J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Ontario Found in Lake Ontario

The biggest Revolutionary news last month was the discovery of H.M.S. Ontario in the frigid waters of Lake Ontario. The story also offered a way to assay how different countries remember the Revolutionary War. Here’s a quote from the dispatch on the find from the Associated Press:

The Ontario 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, Smith said.

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.
The Globe & Mail of Toronto gave less emphasis to Washington and the American prisoners, and more to the threat of invasion from the south:
It was 1780. Yankee militias were threatening to storm across Lake Ontario and seize Montreal from the British. And if it weren't for the intimidating profile of the 226-tonne Ontario - 22 cannons, two 80-foot masts, a beamy hull with cargo space for 1,000 barrels - they just may have.

But six months after it launched, the pride of the Great Lakes fleet sailed into a Halloween squall with around 120 passengers on board and was never seen again.

It remains the worst-ever disaster recorded on Lake Ontario, according to Kingston historian Arthur Britton Smith.
For further contrast, the Independent of London’s article gives no number, even an approximate one, for the American P.O.W.s. The following photograph comes from the Telegraph, and shows the crow’s nest of the Ontario’s foremast.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic discovery! I live near Rochester and actually got to meet these two fellas who found the wreck a year or so ago. They were speakers at a club I belong to and after seeing how much work they do and their dedication and passion for history, it's fantastic to see their hard work pay off with such a monumental discovery. They are deserving fellows, to be sure.

Good on them both!