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.

MRI in Fort Edward

by Alex Lehning

Friends of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum often tell us about their favorite part of our campus. Some visitors love to explore our numerous exhibits on maritime history while other guests enjoy checking out the work going on in the Conservation Lab, Boatshop, or the Blacksmith Arts Center. LCMM is also well-known for our working replica fleet, featuring the Revolutionary War Gunboat replica Philadelphia II and our 1862-class sailing canal schooner, Lois McClure. You may be surprised to learn then, that since 2000 LCMM has been home to the Maritime Research Institute. The MRI is composed of archeologists, conservators, historians, and researchers with a passion for protecting and sharing the underwater cultural heritage of Lake Champlain. We are also actively involved in archeological dives and projects throughout New England and Canada.

This past winter, LCMM/MRI staff members conducted an archeological survey of remaining Champlain Canal and Feeder Canal features in Fort Edward, NY. The area has been a site of strategic importance since the first British fort was erected there in 1709. The town played a role in the French & Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812. From 1822-23, the Champlain Canal was constructed in Fort Edward, and the New York State Barge Canal was completed between 1905-1913.

MRI Crew in Fort Edward
The MRI crew at a feature in the Fort Edward Survey

After months of careful planning, examining historical maps, and conducting archival research, MRI archeologists Adam Kane, Chris Sabick, Sarah Tichnouk, Paul Gates and Alex Lehning traveled to Fort Edward for several days of archeological fieldwork. The team spent days exploring the woods, hills, streets, and waterways of the town looking for any remaining examples of the canal systems. Each potential site was meticulously documented with photographs, GIS (geographic information system) information, written observations, and sketches.

Abandoned barge in the canal
Alex Lehning and Chris Sabick examine an abandoned barge in the canal

A number of features were discovered, including canal walls and channels, a stone arch and bridge, a series of locks, and even a shipwreck (though it was only an abandoned barge)! Overall, it was a very successful expedition, and the MRI plans to conduct further research on their Fort Edward findings throughout the winter and spring. The MRI is grateful for all the support and assistance we received during our stay, with special thanks to Paul McCarty of the Fort Edward Historical Association.

Alex Lehning
Alex  works as a Conservation Technician with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and in his free time volunteers as a Merit Badge Counselor with the Green Mountain Council/Boy Scouts of America.

Get Lost, Asian Clams!

By Sarah L. Tichonuk

Last week, divers from the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum again made the trek to beautiful Lake George to assist the FUND for Lake George in their Asian Clam eradication project with funding from the Lake Champlain Basin Program. Our job this time is to recover the rebar and sandbags and mats that have been smothering the little clams for the past couple months.

It’s dirty work.

Asian Clam Mat Retreival
LCMM divers (foreground) pull rebar and mats for loading onto the work boat. Photo by LCMM.

First, we divers clear an area of rebar, which has been holding down the large PVC mats to the bottom, and hand these pieces up to a flat-surfaced work boat. Then we get under a corner of the mat and pull it up, working to break the suction to the sandy/silty bottom. We hand this corner up to the boat where the surface folks proceed to pull the 50-foot-long mat onto the platform. And since it’s been sitting on the bottom of the lake for awhile, it’s a bit dirty. Okay, it’s dripping muddy mucky filthy. You really have to bear-hug the mat out of the water because your fingers slip on the slime.  Hope you weren’t planning to wear that shirt out tonight…

Moving rebar onto the work boat. Photo by FUND for Lake George.

All of this material gets dropped off on shore and sorted into piles. The rebar gets moved to the FUND’s off-site facility. The mats are dragged out, fully extended, and folded neatly and placed in a trailer.  We attempt to take turns, though the surface folks have the worst job.

Okay, let’s look at the numbers. Each mat is a 20mm-thick sheet of PVC (like a pool liner) 50 feet long and 7 feet wide, weighing around 45 pounds. Each mat is held down by 30 5-foot pieces of No. 4 or No. 5 rebar, and sometimes a few sandbags. Each piece of rebar weighs approximately 5 pounds. Each sandbag is around 40 pounds. So to recover each mat, we lift 275 pounds of material at least three times. When we arrived, there were 725 mats at the bottom of Lake George. Good grief.

Pulling a mat out of the water
Pulling a mat out of the water onto the barge. Photo by FUND for Lake George.

And there’s more bad news. This summer, three other infestations of Asian clams were discovered: in Treasure Cove, Boon Bay, and Norowal Marina in Bolton Landing, as far as 9 miles away from the original colony. As more information is gathered – including surveying the lake for additional infestations – planning is underway for treatment options.

We’ll be returning next week to continue this important work.


