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'Very special': Explorers discover 200-year-old shipwreck in New York

The Washington sank in Lake Ontario during a storm in 1803.

Image: AP

A 200-YEAR-OLD SHIPWRECK has been discovered by a team of underwater explorers in New York.

The shipwreck was discovered earlier this summer in deep water off Oswego in central New York.

Images captured by a remotely-operated vehicle confirmed it is the Washington, an American-built, Canadian-owned ship that sank in Lake Ontario during a storm in 1803, team member Jim Kennard said yesterday.

It’s the second-oldest confirmed shipwreck in the Great Lakes, a series of interconnected lakes located primarily in upper midwest North America, along the Canadian border.

“This one is very special. We don’t get too many like this,” Kennard said. Along with Roger Pawlowski and Roland Chip Stevens, he has found numerous wrecks in Lake Ontario and other waterways.

The sloop Washington was built on Lake Erie in Pennsylvania in 1798 and was used to transport people and goods between western New York, Pennsylvania and Ontario. It was placed on skids and hauled by oxen teams across the Niagara Isthmus to Lake Ontario in 1802 after being sold to Canadian merchants.

The 53-foot-long ship was carrying at least five people and a cargo of merchandise, including goods from India, when it set sail from Kingston, Ontario, for its homeport of Niagara, Ontario, on 6 November 1803. The vessel was caught in a fierce storm and sank.

At least three crew members and two merchants were on the sloop. Everyone on board died.

According to Kennard, contemporary records said portions of the cargo and pieces of the ship were found the following day on shore near Oswego.

The Washington 

The Washington is the oldest commercial sailing vessel found in the Great Lakes and the only sloop known to have sailed on lakes Erie and Ontario, Kennard said.

Single-masted sloops were replaced in the early 19th century by two- and three-masted 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.

Since there are no known drawings of the Washington, the sloop’s discovery will help maritime historians learn more about the design and construction of that type of sailing vessel used on the Great Lakes between the American Revolution and the War of 1812, she said.

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

The oldest vessel found in the Great Lakes is HMS Ontario, a British warship that sank in Lake Ontario in 1780. Kennard and another explorer found that wreck in 2008.

Read: This is the world’s ‘biggest and most powerful’ icebreaker

Read: Wreckage discovered off American coast identified as Captain Cook’s legendary ship

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Associated Press

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