Jennie Graham


Artist's Concept

Schooner Upside Down


By James Donahue


Three sailors died when the schooner Jennie Graham capsized in a spring squall on Lake Huron.


The date was Thursday, April 24, 1872. The Graham was sailing north across the lake without cargo when the accident happened about eight miles off Lexington, Michigan, at about 4 p.m.


The schooner was bound for the Saginaw River where it was probably going to pick up a cargo of lumber. But it was an empty vessel, under full sail, when caught in an unexpected spring storm packing strong winds. Before the crew had time to reef sail, the schooner capsized.


Two crew members were trapped below deck, where they died. They were identified in newspaper stories of the day simply as a Norwegian and an Englishman; their names unknown.


The boat’s skipper, Capt. Duncan Graham of Glencoe, Ont., also died. He was last seen clinging to two planks in the water and drifting away from the overturned hull. His body was recovered days later in the St. Clair River south of Port Huron.


Seven members of the crew survived. They clung to the side of the overturned wreck for about an hour until the Graham unexpectedly rolled back on one side. Once this happened, a lifeboat was exposed.


The boat was cut away from the davits and the sailors climbed in, happy to be free of the chilling water of the lake. An hour later their luck got even better. The schooner Sweepstakes saw the wreck and stopped to rescue them. They were put ashore at nearby Lakeport.


One of the survivors suffered a broken leg.


The Graham was salvaged, but not without difficulty. The wreck grounded off Fort Gratiot while being towed to Port Huron and was extensively damaged. By the time salvagers got the hull free again the top masts, all of the lighter spars, booms and gaffs, jib boom, sails and ropes were lost.


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