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The Wine Islands of Lake Erie


Constance F. Woolson

Harper’s New Monthly Magazine

Volume 47, Number 277, June 1873


“And glitters o’er the liquid miles

The jeweled ring of verdant isles,  

Where generous Nature holds her court

Of ripened bloom and sunny Smiles.”

                                    - John Hay


To the imagination there is something attractive in the very name of island. Robinson Crusoe on the mainland would lose the crown of his glory; it is the island, the island, that fills the boyish heart with wondering interest. For children of a larger growth Reade takes up the tale, and his hero and heroine -- but ordinary mortals in London -- are invested with a strange romance when thrown together upon an island; young love reads, young love dreams, and young love wishes,

" for thee and me,

A lone sweet isle amid the sea."


The representative Lady, type of the many isolated hearts who give their love to some unattainable ideal, lived upon an island; the Master whose exquisite words are like chords of music placed her, knowing what he did,


" where the lilies blow

Round an Island there below,

The island of Shalott."


“Isles of the blest!” sighed the ancients, as they looked out over the unknown ocean, seeing in the hazy clouds, of the horizon the purple shores of everlasting rest. And who among us, when traveling sad and weary over the waters, has not fallen into silence at the sight of far blue islands, mingling the Psalmist's wish, “O that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away and be at rest,” with dreams of the star islands in the sea of infinite space, whither we may be going after death, and where our loved ones may even now be awaiting us.


Erie is a dull lake, like persons one meets in life, neither beautiful nor ugly, neither strong nor weak, neither good nor bad. Its name signifies cat, given, say the first explorers, on account of the number of wildcats upon its borders; and as if this was not evil enough, the antiquated geography of Jedediah Morse, first published in 1789, describes the western end of the lake and its islands as so infested with rattlesnakes as to render it dangerous to land, acres of these creatures having been seen basking on the lily leaves which stretched in every direction over the shallow water. At the present day the cats and rattlesnakes --unless, indeed, we except Reade's and Holmes's personifications of them -- are gone; but the dullness remains, and we may sail from Buffalo to Cleveland, and from Cleveland to Detroit, we may cross and follow the Canada shore and back again and in all the 600 miles see nothing worth seeing save man-made towns, so that we almost wish the eighteen thousand years which the Boston savants have assigned for the lake's evaporation might dwindle to eighteen, and thus let the Ohio corn fields spread their green ranks across to the Dominion shore. For from end to end there is no beauty in it.


A Scotchman once rallied at the want of beauty in his betrothed. " Eh, lads," he answered, " dinna ye ken the dimple in her elbow"' And in like manner homely Erie has a dimple in her elbow, the group of islands in her southwest corner, as indistinct in the minds of most salt-water Americans as the Atlantis of the ancients. These islands, ten or more in number, varying in size from 2800 acres to a mere dot in the water, lie off Sandusky Bay, stretching out into the lake to meet their five Canadian sisters and the long Point of Pelee. The large steamers on their way up and down the lakes pass north of these islands, and generally make the passage in the night, and thus in order to see them one must go to Sandusky, and sail out over its bay in one of the little steamers belonging to the island fleet -- for these islanders are a maritime people and own a small flotilla of all kinds of craft, from a steamer to a sloop for a one-man crew.


Fishing boats, too, they have, in which they sail out to their fish-pounds, and come racing home wing-and-wing, loaded down with live fish crowded into their boat tanks. Then comes a lively scene, as the slippery creatures are thrown up into boxes standing on the dock, and so deftly is this managed that although tossed up with scarcely a glance, each squirming fish goes safely into his box, and is there transported into the interior, to be eaten by the farmers and their families; for here, as everywhere else, imported luxuries are preferred; the fish of the islands go into the interior; and the flesh of the interior goes out to the islands. The fish-pounds are numerous, and at night, when as the law requires, they are all lighted up, the water looks as though a fairy fleet was sailing over it, so low down and so bright twinkle the little lights.  Indeed to a steady-going mainlander who does nothing by chance, the island fishery is but witching work at best. He has, perhaps, spent St. Martin's summer among the vineyards, eating the grapes and drinking the fresh juices from the presses, which, as the old English verse says,


