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Following the Footprints of Fascinating History

 Captain Calvin Ripley Sails Lake Superior Ports. Trades with Peter Crebassa, and Gives His Name to Ripley's Rock



Ripley's Rock in Marquette Harbor 

by Kathy Warnes

Captain Calvin Ripley etched his name as firmly in Great Lakes maritime history as he did on Ripley’s Rock in Marquette, Michigan harbor.

Captain Calvin Ripley or “Old Rip,” as people along the Great Lakes called him, began his career trading in lumber up and down and beyond the shores of Lake Ontario and along the St. Lawrence River.

Old Rip” Navigates the St. Lawrence River and Meets Jerusha St. Ores

It is highly likely that Calvin Ripley met Jerusha St. Ores as he sailed up and down the Lake Ontario shore and steered his vessel among the islands of the St. Lawrence River. Since 1819, ship builders had busily plied their tools to build more schooners for the lumber and merchandise trade, including the Henry, Captain John Davis, the Victor, Captain Calvin Ripley, and the Free Trader, Captain Shattuck.

Captain Ripley met Jerusha St. Ores, they courted, and they were married around 1830 in Lyme, Jefferson County, New York.


The Ripleys Move West to Wisconsin

“Old Rip” continued to sail the Great Lakes. In May 1830, he was master of the schooner Andrew Jackson out of Oswego, New York, and in 1831, he was the master of the John. In 1833, he was captain of the Richard. While Captain Ripley continued to sail ships up and down the Great Lakes, he and Jerusha began and family and moved west to Illinois, Wisconsin, and then Michigan territories.

As Calvin and Jerusha’s family grew and flourished, so did the steady and relentless flow of settlers to the rich lands and economic promise of the Great Lakes region and the western lands that lay beyond. The Erie Canal and a regional network of canals and fledging railroads opened up the area to industry and trade and vessels carrying merchandise and people played an important part in settling the new country. Captain Ripley may have been lured west with the promise of profits and the promise of a good life and plentiful land for himself and his sons.

Captain Ripley and the Victory

The caliber of his friends and associates spoke well of Captain Ripley’s character and maritime skills. He and Solomon Juneau, one of Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s founders, jointly owned a schooner called the Victory, that they had built around 1836 and enrolled in Detroit on May 12, 1837. Captain Ripley sailed the Victory and the Kingston Daily News noted that the Victory played an important part in the maritime activity on the Welland Canal, Lake Erie, and the Detroit River.

The Free Trader Sails Lake Superior

In 1843, the ship enrollment lists reveal that Captain Ripley had changed vessels and now was master of the Free Trader, also called the Fur Trader, engaging in the lumber trade between Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Manistee, Michigan. Then Captain Ripley expanded his range to Lake Huron and Lake Superior.

Navigation on the Great Lakes was still difficult in 1845 and landing at Sault Ste. Marie could be an adventure. The propeller Napoleon made only three or four trips to Lake Superior during the season. Propellers had to anchor two miles off shore and the freight and passengers had to be landed in small boats called Mackinaw boats or scows that were especially built for landings. Cattle and horses were always pitched overboard and made to swim ashore.

At this point, most residents of Sault Ste. Marie felt that the only reliable mail, freight, and passenger craft on Lake Superior was the Fur Trader, Captain Calvin Ripley, master. The year 1845 also brought a great copper boom in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Captain Ripley’s Fur Trader was brought over the portage at Sault Ste. Marie.

He made a good living traveling back and forth between Lake Superior and the lower lakes. Passengers preferred traveling on the Fur Trader and even when a few steam vessels appeared on the lake, the Fur Trader was still popular. It sailed from Sault Ste. Marie to Ontonagon and south shore ports carrying copper down and freight up.

Captain Ripley Encounters a Rock

The fierce storm that firmly attached Captain Ripley’s name to a rock in Marquette Harbor brewed and broke in September of 1848. “Old Rip’ guided the Fur Trader from Sault Ste. Marie along Lake Superior as usual, delivering supplies and mail to the communities that dotted the shore.

