A ship found in Lake Ontario, near Oswego, dating back to 1833 was identified and is believed to be the oldest commercial schooner to be discovered in the Great Lakes.
According to reports on Cleveland.com, “Three Brothers,” a rare dagger-board schooner, was built in 1827 and sank on Nov. 12, 1833 en route from Pultneyville to Oswego. The shipwreck measures 45 feet in length and 13 feet wide and is said to be the first fully functioning dagger-board schooner ever found.
Jim Kennard, the discoverer of the schooner, along with two other shipwreck enthusiasts, Roger Pawlowski and Roland Stevens, found the ship in late July using side scan sonar.
“This type of sonar is similar to an ultrasound, except it is on a bigger scale providing an aerial photograph of the bottom of the ocean solely created by sound,” Kennard said.
Side scan sonar picks up any sound wave and clarifies sand ripples, pipelines and anything else that lies on the bottom of the water.
Kennard and his team have been up in Oswego for the last three years looking at different areas of Lake Ontario for possible shipwrecks.
“Oswego was an early key port of Lake Ontario where numerous ships came in from Niagara, Toronto, Kingston and other cities in the North. As a result of boat traffic over the years, there is bound to be shipwrecks at the bottom of the lake,” Kennard said.
“We were never looking for the schooner in the first place. We didn’t know the boat was there to begin with,” Kennard said.
A boat showed up on the sonar and they did not know what type it was until the team deployed the remote operated vehicle (ROV).
According to an article written by Kennard on shipwreck.com, “The lake was calm and the sun was directly overhead.”
The weather created nearly perfect conditions as natural light illuminated the scene in a way that the entire wreck was captured in a video image. This made it clear that the particular shipwreck was a rare dagger-board schooner. Almost immediately they saw how significant the shipwreck was.
Over the years, Kennard has kept his own database of shipwrecks, yet he has never seen one like this schooner before. His friend sent him the name of a ship that appeared similar to the dagger-board schooner. It was known as “Three Brothers” and it set sail to Oswego in 1833. With this information, Kennard was able to trace the details back to the ship that never made it to its destination. Kennard discovered an article in the Palladium Times dating back to Nov. 12, 1833. It reported “a ship with a cargo of apples, cider and 700 bushels of wheat” that never made it to its destination in Oswego.
“A captain’s hat, the ship’s tiller and a barrel of apples were found near nine mile point, days after the ship never made it to port,” Kennard said.
When Kennard and his team realized that the shipwrecked schooner had a missing tiller and holes in the boat were seen vacant due to the perishable goods that disintegrated, the pieces began to fit together. According to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Kennard said that it took another dive in August and six more weeks of research with other shipwreck historians in order to confirm
more weeks of research with other shipwreck historians in order to confirm the ship as “Three Borthers.”
Kennard said that a dagger board schooner is a very rare ship, due to the lack of deep harbors in the early 1700s and 1800s. These boats did not handle well in the lake, resulting in its replacement with dagger-boards. A dagger-board was a large board that pushed down through the center of the ship. It worked well to control the boat efficiently in the wind when it went out to the lake.
“To control the boat better, they pushed the dagger-board down to extend the keel,” Kennard said. “It worked in controlling the wind but the problem was pushing the board down the narrow slot because it would get caught a lot.”
In the 1830s, a pivoted centerboard was developed to replace the dagger-board because of its convenience.
“Most sailboats have this today,” Kennard said.
On this particular shipwreck, the dagger-board is 12 feet long and can be seen jutting four feet from the center of the shipwreck.
According to Kennard’s shipwreck website, there were four people who were lost after “Three Brothers” sank in 1833. Those of which include Captain John Stevenson, from Williamson, N.Y.; crew members Cephas Field, from Sodus, N.Y.; William Bastian, from Mexico, N.Y.; and passenger Amos Gloyed, from French Creek, N.Y. A plaque honoring lake captains is located in the center of Pultneyville, on which Captain John Stevenson of “Three Brothers” is listed.
The survey of historic shipwrecks in Lake Ontario was funded by a grant from The National Museum of the Great Lakes and Great Lakes Historical Society of Toledo, Ohio.
“The National Museum of the Great Lakes is very excited to be a part of the discovery of the Three Brothers,” said National Museum of the Great Lakes spokeswoman Carrie Sowden. “This is the kind of history that we don’t want to lose. Collaborations like this one that discovered the oldest commercial vessel sunk in the Great Lakes, are what Great Lakes history is all about. Working together to know our shared, national story.”
Kennard continues to post articles of his discoveries on the shipwreck website, where people can learn about the historical treasures in the deep waters of Lake Ontario.
According to Kennard, “No one had drawings or plans of this dagger-board schooner, it’s a one-of-a-kind boat so it’s very significant.”
“It’s an adventure exploring the lake and it’s fun being the first to find things,” Kennard said.