“Saint Martin afterward

Allowed to be wine--”


a most fortunate miracle for the health of the incautious drinker. But now he sees a cloud rising behind the purple mist; the Indian summer is over, and thoughts of the home fireside send him on board of the little steamer, which presently sails away, as he supposes, for Sandusky and the railroad.  Mistaken supposition! The little boat circles round in the archipelago, now going one way and now another, now slowing, now hastening on, now turning her head in-shore, and then suddenly backing out without stopping, until the bewildered traveler wonders whether a will-o’-wisp is at the bow. At length the charm is pointed out; it proves to be nothing more or less than a white rag.  This sign is hung out on the end of a pole, means “fish,” and as the catch is variable, and the stations numerous, the erratic course of the boat is explained.


It is within the memory of the generation now passing away that the Lake Erie islands came into the jurisdiction of civilization by means of a United States survey. Before that period their exact situation and size were unknown, and their few inhabitants were wild lords of the isles, beyond the reach of the law, who came occasionally to the mainland settlements to traffic away their rafts of cedar logs, but who lived generally by hunting and fishing, with just a suspicion of a taste for wrecking when the September gales threw a harvest along their shores. But when the Kelley family regularly purchased the island since called by their name, the largest of the American group, the day of squatter sovereignty was over, and the hybrid population, with its mud floors and no windows, slowly gave place to settlers of a better class -- slowly, since even now some of the islets are uninhabited, several have only a solitary family, and one, of course, has the traditional hermit who will not alIow a woman's foot to touch the sacred soil of his retreat. The Indian names of the islands are gone, and they now bear the hap-hazard titles given to them by the sailors and settlers along shore: “Ballast,” “Gibraltar,” “Sugar,” “Rattlesnake and the Rattles,” “Green,” “The Three Sisters,” and “The Three Bass,” “Old Hen and Chickens,” “Mouse,” “Starve,” “PeIee,” and  “Kelley's,” the last formerly known as “Cunningham's.”


The group has its page in history, a page which might well cause envy in the rich mainland cities cherishing a taste for historical societies, and burning for heroes to honor. Upon this page men well known in American annals appear, for the little archipelago has witnessed skirmishes and battles, plots and victories, in the past and in the present, for present still seems the war of the rebellion, although when we reckon them, nearly a decade of years has passed since its close.


First come the Indians. The story of the red men since the coming of Columbus is but a dreary series of wars and rumors of wars, broken truces, migrations, and never-ending trouble. Every plan has been tried, from gifts to rifle-balls, and every religious denomination has had an opportunity to try its moral suasion, while the impatient frontier soldiers and pioneers, who look upon Indians as so many wolves, have been held back by the strong arm of the law from the work of extermination. And what has been accomplished? Nothing. The few feeble successes gained at the expense of precious lives and heavy contributions of money cannot color the mass any more than one drop can color a fountain. The Indian question has become a weariness to the nation, and there is a universal skipping whenever the popular heading of “Lo” appears in the newspaper column. With the universal habit of mortals, however, we cherish an interest in what is beyond our reach. Let an Indian tribe vanish entirely from the earth without leaving a shadow behind, not even one chieftain to go as a deputation to Washington, not even one brave who refuses to live upon his reservation, and skulks around the settlements clad in the cast-off silk hats of the white man, and forthwith we begin to exalt the extinct race -- with the heart of an antiquarian and the pen of a novelist. It is only the degenerate, mind-fatiguing Indians of today whom we despise; no doubt the tribes of the past were of a nobler nature.


