Shipwreck from 1803 found in Lake Ontario

Aug 17, 2016

Rochester-based explorers say they have located the Washington, a sloop that sank more than 200 years ago off the coast of Oswego, N.Y.

Jim Kennard, Roger Pawlowski, and Roland Stevens found the ship, which sank in November, 1803. It is the second oldest wreck discovered in Lake Ontario.

The sloop Washington went down in November 1803.
Credit Jim Kennard

Kennard and his team used sonar technology and a remotely operated vehicle to locate the sloop.

"As an explorer," Kennard says, "you can't be the first one to the top of a mountain because most mountains have been climbed, but you can be the first one to make a discovery of a shipwreck."

The Washington, sometimes called the Lady Washington, was built in Erie, Penn., as a cargo ship, carrying goods as well as passengers between Erie, New York State, and Canada. The 53-foot ship went down on its last trip of the season.

"I guess they pushed it a little too far, and they got caught in a November gale and the ship went down in Oswego, N.Y.," Kennard says.

Kennard estimates there to be about 200 wrecks left undiscovered in Lake Ontario, and says he plans to continue to keep searching.

Earlier this year, he and his team announced the discovery of another Lake Ontario shipwreck, a Canadian schooner called the Royal Albert.

In 1868, the ship was carrying hundreds of tons of railroad iron. But the cargo shifted in rough waters, its weight splitting the ship open at the seams.

An estimated 5,000 to 8,000 ships sank in the Great Lakes over the last three centuries. Hundreds have been found, well-preserved by the cold, fresh water. But at the bottom of deeper lakes, like Lake Ontario and Lake Superior, hundreds more remain undiscovered.