Unusual Lake Ontario 1872 shipwreck identified as Black Duck

The one masted scow-sloop may be the only intact ship of its kind in the Great Lakes. 

Roger Pawlowski via AP
In this undated photo provided by Roger Pawlowski, the cabin and tiller of the "Black Duck" is shown in 350 feet of water off Oswego, N.Y. Underwater explorers say they've found the 144-year-old Lake Ontario shipwreck of the rare sailing vessel that typically wasn't used on the Great Lakes. Underwater explorer Jim Kennard says the Black Duck is believed to be the only fully intact scow-sloop to exist in the Great Lakes.

Shipwrecks aren’t unusual in the Great Lakes, but the wreck of the Black Duck surprised explorers who discovered the sunken ship in Lake Ontario in 2013.

The Black Duck is a one-masted ship known as a scow-sloop, a type of boat that was not typically used for Great Lakes travel, as its small size made it vulnerable to the Great Lakes’ famed squalls.

What can shipwrecks like this one teach us about the past?

Historians and archaeologists say that ships like the Black Duck shed light on the history of commerce and trade that took place on the Great Lakes.

“Finding boats that were atypical on the Great Lakes helps us to more fully appreciate the ingenuity and entrepreneurship of our forefathers and better understand the complexity of Great Lakes history,” said National Museum of the Great Lakes museum director Christopher Gillcrist, according to the Toledo Blade.

Explorers Jim Kennard and Roger Pawlowski were unable to investigate the ship when they first discovered it in 350 feet of water in 2013. Although they found the ship using deep scan sonar, the Toledo Blade reports that they were unable to explore further due to the effects of deep water on their remotely operated vehicle. 

Finally, after three years of waiting, Mr. Kennard and Mr. Pawlowski returned to the shipwreck this year. In September, they identified the shipwreck as the Black Duck, making it the only fully intact scow-sloop shipwreck in the Great Lakes.

Short and squat, scow-sloops were used to transfer cargo from deepwater ports to nearby harbors that had shallow channel. Their flat bottoms and fronts made it easy for them to dock and unload, whether on beaches or at ports. Unfortunately for the Black Duck, however, the same qualities that made it and other scow-sloops useful for coastal shipping also made them unwieldy and vulnerable to storms in the open water.

“Scows, because of their shape, are workhorses,” said National Museum of the Great Lakes archaeologist Carrie Sowden, according to the Associated Press. “They’re not there to move fast through the water. They’re there to carry a lot of cargo.”

Historians say that the Black Duck is a rarity in the Great Lakes - only a handful of scow-sloops were even built in the area, and few were used on big lakes such as Lake Ontario.

The Black Duck sank in August, 1872, after it got caught in a storm and sprang a leak. The ship was attempting a 40-mile trip from Oswego to Sackets Harbor. The ship’s three occupants, the captain, a crewmember, and the captain’s wife, all escaped on a small boat, and made it to safety about eight hours later.

Explorers have discovered a number of sunken ships in the Great Lakes in recent years.

In August, Kennard and Pawlowski made another momentous discovery - the second oldest shipwreck found in the Great Lakes.

Found near Oswego, N.Y., the same area in which Kennard and Pawlowski discovered the Black Duck, the Washington last saw daylight during a storm in 1803.

Historians and archaeologists say that ships like the Washington are valuable because they can teach researchers about the type of ship construction techniques that shipbuilders used between the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

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, said Ms. Sowden.

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 Nov. 6, 1803. The vessel was caught in a fierce storm and sank.

The oldest shipwreck in the Great Lakes is the HMS Ontario, which sank in Lake Ontario in 1780.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Unusual Lake Ontario 1872 shipwreck identified as Black Duck
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today