Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Seen as She Died - End of a Fighting Ship: Schooner Days CCLXXIV (274)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 9 Jan 1937
Full Text
Seen as She Died - End of a Fighting Ship
Schooner Days CCLXXIV (274)


A British 24-pound Shot Examined as She Went< Down 161 Years Ago on Lake Champlain.


IT is a great privilege to have beheld the century-old hulls of fifteen famous fighting ships—Nelson's Victory; the Silent St. Lawrence; the Nancy; Old Ironsides; the Constellation; the brig-of-war Niagara and the brig-of-war Jefferson; the Tigress; the Tecumseh and the Newash; the Revenge—not Sir Richard Grenville's, but Benedict Arnold's; the Porcupine; the Prince Regent; the last ship the French built in Canada; and the last ship the Romans built in Britain.

Wave-worn and warty with decay, or charred with the flames of fighting which sent them gutted to the bottom, or shining and complete after years of patient labor spent upon their restoration. I had seen all these.

But never, until last fall, had I seen one of these old wooden walls just as she had fallen on the field of battle, with her wounds gaping like those of Picus when

"… the proud Umbrian's gilded arms

Clashed in the bloody dust."

This was the Philadelphia, built in the spring of 1776, sunk in October the same year in the battle of Valcour Island, Lake Champlain, and raised in 1935. And this was what she looked like:

Her bow gun, a twelve-pounder weighing two and a half tons, had a double-headed shot hanging half in and half out of its mouth, like a bone in a dog's jaws. This bar- shot was like an iron dumb-bell, with the outer halves of the balls split off. The remaining halves were connected by a heavy iron rod. Its purpose was to do as much damaged as possible by spreading splinters or tearing rigging. The gun crew had been in the act of firing when the ship went down. The finger bones, one jaw bone and the top of the skull of one of the poor fellows were jammed under the truck of the gun-carriage. Gnarled pieces of leather and tarnished buckles showed where his mates had kicked off their shoes to swim for their lives.

A ragged hole between wind and water, in the starboard bow, just abreast of this gun, was the death wound. A British 24-pound shot, probably from H.M.S. Thunderer, had hit her fair at the waterline, and Lake Champlain had rushed in at the rate of a hundred gallons a second. The ball that did the business could be seen just inside her ceiling or inner skin, having gone through two layers of two-inch oak and a six-inch rib.

She was already mortally wounded by a raking shot iron a 9-pounder or 12-pounder, which had lodged between the outer skin and ceiling, and she was riddled with grape and cannister and musket balls.

There was no mistaking the origin of the 24-pounder that had killed her. The shot had the British broad-arrow on it and the initials J.T. The King's Armourer in the Tower of Landon identified it as a British round-shot, cast of the service of King George III by John Fuller, ordnance maker, sometime between 1740 and 1760.

The Philadelphia was known as a "gundelo" or gondola, in Benedict Arnold's rough-hewn fleet in the American Revolution, and she went down, with colors flying, in Valcour Bay, upon the first occasion upon which a British fleet fought an American. Arnold lost all the ships that were lost in this battle, but Americans count it a victory be-cause, like the German fleet at Jutland, some got away alive. As the British had more guns and more vessels, to escape at all was a sort of triumph.

The Continental fleet, as it was called, consisted of the schooner Royal Savage, the schooner Revenge, the sloop Enterprise, and the cutter Lee; the galleys Trumble, Washington and Congress; and the gondolas Philadelphia, New York, Jersey, Connecticut, Providence, Newhaven, Spitfire and Boston. Almost all these vessels were destroyed by the British during the battle off Valcour Island or after-wards. The gondolas were, of course, nothing like the light grace fulful waterflies of the canals of Venice.

The British fleet on Lake Champlain included the Inflexible, ship-rigged sloop-of-war, armed with eighteen 12-pounders; the bomb- ketch Thunderer, a powerful vessel similar to the sort we were talking about last week, square rigged on the mainmast even to a royal, and carry-ing six 24-pounders and eighteen 12-pounders; the chunky little schooners Carleton and Maria, with fourteen

and sixteen 6-pounders respectively; the ketch Loyal Convert, which had five 9-pounders; three ship's long- boats, rigged as sloops and carrying two 4-pounder guns; and seventeen gunboats or row-galleys, armed with one gun in the bow, of calibres ranging from 6-pounders to 24's.

