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Great Lakes pirate sailed his way into Michigan legend with booty of timber and venison

Mar 6, 2017

 

This was the mug shot of Dan Seavey which appeared in the Chicago Daily News in June 1908. A handwritten note on the photo, when held up to a mirror, clearly translates: "Dan Seavey--Lake Pirate."
Credit DOOR COUNTY MARITIME MUSEUM

Dan Seavey wasn’t the only jolly pirate who commandeered ships on the Great Lakes, but he may have been the “jolliest.”

 

Writer Scott Atkinson published a story about Seavey in Hour Detroit late last year. According to Atkinson, the legends about Seavey – like the myth that he was the only person prosecuted for piracy in Michigan – are not necessarily true. But the swindler’s larger-than-life story remains compelling today.

 

The pirate’s booty on the Great Lakes wasn’t gold or silver. Instead, Seavey stole ships full of lumber and illegal venison, commodities he hoped to sell in lakeside cities like Chicago. Still, Atkinson said, these pure Michigan pirate tales are just as glamorous as any Johnny Depp blockbuster.

 

Seavey was a fierce fighter who once killed a man by flipping a piano onto him. But he was “an even fiercer drinker,” Atkinson said. The pirate left his rivals too inebriated to stand.

Seavey was a fierce fighter and an even fiercer drinker.

Before he was finally captured, Seavey led marshals on a wild cat-and-mouse across Lake Michigan. While his pursuers used steam power, Seavey fled in a sailboat. It was “just him and the wind,” Atkinson said, which struck the writer as “very pirate-y.”

Even after his apprehension, Seavey reportedly never spent a day in jail for his actions. Still, his ending wasn’t so swashbuckling. Atkinson said the pirate died very poor in a Wisconsin nursing home. Despite this, the mythology of the Roaring Dan Seavey lives on. Atkinson said “we associate pirates with a free life," with "sailing the seas, attached to nothing, doing whatever they want, taking whatever they want.” That kind of legend is hard to sink.

Hear more about Great Lakes pirate Roaring Dan Seavey in the interview above.

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