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200-year-old shipwreck discovered in the Great Lakes

Ian Harvey

It has been confirmed that the second-oldest shipwreck has been found in the Great Lakes by a team of underwater explorers. The Washington was a Canadian-owned sloop that had sank in Lake Ontario more than 200 years ago.

It was discovered by a three-member team based in New York; they discovered the sloop this summer in the deep waters off Oswego, in central New York State.

The images were taken by a remotely operated vehicle and confirmed that the wreckage was indeed the Washington. The Washington sank during a raging storm in 1803, team member Jim Kennard said.

“This one is very special. We don’t get too many like this,” said Kennard, who along with Roland “Chip” Stevens and Roger Pawlowski have found many wrecks in Lake Ontario.

The Washington was built near Lake Erie in 1798, and its main use was transporting people and goods between Western New York, Pennsylvania, and Ontario. It was hauled by oxen to Lake Ontario in 1802 after being sold to Canadian Merchants.

Lady Washington Photo Credit

Lady Washington Photo Credit

The 53-foot-long ship set sail from Kingston, Ontario to its homeport of Niagara, Ontario, on November 6, 1803. It was carrying goods, some coming from India, and at least five people on board when it sank. No one survived.

Contemporary records stated that portions of the goods and some pieces of the ship were recovered the next day on a shore near Oswego.

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The Washington is actually the oldest commercial sailing vessel that has been found in the Great Lakes and the only sloop that is known to have sailed on both Lake Erie and Ontario.

In the early 19th century, single-mast sloops were replaced by two and three-mast schooners, which were much easier to sail, according to Carrie Sowden, archaeological director at the National Museum of the Great Lakes in Toledo, Ohio, which sponsors the New York team’s explorations.

Search area on Lake Ontario

Search area on Lake Ontario

With the discovery of the sloop, maritime historians can now learn more about the design and construction of the vessel used on the great lakes since there are no known drawings of the Washington.

“Every shipwreck offers something different that adds to our knowledge base,” Sowden said.

The oldest ship found in the Great Lakes was the HMS Ontario, a British warship that sank in Lake Ontario in 1780. This was also discovered by Kennard in 2008.