The wreck of the Griffon

The Griffon was the first decked sailing vessel on the Great Lakes. Built in 1678-1679 on the Niagara River in New York state by Robert de La Salle, a French explorer, it was to be used primarily in search of the northwest passage and as a fur trading vessel. However, after making the harrowing trip across Lakes Erie, Huron and Michigan through uncharted waters to present day Green Bay, it sank on it’s return trip with 12,000 pounds of fur on board.

Little is known about the circumstances surrounding the sinking of the Griffon. La Salle had disembarked in present day Wisconsin to continue exploration down the western coast of Lake Michigan in canoes, his ship returning with the furs to acquire further funding for his exploration. The wreck of the Griffon has long been considered lost to the waves of Lake Michigan (insert seagull squawks here).

Enter Steve Libert and his Great Lakes Exploration Group. Libert had discovered what he thought was the wreck of the Griffon northeast of Green Bay in 2001. After nearly a decade of litagation with the state of Michigan and with France, an agreement was reached in July 2010 to allow Libert to proceed to phase 2 of a non-invasive survey of the wreck. Phase 3, if approved, would involve an excavation of the wreck.

One of La Salle’s other ships, used in his exploration of the Mississippi delta, was excavated in 1995.

One interesting side note is that while La Salle was the first to attempt any organized exploration of the upper Misssissippi watershed, he was thwarted by the falls of the Ohio at Louisville in 1669. Guess who was the first European to find the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio in 1673? Yep, Pere Jacques Marquette, namesake of our home river.

And finally, because it’s winter and because it’s blowing 30mph and it’s snowing pretty hard, we’re going to have some more summertime shipwreck goodness soon. This time from Beaver Island. Turns out Kevin loves shipwrecks.

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