Le Griffon

Le Griffon (lə ɡʁifɔ̃, The Griffin) was a 17th century sailing ship
Sailing ship
The term sailing ship is now used to refer to any large wind-powered vessel. In technical terms, a ship was a sailing vessel with a specific rig of at least three masts, square rigged on all of them, making the sailing adjective redundant. In popular usage "ship" became associated with all large...

 built by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, or Robert de LaSalle was a French explorer. He explored the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico...

 in his quest to find the Northwest Passage
Northwest Passage
The Northwest Passage is a sea route through the Arctic Ocean, along the northern coast of North America via waterways amidst the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans...

 to China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 and Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...


Le Griffon was constructed and launched at or near Cayuga Creek on the Niagara River
Niagara River
The Niagara River flows north from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. It forms part of the border between the Province of Ontario in Canada and New York State in the United States. There are differing theories as to the origin of the name of the river...

 as a seven-cannon, 45-ton barque
A barque, barc, or bark is a type of sailing vessel with three or more masts.- History of the term :The word barque appears to have come from the Greek word baris, a term for an Egyptian boat. This entered Latin as barca, which gave rise to the Italian barca, Spanish barco, and the French barge and...

. La Salle and Father Louis Hennepin
Louis Hennepin
Father Louis Hennepin, O.F.M. baptized Antoine, was a Catholic priest and missionary of the Franciscan Recollect order and an explorer of the interior of North America....

 set out on the Le Griffon's maiden voyage
Maiden voyage
The maiden voyage of a ship, aircraft or other craft is the first journey made by the craft after shakedown. A number of traditions and superstitions are associated with it....

 on August 7, 1679 with a crew of 32, sailing across Lake Erie
Lake Erie
Lake Erie is the fourth largest lake of the five Great Lakes in North America, and the tenth largest globally. It is the southernmost, shallowest, and smallest by volume of the Great Lakes and therefore also has the shortest average water residence time. It is bounded on the north by the...

, Lake Huron
Lake Huron
Lake Huron is one of the five Great Lakes of North America. Hydrologically, it comprises the larger portion of Lake Michigan-Huron. It is bounded on the east by the Canadian province of Ontario and on the west by the state of Michigan in the United States...

 and Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes of North America and the only one located entirely within the United States. It is the second largest of the Great Lakes by volume and the third largest by surface area, after Lake Superior and Lake Huron...

 through uncharted waters that only canoes had previously explored. La Salle disembarked and on September 18 sent the ship back toward Niagara. On its return trip from Green Bay, Wisconsin
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Green Bay is a city in and the county seat of Brown County in the U.S. state of Wisconsin, located at the head of Green Bay, a sub-basin of Lake Michigan, at the mouth of the Fox River. It has an elevation of above sea level and is located north of Milwaukee. As of the 2010 United States Census,...

, it vanished with all six crew members and a load of furs.

Le Griffon may have been found recently by the Great Lakes Exploration Group but the potential remains are the subject of lawsuits involving the discoverers, the state of Michigan, the U.S. federal government and the government of France.

Historical context

Le Griffon was the first full-sized sailing ship on the upper Great Lakes of North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

 and she led the way to modern commercial shipping in that part of the world. Historian J.B. Mansfield reported that this "excited the deepest emotions of the Indian
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 tribes, then occupying the shores of these inland waters".

French explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, sought a Northwest Passage to China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 and Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 to extend France's trade. Creating a fur trade
Fur trade
The fur trade is a worldwide industry dealing in the acquisition and sale of animal fur. Since the establishment of world market for in the early modern period furs of boreal, polar and cold temperate mammalian animals have been the most valued...

A monopoly exists when a specific person or enterprise is the only supplier of a particular commodity...

 with the Native Americans
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 would finance his quest and building Le Griffon was an "essential link in the scheme". While work continued on Le Griffon in the spring of 1679 as soon as the ice began to break up along the shores of Lake Erie, La Salle sent out men from Fort Frontenac
Fort Frontenac
Fort Frontenac was a French trading post and military fort built in 1673 in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. It was positioned at the mouth of the Cataraqui River where the St. Lawrence River leaves Lake Ontario , in a location traditionally known as Cataraqui...

 in 15 canoes laden with supplies and merchandise to trade the Illinois for furs at the trading posts of the upper Huron and Michigan Lakes.

