Long-Lost Shipwreck In Depths Of Great Lakes Is Like "A Time Capsule"

The schooner Trinidad was "a floating coffin” during its working years.


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

Diver Zach Whitrock descends on the shipwreck of Trinidad

Diver Zach Whitrock descends on the shipwreck of the Trinidad.

Image courtesy of Tamara Thomsen, State Historical Society of Wisconsin

The sunken wreck of a schooner that sunk in Lake Michigan during its final voyage in 1881 has been discovered by a team of shipwreck hunters. Still loaded with its crew’s possessions, the shipwreck has been described as a “time capsule” from 19th-century America. 

Maritime historians Brendon Baillod and Bob Jaeck located the wreck of the schooner Trinidad at a depth of 82 meters (270 feet) off the coast of Algoma in Wisconsin earlier this year, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.


The schooner Trinidad was built in 1867 at Grand Island, New York, designed to serve as a “canaller” to pass through the relatively skinny Welland Canal between Lake Erie and Ontario. 

Its job was to ship iron and coal from Oswego in New York and deliver into Chicago and Milwaukee on the western Lakes. She would return with wheat from the prairies of Wisconsin, ready to be traded in the big East Coast cities. 

The Trinidad's Wheel shipwreck standing after 142 years.
The Trinidad's wheel still standing after 142 years.
Image courtesy of Tamara Thomsen, State Historical Society of Wisconsin

The career was short but sweet, Baillod explains in a post for Shipwreck World. The ship wasn’t properly taken care of and quickly fell into disrepair. Insurance records show that the vessel’s value had sunk from $22,000 in 1867 to just $11,000 in 1878. 

Baillod writes that the vessel was “little more than a floating coffin” at the time of its final voyage. On May 11, 1881, it set sail for the last time, traveling down the coast of Wisconsin towards Milwaukee. Given the poor state of the Trinidad, her crew were not surprised when a leak sprang in the hold so they didn’t raise any alarm, but the water breach eventually sunk the ship. 


All of the crew managed to escape, except for the ship’s "mascot," a large Newfoundland dog who had been asleep by the cabin stove and was unable to escape in time. 

Imaging of the ship Schooner Trinidad shipwreck.
Imaging of the schooner Trinidad shipwreck as she appears today.
Image courtesy of Tamara Thomsen & Zach Whitrock, State Historical Society of Wisconsin

The schooner hadn’t been laid eyes upon for 142 years until this latest venture set out to discover the shipwreck

The team was struck by how well-preserved the shipwreck was. Along with the anchor and ship's wheel remaining intact, the shipwreck hunters were even able to see the crew's possessions, including the dishes they ate their daily meals with.

"We were stunned to see that not only was the deckhouse still on her, 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," he continued. 


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  • Great Lakes,

  • shipwreck,

  • history,

  • sailing,

  • wisconsin,

  • marine archeology,

  • American history