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The Samuel P. Ely was launched on June 4, 1869, at the J.P. Clark Shipyard of Springwells, Mich., just south of Detroit. The Ely was built for the Winslow fleet which had some of the finest ships afloat on fresh water. The fleet included two freight propellers, two steam tugs, three barkentines, and sixteen schooners. The schooner Pathfinder, also built in 1869, appears to have been a near sister to the Ely. The Marquette Mining Journal, Nov. 20, 1869, reported:
The new schooner S. P. Ely will take away from here (Marquette) 800 gross tons of ore, the largest load with one exception ever taken from this port. The exception is that of the schooner Brightiel that made one trip to Marquette one year ago this Fall and carried away a cargo of eight hundred and twenty-two tons. The Ely will load to a depth of eleven feet six inches of water. She is a model craft, and is considered by Mr. Winslow, her owner, to be the most perfect of all his numerous fleet of sail vessels. She is a credit to her owners and an honor to the worthy gentleman whose name she bears. Success to her, we say.
The Ely was put in the iron ore trade as soon as it was fitted up for sea, most frequently running from Escanaba, Mich., to Cleveland, Ohio, and occasionally to Marquette, Mich. The schooner usually carried 1,200 tons of ore on the down bound trips and a slightly lesser amount of coal back up the Lakes; the round trip was about a thousand miles. After the early 1870s, the Ely was sometimes towed by the Winslow bulk freighters, but most frequently it sailed independently.
In 1881, the Ely was purchased by M.A. Bradley and others of Cleveland. The Bradley fleet had seven steamers and sixteen schooners in the early 1880s. Like the Winslow fleet, it engaged in all of the bulk freight trades, operating chiefly out of Cleveland and Ashtabula, Ohio. The Bradley ships were frequent callers at the Duluth, Ashland, Wisc., and Two Harbors ore docks. As the Ely grew older, it was used more and more often as a consort barge, towed behind the steamer Sarah E. Sheldon with cargo. Sometimes the Ely was traded off to other Bradley steamers as well. Most of the company's steamers were powerful craft, so they often towed two or even three schooner barges behind, all at the same time.
The Bradley Transportation Company's sizable fleet of wooden steamers and barges made Two Harbors and Duluth very consistent ports of call from the time those ports were first opened until after the turn of the century. The Ely, sailing independently and later in tow of the Bradley bulk freighters, called at Two Harbors docks approximately 150 times between 1884 and 1896. The Ely hauled up bound cargoes of coal and down bound loads of ore. The usual turnaround time for a round trip was between 10 and 14 days, so it could get in as many as 22 trips in a season.
Modifications to the Ely date to at least 1885 when it was caught in a Lake Erie gale. It may have been at this time that the Ely was shorn of its topmasts and jibboom and permanently relegated to the role of a towbarge. In November, 1887, it was somehow holed and sunk in shallow water in Lake Erie. Soon afterward it was refloated and repaired. The Cleveland Leader, May 10, 1887, reports that it was given new keelsons and a general overhauling at the shipyards in Cleveland that winter.
|--Samuel P. Ely--
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