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War of 1812 Anchor Raised for Conservation
After resting at the bottom of Lake Champlain for over 180 years, a 13-foot anchor from the War of 1812 was raised from Plattsburgh Bay, New York, on Friday, September 11. This composite anchor is approximately 13 feet in size along its iron shank, 8 feet across at the flukes, and 14 feet across its wooden stock. On the same day that it was raided, it was delivered to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, where it was placed in a building specially designed for the public to study it and share in its history as it undergoes conservation.
During the War of 1812, Lake Champlain was hotly contested by British and American forces, a conflict that culminated in the Battle of Plattsburgh Bay on September 11, 1814. The battle raged for approximately two hours, as the American fleet, commanded by Lieutenant Thomas Macdonough on the flagship Saratoga, exchanged heated cannon fire with the British squadron, led by the Frigate Confiance. Both Saratoga and Confiance were two of the largest sailing vessels ever to float on Lake Champlain. During the course of the battle, several of the anchors from Confiance were shot away, preventing the frigate from turning fresh guns toward the American Navy. The devastated Confiance struck her flag after less than two hours of battle, and the battle ended in an American victory shortly afterwards.
The recently raised anchor, which is the largest anchor ever removed from Lake Champlain, is now believed to have been one of the bow anchors from the Confiance. Originally located two years ago by Plattsburgh divers Bill and Ken Van Stockum, the anchor was first raised in 1996 until concerns about its preservation prompted a decision to return it to the lake for save storage. Working in cooperation with NY State officials, the divers and other interested parties established a conservation plan, funding, and permits during the interventing two years. The Clinton County Historical Association, the New York State Museum, the Naval Historical Center in Washington, DC, and ultimately the British Ministry of Defense, agreed on a plan to raise the anchor, to conserve it at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum over two years, and to return it to Plattsburgh for long-term display. The museum helped to mediate this positive outcome and “was glad to be in a position to facilitate this historical agreement,” according to Art Cohn, LCMM Director.
LCMM conservators Dave Robinson and Anne Lessmann have begun the conservation process by studying photographing, cleaning and analyzing the anchor. “The anchor will be a very complex artifact to conserve, ” says Lessmann. “Its composed of a number o different materials, such as iron, wood and paint, all of which have different preservation issues that will need to be addresses. The first phase of the anchor’s treatment is to determine which conservation technique is best for each material, and what combination of techniques will be best for the anchor as a whole.” Much of the anchor is very well preserved, since the lower half of the iron shank, the arms, and the flukes were buried in mud for most of the anchor’s time in Lake Champlain. The mud provided an anaerobic storage environment that kept many of the anchor’s markings and inscriptions clear and readable. The upper half of the shank, the wooden stock, and the iron ring were affected by corrosion, erosion and lake organisms, including zebra mussels.
The anchor will be available for viewing at LCMM throughout the conservation process. Open daily 1000 – 1700 through October 18, general admission is charged but children under 6 and members are always free. LCMM is located seven miles west of Vergennes, VT. For additional information call 802-475-2022