Oswego County, N.Y. History Site!



The Great Lakes

These new pages will feature information about the migration trail of your ancestors, from or to Oswego County, including by means of the Great Lakes, stretching westward from Canada to Minnesota.  If your ancestors were part of this movement, let's hear about them, so they may be "Featured" on these pages. It will help researchers to trace where their ancestors went to after leaving Oswego county, or where they came from. 
See also the links below:

Includes the names of the seamen on board the ship and cargo

 Family Migration Page 
 names of those who were part of the migration trail

"The Great Lakes"

STANDING in Lake Park, Chicago, beside the statue of General Logan, the supporter of Douglas and, later, of Lincoln, one has behind him the most marvellous city of modern times, and before him the southwestern most of the Great Lakes. In front, glitter the waters over which La Salle journeyed three centuries ago.  As in those days, they respond to the play of wind and weather, now calm as a sheet of glass, and now swept by sudden gales into turbulent waves and breakers; but the aspect of the land is such that were La Salle to visit it he would not recognize the spot.  In place of a wilderness with an occasional group of low-lying Indian wigwams he would see a mighty city of buildings towering one hundred. and fifty feet above the street and reaching down from twenty-five to fifty feet below ground.  In place of a few canoes with their loads of narrow mouth of the Chicago River, seven thousand freighters and steamers with an aggregate tonnage greater than that floated in any other port in the world touch annually at the wharves along her splendid harbor front.  These vessels and thousands of trains, running on tracks whose mileage is more than a third of that of the whole railway system of the United States, bring to her stockyards, her grain elevators, and her markets the herds and flocks of the western plains, the crops of the wheat-fields of the Northwest, and the merchandise of Europe and of Asia.

Chicago is the greatest distributing centre of this region, but the ports of Lake Erie handle many important industries whose traffic never enters Lake Michigan.  The copper of the upper Michigan peninsula, the iron ore of the Wisconsin and Minnesota ranges, the coal of Ohio and Pennsylvania, and many a minor industry have had their share in building up the modern empire of the Great Lakes.  The body of water about which this empire has risen is made up of five lakes: Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, and Ontario, which together form the greatest inland waterway of the world.  These lakes have an area of more than half that of the Black Sea or the Caspian, while Lake Superior is the largest body of fresh water on the globe.  The four upper lakes are so nearly level that one canal with a single lock has given them a navigable length of over fourteen hundred miles.   Lake Ontario, however, is effectively separated from the others by Niagara Falls and its attendant rapids.  Other great inland bodies of water are directly connected with the ocean by navigable straits.  The Mediterranean Sea is entered from the Atlantic by the Strait of Gibraltar, the Black Sea is connected in its turn with the Mediterranean by the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus; but Niagara closes direct navigation between the Great Lakes and the sea.

Canals have done much in the last hundred years to alleviate the natural inaccessibility of the lake system.  Eighty-five years ago the Erie Canal gave a water route from the eastern end of Lake Erie to the Hudson River and thus to the Atlantic Ocean.  Five years later the Welland Canal passed round Niagara Falls and connected Lake Erie with Lake Ontario, and a third canal soon connected Lake Erie with the Ohio River. To-day a second era of canal building is upon us. The Welland Canal has been widened, making it possible for boats of moderate draught to go from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario and thence by numerous small cuts around the rapids of the St. Lawrence to the Atlantic.  The Erie Canal is being enlarged, and engineers dream of a time when it will be made sufficiently wide and deep for sea-going vessels to pass from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Erie.  The Hennepin Canal at Chicago will open a route from Lake Michigan by the Illinois and Mississippi rivers into the Gulf of Mexico.  Each state bordering on the Great Lakes as well as every province of the Dominion of Canada is to-day planning extensions of this canal system.

On the lonely shores past which La Salle and later explorers voyaged have been built villages, towns, and cities.  This region is to-day the clearing-house of the commerce of the central plain of North America.  From the western terminals of the lake routes railways pass over the plains and mountains of the Northwest to the Pacific; from their eastern ports stretch lines to the seaboard cities of the Atlantic.  The farms of the Northwest send yearly one hundred and fifty million bushels of wheat, six hundred million bushels of oats, and a billion bushels of corn to Chicago and Buffalo and thence to the eastern states and Europe.  Coming from the west, the transcontinental roads pay tribute at Chicago and then choose between the route north of Lake Erie via Detroit, or south via Cleveland.  They unite at Buffalo and follow the Mohawk Valley to the Hudson and then to New York or Boston; or they pass the Alleghanies farther south and reach the coast at Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Norfolk. In any case, by land or water, from the north or from the west, these products come to the Great Lakes, and are carried from their ports to the factories and markets of the East, or to steamers bound for Europe.  This combination of land and water transportation makes the Great Lakes the keystone of American industry.

