MEDIATOR (1862, Schooner)
Year of Build:
Official Number:
Construction and Ownership
Built at:
Clayton, NY
Vessel Type:
Hull Materials:
Number of Decks:
Builder Name:
S.G. Johnson
Built on Bottom of:
SINBAD (1848)
Original Owner and Location:
Johnson & Co., Clayton, NY
Tonnage (old style):
Final Disposition
Written by Brendon Baillod: During the 1990s, Randy Beebe, Dan Fountain, Kurt Fosburg and I dove and identified several wrecks in the Keweenaw Waterway. This paper tells the story of one of the Keweenaw’s least known wrecks, which we identified - the historic schooner Mediator, which may be one of the earliest schooners on Lake Superior. The first wreck that Randy and I examined was shown on NOAA charts of the Keweenaw just off the Michigan Tech Power Plant. At least one book identified the wreck as that of the steamer Sailor Boy, but we had also heard from area divers that the wreck was that of the “J.P. Morgan.” A quick check of vessel records revealed that the J.P. Morgan was a massive steel steamer and certainly couldn’t be the old wooden sailing vessel that we nearly hit with our boat when we pulled up. (The small wooden steamer Morgan, it turns out, lies just to the west and the Sailor Boy lies off Hancock). The bow of the wreck was sticking nearly out of the water and appeared extremely weathered. We puzzled at the identity of the old wooden ship below us as we suited up, clipped our tools to our vests and tumbled into the canal. As we sank below the thermocline, the temperature of the water suddenly dropped into the 40s and the bright sunshine above became a dim brown glow. Slowly, the skeleton of a massive ship began to take shape out of the gloom. She was draped in an endless web of fishing line, from which many Daredevils, Rapalas and other lures hung. An avid fisherman, I unsheathed my dive knife and postponed the survey until all the visible lures were in my tacklebox and the tangling fishing line was cleared. Upon resuming the survey, we affixed our measuring reel to the stempost of the vessel and slowly swam toward the other end of the wreck, which trailed off into the depths over the edge of the channel. It quickly became apparent that the wreck was much larger than it appeared from the surface. We both stared in disbelief as the 126 ft. marker peeled off the reel when the stern was reached. Swimming back along the centerline, we noted the massive white oak keel which composed the vessel’s backbone and the many ribs and knees that formed the skeleton of the ship. The ship appeared to be a sailing vessel and showed the marks of the handsaws and adz that were used to fashion her. She was an old ship, even by Keweenaw standards and appeared to have sailed well past her useful life. She had been reinforced with iron knees that had held her decks in place, but years of ice had long since removed them. The ship’s hull had been broken by ice and waves, but she was in much better shape than vessels of similar age exposed to Lake Superior. The sheltered reaches of the Waterway and the low oxygen content of the water had preserved her quite well. We puzzled over the identity of this large, ancient ship for many months after our dives on her. Both Randy and I were well acquainted with the Keweenaw’s wrecks but none seemed to fit this vessel’s description. An important clue to the vessel’s identity was found in the unlikely account of a wreck that occurred in 1898 at the mouth of the Gratiot River on the Keweenaw’s north shore. The Annual Report of the US Lifesaving Service for 1898 recorded that the crew of the Portage Canal Lifesaving Station had gone to the aid of the big steamer Colorado, which had blundered onto Sawtooth Reef off Eagle Harbor during a frightful gale on September 18, 1898. On their way to the wreck, they spotted the old schooner barge Mediator aground about 1 mile west of the mouth of the Gratiot River. The Mediator’s crew had made it ashore in their yawl and appeared to be out of danger, so the lifesavers continued onward to the Colorado. The storm had been a severe one. In addition to the Mediator and the Colorado, the schooner Southwest had sunk near the Huron Islands. All three ships would leave their bones in the Keweenaw. The Mediator had left Duluth with a deckload of lumber in tow of the steamer Kalkaska and the barges Aloha and J.H. Mead. The steamer and her three consorts had run headlong into the storm and were taking quite a pounding by the time they neared Keweenaw Point. When the storm parted the towline to the steamer, the barges were cast adrift in the gale and forced to set canvas on their stubby masts in hope of riding out the storm. Without topsails, and weighted down with massive deckloads of lumber, the barges Mead and Mediator were blown aground where the massive surf pounded them mercilessly. Over a week later, the crews, with the help of the lifesaving service, were able to remove the deckloads from the two barges and they were pulled free. Captain Joseph Croze of Houghton towed the barges to his shipyard at the site of the present-day Michigan Tech power plant where they were surveyed by the insurance underwriters. The Mead was judged to be in salvageable condition, but the Mediator’s keel was broken and her decks were badly hogged. She was abandoned by the underwriters to Captain Croze, who let her settle to the bottom while he debated what to do with his new acquisition. The Mediator was an old vessel and had already had a long and rough life. Official records state that she was launched at Clayton, New York on the St. Lawrence River