lake and the out post of Pultneyville, a tiny notch in the shoreline tucked away by Salmon Creek’s entrance under Appleboom Point.

Samuel built a house and with his father-in-law also constructed a sawmill and a gristmill on Salmon Creek. He kept a tavern and before long he also was back aboard a vessel, his own little schooner the Enterprise. He lost her to a British gunboat in 1813, but once peace returned to the lake, he built a bigger better vessel, the ill-fated Nancy. Ironically, the man who had sailed the Atlantic and Pacific and who had seen the waters off Cape Horn died amidst the dirty brown breakers of Lake Ontario in November.

There probably wasn’t much time for school for young Horatio after his father died. History says that with a bit of assistance from an old sailor, the boy built his first boat that winter and sold it. He took the proceeds from that effort and put them into another, a vessel big enough to carry sail and a ton of freight. He traded that boat for lumber to build another large enough to regularly coast along the shore in trade. He sold that one too.

He was now sixteen and undoubtedly realized his limitations. He needed more knowledge to advance his ambitions so he went to work as an apprentice in Rochester for a ship builder named Russell Cole. Throop spent two years in the city building schooners and canal boats for the just completed Erie Canal. As he learned the shipwright’s trade, he was also studying ship design with his mentor. Throop always had a keen interest in building boats that were smart performers. Shuffling through the papers of the Pultneyville Historical Society I found a piece of lined note paper with faded penciled handwriting that bore the date 1877. It appeared to be a scrap of ship design notes, possibly dictated by Throop to a younger family member.

Among the comments I read, “There can be no doubt that five to six tons or 150 to 190 cubic feet of displacement can be profitably taken from the forward ends of the ordinary shaped canal boat; the decreased resistance and increased speed would fully compensate for the loss in capacity.”

After this stint of shipyard work, our ambitious young captain-to-be built the 35 ton schooner Sophia. She was a bit smaller than the 1600 bushel canal boats Throop had helped build in Rochester and was launched in 1827. He outfitted and rigged her, hired a crew and put his little ship to work hauling freight that summer. These were good times for the region economically. The Erie Canal had opened in 1825 and brought a rush of prosperity to communities within a day’s travel of it. Rochester was perhaps the nation’s first “boom town” thanks to the canal, its population increasing nearly three fold after the canal’s first full season and business prospects for farmers along this new highway to distant markets were bright.

I have seen no graphic representation of the Sophia and can only guess what she looked like. Snider says Throop, like a number of American south shore builders, probably went over to the Canadian Islands of Timber or Main Duck to pick up a load of natural cedar and tamarack crooks to build her. At that time such “poaching” of Canadian lumber by south shore builders was widespread enough for the island owners to lodge a formal complaint with the authorities that survived in the archives for Snider to discover. Fresh from his years under a master shipwright, Throop probably built his ship well of good local white oak and pine with plenty of natural grown tamarack knees to tie her deck and hull together.

Snider wrote that she could carry a thousand bushels of corn, about as much as a modest sized farm truck of today. She may have been about fifty feet on deck and was surely quite shoal given the little harbor she sailed from. Perhaps she had a bold plumb bow like those of some of Throop’s later larger designs. And we assume she had a generous amount of sail area for Lake Ontario’s prevailing light summer winds. By the time of the 1812 war, George A. Cuthbertson writes in Freshwater, naval architects were well aware of the need for large rigs on the lake. In those days before auxiliary engines the philosophy was to give your vessel plenty of sail to keep that freight moving in light air. You could always reef her down to reduce sail in a blow. The Sophia’s tiller is displayed at the historical society and it is surprisingly short for a 35 ton boat, suggesting she must have had a ​​​light helm and a well balanced sail plan.

C.H. J. Snider, who sailed on commercial schooners and who owned a stone hooker with his brother near the turn of the century, devoted several of his “Schooner Days” columns to Captain Throop’s life. This schooner man-scribe with his first hand knowledge of life under sail left a vivid picture of the Sophia’s last voyage which inspires the following abridged version.