Among these tribes of the past there are none more completely past than the Eries, who have left scarcely more than a name behind them. They belonged to that remarkable confederacy of tribes called the Neutral Nation, dwelling upon the southern shore of Lake Erie, a city of refuge for warring parties on either side. To them belonged the right of lighting the council-fire of peace, a ceremony which was said to require a maiden hand, and for years they held their place, respected and at peace. Upon these western islands were some of their fastnesses; traces of their fortifications were discovered there by the first surveyors, earth-works built, apparently to enclose a village, with gates and sally-ports of wood, and in one place a quantity of new stone axes and arrow-heads stored away in a rude armory for future use. Picture-writing was also found, and one rock inscription upon Kelley's Island has been pronounced “the most extensive well-sculptured and well-preserved inscription ever found In America.” The Eries were at the head of the Neutral Nation, and at the time of the first French explorers they were in the height of their power. So much is known, but no more. The Iroquois called and swept them from the face of the earth. “Of course," says the student of lake-country history, wearily. “The Iroquois are as sure to come sweeping in at the last as Sir William Johnson!” The Eries were so utterly destroyed that the most patient investigator can only say, “They were, and they are not.” “Little besides their existence is known of them," says Parkman, whose histories are as reliable as they are fascinating -- an unusual combination. It is an evil, no doubt, to be unreliable, but oh, is it not equally evil to be a Dry-as-dust”


A century and a half passed, during which the history of the lake islands is involved in obscurity, and then upon the scene steps Tecumseh, who belongs to Ohio and Lake Erie, as Pontiac belongs to the lovely Detroit River, The chieftain is near his end when we see him; he is making his last speech on the shore of the lake near the islands where he has watched the smoke of the battle at Put-in-Bay, and although he suspects the defeat of his allies, he scorns to retreat, and covers the British general with Indian satire. Standing upon the beach, and waving his hand toward the islands, in the name of all the tribes he speaks: “Father, listen! Our fleet has gone out; we know they have fought, we have heard the great guns, but we know not what has happened to our father with one arm" (alluding to Commodore Barclay, Perry's antagonist, who had lost an arm at Trafalgar). “Our ships have gone one way, and we are much astonished to see our father tying up everything and preparing to run the other! You always told us you would never draw your foot off British ground, but now we see you drawing back without even a sight of the enemy, and we must compare our father's conduct to a fat dog who, when he is frightened, drops his tail and runs away! Father, listen! the Americans have not yet defeated us by land, and whether or not they have defeated us by water, we still wish to remain here and fight when they appear. You have the arms and ammunition which our great English father sent to his red children; give them to us, and you may go, and welcome. But as for us, we are determined to stay, and, if the Great Spirit wills it so, we will leave our bones upon the land of our forefathers.” For scathing rebuke and inflexible courage this red man's speech is admirable; and it was emphasized by his death in the first battle that ensued -- a battle which he knew was hopeless before it began, but which his single determination absolutely held in the balance until death struck him down. As the historian says, “When his well-known voice was heard no more, the battle ceased.”


The shade of the Indian has passed, and now enters the young commodore, who, upon the wild shores of Lake Erie, built a fleet from the trees of the forest, and almost nothing besides -- a feat which in the mind of a modern ship -- builder surpasses even the subsequent victory. With these vessels the young officer sailed up the lake to the islands, and there, off Put-in-Bay, he fought the battle of Lake Erie, September 10,1813, the British fleet surrendering before sunset, and thereby giving up the whole lake to American control. The story of this battle has been told again and again, in prose and in verse, in marble and oil. There is something in the motto which Perry hoisted just before the engagement which touches the popular fancy. “Don't give up the ship!” has become one of the people's sayings, and the dispatch announcing the victory, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours,” has been adopted into the military language of the day; only Grant's “We will fight it out on this line, if it takes all summer,” can compare with it. A deep principle often underlies a popular saying, as a deep feeling often underlies a popular song. Armies have ridden to victory on the chorus of a song, parties have carried a candidate into the White House on the wave of a saying. The class to which belongs George Eliot's Mr. Casaubon may, indeed, scorn any thing popular, but what are we all but people, and what is the world but the people's home!