The Inflexible was commanded by Lieut. Schank, R.N., inventor of the centreboard. Lake Champlain runs to 400 feet depth, but there are so many shallow places that the vessels navigating it had to be of shoal draught. "Schank's patent" as the centreboard was called proved a godsend to the schooner fleets which followed the war vessels on the lake.

The Continental or American revolutionary schooners, cutter and sloop were rigged and armed after the fashion of war vessels of their time. The galleys had short masts with long lateen yards on them, spreading considerable sail area, but they were also propelled by numerous oars. Each was heavily armed, with eight swivel guns on each rail and m ten carriage guns, six 6-pounders, two 9's, a 12 and an 18.

The gondolas, like the Philadelphia, were the smaller craft, 54 feet long, 15 feet beam, 5 feet deep in the hold. They were pointed at the ends like a skiff, but flat-bottomed, with chine bilges and no keel. They were quite open, but not at all like r the light graceful waterflies of the canals of Venice. The only shelter was an awning or tent spread over the quarter deck. The three ribs meant to spread it were there in the Philadelphia's hull. They had no continuous deck, but platforms, forward, amidships, and aft, from which their guns, 12-pounders and nines - were worked. They mainly relied upon their oars, eight-or more to a side, which the crews worked, standing up. But the 36-foot mast spread two square sails, a mainsail and topsail, with yards a little over 20 and 27 feet in length. This sail area would be a material help to the rowers.

The Philadelphia had no bulwarks, except the slight rise in her rail, forward and aft, but every five or six feet wooden stanchions rose, to stretch the ropes which had bound the brush screen which surrounded her. To save his crew from musketry fire, op to give them at least some sense of being hidden, if not actual protection, the captain of the Philadelphia had cut down spruce; and hemlock trees along the shore, and stuck them in the rail, butt ends up, all the way around the ship, binding them with wickerwork oziers. She must have looked like a Christmas tree market as she swept into battle.

Poor boys, hemlock leaves and pine needles were little protection against bullets and grapeshot, and none at all against cannonballs. But the screen or camouflage did conceal! the rowers and gunners from Indian sharpshooters in the trees lining the narrow shores of Champlain, and from the marines in the fighting tops and at the mastheads of the enemy fleet.

The wreck's catheads, natural crooks of timber from which her two slim wooden-stocked anchors had hung, were in place above the hawsepipes, heavily lined with lead to save the chafe of the hempen cables. The anchors were immediately below them, proving that she was under weigh when she sank. Had she been riding to her anchors they would have been out ahead of her. Her rudder, with a shoal blade, perhaps three feet by four, and wider than it was deep, hung outboard. The rudder was warty with the nail-heads of the straps which bound its blade as so often happens in long-sunken wrecks. The wood around the iron fastenings had been hardened by the acid and preserved, while the other surfaces wore away by decay and wave action.

The old warrior was examined last fall in her birthplace, Whitehall, N.Y. Here she was built one hundred and sixty years before, when the place was known as Skenesboro. It was one of many curious kinks of fate that she should be back here, after so long a time, for she "fought, bled and died" a long distance off. Whitehall is at the south end of Lake Champlain. Valcour Island is more than half way up the lake, on the west side.

The recovered wreck was carefully housed on a scow, large enough to carry her, but not too large to be towed by a launch. She was on exhibition, and had been making the rounds.

Everything was displayed with admirable simplicity, after a fashion state museums might follow. Small, loose articles found in' hep were neatly labelled in glass cases. It was possible to get so close to her that you could touch her old timbers with becoming reverence, but she was railed off against vandals. On the upper face of the surrounding railing were small numbered cards, plainly typewritten, and explaining the object denoted by the number. Immediately opposite, on board the ship, was the object itself, with a plain but not obtrusive number on it. No guide was necessary, but Mr. John Manley of Plattsburgh, who had worked hard at the recovery o the vessel, proved an entertaining and helpful companion for all exploring her.

The Philadelphia came to light through the effective curiosity of Mr. Rupert Schalk, of Rhinebeck, N.Y., a nephew of Col. Rupert, owner of the New York Yankees and the Yankee Stadium. Mr. Schalk has, like the compiler of Schooner Days, a fondness for poking around ancient wrecks, and puts it to practical uses. He holidays on Lake Champlain, locates sunken hulls, and gets divers and a wrecking outfit to raise them. It took three divers and powerful plant to salvage then Philadelphia, guns and all, but the37 r brought her up just as she went down. She was in deep water, and steamers had been ploughing over her masthead for a hundred years.