That late summer morning of her departure found her crammed to the gunnels with her cargo of new corn. The northwest wind was brisk as she sailed east and we can imagine her twenty-year old skipper piling on the sail to start. As Snider puts it, she was going like a scalded cat. Perhaps the little ship was a tad overloaded (there were no Plimsoll marks for safe load limits in those days) and perhaps she was a tad over canvassed too. Whatever happened, a couple hours out of Pultneyville, the crew felt she wasn’t quite acting right. She wasn’t lifting to the waves with the same buoyant rise as she had before. Perhaps they tried the pumps and out came a stream of lake water and corn- had the grain been wetted by bilge water, swelled and started a plank loose from her framing? “Lower away on the halyards.” Throop called out to the crew, “I’ll bring her around to get the lame side out of the water.” But before he could get her around, she angled down at the bow, a wave washed over her rails and decks and into her cabin, and she went down. Within minutes of discovering the leak, she was gone, leaving three men in the rough water.

One crewman grasped an oar while the other tried to hang onto a barrel. Throop wrote years later in a letter to his friend Captain Van Cleve, that owing to its shape the barrel was probably of no advantage (to him) and having only one head it soon sank. The man with the oar barely escaped the vortex of the sinking ship. Throop was last to leave the schooner. He had great confidence in his swimming ability under any condition so he stayed aboard to the bitter end trying to encourage the two men (who we assume were not able to swim) and see that they had something to help keep them afloat. The little ship sank so quickly that only one crewman even had time to reach her stern where Throop was. He recalled in his letter to Van Cleve that he was standing on deck when a wave came sweeping over the ship driving a quantity of water down the companionway and into the cabin “overcoming the last pound of buoyancy.”

Throop was drawn perhaps fifteen feet under by the vortex accompanying the sinking Sophia. He fought his way back to the surface and there saw a few floating articles that had been lost off the deck along with his two men. He glimpsed them briefly between the waves and saw that the man with the barrel seemed to be drowning. The other man hanging on to the oars also soon lost his grip and vanished.

Throop, young strong and well able to handle himself afloat, found a hatch board from the schooner’s companionway. He held it alternatively by each hand and swam steadily for shore. After about four hours, he made it, so exhausted that he crawled ashore and simply lay for many minutes unable to stand. He had landed at East Bay by the bluff on its west shore. He estimated he had drifted a good six miles from the location of the sinking. Then there came the weary heartsick walk barefoot along the stony beach to search for his crew. He found no trace of them but he did pick up the second cabin door and the Sophia’s tiller from the beach. He then hiked inland to the house where he found help. Ultimately he returned to Pultneyville with nothing but the clothes on his back. As Snider notes, he didn’t even have a pair of shoes, having kicked them off to help him swim ashore.

Today the small green painted door that saved his life is displayed at the Pultneyville Historical Society Museum. You can still see the inscription Throop wrote on it and its mate in his later years that reads in part “This door was a aide in my swimming from the little schooner Sophia which vessel went to the bottom loaded with corn four to five miles below and off Big Sodus Aug 22 1827.”

With nothing to his name but an 800 dollar debt from the building of his schooner and the resilience of youth, he started anew. He went back to Russell Cole’s yard and helped build another ship that winter, the Commerce. Then he and a man named Hiram Gallop began building a schooner, the Enterprise. She was ready to sail on June 1829 and it was with this boat Throop first began doing business with Henry Fitzhugh, an Oswego miller, who was busy turning western grain into flour to send downstate on the canal using the Oswego River’s abundant waterpower.

The partnership with the busy miller and freight forwarder turned Throop’s fortunes, and after just three seasons of trading between Lakes Michigan and Ontario with the Enterprise and other schooners, Throop was prosperous enough to direct his younger brother Washington back in Pultneyville to begin building a cobblestone house (a method of architecture that was not particularly cheap even when skilled stone masons made a dollar a day). He also felt secure enough to marry and on July 5, 1834 he and Mary Ledyard were wed.

