The Hacketts of Boblo Island
Boblo Island at the end of the day. NRA
By Kathy Warnes
Modern day mariners and maritime history lovers contemplate the Edmund Fitzgerald when November winds roar wildly over Lake Superior and ships founder, but a storm on Lake Superior in 1905 blew through the lives of Mrs. Thomas Hackett and Mrs.Thomas Honner with the same impact. Like the Fitzgerald which was built in the Great Lakes Engineering shipyards in Ecorse and River Rouge located along the Detroit River, the Ira H. Owen capsized in a Lake Superior storm and the Owen too had intimate connections with the Detroit River.
Mrs. Thomas Hackett was Christaina Honner Hackett and the sister-in-law of Mrs. Thomas Honner. The fierce November 27 and 28, 1905, storm on Lake Superior claimed her brother Thomas, the third person she had lost to the Great lakes. Mrs. Elizabeth Duffy Honner, a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, knew and understood Lake Michigan moods enough to beg her husband Thomas to leave the lakes. He listened to her plea for a time, but once again surrendered to the lure of the lakes and went down with the Owen.
The connection of the Hackett family to the Great Lakes begins in Scotland and travels across the Atlantic ocean to Lake Erie and to a farm outside of Detroit. Part of the story centers on an island in the Detroit River called Bois Blanc, “White Woods,” or Boblo Island, named after the birch and beech trees growing in the region. An English corruption of the French words, Boblo Island is located directly west of Amherstburg, Ontario in the Detroit River on the Canadian side of the border. The island is about 2.5 miles long, 0.5 miles wide and 272 acres in size. The main north-bound shipping channel of the Detroit River lies between Bois Blanc Island and the Amherstburg mainland. A stone lighthouse built in 1836 on the southern tip of the island marks the historical beginning of the Detroit River navigation channel for ships traveling upriver from Lake Erie.
In the 1700s the French established a French Catholic mission for Wyandot or Huron Indians on Bois Blanc Island and it became strategically important when the British built Fort Amherstburg, now Fort Malden to guard the passage along the Detroit River. Guns from the fort could reach the island across the navigable river waters and secure it. During the War of 1812 Shawnee Chief Tecumseh used the island as his headquarters and Canadian rebel sympathizers used it as an invasion point during the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1838. The Bois Blanc Lighthouse, built in 1836, played an important navigational part in the Detroit River.
Bois Blac or Boblo Island quickly became the center of lives of James and Mary Hackett and their children. James Hackett and his family established strong ties with Bois Blanc Island from the time they arrived on the Detroit River. His father James Hackett lived and died in Scotland where he married and reared a family. His son James was born in 1787 in Aberdeenshire, Scotland and was a sailor on the Atlantic Ocean for many years where he had many adventures and survived battles with a watery death. One time Captain James Hackett’s brig carrying a full load of lumber wrecked in a storm. The people on board survived fourteen days without food and a French brig finally picked them up. As it turns out, the brig picked them up just in time because they were all so starved that they were ready to eat comrade who had drowned.
Before he left Scotland for Canada, James Hackett married Mary Riley who was born in Ireland and they had a family of ten children.
Captain Robert John Hackett.-Born in 1827. Died in Detroit, 1879. Great Lakes Captain.
Dr. James Hackett.-Lived and practiced medicine in Newmarket.
Captain Henry Hackett- Twin of Alexander. Born in 1821. Died in 1886. Great Lakes Captain. Built small ships on the Detroit River and at Owen Sound, Ontario.
On February 1, 1886, Captain Henry Hackett died in Amherstburg, Ontario at the age of 65. He and his brother, J. H. Hackett, organized the Northwestern Transportation Company in 1869.
Alexander Hackett twin of Henry.-a merchant in Toronto
Dr. Joseph Hackett-Practiced in Toronto and Amherstburg where he died.
Eliza Jane Hackett.. Wife of Captain David Trotter of Amherstburg.
Christiana Hackett-died at 16
Thomas Hackett-1840-1894. First master of the Ministique. His son Captain Ralph Hackett, was killed in a tug accident in 1895.
Andrew Hackett-Born 1845-Operated river tugs along the Detroit River and the Canadian Lighthouse Service. Took over the Bois Blanc Island Light from his father in 1872, and his son Charles took over as keeper from him.
