1844: Capt. William Inman to Sidney Shepard

Capt. William Inman served on the USS Michigan on the Great Lakes, 1844-46

This letter was written by US Naval Officer, Capt. William Inman (1797-1874).  Inman entered the navy as a midshipman on 1 January, 1812, served on the lakes during the war of 1812-15, was promoted lieutenant on 1 April, 1818, and was in charge of one of the two boats that captured a pirate vessel on the coast of Cuba in 1823. He became a commander on 24 May, 1838, and was assigned to the steamer Michigan on the lakes in 1844-6. After being promoted captain on 2 June, 1850, he commanded the steam frigate Susquehanna, of the East India squadron, in 1851. From 1859 till 1861 he was in command of the squadron on the coast of Africa, which recaptured and landed in Liberia 3,600 slaves. He was promoted commodore and placed on the retired list on 4 April, 1867, and at the time of his death was the senior officer of his rank.

Capt. Inman wrote the letter to Sidney Shepard who had a hardware store at 66 Main Street in Buffalo with his partner, John D. Shepard. Sidney was just starting out in a business that would eventually make him the kind of sheet metal goods in Buffalo. In fact, the firm eventually became one of the largest importers of tin plate, manufacturers of stamped metal ware, and dealers in hardware and tinners’ supplies in the United States.

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Mr. Sidney Shepard, Dealer in Copper Iron & Ore, 66 Main Street, Buffalo

1844 Letter

Erie, Pennsylvania
May 16th 1844


Will you please deliver at this place as soon as possible the following articles as outfits for the U.S. Iron Steamer Michigan,¹ viz:

1/2 a dozen glass globe chimneys for and 1 dozen cylinder wicks for _____ & other lanterns, — for canal boat lamps.

Please retain all original orders.

From yours respectfully, — Wm Inman


¹ The USS Michigan was the US Navy’s first iron-hulled warship and was designed by shipbuilder Samuel Hart. The ship was built in pieces at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1842 and was shipped overland to Erie, Pennsylvania, where she was put together. While being launched on 5 December 1843, the Michigan slipped down the ways but stopped short of the water. Hart and the builders tried to force the ship into the water throughout the rest of the day, but the ship would not budge. As darkness came, everyone gave up and left. But when they returned the following day, they discovered that during the night the Michigan had slid down the remaining section of the ways and was floating peacefully some distance offshore in Lake Erie! The ship was retrieved and final construction began on the steamer. The USS Michigan was commissioned on 29 September 1844 and was almost 164 feet long, 27 feet wide, and had a crew of 88 officers and men.

The Michigan (which was armed with only one 18-pounder cannon) was built by the US Navy for the defense of Lake Erie against two armed British steamers that were based in Canada. The Michigan was based in Erie throughout her career and her patrols took her all over the Great Lakes. In May 1851, she assisted in the arrest of James Jesse Strange, who had created his own dissident Mormon colony on Beaver Island at the head of Lake Michigan. Strange was soon freed, but 5 years later on 19 June 1856 he was assassinated by two members of his “colony.” The murderers escaped to the USS Michigan for sanctuary but, for some reason, they were not arrested and were eventually freed.

Throughout the Civil War, the Michigan provided security and stability on the Great Lakes and made sure any British forces in Canada stayed in Canada. The Michigan also guarded against any potential attacks by Confederate spies or raiders who were plotting to attack Union ships on the Great Lakes. In the fall of 1864, a covert Confederate attack actually did take place. A Southerner named John Yates Beall, along with 20 of his men, boarded the steamer Philo Parsons on Lake Erie as passengers and quickly seized the ship. They then used this ship to capture and burn another steamer, the Island Queen. But in a separate incident, the Michigan’s Captain, Commander John C. Carter, managed to capture the Confederate agent for the Lake Erie region, Captain Charles H. Cole of the Confederate States Navy. After capturing Cole, Commander Carter discovered that Cole and Beall were going to use the captured Philo Parsons to free Confederate prisoners who were being held on Johnson’s Island (located on the coast of Lake Erie, 3 miles from the city of Sandusky, Ohio). When Beall discovered that Cole was captured and that the plot had been revealed, he took the Philo Parsons to Sandwich, Canada, and had her stripped and burned. After the failure of this mission, no further raids were attempted by Southerners on the Great Lakes.

After the Civil War, the Michigan continued patrolling the Great Lakes. On 17 June 1905, she was renamed USS Wolverine to free up her name for a new battleship that was being built. The Wolverine was decommissioned on 6 May 1912 and was turned over to the Pennsylvania Naval Militia as a training ship. She functioned in this capacity for the next 11 years. On 12 August 1923, a major engine breakdown ended the ship’s naval career. In 1927, the Wolverine was pushed up onto a sandbank in Erie Harbor and loaned to the City of Erie as a relic. She was sold to the Foundation for the Preservation of the Original USS Michigan on 19 July 1948. But when not enough money could be obtained to preserve and restore the ship, the Wolverine was cut up and sold for scrap in 1949. It was a sad end for the US Navy’s first iron-hulled warship, which had survived for more than 100 years.  (Source: Blog on Naval Warfare)

Notes on Capt. William Inman:

1812, William Inman, a Midshipman, was pad $19, a month for 2 rations a day.
1818, William Inman was on the Frigate Congress.
1819-20, Lt. William Inman was paid $40 a month with 3 rations a day. He was on the Brig Spark.
1821, Lt. William Inman was on the Franklin ( 74 Guns. )
1822, Lt. William Inman was on the Schooner Alligator.
1823, Lt. William Inman was at the West India Station.
1824, Lt. William Inman was stationed at New York on the Washington ( 74. Guns. )
1825-7, Lt. William Inman was on Leave of absence. Born in New York but his home was in New Jersey.
1828. Lt. William Inman was at the New York station.
1829-30 Lt. William Inman was at Rendezvous, Carllsle, Pa.
1831, Lt. William Inman was on the Sloop Concord.
1832-4, Lt. William Inman was on Leave of absence.
1835-6, Lt. William Inman was on the Frigate Brandywine.

Midshipman, 1 January, 1812. Lieutenant, 1 April, 1818. Commander, 24 May, 1838. Captain, 2 June, 1850. Reserved List, 13 September, 1855. Commissioned Captain on Active List from 2 June, 1850. Retired List, 1 December, 1861. Commodore, Retired List, 4 April, 1867. Died 23 October, 1874.

Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789-1873, — THURSDAY, January 31, 1856.

The memorial of William Inman, a captain in the navy, who has been placed upon the reserved list, complaining that injustice has been done him, and appealing to Congress for redress.

Washington, December 20, 1858: William Inman, a captain on the reserved list on leave pay, to the active list, to take rank next after Captain Josiah Tattnall.


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