It was also during this time that Throop began to get seriously interested in screw propellers. By the early 1830’s grain from the west was being brought to Oswego by both canal boats (via the Erie and Oswego feeder canal) and by lake-based schooners. Vessels also carried manufactured goods and passengers west. A few years later, the westward land rush was on and canal boats were leaving Albany every hour of the day and night jammed with immigrants, while sailing vessels and steamers also did their best to get goods and people to Cleveland Chicago and points west.

However, a major bottleneck restricted the trade from Oswego to western waters, that of the Welland Canal. In the 1830’s the canal locks were only eight feet deep and 22 feet wide. The steamers of the time were all side-wheelers and their bulky paddlewheels took up so much space in the locks that their cargo and passenger capacity were much reduced. Schooners could carry people west, but everyone wanted to get there yesterday. A steamer could get them there on a more certain schedule in less time as it traveled against the prevailing westerlies and would also be able to make more trips.

To Throop the advantages of a screw propelled steamer over that of the side-wheelers plying the route were obvious. Such a ship had all her machinery aft opening up her mid section for cargo or passenger accommodations. And with no paddlewheels on her sides she could carry more. Throop, now an accomplished practical engineer and naval architect, set about designing a screw driven vessel. He tinkered for years with various designs for propellers (some of his casting patterns and models are displayed today at the Pultneyville Historical Society museum) and in 1832 he launched an undecked two ton steamer equipped with a propeller of his own design. Though the boat made successful runs, the young designer was unable to get anyone to loan him money for the complex legal process of obtaining a patent. Five years later John Ericsson, a Swedish engineer, got a U.S. patent for his propeller design.

Did Throop feel vindicated or was he disappointed and a bit bitter when he heard of the success of the little sloop rigged Vandalia in 1841, the first commercial steamer in North America to employ screw propulsion? We’ll perhaps never know. We do know that two years before he was trying to get an Ericsson wheel in the little steamer Express, a boat built to his own design for screw propulsion. However, once again more conservative and less visionary business associates failed to see the advantages over conventional paddlewheels. We also know Throop continued to tinker around with propellers and even devised a self-governing variable pitch wind vane, a model of which exists today. It’s been suggested some of his various wind driven turbines were intended for mounting on a boat with the wind driven machinery linked to a screw propeller. And we know in later years Throop was a friend of Captain Van Cleve of Oswego who was also interested in improving steamer technology and who initiated the age of the propeller on Lake Ontario through his contact with the inventor in New York City in December of 1840.

In the 1840’s Throop, now in the employ of the Ontario Steam Boat Company, was given command of a succession of steamers each larger than the last. In 1847 he was charged with designing and overseeing construction of the Ontario perhaps his favorite among his various commands. She was 242 feet long and displaced 900 tons and a contemporary account said, “Her furniture, curtains, and drapery would adorn a palace.” Her “downy beds” rich carpets and rosewood sofas made her the equal of any steamer on the upper lakes. Not surprisingly, given Throop’s other ship designs, the local paper also commented “her speed is believed to be equal to the fastest”.

He stayed with her for ten years. On this ship he ran fugitive slaves to freedom taking them to Canada from Pultneyville in cooperation with a neighbor who was a "conductor" on the underground railroad. And in the spring of 1849 Throop and the Ontario were involved in a dramatic rescue of a different sort.

The lake's water was still icy cold that May as the Ontario left Pultneyville on its regular run along shore and headed west. A strong headwind sprang up at sunset as they passed Rochester. Rather than pound into the waves, Throop decided to put in for the night in Charlotte.

But a few hours after he docked there, two men hurried aboard with a distress message from another steamer the 425 ton Lady Of The Lake also of the Ontario Steam Boat Line. She had broken her shaft in the rough seas, (a not uncommon problem with the old side wheeler driven boats) and had anchored. Now she was slowly dragging in the heavy seas onto the shore.

Throop, himself a ship wreck survivor, knew full well that the cold water and heavy surf would claim the lives of many passengers and crewmen. His ship was then only a year old and "staunch in every particular" as a contemporary account put it. There could be no other decision by a man of Throop's temperament. He would attempt to tow the disabled ship to safety.

