Three Michigan Marauders Who Ruled the Great Lakes

Ahoy! Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day to all you landlubbers out there! You didn’t know it was Talk Like a Pirate Day?  Yarr, you might be walking the plank yet, matey!

Photo by Dave Nowak - Nordmeer Shipwreck Lake Huron

Photo by Dave Nowak – Nordmeer Shipwreck Lake Huron

The Great Lakes were home to some of the most fearsome and burly pirates of any waters on the map.  These swashbucklers ruled the high fresh-water seas and made their living sailing and searching for treasure not known to Jack Sparrow – lumber, illegal alcohol and wild-game meat. Known as Timber Pirates by some, these buccaneers would ship up to the Upper Peninsula to cut down wide areas of timber to sell to industrializing cities east of the state. Alcohol runners would even steal alcohol to sell in Detroit or Chicago, or trade for guns and loot.

Below are some of the most recognized pirates of the Great Lakes. Check them out – if you dare!

Calico Jack

John Rackham – John Rackahm, or Calico Jack as he was often known, is remembered as a small-time pirate from the 1700’s. He would steal anything from cashboxes to entire ships. Calico Jack would wait until a fisherman or woodcutter was away from their ship and sail off with it in the night. This pesky pirate was notorious for his stealthy crimes.

In October 1720, Rackham cruised near Jamaica, capturing numerous small fishing vessels, and terrorizing fishermen along the northern coastline. He came across a small vessel filled with eleven English pirates. Soon after, Rackham’s ship was attacked by an armed sloop and was captured. Rackham and his crew were brought to Jamaica, where he and nearly all of his crew members were sentenced to be hanged.

220px-James_Strang_daguerreotype_(1856)James Jesse Strang – In 1855, a religious gang on Beaver Island burned sawmills and stole $1,600 worth of goods from a local store, under the leadership of “King” James Jesse Strang.

Strang, a self-proclaimed religious leader and king, quickly made foes among his own people, too. One of these, Thomas Bedford, had been flogged for adultery on Strang’s orders, and felt considerable resentment toward the “king.” Another, Dr. H.D. McCulloch, had been excommunicated for drunkenness and other alleged misdeeds, after previously enjoying Strang’s favor and several high offices in local government.

In June of 1856, Strang was waylaid around 7:00 PM on the dock at the harbor of St. James, chief city of Beaver Island, by Wentworth and Bedford, who shot him in the back. Not one person on board the ship made any effort to warn or to aid the intended victim.

Dan SeaveyDan Seavey – The most notorious Great Lakes pirate may be none other than Roaring Dan Seavey, who started as a regular sailor in the U.S. Navy. After leaving the military he found himself a poor man with only his ship, Wanderer, to his name and took up a life of plundering.

Seavey was a thief who had eyes for large shipments of venison and alcohol, to then later sell at a higher price. Anyone who tried to stop him faced the cannon he held on board. Seavey’s most famous escapade was his takeover of a schooner docked named the Nellie Johnson. The clever seaman invited the Johnson’s crew to drink with him, staying mostly sober himself. He then threw the drunken sailors off their ship and sailed it to Chicago, where he sold the Nellie Johnson’s cargo.

Seavey retired sometime in the late 1920s, and settled in the town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin. He died in a Peshtigo nursing home on 14 February 1949 at the age of 84.

Want to know more about these Michigan marauders? Strap on your peg leg and set sail towards one of these maritime attractions to get your fill of pirate personas!

Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum 
Grand Rapids Public Museum’s Real Pirates exhibit 
Alpena Shipwreck Tours

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