After the battle the slain officers were buried on the shore of one of the islands: a willow-tree marks the spot. A remarkable incident, showing the power of sound, belongs to the story of the battle. A Cleveland pioneer was engaged that day in building the first log courthouse on the public square, when suddenly he was startled by a sound which he supposed was thunder. There was not a cloud in the sky, however, and the wondering inhabitants gathered on the bank of the lake, thirty or forty in all, and looked toward the west, whence the strange sounds came. At length they recognized the report of cannon, and knowing that Perry's fleet had gone up toward the islands, they began to realize that a battle was taking place, and after a time actually distinguished the American guns from the British, as the former were of heavier calibre. When, late in the afternoon, three loud reports were heard, evidently American, the listening band gave three hearty cheers, as sure of the unseen victory as though they had witnessed it from the shore of Put-in-Bay. The distance was seventy miles.

The next figures on the page of island “history” are the “patriots” of the Canadian  movement for liberty in 1838. Sandusky was one of their points of rendezvous, and the islands were tempting strongholds; near Pelee Island they fought a battle with a force of British cavalry upon the ice, a novel battle-ground.


And now we come down to our own day, and face a figure not ten years dead--Beall, the pirate of Lake Erie. This young Virginian, an officer of the Confederate army, was hung as pirate and spy on Governor's Island, New York Harbor, February 24,1865. The sentence was just, and its execution a necessary part of the discipline of war.  Yet now that years have elapsed, and we can review the past without that terrible personal interest that made our hearts burn within us, there is something worthy of note in the story of this man, who, young, wealthy, and educated, threw himself, as it were, into the jaws of death from sincere  though mistaken love for his native country.


John Yates Beall was a native of Jefferson County, Virginia. He graduated at the

University of Virginia, Charlottesville, and at the breaking out of the rebellion owned a large plantation in his native county; his property was estimated at $1,500,000, and in addition he was said to be the heir of an estate in England. In the earliest days of the war Beall organized Company G, Second Virginia infantry, and his regiment afterward formed part of the original “Stonewall Brigade,” under Stonewall Jackson. He took part in many battles, but it is his piratical expedition among the islands of Lake Erie which brings him within the range of our subject -- an expedition which ended in disaster and death.


It is well remembered along the lake shore; Buffalo, Detroit, and Cleveland were filled with excitement; the citizens patrolled the streets by night, and visions of piratical craft sailing boldly in and firing upon the defenseless houses filled all eyes. Exhausted Ohio had sent into the field regiment after regiment beyond her quota, but her northern frontier was entireIy exposed, and it seemed an easy thing to sail across from Canada and batter down her towns. Looking back upon it now, it still seems easy; and yet it was never done, although Canada swarmed with conspirators, under the leadership of Jacob Thompson, secret agent of the Confederate government. The United States had but one *at vessel on the lakes, the Michigan, a paddle-wheel steamer, carrying eighteen guns. The capture of this boat would enable a small body of men to carry destruction from one end of the lake to the other.


In September 1864, the Michigan was lying off Johnson's  Island, Sandusky Bay, which had been used since 1862 as a depot for prisoners of war; here were confined 2480 men, all, with the exception of about one hundred officers of the Confederacy, enough to command an a army of 80,000 men. The little island was h naturally uppermost in the thoughts of the rebel officers in Canada. It was near at hand, a steamer could run across in the night, and in the winter a land force could attack it, for the ice was strong, and nowhere was there more than five miles between island and island, stretching like stepping-stones across the lake from Point Pelee to the Ohio mainland. No other prison was on an exposed frontier like this, and were it not for the guns of the Michigan a rescue might be effected: the Michigan, therefore, must be captured. 


On the morning of the 19th of September the steamer Philo Parsons, plying  between Detroit, the islands, and Sandusky, left Detroit at the usual hour on her way down the river; at Sandwich on the Canadian side, four men came on board bringing with them a large old-fashioned trunk tied with ropes. As at this period there was a constant stream of fugitives crossing the border, fleeing from the draft, or coming back with empty pockets, this MaIden party excited no comment, and the steamer went on her way through Lake Erie, stopping at the different islands, and taking on a number of passengers for Sandusky.


