North America's Great Lakes — Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario — were a hub of maritime activity in the 1800s. Thousands of ships used the inland waterways to move cargo and passengers between cities. Among them was a sailing ship named Trinidad that sank in Lake Michigan about 150 years ago. On September 2, 2023, the Wisconsin Historical Society announced that the remains of the long-lost boat had finally been found.
The 140-foot-long (42-meter-long) ship was discovered at a depth of about 270 feet (82 meters) off the shores of Algoma, Wisconsin. Maritime historians Brendon Baillod and Bob Jaeck, who led the search, say the wreck is surprisingly well-preserved.
"We were stunned to see that not only was the deckhouse still on her [the ship], but it still had all the cabinets with all the dishes stacked in them and all the crew's effects," Baillod told the New York Times. "It's really like a ship in a bottle. It's a time capsule."
Trinidad was one of many vessels that transported coal from New York to Chicago and Milwaukee. On their return, the ships were filled with Wisconsin wheat to supply East Coast cities. The lucrative trade is believed to have earned the shipowners a lot of money.
Despite making a fortune, Trinidad's owner spent little on the ship's maintenance. Within ten years, the cargo vessel had started to fall apart. The hull was broken, and it had known leaks. By 1879, the ship was deemed unsafe to sail. But that did not deter the owner, who continued using it to carry goods.
On May 11, 1881, Trinidad was traveling down the coast of Wisconsin towards Milwaukee when the cargo hold began to fill up with water. The crew tried to draw out the water with pumps. However, they could not keep up with the inflow, and the boat began to sink. Fortunately, the captain and the crew managed to escape in a small boat and make it safely to Algoma.
Baillod and Jaeck now plan to "thoroughly document" the well-preserved vessel. They are also trying to get it added to the National Register of Historic Places so it can be preserved for future generations to admire.
"She's not the only ship that's in really good shape out in Wisconsin waters," Baillod told the New York Times, "But I'd say she's top two or three."
Resources: NPR.com, Shipwreckworld.com, CNN.com, NYT.com