The Kate Winslow

The Lost Lady of Seul Choix Point

The Kate Winslow was one of “Davidson’s Goliaths,” a large wooden ship built at East Saginaw, Michigan by the innovative giant wooden ship builder James Davidson who was to become noteworthy for continuing to use wood for large vessels long after others had switched to steel.  The Winslow was launched on Saturday, September 15, 1872 to much fanfare.  With a register length of 202 feet, she was the longest wooden schooner on the Lakes when launched.  She was enrolled at the Port Huron Customs House on September 18, 1872, receiving official number 14281.  She was commissioned by Captain Henry C. Winslow and named for his niece Kate at a cost of $60,000 and was intended for the grain trade between Chicago and Buffalo.

She was an immediate success for her owners, running mainly between Buffalo, New York & Chicago, Illinois or Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the grain trade, but with occasional contracts for Escanaba, Michigan & Marquette, Michigan in the iron ore and coal trades.  The Winslow initially ran under her own sails, but by the 1880s, the demand for quick turnarounds saw her towed primarily behind the steamer Raleigh with the schooner Lucerne at her heels.  The Kate Winslow had no major accidents in her career.  She had the usual minor bridge collisions and strandings, including a noteworthy incident at Sault Ste. Marie in June of 1887 when she struck the side of the channel and was beached to prevent damaging her entire cargo.   She was quickly repaired and was in commission again within the same season.

The Winslow ran very successfully under the Winslow holdings until 1879 when she was sold to parties in Cleveland who continued to run her in the bulk freight trade.  As her hull aged, she was classed down by the Inland Lloyds to A2 ½ and ran increasingly in the coal and iron ore trades as a tow vessel.  She changed hands a few more times in her career, being sold to her final owner/master, Captain E.G. Cuyler of Avon, Ohio in May of 1895. 

The Kate Winslow’s final voyage began on October 13, 1897 when she left Gladstone, Michigan with a load of 1200 tons of pig iron bound for Sandusky, Ohio.  She was in a tow behind the steamer Queen of the West and the schooner May Richards.  As soon as the vessels got out of the Bay of Green Bay, they were hit by a screaming gale from the southwest, but as they were bound for the Straits, the wind was at their stern.  In the bucking waves about 15 miles off Gull Island, the Winslow parted her towline with the May Richards and was forced to set canvas, which had to be continuously shortened as the gale increased.  Realizing he was in trouble, Captain Cuyler ran northeast for Seul Choix Point, hoping to get in the lee, but lost steerage and was driven north instead.  When still around 10 miles from the point, the Winslow began to leak badly, and the lifeboat was readied.  Soon after the men took to the lifeboat, they saw the Winslow go down and pulled for shore in the mountainous seas.  The men eventually came ashore a few miles west of Seul Choix Point where they hiked inland to the nearest point of civilization, which was a small train station called Whitedale near present-day Gulliver, Michigan.  From there they telegraphed the news of the Winslow’s loss. 

The Winslow would have quickly been forgotten, but for a spike in iron prices that that got marine salvors interested in recovering lost pig iron.  Captain Harris Baker of Detroit had been targeting the pig iron cargo of the schooner William Home, which sank nearby in September of 1894.  As a prelude, Baker was able to locate the wreck of the Kate Winslow in 70 feet of water and began salvaging her pig iron with a team of hard hat divers in July of 1898.  He employed six divers working in pairs to load the 80 lb. pigs onto a sling which would then be raised up to the waiting tug T.W. Snook.  The divers were paid $2 per ton and recovered nearly the entire cargo, with one diver placing 730 pigs on the sling in a single day.  Baker eventually also located the nearby schooner William Home in 100 ft. of water, but that salvage didn’t go nearly as well, with two of his men dying from “the bends” at the hospital in nearby Manistique, Michigan. 

Over the years, the Winslow’s story faded into history and it soon became confused with the story of her onetime fleet-mate, the schooner Richard Winslow, which lies on White Shoals in the Straits of Mackinac.  Dive guides in the 1980s and 90s gave LORAN TDs for the “Kate Winslow” which actually resolved to the location of the Richard Winslow.  This has kept divers from searching for the Kate, despite her relatively shallow, findable location.

That said, her final location can be guessed with some accuracy based on the news accounts of the day, the known direction of the storm that sank her, the location where the crew came ashore and the accounts of the salvors.  According to the accounts, the Winslow was trying to make Seul Choix in a strong southwest gale when she began to sink and the crew abandoned her about 10 miles from Seul Choix Point.  They rowed for shore, mostly at the mercy of the storm and came ashore opposite Whitedale, which was a small train station just east of Gulliver.  When salvors located her the next year, they did so with the aid of Captain Cuyler and found her in 70 feet of water.  It is noteworthy that the salvors worked out of Manistique and had relatively easy access to the site. 

This data all points to a foundering point about midway between Manistique and Seul Choix Point in 70 feet of water.  The resultant search grid is about 4 miles by 2 miles and could be covered in a few days with modern sidescan sonar.  Like the wreck of the William Home, the Winslow’s remains are probably well flattened due to the recovery efforts in 1898 but due to the vessel’s size and heavy build, will likely stand higher than those of the nearby William Home.  A slow, deliberate search would be required to locate the wreck, but at 200 feet in length she should show up nicely on sonar.  She would be an excellent adjunct dive to the William Home, which lies just east off Seul Choix Point, and many are eager to explore an example of James Davidson’s early ship construction work.  The remoteness of the location and the irregular bottom in the area make this an expensive and time-consuming search, but she is being actively pursued and will likely be found soon.



1 Comment

anonymous by Marilyn S. Fischer on 4/22/2022

Great article! Love how you go into so much detail. All this history would be lost if someone did not document it! Thanks for doing the research on the Kate Winslow.

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