After leaving Kelley's Island, the last of the group, suddenly four men came toward the clerk, who, owing to the absence of the captain, had command of the boat, and leveled revolvers at his head; at the same moment the old black trunk was opened, and the whole party armed themselves with navy revolvers, bowie-knives, and hatchets, and took possession of the defenseless boat. The course was then changed, and after cruising about at random for some time the pirates turned back to one of the islands -- Middle Bass -- and stopped at the dock.


While here the Island Queen, a steamer plying between Sandusky and the islands, came alongside, and, suspecting nothing, threw out a plank in order to land some freight. Instantly the pirates swarmed up her sides, calling upon the captain to surrender; shots were fired -- apparently more for the purpose of intimidation than for any real injury -- knives and hatchets were held over the passengers, among whom were thirty or forty one-hundred-days' men on their way to Toledo to be mustered out. The pirates were few in number, but they were well armed, and held both steamers at their mercy. The captain of the Island Queen made sturdy resistance, endeavoring in vain to cut the ropes that bound his boat to the Parsons; and the engineer, refusing to obey the orders of the pirates, was shot in the cheek. Resistance was evidently useless; the passengers were put into the hold, with a guard over them, and the captain was asked if many strangers had come to Sandusky that morning, and if there was any excitement there.


After some delay and discussion among themselves the pirates decided to exact an oath of secrecy for twenty-four hours from the women and citizen passengers, and allow them to go on shore, together with the hundred-days' men whom they paroled, and then the two steamers, lashed together, started out toward Sandusky, the captain of the Island Queen being retained, with the hope that he could be forced to act as pilot. When four or five miles out, the Island Queen was scuttled and abandoned, and the Parsons went on alone. A debate sprung up among the pirates as to whether or not they should run into Sandusky Bay; evidently something had failed them, someone had disappointed them.  At length the captain was again put into the hold, the boat’s speed was slackened, and she was kept cruising up and down outside as if waiting for a signal. 


Chief in command of these raiders was John Yates Beall: his appearance and manner rendered him conspicuous among the others, who are described, in the language of one who saw them, as a “mean, low-lived set; Burley, the second in command, being a perfect desperado.” In the report of Jacob Thompson, secret agent of the Confederacy in Canada, a document belonging to the rebel archives, the whole plot is related. There were two parts, the first being the expedition by water under Beall, and the second a conspiracy on shore, by means of which the officers of the Michigan were to be thrown off their guard, so that upon a given signal Beall could steam rapidly in, surprise them, and capture the boat. A cannon-shot sent over Johnson's Island was to tell the prisoners that the hour of rescue had come; Sandusky was next to be attacked, and after horses had been secured the prisoners were to mount and make for: Cleveland, the boats co-operating, and from Cleveland strike across Ohio for Wheeling and the Virginia border. The key to the whole movement was the capture of the Michigan.


The plot on shore was headed by a Confederate officer named Cole. As has been related, Beall performed his part with entire success; and had the other head possessed equal capacity, no doubt the plan would have been successful, and the whole North taken by surprise at this daring raid and rescue upon a hitherto peaceful and unnoticed border. The two thousand young officers riding for their lives through the heart of Ohio, where there was no organized force to oppose them, would have seemed like a phantom band to the astonished inhabitants. Even the famous raid of John Morgan, well remembered in the great red-brick farm-houses of the central counties, would have been eclipsed by this flying troupe, the flower of the Southern army. On the lake Beall would have held the whole coast at his mercy, and the familiar old Michigan, turned into a piratical craft, would have carried terror into every harbor.