Want to volunteer? Contact the FUND for Lake George: 518-668-9700, info@fundforlakegeorge.org.

Among the many organizations supporting the FUND for Lake George, we met folks from the Lake Champlain Basin Program, the Darrin Freshwater Institute, Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, and Bateaux Below.

Burping Benthic Barriers

By Sarah L. Tichonuk

“Dare I ask what is a benthic barrier, and why does it need burping?” I questioned LCMM archaeological director Adam Kane when he inquired about my schedule last week. Turns out that the bivalve mollusk known commonly as an Asian clam (Corbicula fluminea) was found in Lake George last year, and they want it out. This non-native clam is highly invasive, and is capable of self-fertilization (it’s hermaphroditic, if you want to nose into its sex life) and can generate up to 400 offspring per day. That’s a lot of hermaphrodites if you ask me.

LCMM Archaeologist Sarah Tichonuk dives in Lake George.
LCMM Archaeologist Sarah Tichonuk dives in Lake George to secure benthic mats designed to eradicate the invasive Asian clam.

Why are they bad for the lake?  They are filter feeders, and directly compete with juvenile fish for native mollusks food. Even worse, though, is their excretion (that’s poo) contains high concentrations of nutrients, and promotes rapid algae growth in the lake – an acute threat to the water quality.  But don’t take my word for it; the folks out in Lake Tahoe have been struggling with the Asian clam for years. See some of the photos from UC Davis’ Tahoe Environmental Research Center

To get rid of the little suckers, benthic barriers – essentially plastic pool lining cut into 50 x 7 foot rectangles – were placed down on the bottom of Lake George by some very cold-hearty divers in late April this year, in the hopes of suffocating the clams.  Five acres of the lake bottom are covered – that’s more than 700 mats!  These mats were installed in April, but waves and boating traffic have disturbed some of them. LCMM’s Adam Kane, Chris Sabick and I went diving last week assisted by mariner Tom Larsen to secure those mats that have shifted.

Although the Asian clam can live in waters as deep as 250 feet, the colony in Lake George is in shallow water.
Although the Asian clam can live in waters as deep as 250 feet, the colony in Lake George is in shallow water.

But burping? When a plastic mat covers something organic – say, weeds – it kills it. (That’s the whole point, right?) That decomposing organic matter off-gasses, creating bubbles under the tarps, which look very spooky underwater. One of our tasks last week was to “burp” out those bubbles so the mats lie flat on the lake bottom.

LCMM expects to return to Lake George to assist in the removal of these mats this summer. Let’s hope the benthic barriers have done their job.

The Asian clam problem in Lake George is being handled by several collaborative institutions, including the Lake George Association, the Darrin Fresh Water Institute and the FUND for Lake George with funding from the Lake Champlain Basin Program and others. Read more about the Eradication Plan from the Lake George Asian Clam Rapid Response Task Force.

Mount Abe High School’s visit to LCMM’s Conservation Lab

by Paul Gates

On April 11, students from Mount Abraham Union High School visited the Conservation Lab, eager to learn about the wonders of preservation.

Paul Gates talks about conservation techinques to students
Paul Gates talks about conservation techinques to students (photo: Tom Larsen)

As part of our mission here at LCMM we strive to educate the public about the importance of protecting our invaluable cultural resources. Lake Champlain is a non-salt water environment that is cold, dark, and has an anaerobic mud layer.  These qualities make it ideal for conserving all sorts of artifact material types, everything from wood, metals, glass, ceramics, and even organics.  Once these resources are removed they immediately start to degrade.  Valuable contextual information is inevitably lost when this happens.

Paul Gates demonstrating mechanical cleaning
Paul Gates demonstrating mechanical cleaning (photo: Tom Larsen)

In this dynamic world, cultural resources are in constant danger to being destroyed, lost, or stolen.  Archaeologists at LCMM serve as stewards for the protection and preservation of these amazing artifacts.  By examining, recovering, and conserving the artifacts contained within the lake we are effectively fulfilling our goals.  In doing this, we are able to present history in an exciting and awe-inspiring way.

It gives me a sense of honor, pride, and dare I say…makes me giddy to know that young adults like these have a vested interest in the archaeological world.  I cannot stress how important our collective history is.  I also want to highlight the need to spread awareness for it.  If you didn’t have the amount of enthusiasm that you showed me when you came here, then who knows what the fate of our past maybe.  So I tip my hat to you and wish you well, the world and our future needs more folks like yourselves!