Later that month, a fall storm, the worst in twenty years according to local observers, broke out. Waves climbed to mountain heights and Marquette Bay boiled like a pot of water over a leaping campfire. The waves danced wildly, exposing rocks that normally lurked beneath them, and then with another twisting maneuver, covered them up again.

Battling the storm, several Marquette residents fought their way to the harbor because they had spotted a ship being tossed by the wild waves. The onlookers on shore prepared to help the ship as best they could.

Ripley’s Rock

The wave-tossed ship proved to be the Fur Trader, and it plunged straight toward the rocks. The Fur Trader came directly under a huge rock, but then, Captain Ripley., who had been anticipating an opportunity to save his ship and crew and passengers, sprang into action. He grappled and secured the Fur Trader to the rock.

The storm raged for the next three days and all of the time the Fur Trader lay behind the rock, tossing like an egg shell. The anxious shore crew built a bonfire to help and feared that the Fur Trader would be dashed to pieces on the rocks and the passengers and crew lost. Finally, the storm died down and Captain Ripley managed to guide the Fur Trader ashore. The storm survivors christened the rock that saved their lives in honor of the captain who saved their lives. It is still known as Ripley’s Rock.

Captain Ripley and Peter Crebassa

Pioneers in Copper Country eagerly listened for the whistle and the creaking and clankings of the Fur Trader and Captain Ripley's hearty greeting as he anchored in L'Anse, Copper Harbor, Eagle River and other Lake Superior ports.  Not only did Captain Ripley bring vital supplies for  that they needed to survive, but his jovial good nature hidden under a blustery exterior made him a good man to have around.

The Peter Crebassa Collection in the Archives of Michigan Technological University contains  letters from Peter Crebassa to Captain Ripley detailing their business transactions. Peter Crebassa was the agent of the American Fur Company at Mackinac. As company agent, he traveled the entire Lake Superior region and in 1837, he married Nancy Roussain at La Point. The next year the  newly weds moved to L'Anse where Peter worked as postmaster and established a fur trading post and in later years a stone quarry. By 1850, Peter Crebassa had accumulated assets valued at $40,000.

As well as doing business with each other, Peter Crebassa and Captain Calvin Ripley were friends and this letter reveals that the two men trusted each other well. Fish, potatoes, and flour were important commodites in Lake Superior pioneer country and these items are listed on the bill that Peter Crebassa owes Captain Ripley. There is also a washing tub for $1.75 and a box of candles for 25 cents.

Peter Crebassa writes to Captain Ripley:

Dear Sir,

Please let my wife have 50 lbs of pork, and 1 bushel of onions and the balance I put it in your hand. You may give what you please. What you think is right.

Yours Respectfully,


P. Crebassa

A story in the University of Notre Dame Archives attests to the warm heart hidden under a rough exterior side of Captain Ripley. He had delivered a consignment of goods to the mission at L'Anse and Father Baraga, who had grown older and more feeble over the years, graciously welcomed him.  Captain Ripley just as graciously hovered near Father Baraga and helped him navigate through the evening despite his unsteady walk.

Captain Ripley's kindess was as enduring and steady as his rock in Marquette Harbor.

Additional Reading

Durant, Samuel W. and Pierce, Henry B. History of Jefferson County, New York. Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Company, 1878.

Biographical Sketches, Town of Summit, from the History of Waukesha County, Western Historical Company, Chicago, 1880.

A Bit of History, “Small Beginnings of a Wonderful maritime Industry, Sault Ste. Marie News, January 28, 1899, p. 1-5.

Memorial Record of the Northern Peninsula of Michigan, Lewis Publishing Company, 1895.

Oswego Free Press, Wednesday, May 12, 1830, Marine List.


