September 4, 2012
The sloop was Friends Good Will, captured by the British briefly. The story of the Friends Good Will begins:
Oliver Williams was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, a village near Boston, in 1774. Undoubtedly, he grew up aware of, and hearing stories about, the birth of his young nation.
Oliver Williams later saw opportunity in the vast Northwest Territory. He opened a dry goods store in Detroit, Michigan Territory, in 1808. The inventory for his store, like nearly all finished goods, came from the east. He made two trips each year, overland. The trips were slow and the resources he expended were never anything more than a continuing drain against whatever profits early businesses in the cash starved frontier would permit.
In 1810, Oliver Williams took a chance. The gamble was not particularly unusual for men of his nature. Men did not conduct business on the frontier without an entrepreneurial instinct. He decided to build a ship. The vessel would use the only “highway” available – Lake Erie; Buffalo to Detroit, non-stop, direct. His inventory would arrive faster, and in greater quantity, and while the vessel was a substantial capital outlay, she would sail for years and could earn money by shipping goods the length of each shipping season. Other vessels plying the Lakes were finding cargoes and the steady stream of settlers assured volumes of cargo and demand for the ship would only grow with each coming season.
Oliver Williams built his ship at the River Rouge, on the banks of the Detroit River. A private shipyard was laid out adjacent to the Federal yard, where the army transport snow Adams, the only government vessel on the upper Lakes, was built years before. Other ships sailed past while this new vessel took shape, the schooners Salina and Ellen and the sloop Contractor. The sight of each of them only encouraged Oliver Williams. His idea had merit; his gamble would pay.
The new ship slid down the ways, in early 1811. He christened her Friends Good Will. While no one knows for certain the origin of the name, a coincidence seems too obvious to ignore. The name may well have been in honor of an earlier Friends Good Will, which transported the first wave of Irish immigrants from Larne to Boston in 1717. It is likely Oliver Williams knew her story and borrowed her name. His vessel, he likely hoped, would also bring waves of settlers to a new land of opportunity the Michigan Territory.
Read on for much more of the story of the remarkable story of the Friends Good Will including her capture by the British and subsequent adventures. See a video right here and definitely visit the Michigan Maritime Museum, online and when you’re South Haven for much more of Michigan’s maritime history.