But the plot on shore failed.  Cole spent his money freely in Sandusky, and managed to procure an introduction to the officers of the Michigan, inviting them to supper-parties, and playing the part of a genial host whose wines are good and generously offered.  The tedium of the daily life upon the steamer and in the small town was enlivened by his hospitality, and for some time all went well; but gradually he began to mar his own plot by so much incautiousness and such a want of dexterity in his movements that a suspicion was aroused in Sandusky, and his maneuvers were watched. On the evening of the 19th of September Cole had invited the officers of the Michigan to a supper-party. Everything was prepared for them, the wine was drugged, and when by this means they had been rendered helpless, a signal was to notify Beall that all was ready for his attack. 


 But in the mean time suspicion had grown into certainty, and at the very moment of success Cole was arrested by order of the commander of the Michigan, the signal was never given, and Beall on board of the Parsons, strained his eyes in vain toward Sandusky and Johnson’s Island, cruising up and down outside the bay, now talking with his prisoner, the captain, and now urging his men to dare all and make the attack alone. But the men, a disorderly rabble gathered together in Canada, refused to enter the bay; and at last, disappointed and disheartened, Beall gave the signal to turn the boat, and abandoned the attempt.


Back went the Parson’s, with her pirate crew, past Kelley's Island, where the alarmed inhabitants were burying their valuables, and looking for the flames of burning Sandusky; past Middle Bass, where the unfortunate passengers, watching on the shore shortly after midnight, saw her fly by, the fire pouring out of her smoke-stacks, and “making for the Detroit River like a scared pickerel.” The captain and those of the crew who had been retained to manage the boat were put ashore upon an uninhabited island, and after reaching the Canadian shore and scuttling the steamer, the pirates disbanded, and Beall, the master-spirit, was left to brood over a failure which had the additional bitterness of possible success.


In the morning the lake-country people woke up to hear the news. Incendiaries and conspirators in their midst, raiders by land and pirates by sea -- these were the tidings of the breakfast table. Batteries, soldiers, and generals were hurried hither and thither, stern investigations were ordered, guards doubled, and above it all rose the sound of popular comment in newspapers and on street corners, until the buzz spread through the nation. To be sure, the horse was not stolen, if we can the Michigan a horse, but there was an immense amount of shutting the stable door. And when the old steed appeared again in the various harbors of the lake, she was regarded with curiosity and redoubled affection as one who had indeed snuffed the battle, through from afar.


In less than four months, Beall was captured near Suspension-Bridge, and taken to New York.  An attempt to bribe the turnkey with three thousand dollars in gold having been discovered, the authorities sent him to Fort Lafayette, and while there he made an appeal to the bar of New York to undertake his defense.  For a time no one responded, but at length Mr. James T. Brady offer his services, and the trial began before a military court.  Beall was charged with the seizure of the steamer Philo Parsons at Kelley’s Island, Lake Erie; with the seizure of the steamer Island Queen at Middle Bass Island, Lake Erie; with being a rebel spy in Ohio and New York, and with an attempt to throw the express car off the track between Buffalo and Dunkirk, for the purpose of robbing the express company's safe. The officers of the captured steamers came from the West to identify him, and it is said that Beall frankly confirmed their testimony, remarking that as regarding the lake affair, the trial had been fair and impartial. In the defense a manifesto from Jefferson Davis was offered, asserting that these acts upon the border were committed by his authority, and should be recognized as the acts of lawful belligerents.


But the court pronounced the verdict of “Guilty,” and General Dix approved the finding, ordering the prisoner to be hung on Governor's Island, Saturday, the 18th of February. In reviewing the testimony, General Dix said: "The accused is shown to be a man of education and refinement, and it is difficult to account for his agency in transactions so abhorrent to the moral sense and so inconsistent with all the rules of honorable warfare.” In this opinion all just-minded persons will agree. And yet, as an example of judgment, mistaken but equally sincere, an example of perverted mental vision, take the farewell letter of Beall to his brother, written on the eve of the day appointed for his execution:

"….Remember me kindly to my friends. Say to them that I am not aware of committing any Crime against society. I die for my country. No thirst for blood or lucre animated me in my course…My hands are clean of blood, unless spilled in conflict, and not a cent enriched my pocket….Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, and I will repay.  Therefore do not show unkindness to the prisoners; they are helpless.”

