The Loss of the Antelope

If you look at the standard sources’ background info about the song “The Loss of the Antelope”, there is a great deal of confusion about the historical background of the song. When did it happen? Was it in Lake Michigan or Lake Superior? Which Antelope was it? Ben Peckham, one of Walton’s informants from Oswego, claimed his father Thomas had been a survivor of the wreck and had written the song, but given all the uncertainty about the song this was treated as just a possibility.

Last winter I decided to try my usual trick of searching the Great Lakes Maritime Collection ship database.  I quickly found, which seemed a likely candidate if Walton’s informant was telling the truth: it was an Antelope, registered in Oswego, that was driven onto the Michigan shore of Lake Michigan on the 20th of November 1857.

Hoping for more information on the ship, I wrote the Oswego Public Library to see if they had newspaper archives that might cover the wreck.  It took a while due to COVID-19, but when they staff came back to the library in July, Edward Elsner poked around and found exactly what I was looking for in the Oswego Palladium. Here are the three articles kindly he sent me:

November 28, 1857

Loss of the Schooner Antelope — The schooner Antelope, Capt. Geo. Budd, bound from Chicago to Oswego, with 14,000 bushels of wheat, was lost of Friday last, about eight miles north of St Joseph, and Capt. Budd and four of the crew perished. The Chicago Press contains the following particulars, obtained from Capt. Parker, of the schooner H. Rand:

“The Antelope was seen on Friday evening by Capt. Parker, running before the wind, in a southerly direction; but it appears that during the same evening she was driven ashore. The Captain and crew, as soon as she struck, made ever attempt to get ashore, but failed — her small boat being carried away. Capt. Budd then determined to swim ashore, stripped and jumped into the water with a rope, but after several attempts he failed and had to be hauled on board again nearly dead. Shortly afterwards a wave washed him overboard and he was lost. During the course of the night three men of the crew were washed into the lake and met watery graves. The balance lashed themselves to the deck and rigging, where they were found by a party of men from St. Joseph, who reached the vessel with a scow.

Five of the crew were found completely paralyzed with cold and wet, and almost dead. — One they found lashed to the rigging, frozen to death. During the entire night, it appears, the sea made clean breaches over the vessel, and the suffering of the crew were dreadful. Life could not have held on more than an hour or two longer. As it was, they hae had to be most carefully nursed and attended by the people who live in the neighborhood — who most cheerfully exerted themselves to restore them. When Capt. Parker left, four of them were in a fair way of recovery. The fate of a fifth was most doubtful.

The Antelope will be a total loss. She was an A 1 vessel, owned by A. H. Hovey, Oswego, and valued at $11,000. We are informed that the Northwestern Insurance Company have risks on hull and cargo to the extent of $11,000.”

Captain Budd was a generous and hourable citizen and a thorough and experienced sailer. — He leaves a wife and child in this city to mourn his loss, and a numerous circle of friends and acquaintances. The names of the crew we are unable to learn.

November 30th, 1857

The Wreck of the Antelope — The Names of those Lost and Saved. — We copy from the Times the following particulars, from a letter written by John Budds, 1st mate of the Antelope, to Messrs. Penfield, Lyon & Co., dated at Colomo, Mich., 23d inst.: —

Having been saved from the wreck of the schooner Antelope, I am able this morning to send you the sad news, the loss of life as well as vessel and cargo, which lies a wreck six miles north of St. Josephs, on the shore of Michigan. To relate the whole of what I have witnessed, I am not able to do by writing. The Antelope struck on the shore Friday, November 20th at 5 o’clock P.M. Those that escaped from the wreck were no taken off Saturday, till 21st, 11 A.M. Two men left in the rigging were frozen. Two were washed overboard. One started from the wreck to swim ashore, but he did not go twenty feet before he went down, and was not seen again. There were five who escaped from the wreck, and to kind and stout hearted men, who made several attempts before they reached the wreck, we owe our lives. Those that are saved have got their feet and some of their hands frozen. I am just able with the right hand to pen this sad tale. Two days and three nights the pumps could not be left. Being covered with ice, both crew and vessel, we thought the Antelope would have foundered in the lake before striking shore. The following are the names of those


John Budds, 1st mate,

Moses Seeley, 2d mate,

Thomas Peckham, seaman, who I think will not recover, being badly frozen,

Arthur Clarkson, seaman,

Charles Belcher, seaman.


