Underwater Archaeologists May Have Discovered the Oldest Shipwreck in Lake Erie

After an ill-fated journey hauling boulders sank it, the Lake Serpent is at last ready to tell its story

The bow of the ship, believed to be of the snake carving on the Lake Serpent. (David VanZandt, CLUE)

The Lake Serpent, an eight-year-old, 47-foot schooner, left Cleveland in September 1829 for the 55-mile trip to the Lake Erie Islands. Upon arriving at the island rich with limestone, the ship’s crew collected a load of stone to return to Cleveland. (Four years later, the island would be bought by a pair of brothers, Atus and Irad Kelley. It’s been known as Kelleys Island since.)

The ship never made it back, one of thousands to sink on the Great Lakes; the bodies of Captain Ezera Wright and his brother Robert washed ashore in Lorain County, just west of Cleveland. The Lake Serpent was lost forever at the bottom of the lake.

On Friday, however, the National Museum of the Great Lakes, located in nearby Toledo, announced that the Serpent may have been found, and it is believed to be the oldest-known shipwreck in Lake Erie.


The history of the Great Lakes is a microcosm of the history of the United States. Command of the Great Lakes was an important front in the War of 1812, and small outposts dotted around them grew into some of the nation’s biggest cities — Detroit, Chicago, Buffalo and Milwaukee. The lakes became relatively inexpensive methods to ship cargo, from taconite pellets from Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range to grain from America’s breadbasket.

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