Thomas Friant (1884)
Historic image of Thomas Friant as a passenger steamer with enclosed bow
Historic image of Thomas Friant as a fish tug
By The Numbers
Lives Lost
Depth (ft)
Service History

The wooden fishing/packet ferry Thomas Friant was built by Duncan Robertson & Company in Grand Haven, Michigan in 1884. The official number was 145380. The vessel was propelled by a high pressure non-condensing steam engine with a single cylinder and one firebox boiler seven feet by twelve feet.

Originally the Friant ran as a ferry on the Grand River at Grand Haven, Michigan. Shortly there after the vessel assumed the lake routes between Grand Haven, Harbor Springs and Waukegan. By 1900 the Friant was moved to the Keewanaw Waterway and then moved again to Sault Ste. Marie. It was here in December of 1908, while docked for the winter, that she burnt to the waters edge. The damage was so near total that she was removed from documentation on December 29th. Eventually, the vessel was rebuilt as a fish tug for duty off of Marquette, Michigan in 1911.

In 1923. major changes were made to the vessel including enclosing the decks and adding a raised pilot house on the upper deck thus making the Thomas Friant look like a typical fish tug. About this time, the Thomas Friant had been purchased by her final owners, Einar Miller and Halvor Reiten and moved to Bayfield, Wisconsin to originally be used as a coastal steamer hauling package freight on the south shore of Lake Superior. It wasn't long before the vessel was finally used for a fishing tug engaging in gill fishing between the north and south shores of Lake Superior, between Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Final Voyage

Early January 1924, six commercial fisherman from Cornucopia, Wisconsin, hired Captain Einar Miller to take them out on the south shore of Superior to do some deep water netting in his fishing tug Thomas Friant. The temperature dropped well below zero and ice was forming on the lake. They sheltered in Squaw Bay (nothwest of Cornucopia, Wisconsin in Lake Superior) for the night and the next day when they were about nine miles from Port Wing, Wisconsin when between the water leaks and the ice damaging the hull the vessel began to settle and the fire put out in the boiler. Luckily, the lake was smooth and they launched a small boat and managed to row twelve miles to the town of Knife River on the north shore about nineteen miles northeast of Duluth.

The abandoned Thomas Friant sunk somewhere about thirteen miles southeast of Two Harbors, over 300 feet of water. Captain Miller lost his vessel and the fisherman lost all their fishing equipment, but their lives had been spared.

In 2004, divers from Minnesota found what they thought was the freighter Robert Wallace in Lake Superior in over 300 feet of water about thirteen miles southeast of Two Harbors, Minnesota in Wisconsin waters. After researching what they found, they discovered the vessel was actually the Thomas Friant. According to Thom Holden, director of the Lake Superior Maritime Visitors Center, it was an important find because it had local connections with the fishing community around Bayfield and the Apostle Islands.
© 2022 - Wisconsin Sea Grant, Wisconsin Historical Society