Captain Calvin Ripley

 Autobiography Captain Parker

 Captain Calvin Ripley

 Marquette History

 Father Frederick Baraga

 University of Notre Dame Archives

Peter Crebassa

 Michigan Technological University Archives


The USS Yantic Begins Its 60 Year Career in the United States Civil War and Eventually Spends Some Time in Houghton-Hancock

The life voyage of the Yantic covers over six decades of Great Lakes, American and Maritime history and features the lives of many sailors and soldiers. The life story of the Yantic covers over six decades of Maritime and American history, three wars, several skirmishes, persistent rumors of her unseaworthiness, an expedition to Greenland.

The Yantic played an important part in the lives of many sailors, soldiers, and ordinary people, including Robert Augustus Sweeney who won the Congressional Medal of Honor two times. The smallest of the Navy fleet of her time, she spent six decades proving that mighty men and events can effectively operate on small decks. 

 The Yantic Survives "Over Age" and "Chicken Bone Reef" Stories- both factual and fictional- swirled around the Yantic’s masts like the Great Lakes winds and the ocean storms that she battled, including the report that she had originally been designed to be the yacht of Abraham Lincoln and the slightly demeaning story of "Chickenbone Reef" in the Detroit River.

Tradition has it that after her thousands of Great Lakes training cruises, the Yantic so-journed so long and faithfully at her dock at the foot of Townsend Street in Detroit that decades of garbage dumping created a bar alongside her hull. Newspapers and mariners promptly dubbed the bar "Chickenbone Reef."

 Detroit newspapers reported that the Navy had considered the Yantic "overage" from about the turn of the Twentieth Century, but she continued her mission as a school ship and Great Lakes voyager for another three decades.

After surviving several efforts to remove her from her Detroit dock, the Yantic caught fire and the flames partially destroyed her. In 1930, the Navy decommissioned her, and final-ly she was dismantled in place. Between her launching in 1864 and her dismantling in 1930, the Yantic lived more nautical lives and adventures than many of her younger counterparts.

 The Yantic Hunts the CSS Tallahassee

A wooden hulled screw gunboat, the USS Yantic was built at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and christened after the Yantic River in Connecticut. She was made of African live oak, her green timber designed to repel water and shot and sheathed with copper. She was 179 feet, six inches with a thirty foot beam and wide spreading yard arms.

The Yantic’s steam engine generated 310 horse power and she could reach a speed of 8.3 knots. She cost $206,262.93 and her original armament was two nine inch Dahlgrens and two each of 24 and 12 pounder guns. The keel of the Yantic was laid in 1862, and when she was launched on March 19, 1864, newspaper commented that she was the prettiest vessel ever launched in those waters. 

 The Yantic was commissioned on August 12, 1864, with Commodore Thomas C. Harris as her first commander. On August 13, 1864, the day after her commissioning, the Yantic along with the tugs Aster and Moccasin patrolled the Atlantic Coast north and east of Nantucket searching for the Confederate blockade runner CSS Tallahassee.

While the Yantic was being fitted for sea service the CSS Tallahassee had left Halifax, Nova Scotia, on August 20, 1864, and Federal warships immediately began to search for her. On that same day in Washington D.C., Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles sent identical telegrams to the commandants of the Navy Yards at New York and Philadelphia seeking vessels ready to go to sea and search for the Tallahassee. 

 On November 1, 1864, the Yantic visited Halifax, Nova Scotia, a port swarming with "secessionists and other sympathizers" to gather information about the activities of the Tallahassee, now renamed the Olustee. The Olustee eluded the American Navy ships, including the Yantic. 

 The Yantic Fights at Fort Fisher, North Carolina

The Yantic joined the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron off Wilmington, N.C. On December 24, 1864, the Union attempted for the first time to capture Fort Fisher, North Carolina, and the Yantic suffered her fist casualties in this battle. 

 During the naval bombardment of Fort Fisher, the Yantic’s 100 pounder rifle gun burst and mortally wounded the division officer, the gun captain, and four men. Taking matters entirely in his own hands, Commodore Harris ordered the Yantic hauled out of the line because he thought that she had been badly damaged. 

 Commodore Harris obtained medical assistance from the steamer Fort Jackson and re-ported all of the damage he could discover to the flagship Malvern. Commodore Harris returned the Yantic to battle, opening fire with his remaining guns, the 30 pounder rifle and 9 inch Dahlgren.

