ERIE, Pa. (AP) - Explorers have found the second-oldest shipwreck ever discovered in the Great Lakes, a sailing vessel that was built in Erie County nearly 220 years ago.
The Washington, a rare sloop constructed on Four Mile Creek in 1797, was located in Lake Ontario off the shores of Oswego, New York, by a team of shipwreck explorers in late June.
The single mast boat was traveling from Kingston, Ontario, to Niagara, Ontario, with a full cargo of groceries and general merchandise when it got lost in a fierce storm and sank in November 1803. Portions of the cargo and pieces of the ship were found the next day on the shore.
A shipwreck search team was conducting a survey in June in the depths off Oswego, N.Y., utilizing high resolution side scan sonar equipment, when they almost immediately came upon the sunken Washington, said Jim Kennard, who has been diving and exploring the lakes in the Northeast since 1970, and has found more than 200 shipwrecks.
Kennard said the Washington - which also is known as the Lady Washington - is believed to be the oldest fully intact commercial sailing ship ever to have been lost and found in the Great Lakes.
“There are no drawings or models in existence for the Washington. Here’s a very historic ship, and a historic discovery,” Kennard said Wednesday during a telephone interview from his home outside Rochester, New York. “Now we have a better understanding of the design of this very rare 18th century sailing vessel.”
Kennard and fellow shipwreck explorer Roland Stevens came to Erie Aug. 11 and spent the day looking through archives at the Erie County Historical Society.
The men were searching for additional background information and documentation of the Washington. They determined that the sloop was built for about $2,000 for the Pennsylvania Population Co., an organization developing a tract of land just north of Erie.
“It’s exciting to have them discover something that will be so meaningful for archaeological research,” said Annita Andrick, curator of collections and archives at the Historical Society. Andrick assisted Kennard and Stevens on Aug. 11.
This is far from the first significant historical find for Kennard, Stevens and fellow shipwreck explorer Roger Pawlowski.
The oldest military ship to have been found in the Great Lakes, the HMS Ontario, was lost in 1780 and discovered by Kennard and his team in Lake Ontario in 2008.
There are estimated to have been between 6,000 to 8,000 ships that wrecked in the Great Lakes, with more than 600 occurring in Lake Ontario, Kennard said.
The Washington, with a carrying capacity of 36 tons, was the first sloop built on Lake Erie, and the first to sail both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Sloops only existed for a limited period of time on the Great Lakes and were replaced by schooners, Kennard said, which had two or more masts and were more efficient to operate.
Information from: Erie Times-News, https://www.goerie.com
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