Remarkable 1881 shipwreck discovery: Intact with crew's possessions in Lake Michigan

14:59 02.09.2023

Shipwreck hunters have made a remarkable discovery in Lake Michigan, uncovering the intact wreckage of the Trinidad, a schooner that sank in 1881. The ship was found lying beneath approximately 300 feet of water, around 10 miles off the shoreline of Algoma, Wisconsin. The discovery concludes a two-year search for the vessel, which was described as "little more than a floating coffin" during its final voyage. Built in 1867, the Trinidad was primarily used as a cargo ship in the grain trade between Milwaukee, Chicago, and Oswego, New York. The ship played a vital role in transporting wheat from the Midwest to cities along the East Coast, such as Philadelphia, Boston, and New York.

According to Brendon Baillod, president of the Wisconsin Underwater Archaeology Association, the schooners of that era were built with the specific purpose of making millionaires. However, records of the Trinidad reveal that it was poorly maintained by its owners, resulting in constant leaks and frequent repairs. Captain John Higgins, concerned for the ship's safety, docked it in Port Huron, Michigan, during a voyage in late 1880. He decided to wait until spring to resume the journey, but tragedy struck on the morning of May 11, 1881.

As the crew prepared for departure, the Trinidad began taking on water. Despite their efforts to pump it out, the ship's water pumps were unable to keep up with the leaks. Captain Higgins made the difficult decision to abandon the vessel, and he and his crew rowed for hours on a lifeboat through freezing waters to reach the shore at Algoma. They survived, but their beloved Newfoundland dog perished with the sinking ship.

Brendon Baillod and Robert Jaeck, shipwreck hunters, began their search for the Trinidad two years ago. Captain Higgins had left a detailed account of where the ship sank, making it an ideal candidate for discovery. Using sonar technology, Baillod and Jaeck located the wreckage off Algoma. Initially unsure about the find, they decided to investigate further. The length of the wreck matched that of the Trinidad, leading them to contact the Wisconsin Historical Society's underwater archaeologist, Tamara Thomsen. Thomsen organized a thorough survey of the site, which confirmed the ship's identity and revealed remarkably preserved artifacts.

Baillod describes the Trinidad as a "ship in a bottle" and one of the best-preserved shipwrecks in Wisconsin waters. The deckhouse is still intact, containing the crew's possessions, and the anchors and deck gear remain present. Baillod hopes to have the wreck added to the National Register of Historic Places and believes that these resources should be visible and accessible to the public.

This discovery adds to the long list of shipwrecks found in the Great Lakes. Experts estimate that over 6,000 ships have gone down in these waters since the late 1600s. Researchers continue to search for lost vessels, uncovering previously unknown pieces of history. The discovery of the Trinidad not only sheds light on the importance of the grain trade between the Midwest and the East Coast but also provides a glimpse into the lives of the crew and the tragic events that led to the ship's sinking over a century ago.

/ Saturday, September 2, 2023, 2:59 PM /

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