Dr. Richard Boyd, underwater archeologist and author, presented an intriguing and, at times, humorous Archives program on pirate Dan Seavey, on Aug. 23, 2012, at the TPAC on Washington Island. These two photos are from Boyd’s book, “A Pirate Roams Lake Michigan: The Dan Seavey Story,” published by the Wisconsin Underwater Archeo-logy Association.
At the end of the program, Boyd asked for questions. Islander Lee McDonald, in the audience, commented that his father knew Dan Seavey. This prompted me to read Boyd’s book and do a little research in our Archives files, including looking up references to Dan Seavey in “Four Islands: A History of Detroit, Rock, St. Martins and Washington Islands” by Lee McDonald’s uncle, Raymond E. McDonald. The result is fascinating. I’ll give you just a little taste of it here.
Seavey was born in Maine in 1865. His father was a schooner captain, and Dan quickly took to sea. According to Boyd, “By the age of 13, he had already sailed aboard local tramp schooners and perhaps had even traveled around the globe. At age 18, he was in the Navy. . . . Dan first arrived in northern Wisconsin at Middle Inlet near Little Noque Bay in Marinette County in the mid-1880s.” Dan’s life was convoluted by several marriages (with bigamy to boot) and a string of “legitimate and not-so-legitimate maritime businesses,” many involving nautical transport – including some questionable “transport” that looked more like theft – as he cruised around the Great Lakes, sometimes taking advantage of untended cargo left on docks and poaching fish and lumber where he found them.
“Roaring Dan” seemed a fitting nickname, and his handiness with his fists and heavy drinking habits didn’t hurt his reputation as a man to whom it was hard to say no. The particular incident that led to Dan earning the title of “Pirate” I will leave for another day.
Now, for Dan Seavey’s connection to Washington Island. Raymond McDonald gives us a really good idea of the man, as he knew him, in his chapter on Dan Seavey. But the chapter on Nels Jepson gives a characteristic tale of Dan’s “persuasiveness.” McDonald said he had this story straight from Nels Jepson. The events occurred when Nels was tied up in Escanaba, Dan’s main homeport.
“It was probably the summer of 1920. He [Nels] was tied up in a slip close to town and just ahead of him was another gas boat, which was owned by Dan Seavey. . .
They had known each other from years before. Dan liked Nels’ boat and wanted to make a deal with him – an even trade, which Nels was not in favor of since his boat was a much better one than Dan’s. However, it was not easy to refuse Dan. He had a very persuasive way of getting what he wanted. Nels knew this and he wanted no confrontation with Dan. The trade and Dan worried him. He was not a young man anymore. . . He wanted to leave Escanaba but he needed gas. If he put in gasoline during the day, Dan would see him” and figure Nels was planning to leave without trading vessels.”
Nels waited till Dan was busy in the saloon one dark night and sneaked out of the harbor under sail. He coasted out of the harbor in a light wind and when he reached the buoy at the harbor entrance, he cranked up the engine and headed out to Green Bay, hoping his gas would last to Washington Island. He made it all the way in to his dock in Detroit Harbor. McDonald says, “Nels was a happy man to have gotten away from Dan so easily and to still have his boat.”
Doesn’t seem so easy to me!
The schooner Wanderer was acquired by Dan Seavey around 1900 and was his principal vessel until 1909. Isn’t it a beauty? Boyd says, “Unlike many of Seavey’s other boats, the Wanderer did not suffer a bitter end and was sold to parties on Washington Island by 1919.” Another tale. . .
Janet Berggren, Island Archives
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