1872 “Black Duck” Shipwreck Discovered in Lake Ontario

The “Black Duck” shipwreck is believed to have finally been proven to reside in Lake Ontario, more than 144 years after it was sunk by harsh weather in 1872.

Cabin and tiller remains of the Lake Ontario shipwreck were recently identified by an underwater expedition led by Jim Kennard and Roger Pawlowski in the cold, dark, 350 foot-deep area off the western coast of Oswego, New York, CBS News reported. The news comes less than three years after Kennard and Pawlowski’s team first used a side scan sonar machine to locate the shipwreck in the uncharacteristically deep Lake Ontario waters.

“It’s definitely a rarity,” said Carrie Sowden, the architectural director for Toledo’s National Museum of the Great Lakes. It was this museum, in part, that helped sponsor Kennard and Pawlowski’s expedition. “Scows [such as the Black Duck], because of their shape, are workhorses. They’re not there to move fast through the water. They’re there to carry a lot of cargo.”

In fact, Sowden noted, the very nature of the ship’s design – flat bottomed with sloping ends – is designed to make it lighter for dredging and running aground on the shore to more easily receive and deliver cargo without becoming shipwrecked. As such, ships such as the Black Duck were a rarity on open waters such as Lake Ontario because they cannot hold up well to wild weather conditions.

Traditionally, in fact, CBS News noted that ships of this type typically avoided sailing on Lake Ontario and other Great Lakes because they were not designed to stand up to high winds and waves on open water. In fact, per Kennard, shipwrecks of this type were extremely rare because the voyages using those types of vessels were even more rare.

“The Black Duck [shipwreck] is believed to be the only fully intact scow-sloop to exist in the Great Lakes,” continued Kennard, who noted that his search of nautical records for the region showed only about 12 references to scow-sloops in use there throughout history.

Great Lakes
Great Lakes waterways such as Lake Ontario have long had a history in helping with the transporting of goods, as was attempted using the Black Duck in 1872. [Image by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images]

What is known is that the shipwrecked Lake Ontario vessel ran into trouble on August 8, 1872 during a short, 40 mile voyage to deliver coal and other “general goods” between Oswego and New York’s Sackett’s Harbor, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The vessel – which is believed to have sprung a leak – first ran into trouble when it met with extreme winds and waves for which, as was mentioned, it was never really designed to stay afloat.

The Black Duck’s path has been charted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer using Google Maps.

This single mast, 51-foot ship sunk during the difficult voyage; Black Duck’s only inhabitants at the time – its captain Barney Everleigh, his wife, and a single crew member Willie Decker – survived the shipwreck by boarding a small “punt” boat and being blown until they reached New York’s shore eight hours after Lake Ontario’s cold waters flooded the boat through its leak.

“[Scows] weren’t built to withstand that kind of pounding,” noted Kennard, speaking at length of his shipwreck discovery. Aside from that fact, he noted, there is little other historical significance.

Kennard noted that he does not think there is a need to pull the Black Duck to the surface of Lake Ontario, nor are there any valuable artifacts on board. The only significance of the shipwreck, he told the Plain Dealer, is that there have been very few scow vessels registered on the Great Lakes over the years.

Deep Sea Divers
Deep sea divers such as those pictured have played a pivotal role in exploring the shipwreck of the Black Duck. [Image by U.S. Navy/Newsmakers]

Regardless of its physical location in Lake Ontario, Kennard told the Plain Dealer that the ship belongs to the State of New York, with oversight by the Department of Historic Preservation.

The shipwreck’s place in history, however small it may seem, needs to be preserved.

[Featured Image by Fraser Nivens/Florida Keys News Bureau via Getty Images]