Francis B. Hackett-Born 1842. Owned a number of tugs and small steamers along the Detroit River.
The Career of Captain James Hackett, Keeper of the Bob Island Light
James Hackett came to the Great Lakes in 1816 and began his sailing career on the lakes in the full rigged brig Wellington which was built and launched in October 1816 a short distance from Windsor, then called Moy. In 1817, Captain Hackett and the Wellington towed the schooner Axmouth, of about 30 tons burden and also built at Moy, to Sault Ste. Marie. The Axmouth had been built for the Northwest Fur Company and Captain Hackett had been designated to deliver her. When she arrived at Sault Ste. Marie, the Axmouth was hauled over the Portage on the Canadian side and relaunched into Lake Superior, which made her the first vessel ever taken over the Sault Ste. Marie portage.
In 1819, Captain Hackett commanded the schooner Champion, and during subsequent seasons the schooners Perseverance, Elizabeth, ,Victory, Brothers, Tecumseh, Good Intent, Sterling, and Erie and Ontario. Maritime records show that Captain Hackett lost at least three of these ships The Brothers sank near Port Burwell in 1833. He built the Perseverance which was lost in Georgian Bay in 1821, and the Sterling was lost at Goderich, Ontario in 1833.
In 1828, he owned and sailed the Alice Hackett, a wooden schooner. On November 4, 1828, the Alice Hackett, carrying passengers, household goods, and livestock broke up at Fitzwilliam Island at the mouth of Georgian Bay. Tradition has it that the intoxicated crew after freely imbibing liquor being transported by the local barkeep, drove her ashore on the southern end of the island.. The Hackett had been evacuating the military base at Drummond Island to Pentanguishene for the government. The passengers, their goods, the intoxicated crew, and Captain Hackett survived.
In 1836 Governor General Francis Bondhead appointed Captain Hackett light keeper on Bois Blanc Island and served as keeper until 1872. Family tradition says that Mary Hackett was responsible for her husband’s appointment as Bois Blanc light keeper. With babes in arms, Mrs. Hackett visited the Governor General and petitioned so effectively for the position for her husband that Governor General Bondhead immediately gave him the position and it stayed in the family for seventy years.
Another version of the story goes that Governor-General Bondhead passed Mrs. Hackett and the family dog “Sailor” one day. He admired the dog and asked if he could buy it. Mrs. Hackett said “No, but he could have the dog for the lighthouse keeping job for her husband. What ever version of the story won him the position, as a token of appreciation, James and Mary named a son born on April 10, 1842 at the lighthouse, Francis B. Hackett in the Governor General’s honor.
The Detroit Free Press noted the death of Captain James Hackett which took place on September 24, 1872. According to the Free Press, Captain Hackett was the oldest of the Great Lakes navigators and a man of strong memory and easily recited many interesting incidents from his life on the sea and on the lakes. The flags of the shipping were at half mast to honor Captain Hackett. Mary, his wife, and several of his children survived him.
Captain Hackett’s son Robert or Bob Hackett also became a Great Lakes captain and enjoyed the honor of having a tug named for him. The tug Bob Hackett was a wooden propeller driven steam tug built in 1869 by J.P. Jones of Amherstburg, Ontario and later owned by Odette & Wherry of Windsor, Ontario.
On September 8, 1885, the Bob Hackett collided with the Western Line propeller St. Magnus, bound from Kingston to Port Arthur, near the head of Bois Blanc Island in the Detroit River. Piloted by Captain George Odette, the Hackett was cut to the keel and took about three minutes to sink in sixteen feet of water. Luckily the St. Magnus picked up the Hackett’s crew, but the Hackett sank so quickly that clothing containing money belonging to several of her crew went to the bottom of the River with her. One man lost $160, another $15, and a third $20.
Captain Young of the tug John Owen passed up river and verified the report that the Bob Hackett was sinking and that her port light was just above water. The mate of the ferry Hope reported that the lights shown by the St. Magnus were very dim and could hardly be seen when the collision occurred.
The Bob Hackett had been sunk and damaged by fires several times. Within five years she was sunk at Windsor, Walkerville and Amherstburg, but always had enough insurance to raise her. She changed owners so often that it was difficult to keep track of her and there were many old outstanding bills against her or her former owners.
