Pirate might suffice, but it is not a word, as of this night in , that has been uttered widely, if at all, to refer to Seavey just yet. If he is indeed a mere sailor on the Nellie Johnson, it is for only one reason, and that is for the booty weighing her down in the nearby harbor. He needs only to overtake captain and crew.
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He is a fierce fighter, but he has a fiercer weapon: drinking. He was known to buy a round for the house when he could, and perhaps he did that night, over and over until he was the only one who could stand, let alone sail. With two other sailors under his command, they boarded the Nellie Johnson, still loaded with precious Great Lakes cargo — not gold or silver, but a bellyful of cedar posts, once tall trees along the cold waters of Lake Superior — and filled its sails with wind, headed south for Chicago.
Piracy is a term with loose definitions.
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We now associate it with movies, a Disney ride, the open ocean, and freedom. What sets piracy apart from other criminal acts, however, is really only water. Robbery on the water. Seavey was far from the only man on the Great Lakes who decided the law ended with the shore, but until that moment, when McCormick would wake to find his boat gone, no warrant had ever been issued for piracy before.
Captain Preston H.
Uberroth was a man dedicated to saving lives on the sea — and lakes. Coast Guard peppered with newspaper articles praising him for saving people — from forest fires near Chicago, where he made his crew fight flames while splitting their limited rations with hungry civilians and from a wrecked British ship off the coast of Canada. He knows determination and hardship.
In , as a lieutenant, he was in the Atlantic off the coast of Sandy Hook when the Astral, a ship of the Standard Oil Company, was in distress — three men were attempting a mutiny. In December of , he took command of the Great Lakes cutter Tuscarora. Six months later, he had an assignment.
It was, it seemed, a mutiny. But a strange one.
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Someone had stolen a boat, leaving behind a very hungover captain. It took a while to get the call. Deputy Marshall Thomas Currier was assigned to the case. A heavy man with white hair and a full matching mustache, he boarded the Tuscarora with Uberroth. McCormick, hell-bent on recovering his ship, joined them. Uberroth was the best captain they could hope for.
Currier was an experienced man-hunter, and McCormick was driven by desperation — a captain without a boat. Hang the treasure!
Great Lakes Sailor
The coastal shores of Michigan are now coveted, each square foot of frontage accounted for and valued down to the dollar. In , Michigan was a different state. And Seavey was a man of the lakes. He began his way north, to his own boat, the Wanderer, stopping and hiding out along the way in the coves and rivers he knew so well. He was smart enough to know that by now, someone would be on his tail.
His engine, and his expertise, was the wind, but he would have certainly known also that even the strongest breeze was no match for the black smoke that might appear on the horizon at any moment. Uberroth, meanwhile, started looking, port by port. The search began in Michigan City, Ind. At every Life Saving station Uberroth would check in with the commanding officer, briefing him on the Seavey case and asking for help.
For days, it did not go well. They had the advantage of technology, but Seavey had the advantages of a lakeman. While the Tuscarora made its methodical checking of ports, Seavey needed only to continue slipping ahead, one of any number of schooners coming in and out of ports or sailing along the coast. Seavey knew how to survive, and Summer Island and St. They were far beyond Grand Haven before they found any sign of him, in Ludington, where Uberroth began phoning up the coast.
Then, there was hope. Life Savers located Seavey in Frankfort, a little over 60 miles up the coast. He may have been thinking tactically — waiting for the right moment, after night fell, for the element of surprise.
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