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 — http://greatlakeships.org/2897492/data?n=64 — 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:
Tug Kate Williams: http://greatlakeships.org/2897492/data?n=64
Tug Escanaba: http://greatlakeships.org/2901197/data?n=1
Schooner Exile: http://greatlakeships.org/2900874/data?n=1
The Minch is harder. I’m guessing it’s
Schooner Charles P. Minch: http://greatlakeships.org/2903457/data?n=3
But based on the other dates I’m working with, it could conceivably be
Schooner Anne S. Minch: http://greatlakeships.org/2903457/data?n=3
Schooner Sophia Minch: http://greatlakeships.org/2902718/data?n=7
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.