The Schooner "George Washington" And The Story Of Our Naming 200 Years Ago

A shift in navigation by the schooner "George Washington" in 1816 on the way to take reinforcements to establish Fort Howard in Green Bay would change the name of the northernmost harbor as well as this Island.

Early inhabitants to Washington Island and visitors had previously given their own name to this special place, such as Huron Island, Potawatomi Island, Isle de Poux by the French and the most poetic, Wassekiganeso.

After the Treaty of Ghent was signed and the War of 1812 was over, the Great Lakes were opened up to American expansion and trade. The merchant ships being built at this time were mainly two masted schooners about 70 feet in length and 100 tons register. The schooner "George Washington" was known as the largest of the fleet, but not many more details are known.

Artist Portrayal of the schooner "George Washington" by Patricia Cauldwell

Artist Portrayal of the schooner "George Washington" by Patricia Cauldwell

At this time, sightings of Indian bands were few but the visitors to this area proceeded with caution. The ship anchored in the harbor and sent scouts to determine threats and the crew was allowed to go ashore, staying for three days. Upon leaving, the name of Washington was added to the harbor and the Island.

Several of the ships crew have left their impressions and stories of their voyage but one of the most colorful was the Captain of the ship, Daniel Dobbins.


Captain Daniel Dobbins was known to have a "lordly, imperious disposition" and as an experienced sailor, was involved in many narrow escapes before being captured by the British during the war of 1812. He managed to escape, was taken prisoner again and eventually made his way to Washington, where he reported the surrender of Fort Michilimackinac and Detroit to President Madison. Madison knew the way to secure victory was to control the lakes, and he commissioned Dobbins to take preliminary charge of building a naval fleet.

Artist portrayal of Captain Daniel Dobbins by Patricia Cauldwell

Artist portrayal of Captain Daniel Dobbins by Patricia Cauldwell

In 1829 he became captain of the US Revenue Cutter Service which is known today as the US Coast Guard and retired in 1849.

He was credited during this time with helping slaves on their journey to freedom through the Underground Railroad.

Wikipedia: Daniel Dobbins
"The Naming" by Conan Bryant Eaton

Check out Harbor Tales, Washington Island Through The 1800's by Patricia Cauldwell for an illustrated collection of mini-stories and Island folklore in the early days of Washington Island.

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