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HARBORS ON LAKE MICHIGAN.
(To accompany bill H. R. No. 446.]
JUNE 2, 1840.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, January 17, 1840. DEAR SIR: The citizens of Wiskonsin, and the commercial men of the lakes have petitioned Congress to make appropriations for harbors on the western shore of Lake Michigan, for the protection and security of commerce.
Permit me to solicit from you a statement of the observations you may have made upon this subject in your visits to the western country, and especially whether the interests of navigation, as well as the trade of that country, and the protection of the lives of passengers and mariners, do not demand the immediate construction of harbors on the lake border, within the limits of Wiskonsin.
I make this request of you, having learned that you are about to leave this city for your residence. If you favor me with a reply, be pleased to address it to the chairman of the Committee on Commerce in the House, as I am desirous to place before that committee all the information I can oba tain in aid of the petitions of our citizens. I remain, dear sir, with much respect, your obedient servant,
J. D. DOTY. Hon. 0. Holt, of Connecticut.
WASHINGTON, January 22, 1840. Sir : In compliance with a request from the Hon. J. D. Doty, Delegate from the Territory of Wiskonsin in the House of Representatives of the United States, I hasten to lay before your committee such information as E gathered in Wiskonsin and its vicinity during a considerable portion of the last two years, respecting the hazardous navigation of Lake Michigan, and the necessity of the immediate construction by the General Government of harbors on the lake border.
It I deemed the construction of harbors on the western lakes a work for individual benefit alone, or could I perceive that the remotest influence could arise therefrom, uncongenial with the free and equal institutions of a democratic government, I would not, for a moment, urge the necessity of their projection or erection. I have seen the deleterious influence of corrupt incorporations to the fullest extent, and have hitherto opposed in Congress and out of it, all systems of internal improvement whose objects were not strictly national in their character. It would be inconsistent then, with a
sense of propriety and my own reason, to recommend the works in question, did I not consider that the Government itself would derive great advantage therefrom, and that the people of the Union would be interested in and benefited by them. It will not be denied, that from the construction of public works at any given point, individual benefit will arise ; but where ihe object itself is national, where the end is the greatest good of the greatest number, can the Government consistently withhold an appropriation because a few might reap a local benefit ? Navy yards are located upon private property, the holders of the sites of course derive personal bere. fit, and the land bordering upon the establishments is increased in value; but no one would object to such an establishment on account of the local advantage given thereby to the owners of the soil. So with forts, so with sites for custom-houses, and other public buildings. The question then arises in this case, who will be the most benefited by the erection of harbors upon the borders of that lake, where the Almighty has not spread out land-locked bays and safe roadsteads, the nation, or a few individuals ?
The Territory of Wiskonsin is situated on the western shore of Lake Michigan; a distance of about four hundred miles lies exposed to the lake, on which no harbor is to be found. The shores of the ocean have natural harbors; and the tempest-tossed ship may, if she fall short of her destined port, seek another, or scud before the gale without interruption; but on this lake there is no place of safety below Chicago-no place of rest. If she scuds, she is upon Michigan-if she hauls her wind, she dashes on Wiskonsin. There are light-houses upon the lake, but the light-house offers no protection. The beacon-light may gleam upon the beetsing clift
; but if there is no harbor-10 shelter - the beacon-light will shine on, and the tempest--a monument of destruction-a mocker amid the storm.
The shores of Lake Erie were once strewn with the fragments of wrecks, and the bones of mariners; but now the harbors open their quiet bosoins to the lake-craft
, and the losses of life and property upon her shores are comparatively small,
The Territory of Wiskonsin is strictly under the fostering care of the United States. Within the last two years, nearly one and a half millions of dollars have been paid into the national Treasury by emigrants, for lands within its limits. Those emigrants are mostly farmers-actual settlers cultivating the soil. Last year, in the neighborhood of Milwaukie, Southport, and Racine, alone, they raised a surplus of upward of 50,000 bushels of wheat. These settlers had but a small capital ; they spent their ready money for land, and they have now no means to make
the desired improvements; besides, by far the greater part are settled upou farms in the in; terior. The Government siill has a vast amount of valuable farming land between the lake and Rock river, which would be brought into market immediately were the channels for exportation without danger; and the interest on the money thus received for the lands, from the time of the improvements
, should they now be made, up to the time when the side of emigration would force them into market
, without improvements, would, in my judgment, pay double the amount of the cost of those harbors.
The mines of lead in the interior could be worked to greater advantage, and exportation would be treble what it now is on the shores of the lake
. Many who have a large surplus of produce on hand fear to trust it to the uncertainty of a voyage; and thus the benefits which might be experienced therefrom by the distant parts of the Union, are cut of. The navigation
there is not carried on by the settlers of Wiskonsin or Michigan. It is from the east, and with but one harbor, and that at Chicago, there is no place of safety on the western shore from Green Bay to the head of the lake. The navigation is connected with the Atlantic coast. It is a continuation of the channel of trade to the far west. It therefore seems that, without the construction of harbors upon the shores of this vast agricultural domain, one important link will be omitted in the great chain of commerce. Fourteen steamboats per week coast along this unprotected shore; and often goods have to be landed on the Michigan side, and then be reshipped without a certainty of landing them in Wiskonsin. Large numbers of schooners and other small craft frequent the lake; and the number of human beings from all sections of the country, whose lives are daily exposed to destruction, for the want of the public works suggested, is enormous.