On September 6, 1887, the Detroit Free Press announced that Judge Horne had given his decision in the case for damages that the owners of the tug Bob Hackett brought against the propeller St. Magnus. The Bob Hackett and the St. Magnus had collided between Limekilns Crossing and Bois Blanc Island on September 8, 1885 and the Bob Hackett sunk and proved a total wreck. Judge Horne found the St. Magnus at fault.
The 1870 United States Census shows Robert I, Hackett, age 41, as a shipowner. Other people in his household were Allea J., 40, George A., 15, Mary A., 17, George H., 16, Robert, 14, Charles, 12, Walter, 2, and Honorre Shahan, 30.
The Canadian Census of 1881 lists Alexander Hackett, 49, as a merchant. His household included Margaret 55, and Emily, 19, Eliza, 18, Margaret, 16, and Alice 11. He and his brother Henry, were twins.
The Detroit Post and Tribune of May 14, 1880 reported that Captain Henry Hackett of Amherstburg had gone to Winnipeg to superintend the construction of a government lightship to be used on Lake Winnipeg.
Henry and Alexander Hackett were twins. Henry was born in 1832 at the lighthouse on Bois Blanc Island. The Canadian Census of 1881 lists him as age 49, a mariner; his wife Ida, 36, Franky, 15, and Grant age 13.
Captain Thomas Hackett-Great Lakes Captain-Born 1840.Died 1894.
According to his obituary in the Amherstburg Echo, Captain Thomas Hackett was one of the best known and most skillful masters on the Great Lakes. He died of heart disease at on September 27, 1894, about 5 o’clock aboard his steamer, the Volunteer, lying at the foot of Orleans Street in Detroit. About 11 o’clock the previous evening he complained to his son, Norman, of a severe attack of what he thought was neuralgia and Dr. Lafferty was sent for. He ministered to the comfort of the sick man, and later his wife Mrs. Christiana Hackett attended him.
Captain Hackett spent a sleepless night, gradually growing worse. He complained of terrible pains at the back of his neck which spread slowly downward until they reached his heart, and he died. Mrs. Hackett was present at his death bed. Captain Hackett was a large man physically, but had suffered from poor health in the last three years, his maladies being catarrh and heart weakness.
Captain Thomas Hackett was born on Bois Blanc Island, where his father was lighthouse keeper on January 6, 1840. He was a sailor from age 14, his early experience being on sailing vessels. He began sailing with his brother Henry on the schooner Conductor in 1854, and in 1859, sailed the schooner E.M. Peck. In 1860 he sailed the schooner Augustus Handy, which was lost in Lake Superior on her first trip. He then commanded the schooner Narragansett and after that went into tugging and was master of the tugs Zouave, William B. Castle and John Prindiville.
Twenty six years before that he superintended the building of the tug Torrent of Alger, Smith & Company and did his work so well that he was taken into the company’s service as master of the tug. Later he commanded the tug Vulcan and steamers Manistique, Schoolcraft and Volunteer, the Volunteer being the largest raft towing steamer in the world.
It was while in the command of the Vulcan in 1880 that Captain Thomas Hackett one day sighted the Detroit passenger steamer Marine City on fire off Alcona. He at once let go his raft, steamed to the scene and by heroic efforts in which he was ably assisted by his crew, he saved the lives of some 70 or 80 people. A few who had, panic stricken jumped overboard before the tug arrived, were drowned. This would have been the fate of the majority on board had it not been for the tug, for not another boat was near by at the moment, and the steamer burned to the water and sank.
The Vulcan’s bow was partially burned away. Among the passengers saved were E.G. Voight, the wealthy Detroit brewer and his wife, and he presented Captain Hackett and Engineer McCabe who has been chief engineer of boats that Captain Hackett commanded for the past 27 years with gold watches and the rest of the crew were given silver watches. Upon his arrival back at Detroit, Captain Hackett was given a gold medal by the citizens.
Coolheaded, calculating, prudent and well read in marine matters, Captain Hackett had no superior as a master, and was especially valuable in the raft towing business. He was married at Amherstburg on December 18, 1860, to Miss Christiana Honner, a sister of Captain T. Honner of Milwaukee and E.W. Honner of Malden, and resided on the river front below town on the farm now owned by N.A. Coste until he moved to Detroit about 11 years ago. He was a saving man and leaves his family in comfortable circumstances. He was a member of the A.O.U.W. and Shipmasters’ Benevolent Association. His widow survives along with four sons and one daughter. The sons are Ralph, Thomas and Norman H. of Detroit , and Percy of Alpena, Michigan. Thomas and Norman are still home as is also daughter, Augusta M.
