November 19, 1886: Sinking of the Wallace and the…Wallace

On this day on Lake Superior in 1886, the steam barge Robert Wallace—as well as her consort, the schooner barge David Wallace—sank after over a day of being pounded by waves and running ashore at Chocolay, four miles east of Marquette on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, on November 18. They had been taking a combined 104,000 bushels of wheat downlake from Duluth when they encountered the storm. Initially all hands on both vessels were thought loss, and efforts to save them were hampered. U. S. Life Savers stationed at Michigan’s Portage Ship Canal, 110 miles away, took a train through the storm—a blizzard on land—in order to reach the crews, but both vessels sank, their grain said to have “fed the wildlife of the Michigan Coast.” All sailors on both vessels were saved, but forty other lives were lost during the storm. The financial losses surpassed $620,000—$300,000 for the two Wallace vessels and their cargo alone. In all 28 vessels were damaged; most, including the Wallace and the Wallace, were rebuilt and returned to work on the lakes. On November 17, 1902, the Robert Wallace sunk once again, just southeast of Two Harbors with a load of iron ore, but her consort, the Ashland, did not sink—and the Wallace was not raised.

The Robert Wallace. (Image: Great Lakes Vessel Index)