The Ontario steamed west into the night, Throop pushing as hard as he dared. Minor damage was sustained by heavy boarding seas, but the Ontario arrived to find the Lady Of The Lake still afloat but perilously near shore.

As she yawed back and forth, it was dangerous to approach within a hundred feet. The seas were far too big to take the passengers off in small boats in the darkness. The only solution was to tow the crippled Lady Of The Lake to safety. The feat demanded exact timing and precise ship handling. There would be no second chance.

Throop came as close as possible to the stricken vessel's windward side. He then kept just enough way on to hold position against wind and waves. The terrified passengers swarmed to the rail of the disabled steamer some screaming and sobbing for help.

The captain gauged the drift and windage of his ship as the Lady of The Lake's crew readied to receive a cable. It took thirty minutes to prepare, and it must have seemed an eternity to the frightened men, women and children on the Lady of the Lake. Then Throop ran his ship about a boat length ahead of the cripple and cut power allowing it to drift down onto the disabled steamer. As the stern of the Ontario neared the Lady of the Lake a deckhand heaved a line across and the stricken ship's crew began hauling it and attached towing hawser over.

Even as they did so, Throop ordered slow ahead, averting a collision by a few yards. The towline secured, the Lady of the Lake slipped her two anchor cables and now the two ships' depended on Ontario's engine. Throop gradually increased speed and worked offshore. Once in deep water, the trip to the safety of Rochester's Charlotte Harbor was uneventful.

Sketch of the Captain from McIntosh’s History of Wayne County with his faithful Joppa nearby.

Contemporary accounts leave the impression that Throop was a man of deeds rather than words. He was not active in any political parties nor was he much of a churchgoer but rather was “conservative in his personal conduct and liberal in his views” as one account puts it. He was known to sympathize with the abolitionist movement and was probably readily recruited to help out on the underground railroad by his neighbor Samuel Cuyler a “conductor.” The captain’s work with the Ontario in ferrying runaway slaves to safety before the Civil War has often been written about. There is a good account of one such rescue by Marvin A. Rapp in his book Canal Water and Whiskey. Throop was very fond of music and history records he was always ready to get his guitar or banjo out for a tune or two. It seems quite likely that he picked up his knowledge of the instrument from some of those runaway slaves.

History has preserved several testimonials as to the respect his passengers had for him as a lake captain. Here’s one from the Syracuse Daily Star of 1849:

In all my travels I have never yet met so gentlemanly an officer as

Mr. H.N. Throop, the commander of the Lake Steam Packet Ontario. His name ought to be passed around. In the best sense of the word he is a gentleman and the prince among Captains. On deck conversing with him, giving him the desired information concerning the localities, villages, islands, and every thing of interest on the Lake. In his office, at the dining table, and in the saloon the same gentlemanly deportment characterizes him. Capt. Throop is something of a musician withal; last evening after a highly esteemed lady from Milwaukee had favored us with some music upon the piano forte, he brought out his guitar and gave us some admirable songs and good opera selections. Now who will say that such acts, done in an easy way, do not give honorable prestige to Capt. Throop? “

Perhaps not everyone agreed with this writer’s assessment of the captain’s music. In another account of his shipboard entertaining a passenger characterized as an old woman (perhaps a little hard of hearing we hope?) asked when the good captain was going to stop tuning his ‘violin’ and start playing some music. Another passenger wrote that “Throop was most skillful, careful and untiring in his exertions to please, and the conduct of all hands, mate, clerk, waiters, firemen, &c., urbane and attentive in the extreme.”