The surviving brothers of the Captain Hackett are Alexander of Colchester South, Captain Francis B. of Amherstburg and Andrew of Bois Blanc Island. Captains Robert J. and Henry Hackett of Detroit, Dr. James Hackett of Newmarket, and Dr. Joseph Hackett of Amherstburg, have all been dead for some years. Mrs. Captain David Trotter, the only sister to attain womanhood, is also dead.
The funeral took place on Monday afternoon at Detroit and was largely attended, a number of relatives from this vicinity being present.
General Alger, for whom Captain Hackett sailed so long, said about him: “Captain Hackett’s death is a great loss to us all. He commanded our steamers from the year we entered raft towing, and was always placed at the head of list of captains and given the best boats to sail. I feel almost as concerned over the sad happening as though it had been a death in my own family, for he was an unusually conscientious careful man and made few mistakes. I have arranged for a general promotion in the line. Captain William Rolls, of the Gettysburg, will take command of the Volunteer, Captain Currie of the Torrent, will sail the Gettysburg, while Ralph Hackett, son of the Captain and now mate of the Torrent, will command her.”
Less than a year later, Captain Thomas Hackett’s son Ralph was going about his daily tugging duties when disaster struck. On July 18, 1895, Captain Ralph Hackett piloted his tug Torrent into the St. Clair Lake Ship Canal. As the Torrent traveled up the canal, she tried to avoid a collision with the steamer Yukon in tow of the tug Sitka and became entangled in the tow line. The tow line swept the deck of the Torrent stripping it of everything movable. Captain Ralph H. Hackett and the wheelman were instantly killed, and a watchman was knocked over board and drowned. The dead are: John Callanach, wheelman of Marine City, Captain Ralph H. Hackett of Detroit and David Kennary, watchman, of Port Huron.
The Yukon was in tow of the tug Sitka. After passing the Sitka, Captain Hackett noticed that Yukon was steering directly into his track. He was too near the side of the canal to turn sufficiently to avoid a collision. Captain Hackett thought the only way to save his vessel from being crushed by the Yukon was to attempt to cross the tow line from starboard to port. As he reached the line, however, it straightened out and was just high enough to pass over the deck and taut enough to seep everything off the Torrent, including wheelhouse, smokestack, etc.
Captain Hackett’s wife was asleep in her berth on the Torrent. The body of the Captain was brought to Detroit. Kennary’s body was sent to Port Huron. Callanach’s body has not been found.
Captain Francis B Hackett-Great Lakes mariner
Captain Francis B. Hackett was born April 10, 1842, at the Bois Blanc lighthouse, and his early lullaby was the music of the waves. He attended school in Amherstburg, and the age of seventeen was ready to try his fortune on the lakes. He began in 1859, as a boy on the schooner William G. Grant, plying between Chicago and Montreal, in the grain business. He transferred to the schooner D.R. Martin, still serving as boy, but next becoming a seaman on the schooner John G. Deshler. He built the tug Minnie Martin, which sailed for ten years and then purchased the tug John Noyes, and sailed that a year. He then built the passenger steamer Robert Hackett, which he sold after sailing two years, and then purchased the Lake Breeze which he sailed for one year and sold. During the following two years he sailed The City of Dresden, then took charge of the Erie Belle. After three years he bought the tidy little tug Home Rule, which he operates as a wrecking tug. His long experience on the lakes has made him familiar with all their moods, and few mariners have a better record as safe and reliable sailors.
On February 6, 1866, Captain Hackett married Jean Gordon, who was born in Scotland, daughter of John Gordon. Her father was an uncle of John McLeod, ex member of Parliament, and one of her sisters is the wife of J. Howard Hunter, inspector of insurance at Toronto. To Captain and Mrs. Hackett have been born the following children: Minnie, wife of Dr. M.E. Stafford of Detroit, has two children, Marjorie and Helen. Gordon, a dentist in practice in Detroit, married Lauren Hutton, daughter of Captain Hutton. Howard, a master mariner, in charge of the tug Florence, married Miss Elizabeth Vigar. Miss Annie is at home. The Canadian Census of 1881 records Francis and Jean Hackett and their children Mary 14, Gordon, 12, Annie, 7, and Francis H., 5.
