The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Finding a Ship for a Padlocked Anchor: Schooner Days CCLIV (254)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), Aug. 22, 1936

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Schooner Days No. 254
by C.H.J. Snider

As said last week, every anchor has its story, and we promised to go on with those shackled to the big 700- pound anchor bedded in the Lake where the vanished Port Granby had a pier. We shall do so, but it will have to be next week, for in the meantime they have found an anchor at Niagara, supposedly ancient, and we would like , with your consent and company, to pause long enough to examine it a little.

So many ships and so many anchors have been lost in the mouth of the Niagara River since La Salle's shallop, the Frontenac, first approached it in November, 1678, that it may appear futile to speculate upon the identity of the vessel to which the large anchor found there Aug. 5th, 1936, belonged.

Commodore Chauncey lost two schooners off the river north in the War of 1812, and of course, their anchors with them. His fleet probably dropped several anchors which never came back, in the three war years during which they used the river, for several, of his vessels got ashore at different times.

Commercial sailing vessels, large and small, traded into Niagara up to the end of the last century. Probably the Toronto schooner Snow Bird was the last of these, arriving at Youngstown, NY with a cargo of apples in 1904. Doubtless many of them lost anchors.

Someone has quoted as saying that this anchor "dated back two hundred years and that had been carried by a three-masted French sailing vessel of 70 tons." That is poor guesswork . There are no distinguishing marks on anchors carried by French three-masters of seventy tons," nor is proof to hand that the French ever had a three-masted vessel of seventy or any other number of tons on Lake Ontario.

So far as contemporary pictorial evidence goes the craft the French built up to the time of the English conquest were one-masted and two-masted vessels only. Labroquerie and Pouchot have drawn nearly a dozen portraits of these in their 18th century maps with details and rig. On the anchor just dredged up the letters "REENE" have been deciphered. These might indicate the maker's name or the name of the vessel to which it belonged. Possibly the last part of "Greene." Anchors forged by the old ironworks or blacksmiths seldom had names, owing to the difficulty of cutting them in, but later anchors sometimes show moulded inscriptions.

One of the anchors of the schooner Caledonia, wrecked fifty years ago at Oshawa and recovered recently by Gordon Conant, K.C., Crown Attorney, bears the name "Montreal," indicating the place of its casting. The great anchor at Holland Landing, welded in England for a full-sized frigate, intended to be built at Penetanguishene in 1815, is marked with the governmental broad arrow and "CHATHAM 35-3-0," indicating that it weights thirty-five hundredweight and three-quarters. This anchor is sixteen feet long.

From its length and weight, reported at ten feet and 850 pounds, the Niagara anchor must have been for a larger, but not very large, vessel. It would serve for some of the schooners which used to carry coal to Toronto. The anchors of the schooner Stuart H. Dunn, which had a maximum capacity of 1,000 tons, were not ten feet long but they weighed 1,760 pounds. Possibly this Niagara anchor has weighed a little more than it does now, but it has not greatly rusted away.

Mark of an ancient anchor is that it is slim as compared with the modern anchor; its stock, or cross-piece, is of wood; the arms are straight, and set at an angle to the shank or "stem." It was only in 1813 that the British navy adopted the curved arm which is such an accepted feature of anchor patterns. Prior to this time, for at least half a century, the navy had been experimenting with the curved arm in kedges, which are small anchors, such as could be handled by ships' boats and used for temporary moorings. Iron or steel stocks are not exclusively modern, but their use increased with the development of steel castings. The older wooden stocks, especially those used in men-of-war, were square in section and composed of two beams, clamped together with iron bands.

The excellent museum at Niagara-on-the-lake has some small anchors which were dredged up in the river mouth. One of these is attributed to H.M sloop-of-war Ontario, which was lost with all on board, including a regiment of solders, in a voyage from Niagara to Oswego, in 1780. But the identification is incredible. The anchor is too small for the Ontario to have used, except for one of her boats, and it is modern in pattern. It might have been lost by a yacht or stonehooker this century. All that was ever found of the Ontario was the drum of the 8th King's Regiment, washed up somewhere on the American shore in the vicinity of the Devil's Nose, a drum said to beat still on stormy nights along the south shore when the west wind scourges the fleeing white horses of the lake.

So we must be cautious identifying this latest find.

On careful examination this Niagara anchor appears to have fair claims to French paternity, dating back probably to the year 1759.

Its nationality is indicated, if not proven by negative indications its slimness and greater proportion of shank to arms and the great size of its ring which is almost 20 inches in diameter and in one complete circle.

These are strong proof that it is not likely to be a commercial vessel's anchor of the present century or of the preceding one. From the size of its ring and the length of its shank it would seem to have been intended for use with hempen cables rather than chain and hempen cables for lake anchors have not been in general use for the last hundred years. The rounding of the sections of the shank and of the arms of this anchor make it improbable that it could have been a standard navy pattern anchor used by British men-of-war in the 18th and early 18th century.

Plates from Falconer's Universal Marine Dictionary 1769 (an accepted authority for the Royal Navy, for Falconer was in the Royal Navy) show that the British anchor of the time had shank and arms octagonal in section and sharply beveled. The head of the Niagara anchor is squared and beveled in the same style as the British navy pattern.

