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History Lives Here Text

The Nautical Adventuresof John Wheeler

Amongthe effects of the Wheeler family now in the possession of great-granddaughterPeggy Boyce of Saugatuck there are two large sheets of paper. One is labeledpage 4. They contain a fragment of a letter or autobiography, apparentlywritten by John Wheeler (1824-1910) who worked as a wood joiner in Singaporeand Saugatuck and ran the chain ferry in the 1880's. The manuscript deals with hissailing experiences. The first incident took place before he left his native Ireland. Thesecond incident occurred at some time after he arrived on the shores of LakeMichigan, but before he returned to Ireland in 1854 to marry AnnieCowan. [Some misspellings have been corrected and punctuation added to make theaccount more readable.]



John Wheelerfamily on Baldhead ca 1890


I had a nice visit with 3 families, one of them lived quite close to the sea. One daywhen out in a sail boat a most rapid storm came up all in a sudden and to saveour lives we had to cross over to Wales. We were there 3 days all hopes weregiven up by the people and their folks. They did not know what to do aboutletting my folks know. They thought they would wait until they would get somedefinite account. Just as it was drawing up to the close of the 4thday we all walked in, they had concluded to write next day to my folks and tellhow four of their family and their visitor was out in a boat when a mostdreadful storm came up very sudden and the probability is they have allperished. We had a very nice time in Wales, the people there used usmost splendidly. There was not anything they could do for us but what was done.You may imagine the joy and thanks that was sent up to God that night and I wasso thankful they had not written home to my folks. I remained with them for twoweeks longer when I took my departure from a most loving and God-fearingfamily. I ever love the name of the Chapmans, DunbarCo., Wicklow; next was the Moore family there were but 4 of them, theother family was of the name of Tindels ... that wasthe last I ever saw of them. When I got home and related our experiences in Wales there wasanother thanksgiving and rejoicing. I trust in God when we areall having to take our last trip across the water that we shall have thesame great pilot.

I will tell you before I get through ofworse cases than that where I had the protection of the same great pilot, onemore and most dangerous from Saugatuck to Chicago in the month of December.There were 7 schooners loaded with lumber kept in on account of headwinds. Theyhad all given up going but Captain Davis. I had some business down to the mouthof the river just as the wind turned fair for Chicago. Captain Davis could not get anyonefrom any of the 6 schooners to go with him, he asked me to run up to Saugatuckto tell two of his old hands that now he was ready to go and he wanted them tohurry down. I made it my business to see 4 or 5 sailors more and they were allon about the same word that they would not cross the lake this time of year forall Captain Davis is worth. When I went down and told him he felt very muchdispleased. The tug was alongside ready to tow him out. He looks at me andsaid, Wheeler, supposing you would come across with me. I replied, I would be of no use to you as I am no sailor. All I wouldwant of you is to be on deck when I would arrive there so as not to appearshorthanded. If that's all, I said Iwould go. The tug took the rope and towed us out. About half way across he seesa violent storm right at hand. He had a young lad about 17 years old with himlearning to be a sailor. He hollered very loud to him to take in the mainsail.Jack went to the wrong rope. On the moment the captain quit the steering wheeland had the sail down all right, just as thestorm struck her tearing all the rest of the sails to pieces. I had my armlocked in one of the ladders looking on quite amused. When the storm was allover he told me it did him good to look over at me and see how I took it. Ithought there was no man as fearless as I am, but Wheeler, I give you thecakes. I tell the truth that I was afraid. He had this vessel unloaded ready togo back. It was very fortunate the wind was not right. He kept watch for thewind to turn in his favor. It was so for 5 days. He told Jack if the wind wouldbe the same way in the morning to commence and strip her, so you may be sureJack went with a good will in the morning. Captain and I were still taking inall that was worth looking at in the city in the afternoon when we were 5 or 6miles from the schooner he noticed the wind turn right when we got to thevessel Jack had her stripped, so he gave it up. In two days more I returned byrail. At Saugatuck they all took it for granted we had all four perished in thelake. It was very lucky that we did not come out, wewould be frozen in the ice all winter quite likely. We would have to go onshort allowance to put the winter over us. It was one of the most venturesometrips thought of. Thanks be to God who gives us thevictory.