Jesse Wells Church Papers

Identifier: GLMS-0010

Collection Overview


This collection is composed of a business journal maintained by Jesse W. Church and other family members to record financial and other aspects of shipbuilding activities operated at Sugar Island, Michigan. The entries date from 1853-1895 and 1903. Cost figures for supplies, design plans, sketches of boats, and brief histories of some of the vessels are included. The Church boatyard specialized in sailing vessels of under fifty feet in length. Many Mackinaw boats were built at the Sugar Island work site. Some steam vessels were also designed by the Church family. Floor plans and elevations for some of the houses on Sugar Island are also included.


  • 1853-1895
  • Digitized: 2016


.5 Cubic Feet (1 flat box)

1 Reels (1 reel of 35mm microfilm)


Scope and Contents

The Jesse Wells Church Collection contains a journal maintained for the Church family shipbuilding business on Sugar Island, Michigan from 1853 to 1895. Church resided in Church's Landing on Sugar Island and in left by the Church family give details and specifications for boats that generally were skiffs or other small sailing vessels under fifty feet in length. Many of the Mackinaw boats were built by the Church family.

The collection frequently records sail rig plans, vessel sketches, account statements for projects, and notes on whether a boat was patterned after an earlier design. For example, on page 150 it is noted that hull no. 28 was built on the same frames as hull no. 10. Use of hull or boat histories can be complicated in that some boats were built from parts salvaged from other vessels. Sails and planking were frequently transferred from one Mackinaw boat to another.

Appearing with the vessel materials are sketches of the buildings at Church's Landing and related floor plans. Photographs of the Sugar Island structures dating from the early twentieth century are available in the HCGL's photograph collection. A few houses at Harbor Island and Traverse City were also sketched in the collection.

The journal has been microfilmed and was disbound for the procedure. The pages have been separated into leaves with four pages per leaf. Each leaf has been encapsulated for conservation purposes. The leaves are stored in a one-half cubic foot container.

Biographical Sketch

Jesse Wells Church was born in Byron, Genesee County, New York on September 8, 1838 and died on June 7, 1911 in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Church's parents, Philetus and Elizabeth, brought their family to Mackinac Island, Michigan in 1845 and moved to Sugar Island in the St. Mary's River near Sault Ste. Marie in 1846. Philetus Church began the shipbuilding company that Jesse Church later operated. Many of the early Church employees were Ojibwas and Jesse learned their language as a child. An interest in the welfare of the Ojibwa caused Jesse Church to combine his varied talents in forms beneficial to his lifelong friends. When Jesse Church ran the shipbuilding company, Ojibwas learned carpentry and other skills. When Church became a doctor, he spent much of his time treating Ojibwa patients. After marrying Rosalie LaSage in 1865, the Indian ancestry of his wife prompted an interest in education for Ojibwa children while he was raising what became a family of four daughters and four sons. Later in life Church published Ojibwa legends told to him by friends to preserve that part of traditional Ojibwa culture.

Church's shipbuilding career was characterized primarily by designing skiffs and other vessels of less than fifty feet in length. Many of the Mackinaw boats used for commercial fishing and hauling small freight cargoes were built by Church's company. Working with Ned Pero and other French Canadians, Church designed new variations on Mackinaw boats to meet requirements for sailing on the St. Mary's River and the open lakes. Church did build some steam vessels as well as sailing vessels. An interest in the development of propulsion systems led to an active correspondence with the editor of The Scientific American magazine regarding screw propeller design.

In other sidelines, Jesse Church was a census enumerator and deputy customs collector. Church measured boats for official registration purposes. Participation in Republican Party activities marked his political interests.

Conditions Governing Access

No known access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers using this collection assume full responsibility for conforming to the laws of libel, privacy, and copyright, and are responsible for securing permissions necessary for publication or reproduction.

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Related Materials

Photographs of some the Sugar Island structures featured in the journal are available in GLMS 120-Main Photograph collection. The photographs date from the early twentieth century.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The journal was loaned to the Center for Archival Collections for microfilming by Sally Landreville in 1978. Landreville wanted it to be available to the public, but did not yet want to part with the original. The original Church journal was later purchased by Great Lakes researcher Henry Barkhausen and donated to the Historical Collections of the Great Lakes on October 5, 1984.

Processing Information

Final processing was completed in November 1991 by Mark J Barnes.

Guide to the Jesse Wells Church Papers
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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