Captain and Mrs. Hackett have a pleasant home situated on the river front at Amherstburg, in plain view of all the boats as they pass during the navigation season. Both are consistent members of and liberal contributors to the Presbyterian Church. Politically Captain Hackett is identified with the Reform party. Fraternally he is a member of the Masonic Order and the A.O.U.W.
Andrew Hackett succeeded his father James in 1870 as the keeper of the Bois Blanc Light and in 1901, Andrew’s son Charles succeeded his father as lightkeeper. The Canadian Census of 1881 shows that a Andrew Hackett, born 1845, lived at Malden in Essex, Ontario. Thirty-six-year-old Andrew was Scottish and married to Agness, age 34. Their children were Henry A., age 13, May S., 11, David M., 9, Andrew R., 3, and Charles R., seven months old.
Mrs. Thomas Hackett’s Brother, Thomas Honner
The family of Captain Thomas Honner traced its descent back to old Norman times, but his ancestors eventually settled in Ireland and his father Edward was born in Queen’s County, Ireland. Edward Honner arrived in America about 1822, and after a brief stint at farming in New York, he moved his family to Cobourg, Canada. Thomas was born March 2, 1845 at Cobourg, Canada and his father moved the family to Amherstburg when Thomas was about three years old. Thomas and his brothers and sisters were educated in Amherstburg schools and he became a sailor at an early age. After a few years on the lakes he realized that he had to further his education so he attended the school at Oberlin, Ohio for two terms.
In 1862, Thomas signed on with the crew of the schooner Narragansett and spent almost two seasons on her. After the Narragansett, Thomas served on several other ships including the Oneonta, Sarana, Thermutis, Sunrise, and Oakleaf. Then he switched to tugs in the Detroit River and served as wheelsman on the Prindeville and Castle. For two seasons he was mate on the tug Torrent, owned by General R.A. Alger. In 1876 he became master of the tug Hector of Detroit and spent two seasons on her. After that he took charge of the Castle for the same company.
His reputation as a safe and reliable captain was by this time well established, and he was continuously employed in that capacity for some time, serving one year on the tug John Owen, towing rafts for General Alger. He served one season on the tug Gladiator, two years on the tug, William A. Moore, two years on the steam barge Iron Age, in the iron ore trade for McMillan & Co. and two years on the Iron Duke for the same company. He served two years on the barge Morley which had been rebuilt at Port Huron and christened the Grand Traverse. On leaving the Morley, he became captain of the Wisconsin and remained there until 1896, when the vessel was sold to the Crosby Transportation Company. Since April 1898, he served as the Inspector of Hulls in Grand Haven in which his sound judgment has been many times demonstrated.
He left Detroit and married a Grand Haven girl. She had a dread of the water and it was at her desire that he gave up his sea life for a time and became inspector of hulls at Grand Haven. This position he held for eleven years. But his love for the lakes led him to the captaincy of the City of the Straits, which plied between Muskegon and Chicago. It was only lately that he took the position as mate on the steamer Ira H. Owen.
He makes his home at Grand Haven, Michigan, when on shore. He and his wife who was formerly Miss Elizabeth Duffy of Milwaukee, have three children: Belle, Thomas, and Elizabeth.
Captain Honner is survived by a widow and three children in Grand Haven. Her sister in law Mrs. Thomas Hackett has heard nothing from Mrs. Honner and she fears that the bereaved woman will be made insane by the blow.
The Ira H. Owen
Built at the Globe Iron Works in Cleveland, Ohio in 1887, the Ira H. Owen was a steel, bulk freight propeller. She went down in a fierce Lake Superior storm on November 28, 1905 near the Outer Island of the Apostles in Northern Wisconsin. Carrying a load of barley, she broke up offshore in 80-90 miles per hour winds and sank with all 19 hands, including Captain Thomas Honner.
The New York Times told the story this way:
The Owen Went Down with Nineteen. 32 Vessels lost in all.
