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Rising Sun: An Account of a Great Lakes Shipwreck

Through his travels and reading, Chris gathers information and writes about historical events and concepts that are often overlooked.

About This Article

This article concerns the shipwreck of a Great Lakes steamer called the Rising Sun in 1917. Historical information, an interactive map of the final voyage and photos donated by a reader of this article are included. I've also written a brief historical fiction account of the final voyage of the Rising Sun.

Rising Sun as she was prior to October 29, 1917


Contribution of Photos by a Reader of This Article

This and other photos of the Rising Sun were passed on to me by a reader of this article. He felt the photos would enhance the article, and I believe he was right. Thanks Thomas Meldrim.

In mid October 1917, the Great Lakes Steamer, Rising Sun, was docked at High Island (a.k.a. Summer Island) in Lake Michigan. The island is located 34.4 miles northwest of Charlevoix, Michigan. The Island and the boat were owned by a religious group known as The House of David. Members of the sect would be the passengers that day and the products of their summer labor on the island would be the cargo. Three thousand bushels of potatoes and forty thousand feet of lumber were stowed in the boat’s hold.

About the Great Lakes Steamer, Rising Sun

Originally named Minnie M, she was renamed Rising Sun by The House of David in 1913. Rising Sun was a one hundred thirty-three foot wooden steamer with a 33 foot beam and a draft of ten feet eight inches. She had been built in 1884 in Detroit by John Oades. As the boat floated at the dock, Captain Charles Morrison and seventeen passengers and crew members boarded. They were bound for Benton Harbor, Michigan where the passengers would live for the winter.

The House of David

The House of David was led by Benjamin Purnell, who claimed to be God as well as the younger brother of Jesus. His nine hundred followers referred to him as King Ben. The men of the sect were required to remain unshaven, wearing long flowing beards. While there is nothing left of the group now, The House of David had a long history, dating back to 1620. King Ben took leadership in 1903. The sect was known worldwide for its five baseball teams, farms, factories, an amusement park, art work, a band, and a museum located in Benton Harbor. By 1926 King Ben had built a ten million dollar fortune.

Cargo Aboard the Rising Sun on Her Final Voyage

Included among the cargo of the Rising Sun were these to gambling machines.

Included among the cargo of the Rising Sun were these to gambling machines.

The Crew Aboard the Rising Sun

The crew aboard the Rising Sun.

The crew aboard the Rising Sun.

Relevant locations during the final voyage of Rising Sun

Rising Sun Docked at High Island in Lake Michigan


The Final Voyage

A small contingent of the religious group, The House of David, settled in on the Rising Sun for the trip from High Island to Benton Harbor, Michigan. Their cargo was safely stoed in the boat's hold. As they approached the village of Charlevoix, a sudden and blinding snowstorm struck.

The Captain attempted to reach Charlevoix, but the storm forced the steamer past the safe harbor. Rising Sun was driven into Manitou Passage, a corridor between the Michigan mainland on the southeast and the Manitou Islands to the Northwest. This was a tricky part of the trip in good weather, but in the snowstorm, it was impossible for Captain Morrison to see the Pyramid Point Shoal, an area of submerged and partially submerged erratic boulders.

Rising Sun struck the rocks, losing both its rudder and propeller. As the engine room flooded, the fierce wind shunted the boat toward the shoreline and grounded it several hundred yards west of Pyramid Point. Through the blackness and fury of a tumultuous night, passengers and crew escaped in two lifeboats. The wind and waves tossed them aimlessly and mercilessly until one of the crafts capsized. The people clung to the overturned hull in the violent and freezing storm, until it drifted to shore. No one noticed at the time that one of the crew was missing.

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While some of the men climbed the two hundred and fifty feet up Pyramid Point to seek help, the rest spent the night on the beach. As of 2001, a woman living in the Port Oneida farming community south of Pyramid Point still remembered when, as a four year old girl, the men of the Rising Sun spent the night at her house.

Rescue of the Crew and Passengers of the Rising Sun

The following morning, a rescue team aboard a surf boat arrived from Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station, seven miles to the southwest. They found the Rising Sun breaking apart. They also found the missing crew member, a man named Putnam, alive and well aboard the boat. He had slept through the whole ordeal.

Most of the passengers continued on to Benton Harbor leaving two behind to camp on the beach while fishing and salvaging what they could of the boat and her cargo.