George W. Budds, captain, washed overboard,

John, and Thomas, (the remainder of their names I do not know, or where they resided — in Oswego, I think),

Thomas Burns and Frank Eaver, were frozen in the rigging.

We are most thankful to kind assistance. Seeing one [going?] after another, we thought no one would escape to make known what we have suffered. This comes from one of the survivors,


Mate of the schooner Antelope

December 5th, 1857

Survivors of the Antelope. — John Budds, the first mate, Thomas Peckham, and two others, survivors of the crew of the Antelope, arrived in this city yesterday.

So there absolutely was a Thomas Peckham on this ship. Ben Peckham was correct that his father was the survivor of an Antelope wreck. Is it the Antelope of the song?

Let’s take this in two parts.  What can we learn about the makeup of the crew of the Antelope from the Walton and Snider texts? The crew has ten people, two of whom are new to the ship and who died.  (Wv3, Sv9)  The captain’s brother is named John. (Wv6, Sv7) 

This appears to be confirmed by the Nov 30th article. The crew had ten people.  Most interesting: Captain George Budds (deceased, washed overboard), 1st mate John Budds (survived), Thomas Peckham (survived), and “John and Thomas” (deceased, and John Budds did not know their last names nor where they were from).  If we presume that the only two men on the ship whose names the 1st mate did not know were newly on board, this is an exact match to the information given in the song.

And what happened on the last trip of the Antelope?  They left Chicago on November 16th (Wv2) or 17th (Sv2).  The next morning a storm arose. (Wv3, Sv3)  There is some disagreement in timing — Walton’s text seems to suggest that the 18th is the day they ran aground on the shores of Michigan (Wv5-7), Snider’s the 20th. (The last named day is the 18th, the next morning (Sv5), next evening (Sv6), and next morning again (Sv7-8).)  The captain tries to swim to shore and is drowned. (Wv8, Sv8)  Three men are swept overboard. (Wv7)  The cook freezes in the rigging. (Sv5)  “To the pumps went every man.” (Sv5)  There is only one survivor and the ship is scattered across miles and miles of Lake Michigan shore. (Wv8)

What does the Nov 30th article tell us?  “The Antelope struck on the shore Friday, November 20th at 5 o’clock.”  The wreck lies six miles north of St Joseph, MI.  “Two days and three nights the pumps could not be left.”  Two men were frozen in the rigging.  Two were washed overboard.  One tried to swim ashore and “went down”.  The captain was washed overboard.  Five people survived.

The Nov 28th article contains information obtained from Captain Parker, who apparently visited the survivors in the hospital.  In his account, Captain Budd [sic] tried to swim ashore, failed, was hauled back ashore and shortly afterward was washed overboard and lost.  Three of the crew were washed overboard during the night, another froze in the rigging.

So, while there is some quibbling over the details all around, the basic outlines of the story in the texts matches these newspaper articles closely.  Only two things jump out at me as real discrepancies.  First is the claim in the next to last line of Walton’s text that there was only one survivor.  That’s not mentioned in Snider’s text, and I think we can presume it got added somewhere in the transmission process.  The other is the claim in Snider that they ran aground in the morning of the 20th, when the newspapers tell us it was in the evening.  It seems likely this was just a simple substitution of “morning” for “evening” somewhere in transmission, or perhaps Peckham misremembered. 

So what have we learned? I think we can be very certain the song was written about the November 20th, 1857 wreck. While there are minor discrepancies, if anything it seems surprising how closely oral tradition preserved the story from 1857 to Snider’s recording in 1946, 89 years later!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bruce Macartney RIP

Sad to say we lost Bruce this morning.  Don’t know how to process it.  It was a great pleasure making music with him, and he will be sorely missed.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tall Ship Celebration!

The Bay City Tall Ship Celebration 2019 is this weekend.  I’ve spent all day watching the tall ships come up the St Clair River on the Marine City Ship Cam.  Whisky and Water is not officially playing the Maritime Music Festival this year, but most of us will be around for most of it, no doubt instruments in tow, and there should be loads of good music.

