Morning Star

Ship Name: Morning Star 
Also Known As: None 
Type of Ship: Wood, Side Wheel Steamer, Passenger and Freight 
Ship Size: 243 x 34 x 14, 38' paddle wheels 
Ship Owner: D & C Line (Detroit and Cleveland Steam Navigation Company) 
Gross Tonnage: 1075 
Net Tonnage: NA 
Typical Cargo: Passengers and packaged freight 
Year Built: 1862 - Trenton Michigan by A.A. Turner 
Official Wreck Number: 16463 
Wreck Location: 41 36.812 N 82 12.530 W (Kohl) Mooring Buoyed by MAST 
Type of Ship at Loss: Side Wheel Steamer 
Cargo on Ship at Loss: Forty-four first class passengers, plus possibly up to 33 other passengers, and a variety of other cargo including pig iron, kegs of nails, mowing machinery, boxes of glass, stone, cheese, barrels of oil and other assorted lots of packaged freight. It was also said that some passengers may have been carrying gold and silver coinage along with jewelry, and the ships' safe may have also contained gold and silver coinage. 
Captain of Ship at Loss: E.R. Viger 

Mooring buoy on site. Approximately 8 miles due north of Lorain Harbor, Ohio, in 59-68 feet of water on mud/silt bottom. Much of the wreck and debris have sunk into the soft bottom. Portions of the paddlewheels, the large boiler, and the walking beam are the most prominent artifacts, along with some decking and other timbers.

Aquatic life at this depth include a variety of bottom-dwelling fish, such as sculpins, darters and burbot (often referred to as "lawyers," or "cat lawyers"). Yellow perch and walleye occasionally suspend above the wreck to feed on schools of emerald shiner minnows. Be cautious of anglers in the area in you are diving this wreck. Zebra and quagga mussels are also covering large portions of the wreck.


June 21, 1868. While en-route from Cleveland to Detroit, the Morning Star (captain E.R.Viger) collided with the bark Cortland (captain G.W. Lawton) close to midnight. The collision reportedly occurred on this rainy night with a brisk north wind when a mate on the bark Cortland, noticing a dim/dull appearance from a navigation lamp, removing the green light and took it to his cabin to clean it. Captain Lawton later defended his situation by stating, "I had just as good of lights as ever were carried. I saw the steamer and held my course. I rang my bell three times then pulled my wheel hard up just before the collision."

Others blame the collision on the fact that the steamer was late in leaving port due to loading some last-minute freight. The Morning Star was reported to have been carrying 44 first class passengers, 38 crew members, and +/- 33 others, some possibly immigrants and non-reported 2nd class passengers. The cargo she carried was diverse, including pig iron, kegs of nails, mowing machinery, boxes of glass, stone, cheese, barrels of oil and other assorted lots of packaged freight. The Cortland was heavily loaded with iron ore, and was en-route from Sheboygan, Wisconsin to Cleveland. According to survivors, the Morning Star's engine room bell had just signaled "STOP" when to the two vessels collided. The Cortland, struck approximately 40 feet from her stern, sank within and hour. The badly damaged Morning Star sank within 10-15 minutes. Much detail of the collision has been chronicled from newspaper reports following the collision and subsequent recovery of flotsam, bodies and the attempted salvage of the vessel. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland Leader, Cleveland Herald, Lorain Constitutionalist, Elyria Independent Democrat). Many papers provide eyewitness accounts from survivors, with numerous stories conflicting.

It was reported that the anchor and anchor chair from the steamer slid across the deck of the bark, binding the two vessels together. Both ships were grinding to pieces as the high waves slammed them together.

Captain Viger sought the assistance of another lakes captain, Captain Hackett, in helping to calm passengers and get them into life jackets. Captain Hackett, who was onboard at the time with his wife, had been assisting with putting on her life preserver, and had planned to escort her to a lifeboat. With her husband called to duty by Captain Viger, Mrs. Hackett was assisted by the steamers purser, James Morton, in donning a life preserver and heading for the lifeboat. Both Mrs. Hackett and Purser Morton were lost; Captain Hackett survived. Both of the Morning Star's reported two lifeboats were quickly filled; mostly be crew members.