Photo of the Rising Sun After striking Rocks During a Storm


Attempt to Salvage the Cargo of the Rising Sun

Men remained behind and were joined by others from Benton Harbor, Michigan to attempt to salvage the cargo of the boat.

Men remained behind and were joined by others from Benton Harbor, Michigan to attempt to salvage the cargo of the boat.

Video of Rising Sun where she lies today. Video by Weston Buchan. Used by permission. Thanks Weston

Boiler of the Rising Sun as it is Today

The boiler of Rising Sun as seen from the beach where the passengers would have been watching the boat after the wreck.

The boiler of Rising Sun as seen from the beach where the passengers would have been watching the boat after the wreck.

Great Lakes Shipwrecks Viewed form Coast Guard Helicopter

© 2012 Chris Mills


Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 12, 2020:

Brenda and Shauna, I'm sorry for missing your comments for so long. Brenda, I am glad you enjoyed the article. Many of the photos were donated by someone who read the article. What a great gift.

Shauna, In the 1920s, Benjamin Purnell was accused by 13 women of having sexual relations with them while they were minors. The Detroit Free Press and other newspapers published articles that were critical of Purnell. King Ben died in 1927. In 1930, his wife, Mary, along with others, purchased land and built and organized Mary's City of David. As of 2010, there were three members of the group living.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 29, 2020:

Wow, Chris. It's amazing that the missing passenger was alive and well on the shattered ship and slept thru it all! Sounds like he was probably passed out.

Interesting story. So, what happened to The House of David that they no longer exist?

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on May 28, 2020:


I followed this link from your poem written from Ann Carr's challenge.

This is quite interesting. I had never heard of this before and I live in Ohio.

The pictures really do this article justice.

Thanks for Sharing.

Have a great day.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on May 04, 2020:

Glass Half Empty, You are correct. I'm not sure how I made that error, but I thank you for letting me know. Thank you for reading my article.

Glass Half Empty on May 04, 2020:

Your article is very interesting, but I need to point out one factual error. The article mentions High Island, saying the island is located 70 miles NW of Charlevoix. In fact, High Island (which is just off the western coast of Beaver Is) is more like 30 miles from Charlevoix.

Tom Reinhart on September 16, 2019:

Thanks for your detail on this ship. There just isn't enough historical information available on great lakes shopping. You've assembled an article with some fascinating facts, great photos and video. I am most impressed. I'll be waiting for more like this from you.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 21, 2015:

senlow10, thank you for responding to this article. Your family history adds to the story very well. So now we have another name to add to the article as it grows. One reader sent photos, and now you have provided a real person and their name. Was it just Anna who was a member of the House of David or were other members of your family part of the group as well? I appreciate your input. With your permission, I will add a side comment box with Anna's name and her part in the story. I will cite you as the source if you want to email me your name. My email is

senlow10 on June 21, 2015:

My grandaunt, Anna Lucretia Lewis was on this ship when in wrecked. She and my great, great grandparents, and great aunt, (and maybe a few others) lived on High Island. My great, great grandfather CC Lewis died in 1919 and Anna and her grandmother Nancy returned to California in 1920. Anna returned to the House of David sometime in the late 50's and died there in 1986. A cousin of mine, one time interviewed Anna and she shared the story!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 09, 2015:

Essie, thank you for reading and for the kind comment. You may rise now, you've been bowing far too long. I look forward to seeing more of you around HP.

Essie from Southern California on April 09, 2015:

I bow to the awesome-ness of this article (Hub)...I have long been intrigued by the fascinating, sometimes heart-wrenching stories of shipwrecks. This was captiviating. I learned much!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 06, 2015:

CASE1WORKER, Nice to see you here today. Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, it would have been a horrifying trip.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 06, 2015:

Mary, thanks for the compliment. I appreciate that a lot. History doesn't seem to rate too highly in schools today, but you are right, it does need more emphasis. Thanks for visiting my hub.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 06, 2015:

Peg, I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for visiting today.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on April 06, 2015:

Don, nice to see you today. This shipwreck is only about 7 miles from my home in Michigan. I plan to do some underwater photography/video with my new waterproof camera. Thanks for the share.

CASE1WORKER from UNITED KINGDOM on April 06, 2015:

They all survived which is the main thing- but what a nightmare it must have been for them all

Mary Craig from New York on April 06, 2015:

So many things happen in the world, and right here in the US that we are unaware of. American history should be more comprehensive in school, not just politics but the lives of our ancestors.

