A 1758 Floating Gun Battery
The autumn of 1758 saw Britain and France
locked in a struggle for empire. Following the loss of Fort William Henry
in 1757, the allied British, Iroquois and American provincials suffered a
devastating defeat in their assault on Fort Carillon (Fort Ticonderoga) in
July 1758. Undeterred, the British and their allies constructed new
fortifications and warships, including two radeaux to serve as floating gun
batteries, to dislodge the French from Lakes George and Champlain.
This is an overhead view of the 52 foot long and 18 foot wide Land Tortoise.
This archaeological drawing shows the radeau as she exists today. She has
seven cannon ports, some with canon lids still in place. Because the radeau
was sunk on purpose, there are no artifacts (articles that are man made), no
canons, or any other gear aboard.
The Land Tortoise appears to be the sole survivor of a class
of military vessels unique to Lakes George and Champlain in the 18th
century. Constructed in 1758 by provincial troops under the supervision of
Captain Samuel Cobb, the radeau (French for raft) was to serve as a floating
artillery platform. Just over 50 feet long and 16 to 18 feet wide, the
flat-bottomed vessel was propelled by 26 oars. The Land Tortoise has
seven cannon ports in her sides. The angular lines and sloping bulwarks
protected the crew from enemy fire. Never fully rigged out, the radeau
lacks masts, artillery and other hardware.
The construction of the Land Tortoise and its scuttling to
store it under winter lake ice are described in soldiers' journals. The
soldiers worked hard into the night of October 22, 1758, to scuttle the
vessel. The Land Tortoise settled into much deeper water than
intended and not recovered the following spring. Another radeau, the
Invincible, had to be built by the British for the 1759 campaign.
The fate of the Land Tortoise was unknown until 1990, when its
peculiar seven-sided image appeared during a side-scan sonar survey of the
lake by members of a group that later became known as Bateaux Below, Inc.
Archaeological and historical research identified the vessel as an 18th
century radeau. From 1991 to 1994, the Land Tortoise was listed on
the National Register of Historical Places. In 1998, the Land Tortoise
was listed as a National Historic Landmark, only the sixth shipwreck in the
nation with that designation. The vessel has also been designated by the
Smithsonian Institution as "the oldest intact war vessel in North America."
Abbass, D.K. and Joseph W. Zarzynski. 1993. The
Radeau Land Tortoise---North America's Oldest Intact Warship, M-Z
Information, Wilton, NY.
Bellico, Russell P. 1992. Sails and Steam in the
Mountains-- A Maritime and Military History of Lake George and Lake
Champlain. Purple Mountain Press, Fleischmanns, NY.
Parkman, Francis. 1885. Montcalm and Wolfe.
Little, Brown and Company, Boston, MA.
This enhancement increases divers' awareness of Lake
George's underwater world and promotes stewardship of the lake's finite