Skillful or not, times were changing on the lake by the 1850’s.The passenger steamer business began to suffer from competition from train travel. As more track was laid, people opted for speed over seasickness and the occasional hazards of lake travel. Though Throop operated in the passenger trade for many years without the loss of a single life, profits were drying up fast, and the steamboat lines began downsizing, merging and going under. By 1856 the Ontario and St. Lawrence Steam Boat Company had six steamers. Throop’s old friend Van Cleve was secretary and treasurer of the line and Throop was in charge of operations and maintenance of the fleet and he was spending more time in the office than he preferred. He occasionally got a chance to escape being shore bound by filling in as a substitute captain and perhaps, sensing the outlook for the passenger trade on the lake was less than bright, he also designed and built two schooners “on his own account”. Both were described as fancy and fast sailing by contemporary writers. The first was the Challenge. She was a trim little two-master built on the Niagara River. Throop put up a standing bet of a thousand dollars against any schooner that could beat her over a 250 mile course on Lake Ontario. No one ever collected, and after three seasons, he sold her to the U.S. Government that required a capable and smart sailing vessel to work as a supply ship to lighthouses on the upper lakes.

In 1856 Throop carved a half hull for another schooner, the clipper model Rival, a three-master of 350 tons built at Alexandria Bay. She was also “entirely successful and profitable” as a contemporary account put it and she paid her entire building cost with her earnings in a single season of trading to the upper lakes. Perhaps the Rival benefited from high freights that prevailed on the lakes during the Crimean War that lasted from 1854 to 1856. During that conflict, Britain’s sudden appetite for North American wheat drove Great Lakes freights up to unheard of heights and with them ship owner profits. The scramble to make money led to a boom in shipbuilding and in Oswego during the time, four schooners were launched on the same day. But after every boom there comes a bust and this one started in 1857. Perhaps Throop was shrewd enough to sell the Rival before then. In 1877 she was still at work and still called Pultneyville her homeport though under different owners.

There are several half hulls on display at the Pultneyville Historical Society Museum that are supposedly of Throop’s design. One is of a schooner that is quite sharp forward and has a good fine run. It’s tempting to think it might be that of either the Challenge or the Rival.

As the names of his schooners suggest, Throop was no stranger to the rough and tumble world of capitalist competition 1850 style. In the difficult business climate leading up to the Civil War when the passenger steamer business was dying a slow death Throop managed to keep afloat and prosper for the most part. The “panic” of 1857 that took place after the Crimean War had ended, added to the problems of the various passenger companies on the lake and a number of ships were laid up. Then the Ontario and St. Lawrence Steam Boat Company went bankrupt. There followed a messy and rancorous reorganization that excluded several major stockholders, including Throop, from a fair bidding process at the bankruptcy auction of the company’s ships.

The new company was then reorganized as the American Steamboat Company and Throop, shut out by the new owners, promptly went off to Canada and chartered a boat and went into business along the north shore of the lake in direct competition with his old company. At the end of the season he had covered his expenses while the newly reorganized American Steamboat Company had lost 10,000 dollars. Throop also went to court, sued and won. The American Steamboat Company lost six of its steamers to Throop and his partners who formed a new Ontario Steamboat Company and put the boats back to work.

But the handwriting was on the wall and Throop could read it. He served on the board through the difficult years of the Civil War, a time of slow passenger trade on the lake, but in 1866 an important treaty promoting free trade between the U.S. and Canada was revoked. The loss of “Reciprocity” with its low tariffs along with the increased efficiency of the railroads was the final blow to the age of steamboating passenger trade. Henceforth, only excursion steamers would run on the lakes. Throop and his fellow board members sold out to the Canadian Steam and Navigation Company and the captain retired ashore in 1867.

He kept busy after retirement, however. He designed and oversaw the construction of the 82 foot steam yacht Magic built in Pultneyville and launched in 1876. The Magic had a 40 horsepower Vulcan engine made in Oswego and overnight accommodations for 20 to 25. She was outfitted in grand style including an upright piano. A print of her underway in the Wayne County History by McIntosh shows her hustling right along. A statue of the captain’s faithful little whippet Joppa sits atop the wheelhouse.

Sketch of the Magic hustling along from McIntosh’s History of Wayne County. Judging from the steam coming out of the safety valve, I think the Captain is in the wheelhouse giving her a workout on a nice flat lake.