First Ships and Preparations

Le Griffon may or may not be considered the first ship on the Great Lakes, depending on what factors one deems necessary to qualify a vessel for that designation. Decking, permanent masts, and bearing a name are a few of the criteria one might use.

Before 1673, the most common vessel on the lakes was the canoe
A canoe or Canadian canoe is a small narrow boat, typically human-powered, though it may also be powered by sails or small electric or gas motors. Canoes are usually pointed at both bow and stern and are normally open on top, but can be decked over A canoe (North American English) or Canadian...

. While smaller canoes were used on rivers and streams, lake canoes were more commonly larger vessels measuring up to about 35 feet long. While some of these were made from a single carved log ("dug out" or "pirogue
A pirogue is a small, flat-bottomed boat of a design associated particularly with the Cajuns of the Louisiana marsh. In West Africa they were used as traditional fishing boats. These boats are not usually intended for overnight travel but are light and small enough to be easily taken onto land...

"), most were bark canoes. Bateaux
A bateau or batteau is a shallow-draft, flat-bottomed boat which was used extensively across North America, especially in the colonial period and in the fur trade. It was traditionally pointed at both ends but came in a wide variety of sizes...

 were also common. They were open vessels (no deck) made of wood measuring up to about 35 feet long and capable of carrying three or four tons of cargo. While they were at times fitted with mast and sails, their primary propulsion was either oars or poles. The sails were merely supplemental for traveling down wind. Their inefficiency at beating to windward made them impractical as sailing vessels, and they were not very safe in open water.

James Mansfield says that in the fall of 1678, LaSalle built a vessel of about 10 tons burden at Fort Frontenac and that this vessel, named the Frontenac, was the first real sailing vessel on the Great Lakes; specifically, on Lake Ontario (which some at the time called Lac de Frontenac). Many authors since Mansfield have followed suit. There is reason, however, to question his assertion.

Justin Windsor notes that Count Frontenac by August 1, 1673, "had already ordered the construction of a vessel on Ontario to be used as an auxiliary force to Fort Frontenac." He also says that at Fort Frontenac in 1676, LaSalle "laid the keels of the vessels which he depended on to frighten the English." J.C. Mills quotes a letter from LaSalle to the Minister of Marine that says, "The fort at Cataraqui [Fort Frontenac] with the aid of a vessel now building, will command Lake Ontario..." While no date is given for the letter, the location of Mill's reference to it suggests that it was sent before 1677, perhaps as early as 1675. Francis Parkman says that by 1677, "four vessels of 25 to 40 tons had been built for the lake [Ontario] and the river [St. Lawrence]." H.W. Beckwith says that in September, 1678, LaSalle "already had three small vessels on Lake Ontario, which he had made use of in a coasting trade with the Indians." None of these sources ascribe a name to any of these vessels. While the journals of Tonti, Hennepin, and LeClercq (participants with LaSalle) do mention a little vessel of 10 tons, none of them apply a name to it.

LaSalle's prime focus in 1678 was building Le Griffon. Arriving at Fort Frontenac in late September, he had neither the time for nor the interest in building a vessel at Fort Frontenac to transport building materials, some of which he had recently obtained in France, to a site above Niagara Falls where he could build his new ship. So, Beckwith's conclusion must be correct that he chose one of his existing vessels, one of about ten tons burden, for sending the first group of men to Niagara. Some of LaSalle's associates called this vessel a brigantine; others called it a bark. The accounts agree that this little vessel played a part in the building of Le Griffon. William Kingsford seems to have done a credible job of combining the references by LaSalle and his contemporaries into a cohesive account. On his work the following synopsis is primarily based.

On November 18, 1678, after just over a month of preparations at Fort Frontenac, LaSalle dispatched Captian La Motte and Father Louis Hennepin
Louis Hennepin
Father Louis Hennepin, O.F.M. baptized Antoine, was a Catholic priest and missionary of the Franciscan Recollect order and an explorer of the interior of North America....

 together with 15 men and supplies in a vessel of 10 tons. Their mission was to begin selecting a site for the construction of Le Griffon and to erect necessary structures for shelter, storage, and defense. Because the wind was strong from the north, they sailed close to the north shore of the lake, putting in for the nights in various bays along the way. Somewhere near present-day Toronto they were frozen in and had to chop their way out of the ice. From there they struck out across the lake toward the mouth of the Niagara River. They arrived late on December 5, but the weather was rough and they did not want to run the surf and outflow of the river at night, so they stayed a few miles off shore. On December 6, they landed safely on the east bank of the river at about where Lewiston, New York is today. They attempted to sail further upstream, but the current was too strong. Ice flowing down the river threatened to damage their little brigantine and after a cable was broken, they hauled the vessel ashore and into a small ravine for protection.

