The Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are a chain of freshwater lakes located in eastern North America, on the Canada – United States border. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth.

Introduction: The Great Lakes
Natural Processes in the Great Lakes
People & The Great Lakes
The Great Lakes Today - Concerns
Joint Management of the Great Lakes
New Directions for the Great Lakes Community

The Great Lakes contain roughly 22% of the world’s fresh surface water.  This is enough water to cover the 48 contiguous U.S. states to a uniform depth of 9.5 feet.

The combined surface area of the lakes is approximately 94,250 square miles - nearly the same size as the United Kingdom, and larger than the U.S. states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire combined.

The Great Lakes coast measures approximately 10,500 miles.

It has been estimated that the foundational geology which created the conditions shaping the present day upper Great Lakes was laid from 1.1 to 1.2 billion years ago, when two previously fused tectonic plates split apart and created the Midcontinent Rift. A valley was formed providing a basin that eventually became modern day Lake Superior. When a second fault line, the Saint Lawrence rift, formed approximately 570 million years ago, the basis for Lakes Ontario and Erie were created, along with what would become the St. Lawrence River.

The Great Lakes are estimated to have been formed at the end of the last ice age (about 10,000 years ago), when the Laurentide ice sheet receded. The retreat of the ice sheet left behind a large amount of meltwater which filled up the basins that the glaciers had carved, thus creating the Great Lakes as we know them today. Because of the uneven nature of glacier erosion, some higher hills became Great Lakes islands. The Niagara Escarpment follows the contour of the Great Lakes between New York and Wisconsin. Land below the glaciers "rebounded" as it was uncovered. Because the glaciers covered some areas longer than others, this glacial rebound occurred at different rates. Some researchers believe that differential has contributed to fluctuating water levels throughout the Great Lakes basin.

The effect of Great Lakes on weather in the region is called the lake effect. In winter, the moisture picked up by the prevailing winds from the west can produce very heavy snowfall, especially along lake shores to the east such as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ontario, and New York. The lakes also moderate seasonal temperatures somewhat, by absorbing heat and cooling the air in summer, then slowly radiating that heat in autumn. This temperature buffering produces areas known as "fruit belts", where fruit typically grown farther south can be produced. The eastern shore of Lake Michigan and the southern shore of Lake Erie have many wineries as a result of this, as does the Niagara Peninsula between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

Pirates of the Great Lakes

Captain Bully Hayes

Captain Bully Hayes (c. 1829 – c. 1877) -
was a South Sea pirate born in Cleveland,
Ohio, and is sometimes referred to as "the
last of the Buccaneers". He earned his
nickname "Bully" as a result of his rude
behavior toward his crew, although toward
others he could be very charming if he
chose to be.

Bully started his career near Cleveland,
Ohio where he sailed as a ship captain
and part-time pirate, later sailing the Pacific Ocean as a full-time pirate.

With his ship, Leonora, he mainly ran trading missions throughout Oceania specializing in rum and rifles, but he was not averse to "blackbirding" and "filibustering" (privateering).

The Leonora was shipwrecked in 1874 at what is now the Utwe-Walong Marine Park on Kosrae. Bully Hayes was murdered around 1877 by former crewman Peter Radeck, or "Dutch Pete", after a violent disagreement, his body thrown into the ocean.

The Colby Pirates

The Colby Pirates were a group of pirates that operated as privateers at the peak of the hostilities between Britain and France during the French and Indian war. They operated for the British King George III in the Great Lakes frontier of the British North American colonies. In the late 1700s, they were led by George Colby.

Unlike the pirates of the Spanish and Caribbean seas, the Colby Pirates operated largely without large and fast ships, using mock light houses to cause unsuspecting French merchant ships to run aground, making them easy prey. Once stranded, the Colby Pirates used small vessels to plunder the cargo of the helpless French ships. After the signing of the Treaty of Paris, King George III officially disbanded the Colby Pirates, revoking their status as privateers as their service to the Crown was no longer needed.

This action is the last known record of the Colby Pirates, and it is assumed that they were assimilated into British settlements in the Great Lakes region.

"Roaring" Dan Seavey

Seavey was born in Portland, Maine, in 1867. He left home at age 13 and became a sailor, and served for a short time in the United States Navy He moved near Marinette, Wisconsin in the late 1880s, where he married and had two daughters. The family later moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Seavey fished, farmed and owned a local saloon.

