The Washington
Photo by Roger L. Pawlowski

Underwater explorers discover 200-year-old shipwreck in Lake Ontario

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A Canadian ship that sank more than 200 years ago was recently discovered by a group of underwater explorers.

The three-person team found the 53-foot-long ship almost fully intact off the coast of Oswego, New York, earlier this summer. Researchers were able to identify the ship as The Washington through images, which were captured by a remotely operated vehicle.

The ship was once used to transport merchandise between western New York, Pennsylvania and Ontario, and was carrying at least five people when it departed from Kingston, Ontario, on November 6, 1803. The boat was delivering goods to its homeport in Niagara when it was caught in a terrible storm and sank, killing everyone aboard. Although pieces of the ship and its cargo were found the next day near Oswego, the boat was never recovered.

“This one is very special. We don’t get too many like this,” Jim Kennard, one of the explorers, told The Associated Press. It’s just one of the many wrecks that he, Roger Pawlowski, and Roland “Chip” Stevens have found in Lake Ontario.

The Washington is now known as the oldest commercial sailing vessel that’s ever been found in the Great Lakes, which are home to thousands of shipwrecks. It’s also the only known sloop—a ship with a single mast and head-sail—to have sailed Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. 

According to Carrie Sowden, the archeological director at the National Museum of the Great Lakes, single-masted sloops were replaced by two- and three-masted schooners in the early 19th century. She told The Associated Press that there are no known drawings of The Washington, which means that these new photographs will help maritime historians learn more about the type of vessels used on the Great Lakes in the early 1800s.

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