Had it not been for the hurricane deck of the Morning Star being torn loose as she sank, 14 of the ship's passengers, and Captain Viger, would have also perished. They managed to cling to the floating deck wreckage, shivering in the frigid waters, until being rescued by the R.N. Rice, captained by William McKay, around 3 A.M. Survivors of the Cortland were also rescued by the Rice. The search for survivors continued until daylight, with the R.N. Rice steaming into Cleveland with her cargo of survivors.

The exact location of the collision, reported as being in 70 feet of water, approximately 16 miles north of the Black River, now the city of Lorain, Ohio, remains elusive. However, both shipwrecks have been located and are visited by divers.

The Morning Star reportedly sank rapidly on site, while the Cortland drifted approximately two miles form the collision site prior to sinking. 30-45 lives were reported lost on the Morning Star, with 5 crew from the Cortland perishing. Many of the survivors were rescued by the steamer R.N. Rice, of the same ship line as the Morning Star. During July, 1868, salvage work began on the Morning Star, with first the recovery of both anchors and anchor chain. In September, 1868, the Morning Star was raised and was attempted to be towed to shore for repairs. After traveling 8-10 miles form the collision site, she sank again, and remains at her final resting place about 8 miles north of Lorain Harbor, Ohio. The Cortland was salvaged heavily soon after she sank, and was reported to be in 72 feet of water and on a mud/silt bottom. Interestingly, the vessel was never raised. The Cortland was less than a year old at the time of her sinking (1868), being built (1867) only two years after the end of the Civil War (1865), was extremely well constructed, and portrayed the type of sailing vessel used over the next 10-20 years in the Great Lakes.

During July, 2005, divers from the CLUE, Cleveland Underwater Explorers, confirmed finding the Cortland (See Cortland shipwreck for more information)



Numerous vessels with the name "Morning Star" have been recorded, yet none as famous as this passenger steamer. The disaster was reported by the Cleveland Leader on June 22, 1868, as one of the worst in the Great Lakes during that time period. Prior to this fateful evening, the Morning Star had made numerous voyages carrying both assorted freight and passengers. This including the transport troops in 1862 from the 20th Regiment, Michigan Volunteers destined to join the Army of the Republic. Numerous conflicting reports regarding number of passengers onboard, passengers lost, type and amount of freight carried, passenger valuables, and ship's safe contents. One report indicated that, in addition to passenger valuables, coins and jewelry, the ship's safe contained gold coins and bullion worth an estimated $250,000.

Conflicting reports on date/time of collision also exist, as the collision occurred close to midnight on June 20/June 21. Some reports indicate 90 passengers, other reports state 50 passengers. 30-45 lives reported lost on the Morning Star (depending upon the data source), with 5 of the Cortland's 7 crew members also perishing.

A strange rescue was made of a lone male passenger from the Morning Star. Reported to have remained calm and collected throughout the sinking, this individual climbed onto a piece of floating deck. A chair floated by, and was retrieved by this fellow, as well as a large metal cracker box. When rescued, he was reported to be sitting in the chair with his feet propped up on the metal box.



Great Lakes Historical Society, Peachman Lake Erie Shipwreck Research Center (GLHS/PLESRC), P.O. Box 435, 480 Main Street, Vermilion, Ohio 44089 Historical Files and Photo Collections

Shipwrecks of the Lakes, Dana Thomas Bowen, 1952, Lakeside Printing, Cleveland, Ohio "The Morning Star and the Courtland"

Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 1868

The Cleveland Leader, June 22, 23, 26, 1868

Lorain Constitutionalist, June 24, 1868

The Great Lakes Diving Guide, Cris Kohl 2001, Seawolf Communications, Inc. P.O. Box 66, West Chicago, Illinois 60186


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