Relations with the Iroquois were uneasy, so beginning on Christmas Day, 1678, La Motte and Hennepin together with four of their men, went by snowshoe to a prominent Seneca chief who resided at Tagarondies a village about 75 miles east of Niagara and about 20 miles south of Lake Ontario. They wished to secure a reliable truce lest the natives interfere with their projects. Those left behind proceeded with needed building projects. Negotiations with the Senecas were only moderately successful, so when they left the village they still wondered if the natives would permit them to finish their project. They reached Niagara again on January 14.

Meanwhile, LaSalle and Henri de Tonti
Henri de Tonti
Henri de Tonti was an Italian-born soldier, explorer, and fur trader in the service of France.-Early life:Henri de Tonti, a Sicilian, was mostly likely born near Gaeta, Italy in either 1649 or 1650. He was the son of Lorenzo de Tonti, a financier and former governor of Gaeta...

, had departed Fort Frontenac in a second vessel some days after La Mothe and Hennepin. This was a "great bark" (Hennepin's words) of about 20 tons burden, and carried anchors, chain, guns, cordage, and cable for Le Griffon, as well as supplies and provisions for the anticipated journey. La Salle followed the southern shore of the lake. LaSalle decided to visit the Senecas at Tagarondies himself. He put ashore near present-day Rochester, NY, and arrived at Tagarondies very shortly after La Motte and Hennepin had left. He was more successful in securing the Indians' tolerance of his proposed "big canoe" and support buildings. With LaSalle back aboard their vessel, the company again sailed west until, about 25 miles from Niagara, weather checked their progress. There was some disagreement between LaSalle and the ship's pilot, and LaSalle and Tonti went ahead on foot to Niagara. When they arrived there La Motte and Hennepin had not yet returned. While there LaSalle selected a site for building Le Griffon.

After LaSalle and Tonti left, the pilot and the rest of the crew were to follow with the supply vessel. On January 8, 1679, the pilot and crew decided to spend the night ashore where they could light a fire and sleep in some warmth. It was a calm night and they believed the vessel was securely moored. When a strong wind suddenly arose, they could not make it back to the ship. The vessel dragged its anchor for about nine miles to the east before grounding and breaking up near present-day Thirty Mile Point. When LaSalle heard of the loss (through a messenger or one of the natives), he left Niagara and joined in the salvage effort. They recovered the anchors, chain, and most of the materials critical for Le Griffon, but most of the supplies and provisions were lost. They dragged the materials to the mouth of the Niagara, rested and warmed up a few days in an Indian village, then carried the materials single file through the snow to their settlement above the falls. They arrived there on January 20, and were welcomed by La Motte and Hennepin.

The site LaSalle had selected for building Le Griffon has conclusively been identified as at or near the mouth of Cayuga Creek. There the keel was laid on January 26, 1679. LaSalle offered Hennepin the honor of driving the first spike, but Hennepin deferred to his leader. Having lost needed supplies, LaSalle left the building of Le Griffon under Tonti's care, and set out on foot to return to Fort Frontenac. While frozen rivers made traveling easy, finding food was not. He arrived there nearly starved only to find that his detractors had succeeded in stirring up doubt and opposition with his creditors. Addressing his problems long delayed his return to the expedition.

After LaSalle's departure, Tonti refloated the little brigantine, and attempted to use it for more salvage work at the wreck, but the winter weather prevented success. He then charged La Motte with salvage by use of canoes. (Some time later, Hennepin would use this little vessel to sail to Fort Frontenac and again back to Niagara.)

Progress on Le Griffon was fraught with problems. Suffering from cold and low on supplies, the men were close to mutiny. The uneasy truce with the Indians was tested by threats and attempts of sabotage and murder. Tonti learned of a plan to burn the ship before it could be launched, so he launched ahead of schedule and Le Griffon entered the waters in early May, 1679. Hennepin's first account says she was a vessel of about 45 tons; his second says 60 tons. Because his second account has numerous exaggerations and cases where he credits himself for things that LaSalle had done, Hennepin's first account is considered more reliable. In any case, Le Griffon was larger than any other vessel on the lakes at the time, and as far as contemporary reports can confirm, the first named vessel. Her fitting out continued the next couple of months and when LaSalle arrived in July he was encouraged by her readiness.


