20 May 2012

An Account Of Peter Millar's Death In The Detroit River

This blog features the transcription of a lengthy newspaper account of a yachting accident.  It was important to me because the youngest person who drowned was my great-grandmother's cousin, Peter Millar, son of Andrew and Jane (More) Millar.

The Detroit Free Press, May 21, 1875:

Melancholy Conclusion of a Trip in a Sail Boat
Four Residents of Grosse Isle Drowned


Frederick Dudgeon, Manly Webb and Peter Miller Lost


Somewhere between nine and ten o'clock yesterday morning the open river yacht Mattie, of five tons burden, set sail from Grosse Isle for Gibraltar light house, at he mouth of the Detroit River. The Mattie, a new boat owned by A. H. West, was loaded with about three tons of lead ballast intended for Commodore K. C. Barker's yacht Cora, which was being put in a readiness to sail in the regatta of the International Boat Club, appointed for the 25th of May.

 The wind blew high and squalls of greater or less violence came frequently, blackening the waves and the white-caps of the river. The little sail boat, for it was nothing more, was loaded down very deep indeed. The persons who went out in her were Kirkland C. Barker and Frederick Dudgeon, residents of Grosse Isle, Manly Webb, an accomplished sailor in the employ of Mr. Barker, and Peter Miller, aged thirteen years, son of Mr. Barker's gardener.

 In speaking of the contemplated trip the day before it was arranged that Miss Hattie Dudgeon, Miss Susie Biddle and Miss Katy Wilkins should accompany the party. Before proceeding to embark Mr. Barker said to his wife that she might as well go as not, but that lady protested that she could not get ready. Mr. Dudgeon said to Mr. Barker that he thought he would remain, but was jestingly answered, as friend would remark to ..that he had enlisted for the cruise and ...it. He therefore so informed his ...adding that he would as soon stay as ...proceeding then to the wharf. Mr. ___ took notice of the condition of the ___the deep lading of the boat, and (said) to the young ladies that it was not __for them to venture. Somewhat ___they remained on the shore and bid adieu to the boatmen, little thinking it was a last farewell.

__ the sailors, none of them appeared __ but set out gaily, expecting a (safe) return and a reunion with (their) families at __. The voyage __ and in contemplation was scarcely; the course lay from Stoney Island down the Canadian (side), past Malden and around outside of Bois Blanc Island to Gibraltar on the American (side). The wind was from the west, an (uncommonly) stiff breeze, as before remarked, __ the little craft a free side wind which, __ current, carried her rapidly down__.

All those composing the boat's __ except the boy Miller, were accomplished sailors--Mr. Webb having been for __ at sea, Mr. Barker being a skillful (and) enthusiastic yachtsman, and Mr. Dudgeon __ familiar with the water from boyhood. All, too, were exceedingly good swimmers and strong athletic men.

They presently noted that the boat carried too much canvas, and to avoid danger from sudden gusts that came furiously the sail was shortened to a double reef. In this condition very little time elapsed before the Mattie reached the head of Bois Blanc Island, and her crew, from there observing the tempestuous condition of the head of the lake, which their course would naturally take them across, slackened sail, put about the boat and concluded to start for home. In doing so they kept quite close to the Canadian shore, and, in sailing only under the jib and having current to contend with, made good headway.

Friends upon both shores noted their progress and were interested in watching the tossing of the slight craft as under the impulse of the breeze she bounded from one wave to the other, breasting the foam at each plunge. 

When almost opposite Dallas Norvell's dock at Texas Landing, three hundred feet from the Canadian shore and in a direct line with their homes at Grosse Isle, but little over a mile distant, the Mattie unexpectedly sunk.

It as a sudden as a flash of summer lightning in this instant the little boat was watched sailing roughly along, the next was under the waves and out of sight. Persons on the shore thought they observed six men in the water, confounding the floating hats of two of the unfortunate men with the struggling swimmers borne along with the current. At White's limekiln dock, next below Norvell's opposite which the Mattie sunk, was a rowboat used by the men who settle accounts between the tug boats and their tows.

 When the calamity was observed Messrs. Duff and Gatfield sprang into this boat and rowed with all speed for Mr. Barker, who was nearest the shore. It was not many minutes before they had hold of him. He was floating with his back up and head under water. Mr. Barker was a corpulent and heavy man. There was a white capped sea raging and the effort to get him into the row boat almost capsized it. One of the men was forced to let go his oars and lean over to the other side in order to keep it from swamping.
At this time the other poor unfortunates were swimming; Webb the most upstream, Miller nearly opposite Barker, but three boat lengths further out, and Dudgeon as much further down stream. To diagram their positions a line drawn from Mr. Barker to the boy Miller and from Mr. Dudgeon to Mr. Webb would form the outlines of a cross. Young Miller was floating on his back and had shouted for assistance. None of the rest made any outcry.

Duff and Gatfield with incredible exertions got Mr. Barker into their boat, then they looked around for the others. Webb and Dudgeon had disappeared. Miller was in the act of turning over when they pointed their boat for him. Before they could take a stroke he, too, was engulfed.

