Copper Harbor in Keweenaw County, Michigan — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)
"The Astor will never leave Copper Harbor."
Captain Benjamin Stannard
September 27, 1844
On Friday, September 20, 1844, the John Jacob Astor lies at anchor on these waters while crewmen maneuver small boats to unload its cargo.
By mid-afternoon, sudden gale force winds rip the vessel from its anchorage. When one anchor breaks free, the Astor whips wildly about on her second, smaller anchor until, in early morning darkness, it also fails to hold.
Driven toward shore on crashing surf, Captain Benjamin Stannard finds it "impossible for us to get her underway to clear the rocks."
Rough seas heave the Astor upon the rocks and batter her hull.
No Loss of Life
We are perfectly satisfied that had it been possible to prevent the accident, Captain Stannard would never have suffered her to go ashore; and it is most fortunate that no lives were lost, nor anyone hurt.
Ramsey Crooks, President
American Fur Company
November 12, 1844
Summoned to this
Then What Happened?
Leaving just one small vessel on the Lake, the untimely loss of the Astor sends shock waves through the western settlements just when they are stockpiling supplies for winter. At army headquarters in Detroit, there is concern that the Fort Wilkins garrison can survive the winter only by strict rationing of provisions on hand. It does, and, by September 1845, the Lake Superior fleet grows to nine vessels.
With the approval of its owners, Charles Brush, sutler at Fort Wilkins, salvages iron from the wrecked Astor. "This spring," he writes in 1847, "as soon as she got dry enough, I set fire to her and have collected a large quantity of spikes, bolts and bars. She is still on fire (some six weeks burning, as hard to burn as break)."
We have used our utmost endeavors to get timbers under her to haul her out on, but cannot raise her up to get them under and our chains and tackles are not of sufficient strength to haul her out without something under her to slide on.
Captain Benjamin Stannard, December 9, 1844.
Driven aground by the violent gale, the crippled Astor takes on water through its damaged keel.
Stannard stubbornly refuses to leave the Astor before trying again in late January to save her. But, already, there are reports that she will go to pieces, “doomed to leave her bones on the rocks of Copper Harbor.”
Battered by surf and ice, the John Jacob Astor breaks apart in February 1845.
Erected by Michigan Historical Center.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Disasters • Industry & Commerce • Waterways & Vessels.
Location. 47° 28.073′ N, 87° 51.95′ W. Marker is in Copper Harbor, Michigan, in Keweenaw County. Marker can be reached from Fanny Hoe Creek 0.1 miles north of U.S. 41. Marker is located along the boardwalk in Astor Shipwreck Park, overlooking Copper Harbor to the north. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Copper Harbor MI 49918, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within one mile of this marker, measured as the crow flies. "You will call her the John Jacob Astor." (here, next to this marker); Life on the Astor (here, next to this marker); "A Rallying Point for Copper Adventurers" (a few steps from this marker); Shipwreck (a few steps from this marker); The Copper Harbor Lighthouse (a few steps from this marker); The Estivant Pines (approx. 1.1 miles away); Fort Wilkins State Park and Historic Complex (approx. 1.1 miles away); Copper Harbor (approx. 1.1 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Copper Harbor.
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker. The John Jacob Astor Shipwreck
Also see . . .
1. Keweenaw Underwater Preserve: the John Jacob Astor. Claim to being the oldest known shipwreck on Lake Superior belongs to the John Jacob Astor lost September 21, 1844 near the dock of old Fort Wilkins. When she could not be refloated before winter, she broke up in the severe winter weather conditions. Her rigging and portable equipment were salvaged. Today, the remains sit in up to 35 feet of water. (Submitted on July 28, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
2. John Jacob Astor. Today, the remains of the John Jacob Astor are completely broken up and scattered. They lie directly off the old Fort Wilkins dock. Divers can expect to find scattered pieces of the hull, timbers and other small structural remains. The ship's main anchor and ribs were brought up by divers in 1976 and can be visited at nearby Fort Wilkins State Park. The wrecksite can be visited from shore and usually has fair visibility from 20 to 40 ft. An underwater "trail" has been mapped out to lead divers to widely scattered artifacts. (Submitted on July 28, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
Credits. This page was last revised on November 2, 2020. It was originally submitted on July 26, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page has been viewed 62 times since then and 12 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3. submitted on July 28, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.