in July of 1862, where she was built by master shipwright S.G. Johnson. She was built as a 263 ton three masted topsail schooner with an overall length of 127.3 ft., a beam of 26 ft. and an 11 ft. depth of hold. However, contemporary records show that Johnson built her on the bottom of a much older schooner called the Sinbad. The Sinbad had been built in 1848 at Sarnia, Ontario by J. Warwick as a three masted lumber schooner of 200 gross tons. She was a massive vessel for her time and would have attracted much attention at a time when nearly all Lake vessels sported only two masts. She spent most of her early career running between Georgian Bay and Toronto with lumber, making occasional trips to Kingston, Ontario. By 1860 she had been laid up at Clayton, NY for scrapping, but her substantial keel and ribs were still in good shape. As such, she was completely rebuilt as the Mediator. She spent the 1860s running out of Clayton under the ownership of her builder, S.G. Johnson as a 3 masted topsail schooner in the lumber trade. In 1874, she was sold to owners at Racine, Wisconsin who brought her from Lake Ontario to Lake Michigan. She would spend the rest of her career running in the Lumber trade out of Racine, Milwaukee and Chicago under various owners. In 1883 and 1886, she received major rebuilds in which her timbers were replaced forward and aft, but in November of 1888 she was nearly lost in a powerful storm off Racine, Wisconsin. She was sunk up to her decks and abandoned by her crew. However, her lumber cargo kept her afloat until she was picked up by tugs and towed to Chicago for recaulking where she was refastened with iron knees. In December of 1891, she went ashore at Naubinway on northern Lake Michigan and spent the Winter on the beach. She was pulled free the next May and was last rebuilt in 1893. She was consequently considered a sound vessel at the time of her loss, despite her advanced age. In 1894, she was libeled for unpaid bills and was purchased at a Sheriffs sale by Captain Herman Schuenemann, who later became famous when he went down with the schooner Rouse Simmons while hauling a load of Christmas trees to Chicago in December of 1912. By 1898, she was owned by Chicago interests who cut her down to a tow barge by having her center mast removed and her fore and mizzen masts shortened. In doing so, they could carry a much larger cargo and make better times by having her towed behind a steamer. The removal of her mainmast and topmasts spelled the end for the old Mediator, as she was left at the mercy of the storm when she broke free in September of 1898. Captain Croze never did find a use for the badly damaged Mediator. Her final papers were surrendered at the Port of Chicago as a total loss on October 10, 1898. Photos from 1901 clearly show the ship sunk below the surface in the Keweenaw Waterway. Over the ensuing decades her identity faded into history and she became a nameless derelict on the bottom of the Keweenaw Waterway. The Mediator is now one of the most historic wrecks on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Her 1848 hull bed is among the oldest nautical relics on Lake Superior and few vessels of her vintage are to be found as intact as she is. Her massive remains provide an excellent example of mid 19th century wooden ship construction and she is easily accessible to both snorkelers and scuba divers. Her significance and identity are still largely unknown even to area historians, and like most historic wrecks in the Waterway, she runs the risk of being dredged up and discarded to make way for waterfront development. She is one of nearly a dozen historic vessels lying in the Keweenaw Waterway. Last summer, I conducted sidescan studies of several Keweenaw Waterway wrecks, including the Mediator. Due to her shallow depth, she doesn’t show up well on sidescan, but her massive remains make a very interesting shallow dive. References: US Lifesaving Service Annual Report 1898 Inland Lloyds Marine Register 1860 – 1899 Annual List of US Merchant Vessels 1867 – 1900 Port of Milwaukee Vessel Enrollment Certificates – National Archives Record Group 41 C. Patrick Labadie Collection – Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary Copper Country Historical Collections – Michigan Technological University Door County Advocate Marine News Index 1861 - 1945 Herman Runge Collection – Milwaukee Public Library Historical Collections of the Great Lakes – Bowling Green State University Written by Brendon Baillod (posted on Facebook)

1864 Enrolled French Creek; 263 gross tons.

1865, Apr 4 Readmeasured Cape vincent, NY, 263.83 gross tons.

1866 Owned Barker & Johnson, Clayton, NY.

1868 Enrolled Oswego; 263.83 gross tons.

1871 Owned F. Martin, Clayton.

1872, May 7 Collision with schooner JENNIE MULLEN, Welland Canal.

1876 Owned Jones Brothers, Racine, WI.

1881, Mar Owned J.H. Skeele, Chicago, IL.

1883 Major repairs.

1888 Sunk near Racine, WI.

1889, Sep 19 Aground Portage Lake Canal, Lake Superior, lumber laden.

1891, Nov Ashore Potters Reef near Cheboygan.

1897, Apr Disabled, Lake Michigan.


1898, Sep 18 Wrecked in gale south of Eagle River, MI, Lake Superior; in tow of steamer KALKASKA with J.H.MEAD; remains towed to Houghton, MI.

1898, Sep 30 Dismantled.

1898, Oct 5 Owned Joseph Croze.

From the Collection of:
C. Patrick Labadie
Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library
WWW address
Agency street/mail address
211 N. First Ave.
Alpena, Michigan 49707
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MEDIATOR (1862, Schooner)