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Sunken 1780 Warship Found in the Great Lakes

This handout image from video released Friday, June 13, 2008 by Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville, shows the crows nest and foremast of the sunken 228-year-old British warship HMS Ontario, a British warship built in1780 that has been discovered in deep water off the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Kennard and Scoville used side scanning sonar and an unmanned submersible to locate the HMS Ontario, which was lost with barely a trace and as many as 130 people on board during a gale in 1780. (AP Photo/ courtesy of Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville)
AP Photo:

A 22-gun British warship that sank during the American Revolution has been discovered at the bottom of the Great Lakes. The ship. Ontario, has long been regarded as one of the "Holy Grail" of shipwrecks. The ship was astonishingly well-preserved in the cold, deep water according to explorers .

This oldest shipwreck and the only fully intact British warship ever found in the Great Lakes.

"To have a Revolutionary War vessel that's practically intact is unbelievable. It's an archaeological miracle," said Canadian author Arthur Britton Smith, who chronicled the history of the HMS Ontario in a 1997 book, "The Legend of the Lake."

The finders of the wreck said they regard it as a war grave and have no plans to raise it or remove any of its artifacts. They said the ship is still considered the property of the British Admiralty. The vessel sits in an area where the water is up to 500 feet deep and cannot be reached by anyone but the most experienced divers, Kennard and Scoville declined to give its exact location, saying only that it was found off the southern shore.

The ship went down on Oct. 31, 1780, with a garrison of 60 British soldiers, a crew of about 40, mostly Canadians, and possibly about 30 American war prisoners.

The warship had been launched only five months earlier and was used to ferry troops and supplies along upstate New York's frontier. Although it was the biggest British ship on the Great Lakes at the time, it never saw battle.After the ship disappeared, the British conducted a sweeping search but tried to keep the sinking secret from Gen. George Washington's troops because of the blow to the British defenses.

Hatchway gratings, the binnacle, compasses and several hats and blankets drifted ashore the next day. A few days later the ship's sails were found adrift in the lake. In 1781, six bodies from the Ontario were found near Wilson, N.Y. For the next two centuries, there were no other traces of the ship.

Explorers have been searching for the Ontario for decades, and there have been numerous false finds over the years, said Eric Bloomquist, interpretative programs manager at Old Fort Niagara.

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