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This is All That Remains of the Original USS Michigan, And It’s in a Pennsylvania Museum

uss michigan erie pa
C-SPAN/YouTube

The first ship the US Navy ever called the Michigan today sits in a museum in Pennsylvania. Learn the history of the ship and why it’s not home – or is it?

The History of the USS Michigan

The USS Michigan was first built in 1843

The steamer was part of the Great Lakes Patrol. The patrol’s goal was to fight crimes on the lakes and protect the border with Canada.

The USS Michigan led the patrol, mostly singlehandedly, from its beginning on October 1, 1844 until the ship was retired in 1912. Michigan was the only American gunboat to patrol the huge Great Lakes and she was the navy’s first steam-powered, iron-hulled warship. The Michigan was built to defend the lakes due to the construction of two British steamers during the Canadian rebellions in 1837. Based out of Erie, Pennsylvania throughout her career, the gunboat was commissioned on September 29, 1844 under Commander William Inman. Because the Great Lakes are vast inland seas in the north of the continent, during every winter parts of the lakes would freeze over or icebergs would make navigation extremely hazardous and difficult. The Michigan usually sailed from about March to December before heading back for Erie for the winter where a type of house was built to protect the ship from the elements.

Ah, so even though she’s named the Michigan, truly the boat’s home port was in Erie.

One of the best known missions of the Michigan was a fight against “timber pirates.”

Accroding to Wikipedia, the Timber Rebellion began

In 1853 the USS Michigan was assigned to operate against criminals who were ravaging the logging industry. These so called timber pirates were involved in the illegal cutting of timber on federal land then smuggling it out of the area in order to sell it. The areas most affected were in the western Great Lakes region along the coasts of Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota where much of the forested areas were reserved for the building of new warships. The illegal timber trade centered on Chicago and Milwaukee and was nearly as violent as the alcohol trade which was carried out over the same waters during the Prohibition era. In 1851 the government sent timber agents from the Department of the Interior to survey the land and work with local police and naval forces to stop the crime. When loads of wood were found to have been acquired illegally, the agents confiscated it and auctioned it off to the public, and later, in foreign markets. This upset the timber barons of the Great Lakes, who were involved in the illegal trade, and they began stealing back the wood or burning it before it could be shipped away.

More: This Michigan Location is the Farthest Point from a Great Lake

USS Michigan in the Civil War

The USS Michigan never left the Great Lakes, so never saw action in any theaters of the Civil War, but did pay and important role in patroling waters around Johnson’s Island off the coast of Ohio in Lake Erie were Confederate prisoners of war were held. There was a foiled CSA plot to capture the ship and use it “as a raider in Union waters.”

USS Michigan at the Erie Maritime Museum

USS Michigan Erie Museum
C-SPAN/YouTube

Today all that remains of the Wolverine is the hull of the boat. A docent at the museum tells this C-SPAN documentary

More: This Building Near Lake Erie May be the Oldest Structure in Michigan

BONUS VIDEO – High Winds and Big Waves on Lake Michigan

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