Legal battle brews over War of 1812 shipwreck

By Randy Boswell - Canwest News Service

A stunningly well-preserved Lake Erie shipwreck — purported to be the Canadian-built brig Caledonia from the War of 1812 — has prompted visions of a world-class tourist attraction on the Buffalo shore and sparked a legal battle between New York's state government and a U.S. salvage company that wants to raise the vessel.

But could a 76-year-old issue of The Beaver — the venerable Canadian history magazine — scuttle the controversial dream?

A Buffalo-based maritime heritage centre is pointing to an article published in the magazine's December 1934 edition to question the identity of the sunken ship.

The article, written by the renowned Great Lakes historian George Cuthbertson, traces the careers of several fur trade vessels — including the 26-metre, two-masted Caledonia — that were put to military use in the War of 1812 and later sold off to private owners.

Cuthbertson details the Caledonia's remarkable role in the war, beginning with its secondment from the Northwest Company in 1812 to ferry British, Canadian and First Nations troops to Michilimackinac Island at the western end of Lake Huron, a strategic prize close to the eastern entrance of Lake Michigan.

Without a shot being fired, an American force surrendered the island's fort — an important event that dashed U.S. expectations of an easy triumph in the war and largely solidified aboriginal support behind the British.

The Caledonia later fell into American hands, then saw action in September 1813 — as the renamed USS Caledonia — in the Battle of Lake Erie, a famous U.S. victory in which much of the Royal Navy fleet on the Great Lakes was destroyed.

Great Lakes war 1812

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