                                                                        “John Yates Beall”


A short respite was afterward granted by President Lincoln to enable the mother to see her son; but on the afternoon of the 24th of February the execution took place, upon Governor's Island, New York Harbor, the prisoner responding to the prayers of the Episcopal service for the dying, but otherwise remaining apparently unmoved, One item in the newspaper accounts of the day is worthy of note. During the whole of the long proceedings before the execution, the young man kept his eyes steadfastly fixed upon the southern horizon, as if looking toward the very heart of the country for which he was giving up his life.


Beall was finely formed, about five feet eight inches in height, with hazel eyes, brown hair and beard, and a firmly compressed mouth. He was thirty-two years old at the time of his death.


The islands are now free from alarm, the prison barracks on Johnson's, in the bay, are gone, and nothing warlike remains save a few earth-works and traditions of the past, which mingle the stories of 1813 with those of 1864. Grapes are everywhere: the long ranks of the vines stretch from shore to shore, and even the talk is fruity. Grapes are fastidious in their choice of a home; here they will and there they will not grow.  One side of a field they accept, and the other side they reject, and in many localities they refuse to show even a leaf on the trellis. If the soil is unfavorable for the vine, no art can render it favorable. But here on this southern shore of Lake Erie, and upon its islands, the grape flourishes in unrivaled luxuriance, and even the banks of the Ohio, the first stronghold of the Catawba, have been forced to yield a precedence in many points to the northern rival. Many crops are useful, but few are in themselves beautiful; digging potatoes, for example, can never figure upon the poet's page. But everything connected with a vineyard is full of beauty, whether it be the green leaves and twining tendrils of the spring, the bunches slowly turning in the hot midsummer sun, the first picking, in early fall, when the long aisles, filled with young girls making merry over their work or the last ingathering of the Indian summer, when the late-ripening bunches hanging on the bare trellises shine through the vineyards in red-purple gleams as far as the eye can reach. Nothing can be more lovely than the islands in this golden season; Dionysius himself would have loved them.


The water is blue and tranquil, for even in a gale the fury does not enter here among the land-locked harbors; on all sides stand the islets, some large, some small, some vine-covered and inhabited, others rocky and wild; the trees glow with color, and sweeping down to the water's edge, send a brilliant reflection far out from shore; and over all is spread the dreamy haze of Indian summer, more beautiful when resting on the water, and deepening here and there upon an island, than it ever can be on the level mainland. A few sail are seen, generally the fishing boats, but sometimes comes a Lake Erie yacht from the shore cities, bound to or from the duck marshes far up Sandusky Bay.


Gibraltar Island, a mere dot in the water, is crowned by a villa whose tower forms a picturesque point in the landscape. This islet is a country-seat belonging to Mr. Jay Cooke, the banker, and upon its rocky summit is a memorial of Commodore Perry, overlooking the scene of the battle of Lake Erie. Upon Kelley's Island also there are some handsome residences, and no doubt they will be built all through the archipelago wherever a point or a headland can be spared from the grapes.  “Oh,” said our oarsman, as we floated near the Needle's Eye of Gibraltar, “my brother-in-law could have bought the whole island for seventy-five dollars!”


“Why did he not do it, then?” 


"Oh, he never thought as how the old rock would be worth so much; that was be- fore folks took to coming here, and there wasn't many grapes either."


Thousands of dollars are now asked for the smallest island.


Kelley's, the largest of the group, possesses, in addition to its vineyards, valuable limestone quarries, from which the furnaces from Erie, Pennsylvania, to Marquette, Lake Superior, draw their supplies of lime and flux stone. It has 836 inhabitants, five schools, and four churches.