In 1898, Seavey left his family in Milwaukee to participate in the Klondike Gold Rush. He was unsuccessful, and returned to the Great Lakes region around 1900. In poverty, Seavey moved to Escanaba, Michigan and aqcuired a schooner, which he named the Wanderer, and began a career as a pirate.

Dan Seavey did sail the Wanderer as a legitimate shipping operation, but also sailed into ports at night to steal cargo from other vessels and warehouses. Seavey also kidnapped or transported women in the illegal prostitution trade.

Seavey was notorious for altering sea lights, either by extinguishing existing lights or placing false lights. The trick, known as "moon cussing," would cause ships to sail into rocks, where Seavey's crew could easily capture the cargo from the wounded vessel.

A significant amount of Seavey's profit was made from venison poaching and theft. A company called Booth Fisheries attempted to compete with Seavey's illegal venison trade, and Seavey attacked one of their ships with a cannon, killing everyone on board.

Roaring Dan Seavey's most infamous exploit was the hijacking of the schooner Nellie Johnson. On 11 June 1908, Seavey came aboard in Grand Haven, Michigan with a large amount of alcohol, which he offered to share with the crew. Once they became intoxicated, Seavey tossed them overboard and sailed the Nellie Johnson to Chicago, where he sold the cargo. The United States Revenue Cutter Service soon gave chase in the Tuscarora. Seavey, meanwhile, had moored the Nellie Johnson and was again sailing in the Wanderer. After several days, he was captured on 29 June 1908 and taken to Chicago in irons.

Seavey was arrested on the charge of piracy, but was officially charged with "unauthorized removal of a vessel on which he had once been a seaman." Seavey was released on bond, and the charges were later dropped when the owner of the Nellie Johnson failed to appear. For the rest of his life, Seavey maintained that he won the Nellie Johnson in a poker game.

At the end of his career, Seavey accepted a position with the United States Marshals Service, where he worked to curb poaching, smuggling, and piracy on Lake Michigan.

The Wanderer was destroyed by fire in 1918, and Seavey purchased a 40-foot motor launch. It’s unclear if he continued as a marshal or an outlaw, or both, but motor launches were a favorite of Great Lake smugglers when Prohibition in the United States began in 1919.

Seavey retired sometime in the late 1920s, and settled in the town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin. He died in a Peshtigo nursing home on 14 February 1949 at the age of 84. He is buried next to his daughter in Forest Home Cemetery, Marinette, Wisconsin.


The large size of the Great Lakes increases the risk of water travel; storms and reefs are common threats. The lakes are prone to sudden and severe storms, particularly in the autumn, from late October until early December. Hundreds of ships have met their end on the lakes. The greatest concentration of shipwrecks lies near Thunder Bay (Michigan), beneath Lake Huron, near the point where eastbound and westbound shipping lanes converge.

The Lake Superior shipwreck coast from Grand Marais, Michigan to Whitefish Point became known as the "Graveyard of the Great Lakes". More vessels have been lost in the Whitefish Point area than any other part of Lake Superior. The Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve serves as an underwater museum to protect the many shipwrecks in this area.

The last major freighter wrecked on the lakes was the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank on November 10, 1975, just over 30 miles (50 km) offshore from Whitefish Point. The largest loss of life in a shipwreck out on the lakes may have been that of the Lady Elgin, wrecked in 1860 with the loss of around 400 lives. In an incident at a Chicago dock in 1915, the SS Eastland rolled over while loading passengers, killing 841.

In August 2007, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society announced that it had found the wreckage of Cyprus, a 420-foot (130 m) long, century-old ore carrier. Cyprus sank during a Lake Superior storm on October 11, 1907, during its second voyage while hauling iron ore from Superior, Wisconsin, to Buffalo, New York. The entire crew of 23 drowned, except one, a man named Charles Pitz, who floated on a life raft for almost seven hours.

In June 2008 deep sea divers in Lake Ontario found the wreck of the 1780 Royal Navy warship HMS Ontario in what has been described as an "archaeological miracle". There are no plans to raise her as the site is being treated as a war grave.

Great Lake Trivia

Captain Bully Hayes - Click To Enlarge