200 Year Old US Warship may be buried in creek in upstate New York


A 200 year old US warship may be buried in French Creek Bay near Clayton, New York.  A cannon salvaged from the old hull of a shipwreck over a half century ago may be the link to the remains of the USS Oneida.

Americas first Warship on the Great Lakes.  The Oneida a brig of 18 guns, 243 tons, 85'6" length, 8' depth of hold was launched at Oswego, March 31st 1809.  Built by Henry Eckford for the US Navy, it was sold out of service May 15, 1815. It was later  repurchased by the U.S. Navy. Resold to Robert Hugunin and Refitted as  merchant vessel "Adjutant Clitz" in 1827.  The last owner was E.G.  Merrick of Clayton. Abandoned there in 1837.

Local folklore and History came together for the USS Oneida during a presentation at Great Lakes Underwater 2009, an Underwater Cultural Resource Event hosted by New York Sea Grant and the Oswego Maritime Foundation in Oswego NY March 7th 2009.  One of the presentations: "The USS Oneida -200th - Anniversary of America First Warship on the Great Lakes" detailed the history of the USS Oneida that was  launched on March 31st 1809 at Oswego NY.   A vessel of 262 ton, it had a distinguished service during the War of 1812.  As part of the presentation it was stated that historians did not believe that any remains of the Oneida still existed. In Robert Malcomson's book "Warships of the Great Lakes 1754-1834" page 142, the Oneida was listed as being sold out of US service and was "beached at Clayton New York in 1837". 

At the presentation was Skip Couch a residence of Clayton New York and descendent of Connecticut shipbuilders that settled in Clayton in the early 1800's.  As he listened to the talk, he realized that he may be the only living person to dive on the wreck of the Oneida

The presentation caused Skip to remember that years ago his Uncle Bill Couch told him about a cannon from a wreck in French Creek Bay at Clayton.  The Cannon had been mounted downtown through the efforts of the Clayton Fish & Rod Club in the early 1900's.   Skip's Uncle also said that because it was identified as a Relic of the War of 1812 the cannon was not lost to the Scrap Iron Recovery Plan during WWII. 

In the early 1970's, Tommy Turgeon, the Director of Thousand Island Ship Yard Museum, asked Skip Couch and Charlie Bender, both well known local Scuba Divers, to check on the location of the wreck that the old cannon was salvaged from, because of the marine construction taking place in the area. They found the remains of a wreck and recovered a number of artifacts for the museum including cannon balls, small pieces of iron and a bar shot.  These items were transferred to the New York State Historic Site at Sackets Harbor about 1973.  Charlie Bender passed away in 2006.

Stories passed down from Local Clayton residents, including Skip's ancestors, stated that "the Oneida lies in French Creek Bay next to one of its conquests".  Folklore also states that in the 1820's or 1830's, a Clayton based shipping company owned by E. G.  Merreck bought several vessels from someone in Oswego that had been part of the War of 1812 Fleet sold by the US government.  One of these was supposed to be the Oneida and she was refitted for the timber trade and sailed out of Clayton. She was presumed to be abandoned after many years and was left to decay in French Creek Bay at the mercy of the elements and ice.

It is very unique that an iron cannon and artifacts such as cannon balls and bar shot would be on a wreck in French Creek Bay, Clayton NY.  Iron could be carried in a ship for ballast and does not immediately confirm the ship's identity. Charles Trollope a member of the Ordnance Society in Great Britain reviewed photos and dimensions of the Cannon and identified it as of French design of the 1780-90s.  This puts the gun in the time frame that it could have been on the Oneida. It was also common that guns produced by one country would be bought or captured and used by an other country.  Robert Malcomson's book "Warships of the Great Lakes 1754-1834" page 65, list the Oneida as having 18 guns and two of them were 6 pounders. 

Skip Couch, a scuba diver since the 1960's, is a founding member of the Clayton Diving Club, Site director on the NYSDA  Carleton Island project, member of the Iroquise Project  and co-author of the book "Divers Guide to the Upper St. Lawrence River".  Skip's ancestors include Willard Cook, keeper of Rock Island Light House 1870 to 1879 and Ivan Couch, Clayton Ship builder who's St. Lawrence Skiff can be seen in the Clayton Antique Boat Museum.