 The Yantic Supports the Second Union Assault on Fort Fisher Christmas Day 1864 saw the Yantic assisting in the debarking of General Benjamin Butler’s troops and covering the landing operations. Commodore Harris reported that the troops landed accompanied by cheers from the troops still aboard the transports and the men of war. Much to the amazement and disappointment of Commodore Harris, General Butler recalled the troops and the landing operation ceased.

 The Union did not succeed in its first attempt to take Fort Fisher, and before it made another attempt, the military replaced General Butler with Major General Alfred H. Ter-ry, who was considered more dynamic and aggressive than General Butler.

The Yantic provided a landing party and gunfire support for the second amphibious attack on Fort Fisher which began on January 13, 1865. The attack proved to be a bloody one  for the sailors and marines of the naval landing force who charged into withering Confe-derate gunfire and suffered heavy casualties in a frontal assault. The Union forces finally took Fort Fisher on January 15, 1865.

 The Yantic Helps Capture Fort Anderson

In her second major landing operation in just over a month, the Yantic participated in the capture of Fort Anderson, N.C. between February 17 and February 19, 1865. For the last two months of the Civil War, the Yantic performed blockade duties, part of the successful Union operation that prevented the Confederacy from trading successfully with overseas nations.

 Great Lakes sailor John David Jones was one of the Great Lakes sailors who fought on the Yantic. One of the eight children of David Jones who helped found the Cleveland area’s first rolling mill, John David Jones first went to sea as a cabin boy and later ad-vanced to mate. In 1861, he enlisted in the Union Army as a private in Conpany B of the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

 He was discharged with a disability, and then he reenlisted in the Navy. He served on the Yantic and a cannon explosion during a battle partially deafened him. After the war, he sailed on the lakes and eventually he became a sailor evangelist and a Presbyterian minis-ter. Chaplain Jones founded the Floating Bethel Mission which operated at 165 River Street on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio. It served as a religious haven for the men who made their living on Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes.


Dictionary of American Fighting Ships, Vol. A., 1991. Navy Department, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval History Division, Washington, D.C.

 Gragg, Rod. Confederate Goliath: The Battle of Fort Fisher. Louisiana University Press, 1994.

Naval Historical Center Library, Washington Navy Yard.

Ohio History. May 27, 1925, Volume 10, p. 157. Re: Chaplain J.D. Jones and the Floating Bethel. By C.W.. Brand for the Board of Trustees of the Floating Bethel. OMR/JDR, Box 12, Folder 87.

Click here for the rest of the Yantic's Story

Crossing Michigan's Mackinac Bridge to Adventure and Culture



It is one thing to know that from a hydrographical perspective Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are considered a single lake. It is another experience to view the long curving blue sweep of Lake Huron merging into the misty blue vistas of Lake Michigan from the top of the Mackinac Island Bridge or the "Mighty Mack." Crossing the Mackinac Bridge can be frightening if your eyes are fixed on its height instead of its graceful lines and exhilarating if you consider its background, scenery, and history as you are negotiating its curves or gazing at the Straits many feet blow.

Besides spanning the Straits of Mackinac, a five mile stretch of water separating Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, the Mackinac Bridge provides a social, cultural, economic, and recreational connection to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is a connecting bridge with a reasonable toll. As of January 1, 2011, the commuter toll rate to navigate the Mackinac Bridge was $1.90 per crossing to Upper Peninsula recreational and cultural events.

A press release from the Mackinac Bridge Authority reassured motorists that only the commuter toll rate for crossing the bridge increased on Saturday, January 1, 2011. The new commuter rate was $1.90 per crossing, if the commuter card holders make their return trip within 36 hours of the first one. The 53 year old Mackinac Bridge is maintained and operated exclusively with toll revenue.

