From the Collection of C. Patrick Labadie #

Built at: Dexter, NY Vessel Type:  Schooner  
Hull Materials: Wood  Number of Decks: 1 POWER Number of Masts:2
DIMENSIONS Tonnage (old style) 27
About 6 miles NW Oswego, NY. Lake Ontario.
Date: 1839 How Foundered in rough seas.
Final Cargo: Stone.
1838 Enrolled in Sacketts Harbor, NY.
1839, May 4 Foundered Lake Ontario in a northwest gale. Bound Chaumont-Oswego. Owned Ortha Little & Son, Dexter, NY Bound Oswego from Chaumont with limestone when encountered a Northwest gale. Was thought a shift in the cargo caused her to sink rapidly. Steamer TELEGRAPH found only a pair of oars and some articles of clothing

Discovery #

Wreck located in June 2013. Tremendous damage indicates that the Atlas hit bottom violently. Possibly the oldest wreck discovered to date (2013).

Central NY News By The Associated Press #

Lake Ontario shipwreck found: Explorers locate the Atlas, a schooner that sank in 1839 near Oswego

Posted Jul 25, 2013

OSWEGO, N.Y. — The sunken remains of a vessel that’s believed to be the oldest confirmed commercial schooner shipwreck in the Great Lakes has been found in Lake Ontario near Oswego, where it went down during a fierce storm in 1839, a team of New York-based underwater explorers announced.

Jim Kennard of Fairport, Roger Pawlowski of Gates, and Roland Stevens of Poultneyville said Thursday they located the wreck of the Atlas last month while searching for sunken ships on Lake Ontario’s eastern end. The team’s side-scan sonar found the shipwreck in more than 200 feet of water about 2 miles north of Oswego, Kennard said.

The 52-foot Atlas sank during a violent storm in May 1839 while taking a cargo of limestone quarried in Jefferson County to Oswego. None of the five crew members on board survived. Built the year before in Jefferson County, the two-masted ship was built specifically for hauling building stone from local quarries, Kennard said.

The Atlas was nearing Oswego’s harbor when it was hit by gale-force winds that likely shifted the heavy cargo, causing the schooner to sink quickly and giving its crew no time to get to their lifeboat, Kennard said. The sinking was witnessed by people onshore. A rescue ship sent out to look for survivors only found a few items belonging to the crew, he said. “It literally sank like a stone,” Kennard said.

Video images of the shipwreck indicate the schooner hit the lake’s bottom hard, toppling the masts and causing the deck to collapse on itself, he said. The ship’s wheel, heavily encrusted with mussels, remains intact. The ship’s name doesn’t appear on the hull, but that’s not unusual for a wreck as old as the Atlas, Kennard said.

“It would be nice if the name was on the back of the ship, but names don’t end up existing after quite a number of years like that,” he said. Kennard said the Atlas was the only ship of that size known to have sunk near Oswego while hauling cut stone. The team’s video shows some of the stone cargo still in the ship’s hold.

Other commercial schooner shipwrecks on the Great Lakes could be older than the Atlas, but none have been positively identified, Kennard said. “There was commercial shipping prior to that, of course, but we’ve not been able to find” those shipwrecks, said Carrie Sowden, archaeological director for the Great Lakes Historical Society in Vermilion, Ohio. “This gives us an opportunity to learn more about early shipping — how they were built, how they were operated.”

Atlas will be left where it lies.

Victims: #

Ashel Westcott, age 26, Brownville, Jefferson County Ortha Little, age 48, part-owner, Hounsfield, Jefferson County William Ackerman, age 19, sailor, Brownville, Jefferson County John See, age 18, sailor Asa Davis, age 30, owner of the cargo, Chaumont (Westcott, Little & Davis were married.)

Oswego Palladium  May 8, 1839 #

The schr. ATLAS, of Dexter, Jefferson County, on her passage to this port with a cargo of stone from Chaumont, when within about two miles of our village, was seen to founder and sink beneath the waves. The wind at the time was blowing fresh from the northwest, and the sea very rough. The steamer Telegraph, lying in port, was despatched as soon as the steam could be set up, to the spot where the vessel went down, but nothing was discovered except a pair of oars, a coat, two hats and a pair of boots, which were secured. Before the TELEGRAPH left the harbor, a Canadian vessel coming in before the wind had passed the place where the vessel disappeared, but nothing was discovered of her or the unfortunate persons on board. It is supposed that her cargo must have shifted by the action of the waves, and caused the schooner to go down so suddenly, as to carry the persons on board down with her. The following are the names of the persons on board the ATLAS: Ashel Westcott, of Brownville, Jefferson County, aged about 26; Ortha Little, of Hounsfield, Jefferson County, part-owner of the schooner and a sailor on board, aged 48; William Ackerman of Brownville, a sailor, aged 19; John See, a sailor, aged 18; and Asa Davis of Chaumont, owner of the cargo, aged 30 years, son of Phineas Davis, of Mexico, in this county. His sudden and untimely death is a severe affliction to his bereaved parents, who, within the same week, was called to mourn the loss of a beloved daughter. All of the above persons, with the exception of Ackerman and See, were men of families. It has been reported that two females were on board the ATLAS, but we have it from good authority that this is not correct.

 Buffalo Commercial Advertiser Thursday, May 9, 1839 #

Schooner Lost – We learn that on Saturday last the schooner Atlas, from Sackett’s Harbor, was capsized off the piers at Oswego, by which the crew, five in number, together with two ladies, passengers, were drowned. The schooner was laden with stone, and this was the first season of its running. The TELEGRAPH went to the assistance of the vessel but was too late to render assistance.