We have spoken of the four upper lakes as united commercially into one great sea.  Before Lake Superior could be entered from the others one formidable obstacle had to be overcome. Between Lake Superior and Lake Huron was a ledge of rocks half a mile long over which the waters ran in swirling rapids, forming the Sault (or Rapids of) Ste. Marie.  At this point the famous  "Soo" Canal has been constructed with a single lock which is the largest and costliest in the world, though it will soon be surpassed by those at the entrance of the Panama Canal. This canal was built in 1855 when the presence of iron and copper deposits in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota was first discovered.  To-day the tonnage passing yearly through it runs up into figures that are almost beyond belief; but these figures form the best single index of the traffic of the Great Lakes.  In the seven open months of 1907 there passed through the "Soo" one hundred million tons of freight valued at four hundred and fifty million dollars.  This tonnage is nine times that of the Suez Canal.  The mines whose discovery made necessary the cutting of the  Soo" Canal supply a large part of this freight.  Of iron ore alone they send thirty-three million tons to the foundries and furnaces of Pittsburg and other centres, where the raw material is manufactured into articles of iron and steel which form the basis of modern civilized existence. From the deposits of the upper Michigan peninsula comes yearly one-seventh of the world's supply of copper.

These figures give some idea of the importance of the Great Lakes in the economic development of the United States.  Three hundred years have this region converted from a wilderness peopled by Indian tribes to the uses of modern civilization.  This time might well be shortened, since at the beginning of the nineteenth century Great Lakes and bordering lands were still occupied by the red man and a few small villages and trading stations of the whites.  It is indeed wonderful what changes a century has witnessed.

Part 2:


THE decade from 1830 to 1840 witnessed a rush of people to the country of the Great Lakes.  As pioneers had poured into New York State twenty years before and changed the wilderness into a settled country, so they came now by hundreds and thousands into Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, clearing away the forests and building villages, towns, and cities with amazing rapidity.  The common phrase of gazetteers of that day about cities like Toledo, Michigan City, Chicago, and Milwaukee is that in  1830-1834 this place was "dense forest," or " contained a solitary family," or "was scarcely known," but now in 1840 it has from two to three or four thousand inhabitants, as the case may be ; and the tale might be repeated in a lesser way for all the villages and towns of the region.

In a few years Buffalo and Cleveland changed from   "remote settlements " to the well-built, luxurious eastern gateways through which rushed a swift and ever-increasing flood of emigrants. Mere words or even figures can hardly convey what this movement of population meant to the country.  It was said that in 1838 five thousand people left Buffalo in one day to go up the lakes, and the larger part of them went to stay.  In 1811 Michigan had only nine principal settlements, with a total population of under five thousand, four-fifths of whom were French; in 1837, when she was admitted as a state into the Union, she had a population of over 175,000, distributed over thirty-one counties, nearly two-thirds of whom were from New England and western New York.  Together the five states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin had come in 1837 to have nearly three million inhabitants.

Another picture of the rapid growth of the country is given in the successive additions to a series of Travellers' Guides," published between 1825 and 1840 by Gideon Davison.  He wrote for tourists, not emigrants, and entitled each book " The Fashionable Tour in "1825" or whatever the year might be.  In the first edition, published in 1825, he included in the western part of his journey only an excursion from Albany to Niagara, and thence to Montreal and Quebec.  Five years later, in the fourth edition, a two-page description of the western lakes was inserted, with a mention of Mackinac and Green Bay, military posts which steamboats from Buffalo occasionally visited during the summer.  A footnote announced that steamboats left Buffalo for Detroit every other day, stopping at Erie, Grand River, Cleveland, and Sandusky (cabin fare $15), and a line of boats ran daily to Erie.  All description of the lakes is, however, as  "the sources of the Niagara, a river inferior in splendor to none, perhaps, in the world," and the account is inserted to give a more adequate idea of the vast amount of water united in this "stupendous river."  In 1834 the notice of these steamboats which ran every other day to Detroit in forty hours is set in contrast with the conditions of 1811, when a passage from Buffalo to Detroit required from five to seven days, and the traveller was liable to wait ten days for a schooner and a fair wind.  In the seventh and eighth editions, of 1837 and 1840, even fashion had come to recognize the lakes. A full western trip on Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan is outlined, and steamers are reported to leave Buffalo for Detroit daily in 1837 and twice a day in  1840.  Had the editions been continued for fifteen years, a trip to Lake Superior would have been included; indeed, it began to be taken by 1845 by some travellers.