This was interesting from start to finish. I was especially impressed with Mr. Putnam, a Ripley's Believe or Not moment for sure! Your scope of writing is amazing btw.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on April 06, 2015:

Amazing and fascinating story, both of the ship, its cargo and passengers and the cult that produced the goods being transported. The pictures really added a lot of interest to the tale. Incredible that the last passenger was found and that he missed the whole event.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on April 06, 2015:

Interesting. I never heard of this cult, nor of the shipwreck. I did visit the museum a few years ago. sharing

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on January 14, 2014:

Tom, I am so glad you found the article. My home is just a few miles from the location of the Rising Sun. There is another person on HubPages who has a lot of information about the H of D. Here is a link to his article. You may be acquainted with him already.

I would love to have photos to put with the article. I could replace everything here. I can also create thumbnails so that more pictures can be displayed. I will leave it up to you as to how many to share. My email is Thank you so much for the offer. Changing photos helps give an article some new life on the web. Be sure to let me know how to properly attribute any photos you send.

It has been a long time since I have been to the museum. I travel most of the time and have very little opportunity to get up that way.

Thanks for visiting. Stay well.

Chris Mills

Tom Meldrim on January 14, 2014:

Nice article on the Rising Sun - wish I had come across it sooner after it was published. The shipwreck museum has a number of pictures of the wreck. The last time I was at the Museum they were displaying the board with the ship's name salvaged from the bow of the wreck on the wall of the lighthouse keeper's house.

I was able to get prints of a few of the museum's photographs of the wreak and also have pictures of the salvage operation conducted by H of D members. I also have a picture of an antique vending machine that was salvaged from the wreck.

About twenty years ago I interviewed the last survivor of the Rising Sun shipwreck. The audio and video record of it is in the Benton Harbor Public Library's H of D archive.

If you are interested in adding new picture to this article I would be happy to provide some.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 03, 2012:

James, Leelanau County is the most beautiful place in the world to me, but of course I a bias. It is home. I will definitely read your "Lake Michigan Circle Tour Hub." While you were here, I am sure you took in Sleeping Bear Dunes. I have written a hub on that, If you'd care to read it. I thoroughly enjoyed your hub on the House of David when I read it a few weeks ago.

James A Watkins from Chicago on December 03, 2012:

You are welcome. I passed through Maple City two years ago during my "Lake Michigan Circle Tour," of which I wrote about in a Hub by that name. Beautiful area you are blessed to live in. I could easily choose to live up there too. Nice and peaceful and pretty landscapes.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 30, 2012:

James , thank you for stopping by and reading. So you've been to Maple City? It is impressive that you even found it. When was that?

James A Watkins from Chicago on November 30, 2012:

Wow! Your Hub is fascinating. I enjoyed reading about this shipwreck very much. I had not heard of it before.

Thank you for the good read.


ps I have been to Maple City!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 11, 2012:

Thanks wilderness. For more of the story behind the wreck, click on the first hyperlinked reference to The House of David. Another hubber wrote about that. I was going to do a follow up article, but when I saw how exhaustively he dealt with it, there was no need. It is a superb hub he wrote.

Dan Harmon from Boise, Idaho on November 11, 2012:

An interesting tale. My wife is fascinated by stories of the Titanic and other famous shipwrecks. I'll have to send her here as well.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 25, 2012:

Thank you Mr Archer. Nice to have you visit my hub.

Mr Archer from Missouri on October 25, 2012:

I knew there have been other shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, but this one is different. Odd group, this House of David. Nicely done hub; informative and well written.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 24, 2012:

Mhatter, thanks for reading my hub. As always, it is a privilege to have you read what I have written. Be sure to click on the first highlighted reference to The House of David in my article. It leads the a hub by James Watkins and is a wonderful description of the group. He had first hand dealings with its members.

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on October 24, 2012:

Fascinating tale. Thank you for sharing.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 24, 2012:

If you didn't do so, go back sometime and click on The House of David where it is linked. The story is so bizarre, but a great read. Thanks Becky. As for the crew member sleeping through, I could do that.

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on October 24, 2012:

Very interesting hub. I had not ever heard of this cult. Amazing that the crewman slept through the whole thing.

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