Cleveland Daily Herald Saturday, May 11, 1839, p.2 col. 1 #

SCHOONER LOST.—SEVEN PERSONS DROWNED.—The Schooner ATLAS, of Dexter, Capt. Wescott, went down under a closed reefed mainsail within sight of Oswego, in a gale on the morning of the 4th. inst. The Steamboat TELEGRAPH was immediately sent out to the spot where the vessel went down, but no traces of her were seen, except a few floating articles. Seven persons lost, amongst them two females.

Oswego County Whig #

Distressing Casualty. – Early on the morning of Saturday last, a small schooner was noticed by our citizens, about two miles off, making for this harbor. – The wind was then and had been blowing with some violence during the preceding night, and as the lake was rough and boisterous, some anxiety was manifested as to the fate of the unknown vessel. At about eight o’clock she was seen distinctly to go down, and the conviction settled upon each beholder of the melancholy scene, that all was lost. The steamboat TELEGRAPH went out, in order to pick up anything that might be left of life or property, but the time was so long before she was in readiness or could reach the spot, nothing was discovered but a pair of oars, a coat, two hats and a pair of boots, which were picked up. It has since been ascertained that the lost vessel was the ATLAS, Capt. Asahel Westcott, owned by Ortha Little & Son, of Dexter, and was loaded with building stone for this place. The persons lost were the captain, Mr. Asahel Westcott, of Brownville – the crew, consisting of Ortha Little, of Dexter, William Ackerman and John Lee of Brownville, – and a passenger, Asa Davis, of Chaumont, son of Phineas Davis of Mexico, in this county. Asahel Westcott, Ortha Little, and Asa Davis have left wives to mourn their untimely death – the other two were unmarried. We are happy to state that the report in the Herald of yesterday that two females were unfounded – the whole number of persons on board being only five, the names of whom we have given above. Mr. Davis’ is peculiarly a bereaved family, it being only a week ago last Sunday, that he was called to follow to the tomb his youngest daughter, Mary, wife of Elisha Hamilton, of Mexico.


Explorers find 1839 shipwreck in Lake Ontario7/25 – Toledo, Ohio – The National Museum of the Great Lakes has announced the discovery of the wreckage of the schooner Atlas, which sank in 1839, in Lake Ontario. The Atlas is speculated to be the oldest confirmed commercial schooner discovered in the Great Lakes. A team of shipwreck enthusiasts, funded by a grant from the National Museum of the Great Lakes/Great Lakes Historical Society, located the schooner while searching for sunken ships near Oswego, N.Y.

In early May of 1839, the Atlas was transporting a cargo of Black River limestone from Chaumont to the port of Oswego. Within a few miles of its destination the Atlas encountered gale force winds from the northwest, which more than likely caused a shift in the heavy cargo, taking the schooner swiftly to the bottom of Lake Ontario. The schooner sank so quickly that there was no time for anyone to escape and all on board were lost. Only a few items from the schooner, including a pair of oars, a coat, two hats and a pair of boots, were found later by the steamer Telegraph that had been sent out to where the Atlas was seen going down. The Atlas was located in late June by a high resolution DeepVision side scan sonar system. Last week the team returned to deploy an underwater remote operated vehicle (ROV) and obtain a video recording of the remains of the shipwreck. At a depth of more than 300 feet the visibility is limited to lighting provided by the ROV. The remains of the schooner can best be summed up as a mess.

The ship sank like the stone it was carrying, hitting hard on the bottom of Lake Ontario and collapsing the deck. The impact probably weakened the sides of the schooner, causing them to fall away. One of the masts is resting to the starboard side of the wreck and the other is back past the port stern of the ship. Only the aft deck remains, with the ship’s wheel heavily encrusted with mussels. Just forward of this deck is one of the holds of the ship, containing a large piece of cut stone. From this area to the bow boards jut out at different angles, indicating how violent the impact must have been when it crashed into the bottom. At the bow one anchor is still hanging on the starboard side, while the port anchor is resting on the bottom. The video appears to show a reinforced stern area from which the stone was probably loaded. The best estimate of the ship size is approximately 52 feet in length with a beam of 16 ½ feet. A search of shipwreck databases and discussions with several maritime historians was made to determine if there was another previously discovered Great Lakes commercial schooner that may be older than the Atlas. There has been some speculation of earlier vessels but none have been positively identified. Historic shipwrecks abandoned and embedded in New York State underwater lands belong to the people of the State of New York and are protected by state and federal law from unauthorized disturbance. The Atlas, a two-masted schooner, was built in Dexter, NY in 1838 and owned by Ortha Little & Son for the specific purpose of transporting building stone from the quarries in the Chaumont, N.Y. area. The cargo was owned by Asa Davis, who at that time was furnishing the cut stone for the U.S. government pier in Oswego. Stone from the Davis quarries was later used in the construction of the Gerrit Smith building (public library) and a number of other structures in Oswego.

The crew of the Atlas consisted of Ashel Westcott, of Brownville, Jefferson county, aged about 26; Ortha Little, of Hounsfield, Jefferson county, part owner of the schooner and a sailor on board, aged 48; William Ackerman of Brownville, a sailor, aged 19; John See, a sailor, aged 18; and Asa Davis of Chaumont, owner of the cargo, aged 30 years, son of Phineas Davis, of Mexico, NY. The National Museum of the Great Lakes, currently under construction on the banks of the Maumee River in downtown Toledo, is expected to open in April 2014.

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