Spanning the Straits of Mackinac

The Mackinac Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere with a suspension length of 8,164 feet. The Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan is the longest suspension bridge in the world with a total suspension of 12,826 feet and the Great Belt Bridge in Halsskov-Sprogoe, Denmark, is the second longest suspension bridge in the world with a total suspension of 8,921 feet. The Straits of Mackinac are five miles wide with an average depth of 120 feet. Hydrologically, instead of connecting two separate lakes, the Straits of Mackinac are a narrow point that define two lobes of a single Lake Michigan-Huron.

The Straits were an important fur trade route for Native Americans, and Fort Mackinac, founded in 1781 on Mackinac Island, became a British colonial and early American military base and fur trade center.

Settlers on both sides of the straits of Mackinac dreamed of a bridge across the Straits instead of the seasonal ferry boats. The 1883 dedication of the Brooklyn Bridge encouraged Mackinac Bridge backers. The Board of directors at the famous Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island met for the first time on July 1, 1888, and the meeting minutes reveal that Cornelius Vanderbilt remarked that to complement the best hotel in the world "now what we need is a bridge across the Straits."

Financing the Mackinac Bridge

Ideas of floating tunnels and other Strait crossing methods surfaced and resurfaced over the next several decades. In 1923, the Michigan State Legislature ordered the State highway Department to establish a ferry service at the Straits of Mackinac. Within five years, ferry traffic expanded so much that then Governor Fred Green ordered a study of bridge feasibility.

After a bridge authority had been created and disbanded, the matter of building a bridge across the Straits was again revived in 1934 and the Michigan State Legislature created the Mackinac Straits Bridge Authority to investigate the feasibility of a bridge. The Authority concluded that a bridge could be constructed directly across the Straits at an estimated cost of not more than $32,400,000 for a combined two lane highway and a one track railway bridge. Between 1934, and 1950, with time out for World War II, officials worked to make the bridge a reality and by 1950, the State of Michigan had appointed another Bridge Authority. In January 1951, the Bridge Authority submitted a favorable preliminary report that stated a bridge could be built and financed with revenue bonds for $86,000,000 .

A shortage of materials because of the Korean War delayed the construction until early in 1952. Immediately, the Authority asked the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to purchase $85,000,000 worth of bonds. After fluctuations in the market, toward the end of 1953 investors bought $99,800,000 worth of Mackinac Bridge bonds and contracts that had been awarded contingent upon financing were immediately implemented.

Building the Mackinac Bridge

Engineer Dr. David B. Steinman designed the Mackinac Bridge, the world’s longest suspension bridge between cable anchorages. Merritt-Chapman & Scott Corporation built all of the foundations and The American Bridge Division of the United States Steel Corporation won a $44,532,900 contract to build the bridge. In the mills of United States Steel Corporation, the various shapes, plates, bars, wire and cables of steel necessary for the superstructure, caissons and cofferdams of the foundation were made. Ceremonies on May 7 and 8, 1954, at St. Ignace and Mackinaw City officially launched the Mighty Mack project. The Mackinac Bridge opened to traffic on November 1, 1957, right on schedule and despite countless hazards of constructing a bridge over the turbulent Straits of Mackinac.

Art and Snowmobiling Are Just A Few of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Activities

Finlandia University is located in Hancock, Michigan, the northernmost city in Michigan in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Every year, Finlandia University Gallery sponsors art lectures, exhibits, and series. From December 1, 2011 to January 14, 2011, Finlandia University Gallery will hold a Contemporary Finnish American Artists Series Twentieth Year Retrospective. The Retrospective exhibit includes all 19 artists from the series .

Michigan Technological University sponsors a winter carnival in January and Febrary of every year and snowmobile races and events roar and race from one end of the Upper Peninsula to the other. The Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association maintains a website that lists many activities in the Upper Peninsula.

Siren Song of the Scenic Mighty Mack

Crossing the Mackinac Bridge between Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas, the sweep of the Lake Michigan-Huron is spectacular with each crossing. The graceful curves of the bridge, the force of the wind high above the Straits and the water dancing below combine to create Mighty mack siren song that lures people to cross it again and again.

For more maritime stories click: Maritime Moments


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