On the day of her launch the Rochester newspaper commented that Captain Throop has not built this boat with a view of gain, but for his own diversion, and the pleasure of visiting with his own little craft the Thousand Islands and other points of interest on the lake and river. His many friends wish him a long life to enjoy the fruits of his toil.”
Throop also continued experimenting with wind and water turbine designs. At the time of his death his estate included two large steam yachts and a sailing yacht.

After the Civil War most of the grand old side-wheelers from the lake’s golden age of steamboating went down the St. Lawrence, sold into east coast service. Throop’s Ontario also left the lake going to Montreal where she continued to carry passengers for another 15 years between Montreal and Quebec City. In the spring of 1883 when the ice went out, it sliced open the hull of the once proud old steamer, as she lay at anchor laid up for the winter and she went down. Though she lay in shallow water she was not judged worthy of salvage and so was abandoned. The next year Throop died.

Throop’s life and career as a captain, inventor, and successful businessman, coincided with perhaps the most interesting period of navigation on the lakes. It was a time of great innovation, of perhaps the finest schooners and passenger steamers, and like today, it was a time of rapid and profound changes and technology shifts. It was also a time of boom and bust and of severe challenges to the businessman and citizen, not unlike today. Yet Throop never gave up in believing that things could be better both mechanically and socially.

It seems perhaps appropriate to close with a quote from Mansfield’s History of the Great Lakes that paid tribute to the captains of Throop’s day.

"The captains of the early and 'magnificent' steamers were quite a distinct class of citizens. They were recruited mostly from the ranks of the successful masters of sailing vessels... In the village graveyards that line the shores of these inland seas, lie many of the men to whom were entrusted the comfort and safety of the great number of persons… As one who knew something of the lives of these men, and of the hardships and perils to which they were exposed, and of the responsibilities that rested upon them as captains, engineers and officers of the early steamboats on the lakes, the writer desires to testify to their many good qualities, and to say that as a class they were rarely excelled in the conscientious performance of their duties. They had in them the stuff of which heroes are made.”

Shipwrecks and storms

The Wreck of the St. Peter from Myths, Mirages Monsters and Mysteries of Lake Ontario reprinted 2006 copyright 2001

The schooner St. Peter sank in a storm east of Pultneyville in 1898. A century later questions linger and mystery still shrouds the exact circumstances of her loss. It may have been a rogue wave, gear failure, or ill fortune that overwhelmed her, or it may have been a fatal human error. Some intriguing evidence found during a series of dives on the wreck in 1971 hints at the latter.

On October 5 her log book recorded the vessel left her homeport of Toledo Ohio with a cargo of corn and sailed east to Kingston. After discharging that cargo, she crossed the lake to Oswego and docked at the coal trestle. From Oct 21 to Oct 25 she loaded “chestnut coal”, 607 tons of it, for what was to be her last trip of the season back home to Toledo for winter lay up.

The St. Peter was a typical schooner of her day, 135 feet in length with a 26 foot beam, built in Toledo in 1873 .She was shoal draft with a centerboard, virtually flat bottomed and full ended , sized to fit through the Welland canal. She was a three master and such ships would normally sail with a crew of a half dozen or so men plus captain. She set out on Wednesday morning October 26 from Oswego under tow and raised sail to catch a fair easterly breeze home. The late fall day was sunny and pleasant, but when the tug captain returned to port, he found his next tow had warped around to the other side of the trestle and was staying in port. Her captain had just received word of an early winter blizzard with seventy mile and hour winds now in Chicago. It wouldn’t be long before that system reached Lake Ontario.

Innocent of such apprehensions, the crew of the St. Peter, Captain John Griffin, his wife, the first mate and three men working their passage west. sailed on their way. An account published by Richard Kilday on the sinking written for an exhibit on the ship at the Rochester Museum and Science Center states the crew were Swedish immigrants. They may or may not have been experienced seamen.

The St. Peter was only about four miles from the lake’s west end and a safe harbor, when at 10:30 pm the wind swing 180 degrees and started to howl. So close and yet so far, only four miles offshore, the deep loaded ship had no choice but to turn and scud before it. The crew pulled down and furled her sails, leaving just a reefed mizzen and a staysail forward up, and the St. Peter ran for it.

