Saturday, January 31, 2009

France Claims 17th Century Lake Michigan Shipwreck

The Griffon
Engraving of the Griffon

based on a news article in the Detroit Free Press, "France claims rights to Lake Michigan shipwreck," by John Flesher, Jan 30, 2009

Although divers of the Great Lakes Exploration LLC located what they believe to be the remains of a 17th Century vessel both Michigan and France want title.

The Griffin, or Griffon, was a barque, built in 1769 near Niagara Falls under the supervision of the explorer LaSalle. She began a journey ascending the Great Lakes and reached the Straits of Mackinac on August 27. She made Washington Island at the entrance to Green Bay (Wisconsin) and rode out a storm there. Taking on a cargo of 12,000 pounds of furs worth 50-60 thousand francs, she set sail to descend the lakes on September 18. LaSalle chose to remain in Wisconsin, and it may have been the lack of his leadership which caused the ensuing catastrophe. Another infamous autumn storm arose, and a few days later portions of the vessel were seen on a sand bar in northern Lake Michigan. The Griffon was the first shipwreck on the upper Great Lakes.

The lake has owned her for over 200 years, but the French government says it wants her back. They have filed a claim in US District Court. Whoever wins the claim will have the right to salvage artifacts from the vessel. Michigan says that federal law gives the state ownership of vessels embedded in Great Lakes bottomlands. Great Lakes Exploration is hoping to be appointed custodian until the court makes a decision concerning the rights.

France claims that its suit has merit because the ship was not a private vessel, but was sailing for the French Crown. State and Federal attorneys are studying the documents and the law.

Some people are not even certain that the find is that of the Griffon. The exact location is being kept private, but it is believed to be between Escanaba and the St. Martin Islands. Although very little of the ship’s timbers are visible to divers a sonar examination indicates the presence of artifacts. Another remote sensing expedition is planned for this summer to attempt to identify more of the artifacts.

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