In the meantime, here’s a recording of us from the last (2016) Tall Ship Celebration.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

150 Years Ago Today…

… the Persian collided with the E.B. Allen — September 16th, 1868.  The E.B. Allen survived to report the crash, but the Persian went down with all hands lost.  A few years later, Patrick Fennell wrote a poem, “The Loss of the Schooner Persian on Lake Huron”, which, when set to an old tune, became one of the most popular songs found on ships and in lumber camps on the Great Lakes.

I only realized early this month that this was the big anniversary.  I hoped to get Whisky and Water into one of our home studios to record it, but we were all too busy to find a time.  But I did get our Randy Bunting to sing it at the session, and the lovely Jennifer Foster videoed (most) of it.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Loss of the Schooner “Persian,” On Lake Huron

Norm Cohen credited “The Persian’s Crew” to Patrick Fennell.  Thanks to the magic of the Internet, we have a scanned copy of Patrick’s 1886 book containing the poem (page 145).  If Cohen is right, this is a version of the song from its original author.


Sad and dismal is the tale,
Which I’ll relate to you,
About the schooner Persian,
Her officers and crew,
Who sank beneath the stormy deep,
To rise in life no more ;
Where winds with desolation sweep.
Lake Huron’s rock-bound shore.

They left Chicago on their lee,
Their singing did resound ;
All hearts were full of joyous glee.
As homeward they were bound ;
They little thought the monster, Death,
Was lurking in the deep,
And they, so full of life and hope.
Should in the waters sleep.

In mystery their doom is sealed,
They did collide some say,
And that is all will be revealed
Until the judgment day ;
When the angel takes his stand,
To wake the waters blue,
And summon forth, by heaven’s command,
The ill-starr’d Persian’s crew.

No mother’s hand was there to press
The brow’s distracting pain ;
No gentle wife, with kind caress,
To soothe the aching brain ;
No lover there, no sister nigh,
Nor little ones to weep ;
In wat’ry graves henceforth they’ll lie,
Beneath the stormy deep.

Her gallant captain is no more,
He fills a seaman’s grave ;
Beneath the deep, off Huron’s shore,
Where wind-tossed waters rave ;
Unknown the spot, and hid from view
His manly, lifeless form ;
And stilled in death the tar so true.
Who weathered many a storm.

Daniel Sullivan, her mate,
A tar as bold and brave,
As ever was compelled by fate,
To fill a sailor’s grave ;
He will be weeped for as a friend,
Alas! his days are o’er,
He met a sad, untimely end,
Near Huron’s rock-bound shore.

Oh, Dan, your many friends will mourn
That fate did on you frown ;
We’ll look in vain for your return,
To your adopted town ;
We’ll miss the love-glance of your eye,
Your hand we’ll press no more,
For stilled in death, old friend, you lie
Near Huron’s rock-bound shore.

Her sailors’ names we did not know,
Excepting one or two ;
Down in the deep they all did go,
They were a luckless crew.
Oh, not a man escaped to land,
To clear the mystery o’er.
Until they drift, by heaven’s command,
In lifeless form ashore.

Around Presque-Isle, the sea-birds scream
In mournful notes along ;
They’re chaunting forth the requiem,
The dismal funeral song ;
They skim along the waters blue,
And then aloft they soar,
In memory of the Persian’s crew,
Near Huron’s stormy shore.

Why the tentativeness about identifying this text as the original? This book was published by Fennell in 1886, 18 years after the Persian went down.  He speaks of the pen-name “Shandy Maguire”, and implies that the poem was published under that name originally.  Since he is publishing it under his own name in this book, it would seem to suggest there is an earlier published text for this poem.  And of course, without tracking down that earlier publication, it’s impossible to say if this is his original text or not.  Still, if Cohen is right, this is a version of the poem published by its author.

Incidentally, Windjammers suggests this book came out after the Buffalo Express published an uncredited version on March 9th, 1887.  They suggest that was before this book, but if the date on this book is accurate, the book came out the year before the newspaper article.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Persian’s Crew

This one we added to our repertoire this summer.  Interestingly, the song speaks of the mystery of what happened to the Persian, and articles about the song indicate there is a mystery about what ship the song is actually about, but I think that both mysteries have been solved.