A gale on the lake leads inevitably to shipwreck; life and property not belonging to Wiskonsin, fall sacrifices to the power of the elements; citizens from the remote parts of the Union are made-to feel the want of a haven. No one can tell, how soon it may be his lot to beat along those harborless shores, made terrible by the wrecks that line them.
The highway to the public domain, should be free from real dangers; speedy settlement follows easy access, and thus the banks of rivers and lakes are made the sites of villages and cities. Canada employs considerable shipping upon the Michigan waters, and the trapper and voyager are constantly trading with the inhabitants of that section of country. The time has been, and may be again, when self-defence will require a number of ports on Lake Michigan, for the outfit and preservation of our national vessels. In support of what I have stated in relation to the destruction of property on the lake, I beg leave to insert extracts from letters received from that Territory.
Mr. Wing, an intelligent gentleman from Racine, writes under date of November 12, 1839, as follows:
“ There has been a great destruction of shipping on Lake Michigan, and loss of life, all for want of harbors; the ship Milwaukie and six schooners have been wrecked within four weeks, and much damage has been done to steamboats.”
Another letter of the 20th states, that “a brig is on shore below this pl (Racine) with 8,000 bushels of wheat on board, all for the want of a harbor. Is the Government willing to see not only our property all sacrificed, but many valuable lives? We have purchased the land, believing that the Government would do by us as it has done by all other States and Territories, by improving our harbors.”
In addition to these disasters, the De Witt Clinton a little over a year since was cast away with the United States engineers on board, they escaped by swimming, while the boat and property on board received considerable damage. Emigration and the transportation of goods west, have been very great for several years past, and should the Government construct two or three harbors on the western shore of Lake Michigan, I am quite sure that the revenue would pay all the expense. Great bodies of Indians are located west of Michigan, and in case of a war with them the navigation of the lake would afford great facilities in our defence. The wooding of steamboats would be necessary, but at present it cannot be done at certain periods without great hazard ; and the loss of life is not unfrequent. While stopping at Racine last season, I saw three steamboats
of the largest class at one time calling for wood, but owing to the roughness of the lake they could not obtain it.
There are military posts at Mackinaw, Green Bay, and Chicago, and it will be necessary to navigate Michigan to carry troops, rations, and munitions of war, from one to the others.
Wiskonsin is a great country for mines, and were the channel of trade open, these mines would be worked to a greater extent and the metals would find their way to New York and other eastern cities, the lake-route being the most direct.
The United States have never withheld money from works of strictly national character in States or Territories. The removal of the raft of the Red river; the erection of seawalls; the breakwaters, fortresses, harbors, navy yards, foundaries, armories, light-houses, beacons, buoys, &c., strewn throughout the length and breadth of the land, testify to the truth of my assertion. The channels of ingress and egress to the western lakes are national in their character. Harbors must be erected for the good of the public at large. The mariner, who sees the light-house and the well-guarded port on the shores of the ocean, asks why his bark and life should be jeoparded upon an inland sea; why the same fostering care should not be spread over those who beat upon the shores of Wiskonsin, as over those who glide into the safe harbors that a beneficent Government has provided upon the main. The safety of shipping, the encouragement of trade, the protection of commerce, the defence of the country, and the increase of revenue, demand the improvements asked for; and if the mariner can be lighted along his dangerous way at public expense, may he not be permitted to cast his eye upon a place of safety beyond, created by the same means?
Having thus shown the necessity and propriety of the General Gorernment erecting harbors on the western shore of Lake Michigan, the next thing remains to point out some places where they seem to be the most needed. Several points on the western shore of the lake have been surveyed, among them I believe Milwaukie, Racine, Southport, and the mouth of Pike river, are to be found. Milwaukie is situated about 100 miles north of Chicago, Racine about 75 miles, Southport and Pike river about 60 miles.
The first point, Milwaukie, has a population of about 1,200. The Milwaukie river is deep, and the country around affords good facilities for building a harbor. The greater portion of the land being heavy timbered, there is not, as a matter of course, much surplus produce for exportation; but large quantities of goods, and many emigrants and passengers, are destined to land there, where, hitherto, no facilities have been afforded. The surveys and estimates of building a harbor at this point have been transmitted to the Topographical Bureau, which you will doubtless have before your committee.
The next point, Racine, is a fine location. It has a village, whose population will range from three to four hundred ; and is the first point where steamboats can be supplied with wood, to any great extent, from its own resources. Two miles and a half, up Root river, upon which the place stands, are rapids, and an extensive quarry of excellent stone, which would greatly assist in the construction of a harbor, and furnish greater facilities than can be found at any other place. The country, in the rear of this place, is a rich prairie, with here and there isolated groves of fine