James Davidson

After a relatively short career as a freighter -- in which it carried what was then the largest load ever on the Great Lakes -- the James Davidson ran aground on October 4, 1883 in what is now Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Last summer, a team of volunteers from Alpena Community College and Grand Valley State University used an ROV to investigate the wreck of the Davidson. Check out what they found! Special thanks to Tim Parsell for sharing this video with us.

Do you have video or photos that you've taken in a national marine sanctuary? Learn how you can submit it for a chance to see it on our social media here. (Video: Tim Parsell/ACC/GVSU; Music: Kevin MacLeod [incompetech.com]) ‪#‎EarthIsBlue‬


In the summer of 2015 a volunteer collaboration between Alpina Community College and Grand Valley State University met in Alpina, Michigan to collect videographic data of shipwrecks in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary on board the research vessel Nancy K. The following footage is from the bilge section of the course freight carrier James Davidson.

The James Davidson was a record setting vessel during its short life on the Great Lakes. Built in 1874 for owner James Davidson in Bay City, Michigan, this two deck, wooden bulk freighter measured in with a length of 230 feet 6 inches, a 37 foot beam width, and depth of 19 feet 6 inches. Propelled by a combination of three masts and a single cylinder low pressure steam engine operating a single screw, the James Davidson weighed in at 1,456 gross tons.

On June 23rd, 1874 the James Davidson was enrolled at Port Huron, and thus began a career for the vessel lasting only seven years. On September 18th, 1874 the James Davidson cleared Chicago with 60,700 bushels of grain. A month later on October 12, 1874 the James Davidson was loaded with 110,000 bushels of oats and buffalo and bound for Chicago. The captain claimed 101,315 bushels, the largest cargo ever carried on the Great Lakes to that point.

In 1877 the vessel was refastened and bishop arches were added for additional strength and capacity. Four years later the James Davidson was sold to St. Clair Navigation Co. in East China, Michigan. In September of 1881 the James Davidson left Duluth, Minnesota with 49,000 bushels of wheat, the largest load ever taken out of the port by a single vessel at that time. On October 4th, the Davidson was bound for Duluth from Buffalo with the barge Middlesex in tow when it ran aground on the southern end of Thunder Bay Island, severely damaging the vessel.

A month later documents were surrendered, and the Davidson was abandoned. Currently, the wreck of the Davidson rests in 35 feet of water in Lake Huron, just south of Thunder Bay Island in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

The remnants of the vessel have since broken into two pieces: a portion of the hull and the bilge section.