When she reached Charlotte around midnight, she showed a burning torch, signaling for the services of a tug. But even as the tug Proctor got up steam and set out to intercept her, the scudding St. Peter was already lost in the darkness. Griffin deliberately steered inshore, and when near Bear Creek at daybreak, near the town of Ontario and the present day Ginna power plant, he displayed a distress signal near the small fishing harbor. A newspaper account quoted the captain later as saying “At this time I had no anxiety for the safety of my vessel. We tried the pumps often and every time they were found dry. She did not leak a bit.” Considering that she was deep laden with coal and had only a few feet of freeboard, this suggests she was still a pretty sound vessel.

Her distress signal was evidently reported promptly, for at about 8 am the Proctor received word from the Charlotte life saving station that St. Peter had been sighted in distress. The tug with a life boat crew and a boat in tow, set out again, and within a few hours was within sight of the ship, then being about two or three miles west of her off Pultneyville. Then as a contemporary account records “We saw her suddenly list to port once and then repeat it. The second time she went down.”

Deep laden with coal with little reserve buoyancy, she sank like the proverbial stone, and the crew and captain, all of whom were on deck, were instantly adrift in icy water and ten foot waves. Griffin told the reporters later “ I saw my men floating around in the water as they were tossed up by huge waves. I spoke to my wife several times after we were in the water. She seemed to have hold of something that kept her up. I had a hold of two oars and tried to get to her, but just as I would get almost within reach of her, I would be beaten back by a huge breaker. At last she said that she was tired out and could hang on no longer. I called to her to hang on a little while longer and maybe someone would come and pick us up. Finally she said she could not stand it any longer and called to me ‘good-by’. She threw up her hands and went down.”

When the Proctor reached the scene they found Griffin and pulled him into the lifeboat. The rest of the crew had vanished. The tug then ran on to Sodus Harbor as the strength of the gale made it impossible to beat back upwind to Charlotte.

Today the St. Peter lies in 110 foot of water refrigerated by the perpetually chill temperatures beneath the lake’s thermocline. Diving has shown that the wreck is nearly free of damage and the hull remains intact. One anchor, the starboard one, remains at the cat head. The port anchor and chain is missing and a hatchet was found buried in the wood of the ship’s port rail near the cathead. The ship’s cabin roof is collapsed and damage to the vessel aft above decks suggests she took solid water on board probably causing her rapid flooding.

What exactly happened to her in those last moments of life upon the gray windswept lake can only be guessed at. There are a couple theories. One is that the vessel’s cargo shifted causing her to list sharply and perhaps then be overwhelmed by a breaking wave. Another holds that she broached after a lash on the wheel broke. According to this theory, the Captain and his wife had lashed the helm and then left it to lower the schooner’s yawl boat hung astern upon spotting the tug.

If I may venture a little Monday morning quarter backing, I’m inclined to go with the third theory mentioned by Kilday in his account, namely that the port anchor was let go in an attempt to anchor the ship so as to allow the tug and lifeboat men to come along side. As Kilday speculates, dropping the anchor without first rounding up to slow the ship down would have caused her to over ride the chain. In so doing the drag of the anchor may have caused the sudden lurch to port as she went out of control. A big wave then presumably broke on deck as she wallowed broadside to, smashing in the cabin. With little reserve buoyancy she then sank almost immediately. It seems possible that this attempt to anchor might have been made without Griffin’s knowledge by a panicky crewman who having sighted the tug astern was thinking only of rescue. Exactly what happened on that gray windswept autumn morning off Fairbanks Point a century ago may never be known.

We do know though, those of us who sail these waters today aboard small boats, that the lake in an angry mood leaves a captain and crew little margin for error or equipment failure. And that luck and fate are always present to play a part on such a day. Had the St. Peter left port an hour later,than she did, she might well have heard word of the storm and stayed safe in Oswego. And had she departed just one hour earlier, she might have made those last four miles to a lea under the western shore.