The schooner Persian (1855) has the right name, sailed from Oswego, and went down in Lake Huron on September 16th 1868.  She was even near Presque Isle, also mentioned in the song.  This seems like a pretty solid identification, though I bet more research can be done to shore it up.  (Newspaper clippings from Oswego?  Genealogical records of the two men we suspect were on the ship — Captain John Long (mentioned in newspaper reports on the wreck in the Chicago and Detroit papers) and Daniel Sullivan (mentioned in the song)?)

At any rate, the fate of that Persian is definitely known.  She was in a collision with the E.B. Allen, last seen heading for shore, but she never made it.  Her wreck was found in 1991:


There are even tantalizing hints that a movie may have been made about finding the wreck, but I’ve not been able to track that down yet.

Edited to add: I should make it perfectly clear that I’m not the first person to espouse this theory on the Persian.  Several of the sources I consulted cite Norm Cohen as having this same theory, citing an article in December 1969 New York Folklore Quarterly he wrote.  I’ve not yet seen the full article, so I don’t know what his evidence was.

After trying a bit of research on Captain Long and Dan Sullivan and coming up empty-handed, I decided to see if I could learn anything about the Patrick Fennel some sources allege to be the song’s author.  Doing so I found an 1886 book of poetry by Fennel which includes “The Persian’s Crew” as “Loss of the Schooner ‘Persian,’ on Lake Huron.”

PS After I wrote this, Jen found an interesting note in the October 17th, 1868 Detroit Free press:

THE BODY OF A SAILOR FOUND. — A day or two since Capt. Nicholson, of the propeller Montgomery, picked up the body of a sailor in Lake Huron, not far distant from False Presque Isle, which, without a doubt, was one of the lost crew from the schooner Persian, which went down in that locality.  It was decently interred at Presque Isle, where further information may be obtained; also from Capt. Nicholson.




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Red Iron Ore

We don’t sing this one (yet, I’ve been trying to convince the others for a while now), but I randomly decided to research the ships involved this morning, and I want to preserve my notes on it somewhere, and this seemed like a pretty good place.

I think we can say with some confidence that the E.C. Roberts is this ship — — the 1856 one mentioned in Walton et al.  According to the database she was owned by one H. Rumage from 1866 through 1873.  Given that some versions of the song speak of “Captain Harve Rummage” and that time period overlaps nicely with the periods of service of the Escanaba, Kate Williams, and Exile (not to mention 3 Minches), it would be a fantastic coincidence if the song were about some other E.C. Roberts.
The other ships:
The Minch is harder.  I’m guessing it’s
    Schooner Charles P. Minch
But based on the other dates I’m working with, it could conceivably be
    Schooner Anne S. Minch
    Schooner Sophia Minch
as they were both built in 1873, the last year H. Rumage was owner of the Roberts.  (Though if the song was written at a time there were three Minches sailing out of Cleveland, it would be a bit odd to not be more specific naming her.)
The Exile was built in 1867, so combining that with the time H. Rumage was an owner gives us 1867-1873 as the time period for the events of the song.  I don’t see any obvious way to narrow it down further, but I know a very good reference librarian who might have some other ideas.
Oh!  It just occurred to me, the 1866 owner is listed as “Rumage & Anderson”.  I’ve been assuming that was the same Rumage as “H. Rumage”, but there was also a Solon Rummage active in Cleveland shipping.  If that’s the Rumage of Rumage & Anderson, then we’d have narrowed down the possible timeline to 1871-1873.  But that’s pure speculation.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bay City Tall Ships Celebration

This year the Tall Ships Celebration is back in Bay City, July 14-17 (2016), and Whisky and Water is playing three sets.  In addition, our various members will be appearing with other configurations of musicians.  And there will be tall ships, pirates, and Vikings.  Should be a fantastic weekend.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Whisky and Water at the Great Lakes Gathering

Whisky and Water are playing at the Great Lakes Gathering in Saginaw, Michigan, at noon on August 22nd. Here’s our latest band picture, taken last night at rehearsal.

Whisky and Water

Here’s a set of tunes from the rehearsal, “Da Scalloway Lasses / Da Underhill”.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Whisky and Water Session Group at the Great Lakes Gathering


Photo by Will Westerfield.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment