In the mid 1970's, the New York State Diver's Association worked under a New York State permit to excavate a ship wreck in North Bay Carleton Island in the St. Lawrence River near Cape Vincent, NY. Carleton Island was a shipyard and shipment terminal occupied only during the American Revolutionary War. It was the supply post on the North East end of Lake Ontario where goods were transferred from small river bateaux onto lake sailing vessels. Two volunteer Divers/researchers on the project, Dennis McCarthy and Michael Hughes of Syracuse, became interested in trying to identify the wreck in North Bay by the process of eliminating vessels that would have existed at the time Carleton Island was operational. Available to the researchers was a list of vessels that the British held on Lake Ontario from 1760 to 1778.
In searching primary documents in the Canadian National Archives, Mike Hughes discovered a court of inquiry of a ship wreck in 1761. This court of inquiry was of the British vessel H.M.S. ANSON (Click here to see Letters) that had been "cast away" on an unknown ledge of rocks in the St. Lawrence River. By comparing information from the 1761 court of inquiry with a documented list of what had happened to the fleet on Lake Ontario from 1760 to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, it was concluded that the court of inquiry had to relate to one of two possible ships. These two ships had been captured from the French by General Amhurst in 1760. Additional documents were used to determine that the vessel which had run aground and been "cast away" was the renamed French corvette l’IROQUOISE.
Letters from from the ship's commander to the commanding officer of Fort Niagara Fort William Agustus( Chimney Isle) and Fort Ontario, placed the "cast away" location of the IROQUOISE in the area of the Narrows, which lies in the New York State waters of the St. Lawrence River between Wesley Island and the mainland.
Having found this information, Michael Hughes and Dennis McCarthy began to talk to other divers about shipwrecks that had been found in the Narrows. They discovered that in 1962 divers had removed French cannons from a wreck on Niagara Shoal. The location of Niagara Shoal fit the description given in the 1761 court of inquiry on the loss of the H.M.S. ANSON. One of the cannons had been donated to Jefferson Community College in Watertown NY and is currently on display at the campus.
In 1972, a scuba diver from Syracuse recovered a wood stocked anchor from Niagara Shoal. The anchor had a large ring, which is typical of older anchors that used hemp rope rather than anchor chains, which the more modern smaller rings are designed to be used with. From photos that were sent to the Smithsonian, the anchor was identified as being from the 18th century. The anchor was viewed by SRHF members in 1994 at the New York State preservation center at Pebble Island.
In the early 1980's Michael Hughes and Dennis McCarthy were taken to the site of the shipwreck by Skip Couch of Clayton. The vessel was laying in 65 ft to 80 ft of water. At the time, visibility was very poor and the shipwreck was very difficult to dive due to very strong currents at the site. A limited survey of the vessel showed it was in a deteriorated state. It was completely open with only the very lowest potion of the vessel remaining. Having been a diving site since 1960, no visible artifacts remained.
In 1993, interest in this vessel rekindled when Peter Engelbert, Staff Archaeologist from the Ontario Ministry of Culture and Tourism, visited the site. Dennis McCarthy and Michael Hughes returned to Niagara Shoal for the first time in over ten years. It was evident that the vessel had deteriorated greatly. It was completely covered in zebra mussels, adding significant weight to the extremely fragile structure. With the renewed interest in the shipwreck and concern for its deterioration, the St. Lawrence River Historical Foundation Inc. (SRHF) was formed as a non-profit corporation in July of 1994. SRHF’s charter is to promote research and education regarding the maritime history of the St. Lawrence River. The IROQUOISE PROJECT of SRHF is designed to document through non contact methods the wreck on Niagara Shoal and to preserve this information for future generations, regardless of what happens to the vessel itself.