Davison's guide-books were the most conservative of the many  "Companions," "Directories," and " Gazetteers with Immigrant Guides" published at that time.  Although Davison would not send his tourist so far, there was in all these years a rush of western travel on the lakes.  A guide-book of 1825, Davison's first year, contains an advertisement of the steamboat Superior, which ran between Buffalo and Detroit from April to November, occupying four days each way and landing passengers at Cleveland and the other main settlements "unless prevented by stress of weather." This steamboat had, besides its principal cabin, a forward room fitted up especially for families moving westward, where nothing but ship room and access to the kitchen was supplied, and the fare was only seven dollars and a half, one-half the regular cabin fare.

A landowner from Boston published in 1838 a little book," Illinois and the West," which aimed to give to others contemplating land purchases an account of those of his experiences as a westen  traveller which might be of value to them. He explained the simple method by which the government divided the new territories and states, and sold lots to newcomers.  The whole country was surveyed by five principal meridian lines running due north and south, and intersected by lines running east and west.  Parallel in both directions to these main lines ran lines six miles apart which divided the country into so-called townships exactly six miles square.  These townships were mere geographical divisions and had nothing to do with the political and social system of villages and towns.  Indeed, an actual town might happen to be in two or even three of these paper townships.  At the government land offices, of which there were ten in Illinois, were maps on which these six-mile squares were divided in their turn into sections a mile square, and numbered with the section as a unit.  The section was not, however, the unit of purchase, but might be cut according to the wish of the buyer and the character of the land into fourths, eighths, sixteenths, and even " fractions " and "excesses and deficiencies" as proved necessary.  The latter divisions were only used when the regular system had to be interrupted by old and irregular claims, or streams, or parts of established townships.  From the agents the emigrant could buy a sixteenth of a section, or forty acres, for fifty dollars.  As the western fever sent the first settlers farther west, partially cultivated farms came into the market, and by 1835 the prices of farms ranged from two to ten dollars an acre, according to the amount of improvement of the property, and by paying the higher prices a newcomer could avoid the first clearing of the land and the erection of a log cabin or frame-house.

Such an opening up of country as came in this decade between 1830 and 1840 attracted many travellers to the lake region.  By picturing from their various accounts a  "Grand Tour" of the lakes as it was taken by many a person between 1837 and 1843, we can get the best idea of the various settlements.  The traveller usually came up the Erie Canal and started from Buffalo, taking from there one of the well-appointed steamers of from four hundred to seven hundred tons which left in the morning and evening for Detroit.  This trip would always be taken in the summer, for during the four or five months when the lake was closed Detroit could only be reached by a stage journey of three hundred and seventy miles along the shore of Lake Erie.  The towns of Erie, Cleveland, and Sandusky were the main stops between Buffalo and Detroit, but between them was a succession of villages which were just beginning to give signs of their future importance as the terminus of some railroad or canal.  The steamer sailed along the southern edge of the lake, keeping always in sight of land, and gave the passengers a good view of Dunkirk, a little village which was waiting for the completion of the New York and Erie Railroad, and of the towns of Portland and Erie.  This last-named had always been the point at which to turn southward into Pennsylvania, and was now made all the more important by the termination there of the Pennsylvania and Erie Canal, which connected  Lake Erie with  Pittsburg.  Between Erie and Cleveland, Conneaut, Ashtabula, and Grand River were the principal settlements.

Cleveland had been incorporated as a city in 1836, and was rightly considered one of the most attractive cities of the West.  Standing on a plain eighty feet above the surface of the lake, from the steamer's deck it made a beautiful picture. Above the roofs of the well-built brick blocks and the residences in their carefully laid-out rows, towered the white dome of the court-house, four church spires, and the turrets of its hotels.  The hotels of the city were particularly praised by travellers.  On the roofs of the two principal ones, the " American" and the " Franklin," were towers in which sentinels stood on watch day and night, keeping a lookout for vessels and notifying those below of their approach in time to send runners to the wharf  to meet the guests.  The remarkable growth of the town in the last few years was particularly attributed to its being the terminus of the Ohio and Erie Canal, making it one of the principal routes of trade and travel from the Ohio.  Along this canal a side excursion to Cincinnati and Columbus was often made.