The arms of the Niagara anchor are unique, they do not correspond to the straight arms of the 18th century British navy anchor, which were straight from end to end, from the peak of the crown, to the tips of the palms of the flukes. Nor do they correspond to the curve of the arms, of a kedge, or a modern standard anchor, where the arms are often an unbroken arc.

The arms of the Niagara anchor are straight from the crown to the beginning of the flukes and are here bent sharply upward, making an obtuse angle. They could not have been bent thus in breaking moorings from hard holding ground, for the strain would be the other way. In fact they indicate a definite design to overcome the old fault of the ancient straight-armed anchor, and one which led to its abandonment. The old straight arms were apt to break off at the crown when the strain came. The Niagara anchor is designed to take up that strain on the flukes, so that they would straighten out before the arms broke off.

There is no stock with the Niagara anchor, but there is plain evidence that it has had a wooden stock and that its wooden stock was not simply a bored log, driven down over the head of the shank when the ring was removed, but that it was built up of two beams, bolted and clamped together in the fashion already mentioned.

The bored log method was used by our lake schooners last century for that reason the rings in the heads of their anchors were often shackles, easily removed by taking out the pin. A pair of lugs worked into the iron of the shank show that the Niagara anchor had once a square wooden stock, built up in the usual fashion of the 18th century.

As often happens when it is discovered that a piece of junk is also an antique, there has arisen a controversy over the "ownership" of the Niagara anchor. Roy C. Harding, of Beaver, Pa, dredge engineer, claimed the anchor as his by "finder's rights" whatever these may be. He said it was "lying on the bank, in 30 feet of water," which appears somewhat confusing. It might be explained by the fact that a sand-dredger has been working on the bank or bar outside the Niagara river for years. This is at some considerable distance, a mile or more, from the ancient fort of Niagara on the American side of the river, which was French from 1688 or 1760, English from 1760 to 1796 and American from 1796 onwards, with the exception of the time when British Canadians crossed the river and captured it in 1814.

But it is also said that the anchor was found "near the site once used as a landing place by the British and French forces." This was on the east side of the river, just inside the rocks which mark its entry to the lake, and is now part of Fort Niagara. Consequently the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has made a remarkably good job of restoring the old Fort, may claim the anchor. But a Youngstown, N. Y., coal dealer bought it from the dredge man has it padlocked. So there you are.

The old anchorage and landing place mentioned are clearly marked by the French commander, de Pouchot, capitaine au regiment de Beaux, whose large map shows both the complete detail of Fort Niagara in 1759, and names the opposite point of the river where Fort Mississauga now stands as "Pointe du Mont Real."

His map, parts of which have been photographed for The Telegram , shows two vessels in the river, one standing in from the lake under courses and topsail, the other moored at the landing place.

The vessels, naively drawn, are full of quaint detail and are convincing portraits. Both are square rigged, with two masts sprit sails on the bowsprits and raised quarter decks surrounded by open rails, or possibly, hammock nettings. The one moored shows six guns, three guns to a side, and wears a three-striped jack on her bowsprit, a triangular vane or weatherflag at her foremast head and a shallow-tailed vane and long white pendant at her mainmast head. She has a square maintopsail, furled on its yard, and with the microscope one can detect evidence of a square mainsail. She had a fore and aft mainsail as well and might be called a brigantine in rig.

The vessel under sail would be a brig or snow in the 18th century English definition of rigs. She has square topsails and courses set on each mast. Her spritsail is furled. No other sails are shown clearly. On her foremast she has a triangular flag, on the mainmast a square one. At the stern, on a staff, she wears another square white flag, probably the "drapeau blanc" or French naval ensign. She has ten guns, five to a side. Like the moored vessels, her forecastle appears to be raised as well as her quarterdeck and there are indications of an anchor, all ready to let go.

Was this the very anchor recovered on Aug. 5th, 1936?

Quite possibly.

In May, 1759, the French launched at Pointe au Baril, three miles above Ogdensburg on the St. Lawrence, two vessels, the last they were destined to build in Canada under the fleur-de-lys. These were "intended for ten pieces of twelve-pound cannon." They were the Iroquois and the Ottawa. Their French names were L'Iroquoise and L'Outaouaise, and they are called "corvettes" and "barques" in the old records. This does not mean that they three masts, as would be the case were they English vessels: both terms were applied to small cruisers by the French.

Both vessels visited Niagara, Pouchot mentions particularly the Iroquois being in the river, and a fast voyage from Niagara to Kingston in twenty-four hours, which established a record.

The Iroquois had to get out of Niagara in still hotter haste when the English captured the place in July, 1759. It is quite possible that the anchor, just found, is one she had to leave behind when she cut her cable and scurried away to escape the bombardment which hauled down the French flag forever from Fort Niagara. It still flies there, it is true, side by side with the old Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes, but it flies by courtesy.

Both the Iroquois and the Ottawa were captured by the British in the following year in the bloody battles in the St. Lawrence, only this summer the writer recovered from the wreck one of them the leaden, scuppers which ran red with gore one hundred and seventy-six years ago.

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Aug. 22, 1936
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Richard Palmer
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Finding a Ship for a Padlocked Anchor: Schooner Days CCLIV (254)