American explorers have discovered the intact remains of a unique trade vessel that sank in a violent storm in the Great Lakes over 200 years ago.
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A team of three archeologist-enthusiasts from New York State discovered the wreck deep at the bottom of Lake Ontario. Adventurers Jim Kennard, Roger Pawlowski and Roland Stevens identified the vessel using high-resolution side-scan sonar in late June. It took several more weeks to confirm that the discovery was the same ship known to have sunk there in 1803.
The ship, called the Washington, was a single-masted sloop, a rare type of vessel that navigated the Great Lakes in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The 36-ton Washington was built by Americans on Lake Erie in 1798 to transport goods and passengers between New York, Pennsylvania and Ontario. Some four years later the sloop was sold to Canadian merchants that portaged it to Lake Ontario using oxen.
A year later, the boat, carrying $20,000 worth of East India goods from Kingston, Ontario, en route to Niagara, Ontario was caught in a severe storm. The ship sank, and all five aboard drowned, including three crewmembers and two merchants. Historians said that no signs of the ship were found. Contemporary reports claimed that some pieces of the ship washed ashore near Oswego.
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According to Kennard, the Washington is the second-oldest shipwreck found on the bottom of Lake Ontario. It is almost intact, sitting on its keel with its mast standing almost vertical.
“This one is very special. We don’t get too many like this,” Kennard said.
The discovery is particularly valuable for historians scrutinizing designs and construction techniques used by the ship’s builders, as there are no architectural drawings of such vessels, according to Christopher Gillcrist, the executive director of the National Museum of the Great Lakes, the organization that funded the exploration, said.
“Breaking the 18th century barrier is not only psychologically important, but the wreck may reveal the earliest shipbuilding techniques on the Great Lakes ever examined,” he told Cleveland.com.
The oldest known shipwreck discovered in Lake Ontario is the British warship HMS Ontario. The two-masted square-rigger sank in 1780 and was discovered in 2008.