There are other historic wrecks' in Lake Champlain. Four years ago Mr. Schalk recovered the Royal Savage. He is on the trail of others.

The problem is what to do with them after getting them up. They are too big to park on your front lawn. Mr. Schalk has one of the Philadelphia's guns at Rhinebeck, and that is about all he can "absorb." The Philadelphia and the Royal Savage, as well, are in the possession of Capt. L. F. Hagglund, a skillful and experienced diver and wrecking expert, who conducted the salvage operations. He has been exhibiting the Philadelphia very commendably, but she and the other recovered vessels should have permanent moorings—on shore—at some conveniently reached centre, such as the museum of the University of the State of Vermont.

It is a far cry from Superior to Champlain, but both have had their Schooner Days, like all the lakes. Even Simcoe once had its sailing fleet. Seven schooners plied its sparkling waters.

Lake Champlain, stretching its narrow hundred and thirty-mile length north and south between New York and Vermont States into Canada, was a great water highway long before these countries had a name, long before Champlain saw its pathway. With the coming of the white man, fleets of sailing craft displaced the canoes of birch bark and elm bark. The first intended lake steamer was begun at old Vergennes on Lake Champlain in 1811. War fleets were built for Lake Champlain, and three pitched battles were fought at different points on its mile-wide surface.

The British built men-of-war of saltwater size, full rigged three-masted ships, like the Inflexible and the Confiance, with heavy batteries on their gun decks and on quarterback and forecastle besides. The Americans built two square-riggers, the ship Saratoga and the brig Eagle, but they preferred smaller craft, especially schooners, and after the war schooners flourished on the lake for trading purposes. Lake Champlain soon had steamers, and they still navigate it. The first vessel intended for steam navigation on any of the lakes was built for Champlain in 1811. By curious chance she turned out to be a schooner, for she was taken over by the United States Government while still on the stocks, and finished as the war schooner Ticonderoga for Commodore Macdonough's fleet. She may have been fitted with paddlewheels and engines after the war but she earned fame as a sailing vessel, and passed on her name to steamers of the Lake Champlain Navigation Company.



BRITISH FLEET ON Lake Champlain, 1776 - Left to right, Carleton, Inflexible, sloop-rigged Maria, Loyal Convert, Thunderer. Gunboats in the background. The flags shown are the same as in the British Navy to-day, a Red Cross in the pendants and on the white ensign, but the "union jack"in the corner lacks the "St. Patricks' cross" of red which was later imposed on the white St. Andrew's cross.

AMERICAN FLEET ON LAKE CHAMPLAIN, 1776 - Left to right, Revenge, Washington, Philadelphia (encircled), Congress, Boston, Lee, Royal Savage, with Spitfire between her and topsails, Jersey, New Haven, Providence, Connecticut, New York, Enterprise, Trumble. Both fleets were drawn by a British officer, C. Randle, and the originals, in water color, are in the Dominion Archives at Ottawa. It will be noted that the Continental flag at the time is shown as striped red and white with the old British "Union Jack" in the corner where the stars now appear.

BUDE HARBOR IN 1891 — The lines of the ships and their cap-ins are as follows :

On the left—1, Elizabeth, Capt. W. Brinton; 2, Sir T. D. Acland, Capt. G. Hallett; 3, Purveyor, Capt. H. Rooke; 4, Tavy, Capt. H. Mountjoy; 5, Hawk, Capt. F. Martin; 6, Lady Acland, Capt. E. Cunninghaip; 7, Boconnoc, Capt. W. Sluggett; 8, Kindly Light, Capt. J. B. Cook.

On the right—1, Friendship, Capt. A. Stephens; 2, Ant, Capt. H. Hines; 3, Brackley, Capt. Morgan; 4, Joseph

and Thomas, Capt. B. Shazell; 5, Stucley, Capt. W. Cook; 6, Wild Pigeon, Capt. C. Barrett; 7, Ceres, Capt. R. W. Petherick; 8, Du I Win, Capt. J. Chidgey.

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
9 Jan 1937
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 44.61893 Longitude: -73.4168
Richard Palmer
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
WWW address
Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.


Seen as She Died - End of a Fighting Ship: Schooner Days CCLXXIV (274)