Shipwrecked: The Tragic Story of the Canal Schooner “Troy”

The captain’s hat, trunk and pocketbook … have been picked up but none of the bodies have yet been found.   (North Star 1825)

(above) Schooner Troy sits in the dark waters of Lake Champlain. By marine artist Ernie Haas, Private Collection.
(above) Schooner Troy sits in the dark waters of Lake Champlain. By marine artist Ernie Haas, Private Collection.

Canal Schooner Troy: Commerce on Lake Champlain

The sailing canal boat is a unique commercial vessel type, found in few places beyond Lake Champlain. These boats were designed to sail on Lake Champlain and then fit in the New York State canal system where they were towed by horses or mules. Not until the discovery of Troy had maritime researchers seen an example of this early design of vessel.

On her last voyage in November 1825, Troy was sailing to Westport, NY with as much as 90 tons of iron ore in her cargo hold. This ore was to be processed in the newly established Westport iron furnace.

The schooner, under the command of 25-year-old Captain Jacob Halstead, was carrying the Captain’s 13-year-old brother, George, his half brother Jacob Pardee, and two crewmen, Daniel Cannon and John Williams.

As the Troy sailed, a storm started brewing. The waves got more fierce as the wind turned to a gale.  The heavy cargo shifted in the rough waters, causing the boat to founder and sink in minutes.

A newspaper account reported:

The boat was seen by two persons on shore… a few minutes before she went down; one of whom, as we are informed, anticipating she was in distress, contemplated going in a gondola to assist the crew, but the other, devoid of every humane feeling refusing to lend any assistance… (North Star 13 December 1825)

The lives of all five young men were lost. Over the next few days the telltale signs of tragedy began to appear on the shore. The “captain’s hat, trunk and pocketbook . . . have been picked up but none of the bodies have yet been found.” (North Star 13 December 1825) The tragedy had a tremendous impact on the communities of Basin Harbor, Vermont and Westport, NY.

Troy: Shipwrecked

As the first wave crested into the main hatch, the crew of Troy must have realized that their situation was desperate.

As the vessel foundered in the rough waters, the heavy cargo shifted. Iron rushed into the forward end of the hull, shattering timbers and other objects in its way. Pulled by thousands of pounds of ore, the rest of the vessel quickly submerged.

The descent to the lakebed was a rapid, steeply angled ride which ended abruptly as the bow plowed into the soft bottom sediments. The shock caused the masts to break from their tabernacles sending a cascade of rigging, spars, and sails toward the bow and onto the lakebed. More iron ore was forced forward, acting as an anchor to hold the vessel in its seemingly precarious position.

Today, Troy lies in deep water. Her excellent state of preservation is a testament to the cold dark fresh waters of Lake Champlain.

 

Fascinated by Shipwrecks?

Lake Champlain holds more than 300 shipwrecks, and we’ve studied quite a few of them in our Lake Survey Reports. Download them for free here.

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum is grateful to Texas A&M nautical archaeologist Kevin Crisman for his analysis of the schooner Troy.

Pick up Kevin’s latest book, Coffins of the Brave: Lake Shipwrecks of the War of 1812.