From Cleveland the boat proceeded with only two stops, at Black River and Huron, to Sandusky Bay, and steamed past the lighthouse and up the carefully staked-out channel to the town of Sandusky, which was at the bottom of the seven-mile inlet.  This town had the fresh, bright appearance of all the recently built settlements, with an added air of substantiality which it owed to the abundance near by of good building material, which had led the inhabitants to erect fine stone residences.  After a brief stop the steamer ran out of the bay and northward across the lake to the mouth of the Detroit River, passing on the way the islands near which Commodore Perry won his victory.  At the entrance of the strait on the Canada side was the town of Amhersthurgh, formerly known as Malden, and the scene of much fighting in the War of 1812.  All the twentv miles of shore from here to Detroit were lined with pretty villas and gardens, many of them of the old French style.

To the traveller of 1840 as to the tourist of today, Detroit made from the water a most pleasing picture.  For a mile along the bank of the river and half a mile back from the water stretched regular avenues with large white houses and green patches of gardens interspersed, and in the centre of the city were the court-house with its dome and turrets, the churches with their tall spires, and the blocks of solid brick business buildings.  The low-lying French buildings had disappeared, and with them the French atmosphere of twenty years before.  Detroit had become in the last ten years a busy port and thoroughfare for the emigrants who yearly composed one-half or even two-thirds of the city population.  Even in 1830 they were arriving by the thousands, ___ten, even fifteen thousand in a single season.  In May of that year the Free Press of the city announced that besides those arriving by land or by sailing vessels, over two thousand people had come in that one week on the seven steamboats. In 1836 a diligent citizen kept watch of those who came and went, and computed that, in the twelve hours between daylight and dark, a wagon left the city for the interior every five minutes.

The pioneers who had started out from Detroit in 1832-1834 to found Chicago and the other towns beyond, had to go in primitive fashion by mail-coach, by flatboats with Indian guides, by Schooner, or whatever conveyance they could get for any part of the way.  For the traveller of 1840 there were three regular and established routes by any one of which he would be reasonably comfortable.  One was by steamer through the lakes, but this he more commonly took on his return trip.  A second was by railroad to Ypsilanti, thirty-three miles away, from which a regular line of stages ran to St. Joseph on Lake Michigan, one hundred and seventy miles across the state, and thence by steamer the remaining ninety-two miles to Chicago.  The stages travelled along the government road (about twenty miles north of the present boundary of the state) and found the whole way lined with tiny hamlets and cleared farms in the midst of dense forests.  The most common route lay just south of this with Toledo as a starting-point.  The traveller would take the steamer down the Detroit River and along the western end of the lake and go up the Maumee River nine miles to Toledo, a town of three or four thousand people, destined, said the guide-book, to be a place of much importance.  As by the other route, he could go thirty-three miles by railroad, this time to Adrian, which was as far as the road had been built, and thence across the state through the newly occupied country to Michigan City, Indiana, which was then the  "commercial depot " for the entire northern part of that state.  This town was soon to be benefited by a branch from Fort Wayne of the Wabash and  Erie Canal, which was then in progress and was to find its outlet at Toledo.  This route left only a trip of fifty-five miles by water to Chicago.

At Chicago the visitor stopped to wonder, as men have stopped to wonder ever since.  The splendid location of the town as a commercial thoroughfare between the lakes and the Mississippi had made it an easy victim to the land-boom of 1834 and 1835, and Mr. Buckingham, visiting there in 1840, was told by persons who had been present at the time that building lots on streets only marked out on paper had been sold over and over again in a day, with an advance of price each time until the evening purchaser was likely, at the very least, to pay ten times as much as the morning buyer of the same lot.  Chicago had, however, been able to survive the succeeding panic in 1837, which swamped for the time being several smaller towns.  It was now a prosperous trading centre of six thousand people.  The town was planned with the symmetry of all these newly built cities, and the streets were of good width with rows of trees separating the plank sidewalks from the main road.  None of the streets were as yet paved; and indeed many of them had still the green turf of the prairie grass in the centre.  So scarce was stone and so high was labor that a small piece of flagstone pavement around the Lake House Hotel had  cost nine hundred  dollars, - an extravagance which no one else had yet committed.  On the south side of the river were the stores, many of them built of brick, and the main street was a busy trading mart.  There were in the city six churches, four hotels, banks, and insurance offices, and along the water front stretched a growing line of warehouses.  The fashionable residential district was on the north side of the river, where were avenues of large villas surrounded by gardens.  Between the two parts ran a ferry-boat, drawn across the river by a rope, and passing and repassing every five minutes.  This was maintained by subscription among the inhabitants, and no fee was therefore charged for crossing.