Ashland, Wiscconsin, December 1st. The steel steamer Ira H. Owen, with a crew of nineteen, is now known to have gone down in Lake Superior in the great storm. Its commander was Captain Joseph Hulligan of Buffalo, New York.
The Owen was last sighted about 40 miles off the Apostle Islands when it seemed to be in a bad way. Then the snow shut it from view.
Tonight Captain Chamberlain of the steamer Sir William Siemens reported that ten miles east of the Outer island he passed a mass of wreckage including life preservers marked Ira H. Owen.
Four vessels were reported lost today, including the Owen. The tug Maxwell and scow with ten men are lost. This makes the total death list 45. The steamer Western Star was wrecked at Ontonakon and the Vega at Fox Island. The total number of vessels wrecked during the storm of November 27 and 28 will start at 32.
The Detroit Free Press reported the effects of the storm through the eyes of Mrs. Thomas Hackett. The story explained how she had already lost her husband and son to the lakes and now her brother had gone down with the Ira H. Owen. To make her situation even more desperate, her son Thomas was also sailing the lakes and all she could do was pray for his safety.
In her home at 411 Fourth Avenue, Mrs. Thomas Hackett mourns the loss of her brother, Captain Thomas Honner, drowned off the steamer Ira H. Owen. A cruel fate has pursued this woman throughout her life. When the ill fated Owen went down it took with it the third of Mrs. Hackett’s relatives who have met their deaths on the water. Husband, son, and brother are mourned by her.
Eleven years ago, Captain Thomas Hackett of the Volunteer, then head of the Alger line, died suddenly of apoplexy while his boat was tying up her dock in Detroit. Captain Hackett was a well known vessel man and was for twenty seven years the head of the Alger Line.
Eight months later the son, Ralph Hackett, was swept from the deck of the tug Torrent by the lines of the freighter Yukon, which was speeding through the channel of St. Clair Flats. His body was picked up a few days later, an ugly cut in his head showing where he had been struck by some object while he was hurled through space.
“Do you blame me for hating the sea,” sobbed the bereaved woman yesterday. “Think of losing my husband and then my son, and as if that were not enough, it has taken my brother from me too.”
To add the intensity of Mrs. Hackett’s grief, another son still sails the lakes. He is Thomas Hackett. Her nephew George Hackett is captain of the Fleetwood, and it is on this craft that the son Thomas sails.
“They say the Fleetwood is safe,” said Mrs. Hackett. “But I will not believe my boy safe until I hold him in my arms again.”
Mrs. Hackett did hold her son Thomas in her arms again when he returned from his voyage on the Fleetwood. The United States 1910 Census shows Christiana, 68, as head of a household consisting of Thomas H. Hackett, 37, Rose E. Hackett, 24, listed as her daughter in law, and her son Norman H. Hackett, 33, and her daughter Augusta M., 33.
 The 1870 United States Census states that Henry A. Hackett, 39, was a sea captain. He was born in Canada and in 1870 he had four children: Hellen, 13, Eva, 11, Grant, 5, and Frank, 7.
 Detroit Free Press, April 13, 1864. An Old Lake Pioneer
 Great Lakes Shipwreck File, Alice Hackett
 Francis B. Hackett biographical sketch; Commemorative Biographical Record of the County of Essex Ontario-containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens and many of the early settled families. Illustrated. Toronto: J.H. Beers & Co., 1905. Pp 558,559.
 Canadian Census, 1881
 Detroit Free Press, September 25, 1872
 Detroit Free Press, September 9, 1885.
 Detroit Free Press, September 10, 1885
 Detroit Free Press, September 6, 1887.
 Detroit Post and Tribune, May 14, 1880
 Amherstburg Echo, September 28, 1894, p.5
 New York Times, July 19, 1895.
 Francis B. Hackett biographical sketch; Commemorative Biographical Record of the County of Essex Ontario-containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens and many of the early settled families. Illustrated. Toronto: J.H. Beers & Co., 1905. Pp 558,559. Parks Canada, Bois Blanc Lighthouse
 Canadian Census, 1881
 History of the Great Lakes, Volume II. J.B. Mansfield, ed. Chicago: J.H. Beers & Company, 1899.
 Detroit Free Press, December 3, 1905.
 New York Times, December 2, 1905.
 Detroit Free Press, December 3, 1905