Friends Good Will is a replica of a top sail merchant sloop that plied the waters of the Great Lakes in the early 19th century. She is the Museum’s flagship and sails from her home port of South Haven daily in the height of summer. Staff and volunteer crew, dressed in period clothes, offer passengers a glimpse into the life and operations of a Great Lakes sailor. Passengers are even encouraged to help raise and lower sails as they set off on a traditional tall ship adventure on Lake Michigan.
Friends Good Will offers historical sails, pirate chaser sails, sunset sails, and even acts as a classroom for school groups to learn about early Michigan history and the Great Lakes. Occasionally, she will voyage to other ports for festivals and events. She makes an annual trip to Holland, Michigan during Tulip Time to offer dockside tours above and below decks to visitors.
The original Friends Good Will was built in Michigan at River Rouge in 1810 as a merchant vessel for Oliver Williams. At 47 tonnes burthen, the square topsail sloop carried cargo for her owner and others under the command of Master William Lee.
In the summer of 1812, she was chartered by the federal government to take military supplies to Fort Dearborn, a small military and trading post at what is now Chicago. She was returning with furs and skins when she was lured into the harbor of Mackinac Island. The British, having taken the island just days before, were flying false colors above the fort ramparts. The British confiscated the vessel, cargo, and crew, renaming her Little Belt. She was armed, taken into service, and fought with the Royal Navy until September of 1813, when she was recaptured by United States Commodore Oliver Perry at the Battle of Lake Erie. Within an hour after the great guns fell silent, Commodore Perry mentioned her in his now famous dispatch, “We have met the enemy and they are ours: Two Ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.” That sloop was Friends Good Will.
Friends Good Will then served in the United States Navy, transporting General William Henry Harrison’s troops across Lake Erie in the successful invasion of Southern Ontario. She was driven ashore in a storm south of Buffalo in December 1813. In early January 1814, during efforts to re-launch the ship, the British unceremoniously burned the once-proud vessel during a raid on Buffalo.
The replica Friends Good Will departed from the ship yard of Scarano Boatbuilding, Inc. in Albany, New York for South Haven, Michigan on August 29, 2004. Scarano Boatbuilding was chosen as the builder because they are considered a leader in building historic replicas using modern wood laminate construction. While no one knows exactly how the original Friends Good Will looked, research uncovered enough data that the finished replica might fool even some of the original crew. While built of modern materials, the rigging functions in an entirely traditional manner with no modern power assists. The vessel is equipped with a modern navigation system and engine.