Margaret Fuller spent the summer of 1843 on the lakes, and left a charming account of her impressions.  Chicago she found rather commercial, " with no provision for the student or the idler," but she recognized its commanding position.   "There can be no two places in the world more completely thoroughfares," she says, " than this place and Buffalo."  They were to her two correspondent valves that opened and shut all the time, as the life blood rushed from east to west and back again.  Yet, even in this business place, she saw for the first time in her drives along the lake shore the beautiful prairie flowers of the West.  To her the most picturesque sight in all Chicago were the lines of Hoosier wagons, in which the rough farmers who had driven in from the country camped on the edge of the city, living on their own supplies of provisions and seeming as they walked about the town like foreign peasantry put down among the "active, inventive business people" of Chicago.  With the characteristically sharp contrasts of this wonderful new land, the other sight which interested her especially was the arrival of the great lake steamers, magnificent floating palaces of six and eight hundred tons, which "panted in from their rapid and marvellous journey" of a thousand miles from Buffalo.  When she went out to watch the lights of these boats as they came in at night she heard as she walked along on one side the Hoosier dialect, on another, cultivated French, and the very next moment the sounds of German, Dutch, and Irish.  Then as now Chicago was a cosmopolitan city.

Miss Fuller found the boats so comfortable that her trip to Milwaukee was a "pleasure party."  The beautiful situation of this town on a bluff eighty feet above Lake Michigan made a great impression on all visitors.  If the other towns had grown up recently and rapidly, Milwaukee could be seen in the very process.  With a population of only two thousand people, who were erecting buildings as quickly as they could on newly laid-out broad avenues, it had received in one week from Buffalo three thousand emigrants on their way to the interior, not to mention the numbers which came weekly from Chicago and Ohio.  Here, as at Chicago, Miss Fuller was delighted at the gathering of pleasant people drawn from all over the world.  The great interest of the town was in its new arrivals. Boats came and went every day, and crowds swarmed down to the pier to meet them.  The poorer emigrants who landed were taken to rude "shantees " in a particular part of the town, and then walked off the next morning into the country, "the mothers carrying the babies, and the fathers leading the little children."  She stayed only a fortnight at Milwaukee, but she declares that had she been rich in money she might in that time have built a house or set herself up in business, so swiftly did matters move there.

Leaving Milwaukee Miss Fuller went by steamer, as did all lake travellers, to Mackinac, crossing Lake Michigan and passing near the beautiful western shores of the state of that name.  All steamers stopped at Manitoulin Island for wood.  They could not carry the very large amount of this fuel needed for their thousand-mile trips without so lumbering the decks as to lose the necessary space for passengers and cargo.  So they must stop at this way-place and pay to the twenty wood-cutters who lived there an exorbitant price for wood enough to carry them the remaining one hundred miles to Mackinac.  As the engines consumed a cord and a half an hour, the decks, immediately after the taking on of a new supply, were heavily loaded down, so that even the windows of the staterooms were darkened until the piles began to diminish.

Mackinac, or Mackinaw, was out of the path of emigration and had scarcely changed in the last thirty years.  Always a centre for Indian traders and American Fur Company buyers, it was doubly picturesque when Margaret Fuller reached there in August, 1843, for over two thousand Indians had just come in from distant villages and made their camps, waiting for trade and for the annual payments made them by the government.  Of the beauty of the scenery and of the interest of these constantly arriving Indian parties Miss Fuller could not say enough.  She stayed there nearly a fortnight, and made one day an excursion by steamer up to Sault Ste. Marie, where two Indians took her in a canoe through the rapids.  To all travellers the days on the Strait of Mackinac were among the most pleasant of the trip, but when the steamer came from Chicago they reluctantly bade farewell to its beauties and sailed down the transparent waters of Lake Huron to the strait which led into Lake St. Clair and across that lake to Detroit, and thence back along Lake Erie, as they had come, to Buffalo.

In taking the   "Grand Tour" with one of these travellers, we have gained a picture of the beginnings of the western lake states and of the rapid progress of the eastern ones in a time not remote and distant, but scarcely seventy years ago.  The accomplishment of so much in so short a time well deserved the adjectives and encomiums that were bestowed upon it by admiring travellers, who little dreamed of the vast changes that were to take place in the century to come.

More Coming Soon!

Source:  The Story of The Great Lakes, by Edward Channing and Marion Lansing, 1909.

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