More Information will be posted on http://www.ghostshipsofthe1000islands.com/  as it becomes available.

Email contact:   gs1000i@earthlink.net




anonymous by elizabeth on 4/27/2009

this is a interesting topic

anonymous by Percy on 3/23/2013
Have any of you hear of the shipwreck of the Oriental?
No, where did the Oriental sink? Best to ask this question in the Q&A .

Want to post a comment?

Join now for free to comment on this article.
Already have an account? Login to comment.

Related Posts

While searching for historic shipwrecks off Oswego we occasionally find modern boats on the bottom of Lake Ontario, the majority of which have been houseboats. Experienced boaters know that the lake can sometimes change very rapidly from calm waters into...  more »

The following facts have been compiled by explorers with combined experience totaling more than 80 years actively researching and discovering shipwrecks in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Lake Ontario: 56 shipwrecks* are estimated to be in the...  more »

Oswego, New York – A rare sailing craft identified as a scow-sloop has been located in deep water off Oswego, NY. In August 1872 the scow-sloop Black Duck was enroute from Oswego to Sackets Harbor when it foundered in a northwest gale. Only a small...  more »

Oswego, NY: At approximately 4:40am on the night of November 17th 1879 the crew of the dredge Gordon fought for their lives in a Lake Ontario gale. Few lived to tell the tale of the last moments before the barge turned on its side and sank in deep water....  more »

Two canal boats that may date back to the mid 1800’s have been discovered in Lake Ontario by a team of shipwreck explorers. Jim Kennard, Roger Pawlowski, and Roland Stevens located the canal boats using DeepVision side scan sonar while searching for...  more »

Rochester, New York - The wreckage of the schooner Atlas which sank in 1839 during a gale has been located in Lake Ontario. The Atlas may be the oldest confirmed commercial schooner discovered in the Great Lakes. A team of shipwreck enthusiasts, Jim...  more »

A rare dagger–board schooner, Three Brothers, has been discovered in deep water off Oswego, New York by a team of shipwreck enthusiasts. Jim Kennard, Roger Pawlowski, and Roland Stevens located the schooner in early July utilizing high resolution...  more »

Rochester, New York – The battered remains of the Canadian schooner Ocean Wave, which capsized and eventually sank from a sudden and violent squall, has been found in the depths of Lake Ontario. Shipwreck explorers Jim Kennard, Roger Pawlowski and...  more »

The Lost Ship of the Month for December is the legendary British gunboat HMS Speedy, lost with all hands in 1804 on Lake Ontario. The Speedy is one of the earliest lost ships still missing on the Great Lakes and played a significant role in Canadian...  more »

On June 20th 1874 the two masted scow schooner Shannon let loose her lines from the coal dock at the port of Oswego. Around 4:00pm the Shannon passed Oswego light and headed out into the lake. She had just taken on 100 tons of anthracite coal owned by...  more »

An early 1800’s schooner has been discovered in deep water off the southern shore of Lake Ontario near Oak Orchard, New York.  more »

Fair Haven, New York - The Canadian schooner Royal Albert has been discovered in deep water off the southern shore of Lake Ontario near Fair Haven, NY. Shipwreck explorers, Jim Kennard and Roger Pawlowski located the shipwreck utilizing a high resolution...  more »

Submit your own


Ask a Question

Shipwrecks of Lake Ontario - A Journey of Discovery Book

The National Museum of the Great Lakes is excited to announce the release of a new book titled Shipwrecks of Lake Ontario: A Journey of Discovery. This book contains stories of long lost shipwrecks and the journeys of the underwater explorers who found them, written by Jim Kennard with paintings by Roland Stevens and underwater imagery by Roger Pawlowski.

Buy Now!

Legend of the Lake - New Discovery Edition Book

The recent discovery of the wreck of the British warship Ontario, “the Holy Grail” of Great Lakes shipwrecks, solves several mysteries that have puzzled historians since the ship sank more than two centuries ago. Now, for the first time, the whole tragic story of the Ontario can finally be told.

Buy Now!