Paul Gates
Paul grew up in Boise, ID and came to Vermont in 2003 for his undergrad degree in History and a minor in Archaeology with a focus on Medieval society and culture at UVM.  He started volunteering at LCMM in winter of 2008 as a Collections Management intern and then did intern work in the Conservation lab.  He joined the ranks of the paid staff in the winter of 2010.  He is currently the Assistant Chief for Charlotte Volunteer Rescue Squad and serves as a Board Member for the 1675 Foundation.

Troop 624 Visits LCMM

by Alex Lehning

As a Conservation Technician with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, I spend the majority of my time doing research, preserving artifacts, and documenting our archeological collections. Each day in the Conservation Lab I have the opportunity to literally hold history in my hands, and there is nothing I enjoy more than to be able to share part of that experience with our guests at the museum.

This past month, LCMM was proud to host Boy Scout Troop 624 from Essex Junction, VT here in our lab as they began work on their Archeology Merit Badge. Each Scout was in the process of completing a series of diverse requirements that provided them with both a scholarly and practical understanding of archeological methods and their place in uncovering our local history. The Archeology Merit Badge was established fairly recently, in 1997, and earning it is not a simple task. A Scout working towards this award is asked to research several historically significant excavations located both in the United States and abroad, study local colonial and/or Native American history, and spend professionally supervised time either in the field at an archeological site or in a conservation laboratory.

Alex shows the types of materials that are able to be conserved in the lab.
Alex shows the types of materials that are able to be conserved in the lab. (photo: Tom Larsen)

Our afternoon together began with a discussion of archeology, and its place alongside other disciplines such as anthropology, history, and geology. As a group, we debated about what it meant to be an archeologist, as well as our role in protecting precious cultural resources. The Museum views the responsibility of sharing our knowledge of the past with the public as a critical part of our mission. I then explained the process of examining an underwater archeological site, from initial discovery and survey, to documentation, excavation, and analysis. Many of the same techniques and ideas that are used on land can be applied underwater as well. Artifacts from various locations on Lake Champlain, including naval battles and shipwrecks, are brought to the Conservation Lab for analysis and treatment. The Scouts also shared how their “Leave No Trace” training would apply to any newly discovered artifacts they might encounter.

Alex shows how to determine the amount of PEG (polyethelyne glycol) in a piece of wood undergoing conservation
Alex shows how to determine the amount of PEG (polyethelyne glycol) in a piece of wood undergoing conservation. (photo: Tom Larsen)
Paul Gates talks about careers and schooling for archeology
Paul Gates talks about careers and schooling for archeology. (photo: Tom Larsen)

We also spent some time reviewing the various treatments that are performed here on LCMM’s campus throughout the year. The Conservation Laboratory is equipped to preserve wooden, metal, organic, and composite artifacts. The highlight of their visit was a chance to do some actual “hands-on” archeology. Each Scout mechanically cleaned a piece of canister shot that dated to the War of 1812 and the Battle of Plattsburgh Bay. Using dental picks and wire brushes, the Troop worked carefully and diligently to remove rust before documenting their efforts.  Finally, along with my fellow Conservation Technician Paul Gates, we discussed career options and educational pathways in archeology. I encouraged the Scouts to study chemistry, biology, and mathematics in addition to the social sciences to broaden their opportunities as future archeologists.

The visit with Troop 624 was a great success and an enriching experience for all, and I look forward to working further with them and other local Scouts on the Archeology Merit Badge this spring.

Alex Lehning
Alex  works as a Conservation Technician with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and in his free time volunteers as a Merit Badge Counselor with the Green Mountain Council/Boy Scouts of America.

Monster Iron Artifacts

by Paul Gates

Paul Gates showing the anchor stock to be conserved
Paul Gates showing the anchor stock to be conserved (photo: Tom Larsen)

In addition to preserving small artifacts such as grapeshot rounds, nails, and tools, the archaeologists at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s Conservation Lab also work on much larger objects. Anchors, cannons, and mechanical parts constitute this group of cultural resources. While the methodology of conservation remains the same, we are required to adapt our techniques with these “monster” artifacts. This is the norm regardless of whether it is made of iron, glass, wood, or composite materials.

A few projects that we are involved with right now include a mid-18th Century swivel gun, a stock-bar from a 19th Century folding anchor, and a curved bracket from an early 20th Century ferry. Since these artifacts are made of iron, they need to go through electrolysis in order to remove any layers of rust that have developed on the surface. Due to the sizes of these artifacts, some measuring in at over five feet long, they require a tank that is large enough to accommodate them. We also have to be aware of adhering to proper ventilation procedures due to the amount of hydrogen produced during the electrolysis process.