Put-in-Bay Island has 600 inhabitants, and two large hotels, which are filled in the summer with Southerners fleeing from Missouri and Kentucky heat; they find Lake Erie air quite cool, while the Lake Erie people panting and oppressed, fly by on steamers, and stop not until they reach Mackinac or Lake Superior. Meanwhile the Lake Superior people make excursions to the north shore; and no doubt when the north shore is settled, the inhabitants win spend their summers at the arctic circle. The scenery of the islands is never grand, but always lovely. The tired brain is not excited to the work of admiration or wonder, but it can find restful pleasure floating on the quiet water in the shade of the cliffs, or dreaming away the days in the beautiful vineyards. We all have our moods when we ask, like the lotus-eaters,


“Why are we weighed upon with heaviness,

 And utterly consumed with sharp distress,

While all things else have rest from weariness?”


At such times the islands are like the “land in which it seemed always afternoon,” and coming here, the weary can fall “asleep in a half dream,” and take sweet rest after their labors in the busy mainland towns.


America has so long imported its wines that it hardly yet realizes the presence of a native production. The wine of the islands is of several kinds, the best known being the dry Catawba. The expression “juice of the grape,” however, misleads the ignorant, who fancy that grapes and a press are all that is necessary. This idea is like that of the young lady who, upon being asked how she would prepare a dish of baked beans, replied, “Why, put them in the dish and bake them, of course.” Everything has its chemistry, even beans; and wine-making is chemical science, whereof the very terms are mysterious to the uninitiated.


 But the grapes in heaped barrels and baskets are a sight worth seeing, and the presses, with the juice flowing out in a fragrant stream, bring the Old Testament to our minds, the days when the new wine was preferred to the old.  Down in the cellars of the wine houses, under the presses, stand rows of giant casks, and the superintendent fills a glass from each to show the wine in all its stages.  It is good – very good; and as it is native, it is cheap – cheap when compared with even the poorest imported mixture.


It has often been asserted that the inhabitants of a vine-growing district are never intemperate.  The purity of the wine prevents the excitement produced by vile compounds, and its very plentifulness teaches its proper use. There is no need to slip away into obscure places to get it; there is no need for deception or excuse. Everybody has it; everybody drinks it, and the fascination of rarity is gone. If this is true, the native wines should be brought into common use as an antidote against the deadly liquors which so soon blunt the heart and destroy the mind of man. Throughout the West already have they won their way, and gradually are they penetrating deep into the Eastern markets.  Not rapidly, however, for it was only last summer when, after ordering a bottle of dry Catawba, which by some chance had got its name upon the wine list of a fashionable watering-place hotel, the head waiter brought us “sparkling Moselle,” with the assurance that it was “just the same wine-exactly the same.” The statistics of the grapes and wine for one year will give an idea of the extent of the production:


Number of acres in bearing In Ottawa County and the islands: 2,082

Total product, in pounds: 7,462,750

Grapes sold, In pounds: 118,000

Number of gallons of wine made:  312,134


The grapes bring from five to eight cents per pound, and the common quality of wine at wholesale brings sixty cents per gallon.


There are good years and bad years, the vintage varying in quality and quantity.  Already the wine of such-and-such a year is offered to the guest with an air which would be foreign if it was not so entirely native; old-fashioned connoisseurs know all about the vintage of such and such a year, but in their day the vintages spoken of were all foreign.  They are not all foreign now. The native Bacchus is young and modest, but his followers will gather around him before long.  Already the native poet, America’s greatest has not been ashamed to chant his praises in the following verses:




This song of mine

Is a song of the vine,

To be sung by the glowing embers

Of way-side inns

When the rain begins

To darken the drear Novembers.



It is not a song

Of the Suppernong

From warm Carolinian valleys,

Nor the Isabel,

And the Muscadel,

That bask in our garden alleys.


Richest and best

Is the wine of the West

That grows by the beautiful river

Whose sweet perfume

Fills all the room

With a benison on the giver.


Very good in its way

Is the Verzenay,

Or the Sillery soft and creamy,

But Catawba wine

Has a taste more divine,

More dulcet, delicious, and dreamy.


Pure as a spring

Is the wine I sing,

And to praise it one needs but name it,

For Catawba wine

Has need of no sign,

No tavern-bush to proclaim it. 




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