Nothing remained to be done but to row with all speed to the shore. The body of Mr. Barker was carried to the beach and a physician almost immediately summoned. He found resuscitation impossible--life was extinct.
It is the theory of medical men that Mr. Barker was not drowned, but that the sudden plunge in the water and the excitement of the moment brought on an attack of apoplexy, of which disease he had for a long time felt the premonitory symptoms. He was asphyxiated, his lungs remaining inflated, and the body was thereby kept afloat.
The news spread with rapidity. Many people gathered upon the banks and two boats under the direction of John Angiun began dragging the river. The water at that point is not deep, but he current is swift and the bottom full of boulders. Their efforts were protracted until evening, but without success.

It is the belief of those engaged in dragging that each passing steamboat agitates the water, dislodges the bodies from contact with the boulders and floats them a bit downstream, where they are temporarily caught only to be again cast off by the rude velocity of the current. Thomas Wilson, a diver, was also engaged in the effort to procure the bodies of the drowned. The expectation now is they will be cast ashore somewhere upon the point above Malden.

The first impression, that the Mattie had capsized, is not borne out by he observations of the coolest spectators. She could not well have done so, __ canvas flying; but the jib. The shock of bounding upon the waves and of pitching and tossing with her heavy lading of lead it is supposed loosened some of her bottom planks--perhaps tore them away outright. She filled and settled instantly, and no vestige of her has since been seen. The ___ of the water and its tempestuous condition soon exhausted the swimmers. They succumbed to the inevitable and were drowned. All happened within ten minutes after the boat disappeared. The intelligence of this calamity plunged Grosse Isle in mourning. Last evening many sympathizing friends of the drowned went down from the city. The body of Mr. Barker, after being viewed by the coroner of Malden [Ontario, Canada], was brought to his own house.

Peter Miller, the lad who so bravely struggled for life, was the youngest son of Mr. Barker's gardener.*

Manley Webb, the sailing master, was a resident of Conneaut, Ohio, and had been in Mr. Barker's employ only since last fall. His age was about thirty years, and in September last he was married. His young wife sits and gazes over the river at the spot where all went down with a sorrow that is most sad to contemplate.

Frederick Dudgeon was aged twenty-eight years. He was a graduate of Michigan University and had until lately been engaged in business in Kansas, coming home only to spend the summer with his parents and keep them company during the contemplated absence in Europe of his sister. He was a promising young man, of a most kind and affable disposition, and very popular among his associates, to whom his untimely death is a source of much grief.

Mr. Barker was born at Schuyler, Herkimer County, New York, August 20th, 1820, and was, therefore, nearly fifty five years old at the time of his melancholy death. In early life he was owner and captain of a canal boat on the Erie Canal. He subsequently removed to Cleveland and for two years was engaged in the lake trade as captain of a schooner. He came to Detroit about thirty-one years ago and found employment with Thos. C. Miller, for whom he traveled over Michigan and Indiana selling tobacco. A few years later he established himself in the tobacco trade on a somewhat limited __ on the west side of Woodward avenue, between Jefferson avenue and Woodbridge street. His business prospered and he at length removed to 60, 62 and 64 Jefferson avenue, where he continued until the firm moved into their present factory, 74 and 76 Jefferson avenue. His business career is too well known to require any extended allusion to it at this time. He was elected Mayor of Detroit in November, 1863, a position which he filled with singular fidelity and wise judgment until the inauguration of his successor, M. I. Mills. Personally Mr. Barker was a man of strong affections, and among those who enjoyed this friendship, grief for his loss is very deep. Instances are by no means few in which en, when first informed of the clamity yesterday burst into tears, and throughout the city expressions of profound sorrow were remarked. He had been for years actively interested in sporting matters, and it has been well said of him that his influence in this direction was always of teh elevating kind. In these matters he enjoyed the confidence of such men as Leonard __, August Belmont and other equally well known for their devotion to the best interests of sporting. His fondness for yachting his high toned conduct in turf matters, this interest in the pursuits of the Audubon Club and other like organizations gave him a national reputation in such matters and wherever he went he was always treated with distinguished consideration by men who knew his high standard and admired his manly character.

Some years ago he built a handsome residence at Grosse Isle, and for three or four years past he had made that place his constant home, having given up his residence in the city. His wife, one daughter, Mrs. C. B. Hull, and two sons--Charles (sic), who is in the United States navy, homeward bound on the steamer Hartford, and Kirkland C., Jr., aged about fourteen years, now at home where he arrived from Ann Arbor last evening--survive him. His funeral is announced to take place from St. Paul's Church on Saturday morning at ten o'clock.
In conversing with his friend Mr. West one evening last week Mr. Barker expressed a premonition of an approaching death. It is said his life was insured for $20,000, and that he usually carried an accident policy of $10,000.
This evening a meeting of the International Yacht Club, of which Mr. Barker was Commodore, will be held at the Michigan Exchange to take action concerning his death. He was a member of Detroit Commandery of Knight's Templar and it is understood that that organization will have charge of the funeral.

*George Millar was the older son and only sibling of Peter Millar

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