Cannon in water tank
Cannon in water tank, awaiting electrolysis (photo: Tom Larsen

Electrolysis separates water, or H2o. This is done by generating a small electrical current of 5 volts with a battery charger in a 5% solution of sodium carbonate and water. The negative terminal is connected to the artifact and the positive terminal is connected to a mild steel screen. While the process is working, the oxygen is attracted to the steel screen and the hydrogen is attracted to the artifact. In effect the hydrogen bubbles in between the good metal and rust, thus helping to remove corrosion. Hydrogen is highly flammable and can ignite with just a small spark, especially if it is produced from a large source. When a proper tank has been assembled, we can then place the artifact in and allow electrolysis to work. The use of picks, scrapers, and good old fashioned elbow grease will help to scale back any other rust on the surface of the object. Three coats of tannic acid are applied, which helps to stabilize iron by effectively halting further corrosion. A bath of hot wax is then used where the object is submerged in a microcrystalline wax heated to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. This dehydrates the artifact by forcing any moisture out and coats it in a protective sealed layer of wax.

When the dehydration is complete, we ensure that both the pre- and post-documentation work is done. This involves photography, scaled drawing, and detailed notes concerning the conservation process. If the artifact is part of our collection, we label it and store it for future exhibition. If it is a contract job, we package it and ship it back to whomever contracted us.  Then, we start setting up for the next artifact.

Paul Gates
Paul grew up in Boise, ID and came to Vermont in 2003 for his undergrad degree in History and a minor in Archaeology with a focus on Medieval society and culture at UVM.  He started volunteering at LCMM in winter of 2008 as a Collections Management intern and then did intern work in the Conservation lab.  He joined the ranks of the paid staff in the winter of 2010.  He is currently the Assistant Chief for Charlotte Volunteer Rescue Squad and serves as a Board Member for the 1675 Foundation.

Diving for Turtles

by Adam Kane

This fall I had the exciting experience of diving for spiny softshell turtles (Apalone spinifera) in Lake Champlain’s Missisquoi Bay.  No, not for eating, these turtles are a threatened species in Vermont.  We worked for McFarland Johnson, Inc., an environmental consulting firm, under contract to VTrans to study the turtle’s behavior.  The goal was to determine whether constructing the new Route 78 Bridge between Swanton and Alburgh had affected the turtles.  Over the last several years a number of these turtles were tagged with radio transmitters to track their movements.  As the batteries inside the transmitters wore down, it came time to re-capture the turtles and switch out the transmitters, lest the turtles become untraceable.  Here at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum we have lots of tools for working underwater, including, although not by design, useful equipment for capturing turtles.

Adam Kane showing a spiny softshell turtle
Adam Kane showing a spiny softshell turtle

Here’s the really amazing thing about these creatures: they hibernate underwater!  Yes, they take a few big breaths in the fall, go the bottom of the lake, bury themselves, and come up sometime in the spring.  The turtles are able to absorb oxygen through their skin and shell while hibernating. How do you find a buried turtle on the bottom of Lake Champlain?  First, their transmitters get you to within ten or twenty feet of where the reptile is slumbering.  Mark that spot and then send a diver into the water with a metal detector to find the metal in the transmitter.  Once the diver has found the transmitter (i.e. the turtle), then comes the tricky part of digging up the turtle and bringing it to the surface.  Tricky because the formerly sleeping turtle quickly becomes unhappy about being dug up and being held onto by a strange creature.  Once onboard the research boat, the turtles are weighed, measured, and fitted with a fresh transmitter.  After this relatively short bad dream, the turtle is returned to the lake to continue its long nap.

Adam Kane
LCMM Archaeological Director

Asian clam in Lake George

LCMM has just been awarded a grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program to assist with the eradication of Asian clams in Lake George.  The project is a partnership between LCMM, Rensselear Polytechnic Institute’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute, and the FUND for Lake George

Asian clam
LCMM will assist in the eradication of this dime-sized invasive species in Lake George.

This dime-sized newcomer to Lake George has the potential, if unchecked, to cloud the legendary clear lake waters by feeding algae blooms with nutrients that this clam excretes. For example, the Asian clam was found in Lake Tahoe in 2002 and now has reached a population there averaging over 2,000 per square meter, significantly changing that lake’s water quality.

LCMM will spread out acres of benthic mats in Lake George early in the spring while the water is cold. These mats will smother the species before they begin spawning, and hopefully eradicate them while their numbers are still small.

The Asian clam (Corbicula fluminea) is native to South East Asia, and was first documented on the west coast of the United States in 1938. It is an extremely hardy freshwater bivalve that is hermaphroditic and therefore capable of self-fertilization.

Download the Asian Clam Fact Sheet produced by the FUND for Lake George.