Land Tortoise

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Land Tortoise

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."

Suggested Reading:

    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 resources.

 

 

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Lake George Historical Association
PO Box 472
Lake George, NY 12845

lgha@verizon.net

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Last modified: August 28, 2007