Roaring Dan Seavey: Pirate of the Great Lakes

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Dan Seavey // Photo courtesy of Door County Maritime Museum

When you envision a pirate, there’s a definite pop culture template. Johnny Depp, obviously; maybe Captain Hook or Errol Flynn for you old-timers. (Underrated pirate: Dave Parker of the 1979 World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates.) He has an eye patch, a treasure map, a sword, and he says “arrrrrrrrrr” and “matey,” a lot. He is definitely swashbuckling. And brother, can he make a quality spiced rum.

So when I tell you there was an actual pirate in Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula who was still alive after the Second World War, you probably have some questions, including, but not limited to, “You sure you didn’t mean Florida?”

I did not.

Dan Seavey was born in Portland, Maine, in 1865. When he should have been in junior high school, Seavey left home to become a sailor. He joined the Navy when he turned 18, then the Bureau of Indian Affairs upon discharge.

Roaring Dan: Really just kind of a dick until he got a boat

Seavey left the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the late 1880s, winding up in the Marinette area of far northeastern Wisconsin. He took a 14-year-old bride, Mary Plumley, and had two daughters. The family then moved to Milwaukee, where Seavey either opened up a fish market or a tavern (or both, plus a farm), depending on the source.

This lasted until there was another gold rush in the American West, in the mid-1890s: the Klondike rush in Alaska. Seavey ended up right in the thick of it to stake his claim. An account from the Historical Society of Michigan says that Frederick Pabst (yeah, that Pabst), who’d become acquainted with Seavey through what we’ll assume was the latter’s bar rather than his fish market, encouraged him to do this.

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There were a couple problems with Seavey’s get-rich-quick scheme: First, he sort of didn’t tell his wife and kids that he was leaving, and disappeared for years. Second, he sort of didn’t get rich, and was completely busted after those years of prospecting.

A beaten man, Seavey returned to the Upper Midwest in 1900, but not to the family he left behind. (Again, kind of a dick.) Instead, he married another woman, in Escanaba, Michigan, beat her regularly (according to her divorce petition), and disappeared on her, too, before marrying a third woman.

Escanaba is also where he acquired his ship, The Wanderer, and where “Just Kind of a Dick Dan” became “Roaring Dan.”

Roaring Dan: Still just kind of a dick (and a bigamist), but now he’s got a boat

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Dan Seavey boat The Wanderer // Photo courtesy of Door County Maritime Museum

Seavey’s approach to pirating was similar to that of your mother’s relationship with hotel toiletries: Take everything that isn’t nailed down.

Related post – The Legend of Joe Rolette: The Most Interesting Man in Minnesota History

He used multiple, Jolly Roger-less ways to ill-get his goods up and down the coast of Lake Michigan. One was to simply wait until dark, sail into port, grab whatever could be found under the cover of night, and move out before sunrise. Another method, called “moon cussing” (because everything had cool names back then), was to mount fake harbor lights near rocks and sandbars, causing unsuspecting boats to run aground, allowing Seavey and crew to pillage them.

Seavey’s stock-in-trade for stolen goods—and how you absolutely know that this story is taking place in Wisconsin and the U.P.—were venison and booze. One account also has him taking U.P. hay to Chicago for various horse-racing concerns. The goods also included prostitutes, with The Wanderer serving both as brothel and shuttle service for area consorts.

Next page: The feds are onto you, you venison-thieving dick

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