La Salle had Le Griffon built in the winter of 1678–79 at a distance of several hundred miles from any settlements on Cayuga Creek (at Cayuga Island
Cayuga Island
Cayuga Island is a small island in the Niagara River, in Niagara County, N.Y., a few miles upstream of the Niagara Falls.Cayuga Creek empties into the river on the north side of the island. It is part of the LaSalle area of Niagara Falls, New York. It consists of middle class housing and a city...

) on the Niagara River. Le Griffon's pattern closely followed the prevailing type used by explorers to cross the Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 to the New World
New World
The New World is one of the names used for the Western Hemisphere, specifically America and sometimes Oceania . The term originated in the late 15th century, when America had been recently discovered by European explorers, expanding the geographical horizon of the people of the European middle...

. The exact size and construction of Le Griffon is not known. The widely referenced antique woodcutting of Le Griffon shows her with 2 mast
Mast (sailing)
The mast of a sailing vessel is a tall, vertical, or near vertical, spar, or arrangement of spars, which supports the sails. Large ships have several masts, with the size and configuration depending on the style of ship...

s but many researchers believe she was a 45 ton barque with a single mast with several square sails and 30 to 40 ft (9.1 to 12.2 m) long with a 10 to 15 ft (3 to 4.6 m) beam.

La Salle's men first had to build their lodging and then guard against the Iroquois
The Iroquois , also known as the Haudenosaunee or the "People of the Longhouse", are an association of several tribes of indigenous people of North America...

 who were hostile to this invasion of their ancient homeland. LaSalle had instructed Hennepin and La Mothe to go 75 miles into wilderness in knee-deep snow on an embassy to the great village of the Seneca tribe, bringing gifts and promises in order to obtain their good will to build "the big canoe" (Le Griffon), but many tribal members did not approve. La Salle arrived on 20 January 1679 from Fort Frontenac with the full rigging
Rigging is the apparatus through which the force of the wind is used to propel sailboats and sailing ships forward. This includes masts, yards, sails, and cordage.-Terms and classifications:...

, anchors, chains, cordage, and cannon
A cannon is any piece of artillery that uses gunpowder or other usually explosive-based propellents to launch a projectile. Cannon vary in caliber, range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire, and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees,...

 that were transported by barge
A barge is a flat-bottomed boat, built mainly for river and canal transport of heavy goods. Some barges are not self-propelled and need to be towed by tugboats or pushed by towboats...

, then salvaged and dragged 30 miles overland to the construction site. La Salle oversaw the laying of Le Griffon's keel
In boats and ships, keel can refer to either of two parts: a structural element, or a hydrodynamic element. These parts overlap. As the laying down of the keel is the initial step in construction of a ship, in British and American shipbuilding traditions the construction is dated from this event...

 and drove her first bolt. Crude tools, green and wet timbers, and the cold winter months caused slow progress in the construction of Le Griffon. La Salle left Italian officer Henri de Tonti
Henri de Tonti
Henri de Tonti was an Italian-born soldier, explorer, and fur trader in the service of France.-Early life:Henri de Tonti, a Sicilian, was mostly likely born near Gaeta, Italy in either 1649 or 1650. He was the son of Lorenzo de Tonti, a financier and former governor of Gaeta...

 and Father Hennepin in charge while he journeyed to Fort Frontenac to secure replacements for lost supplies.

A female Native informant who was of the tribe foiled the plans of hostile Senecas to burn Le Griffon as she grew on her stocks. The unrest of the Seneca and dissatisfied workmen were continually incited by secret agents of merchants and traders who feared La Salle would break their monopoly on the fur trade. When the Seneca again threatened to burn the ship, she was launched earlier than planned in Cayuga Creek channel of the upper Niagara River
Niagara River
The Niagara River flows north from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. It forms part of the border between the Province of Ontario in Canada and New York State in the United States. There are differing theories as to the origin of the name of the river...

 with ceremony and the roar of her cannons. A party from the Iroquois tribe who witnessed the launching were so impressed by the "large floating fort" that they named the French
French people
The French are a nation that share a common French culture and speak the French language as a mother tongue. Historically, the French population are descended from peoples of Celtic, Latin and Germanic origin, and are today a mixture of several ethnic groups...

 builders Ot-kon, meaning penetrating minds, which corresponds to the Seneca word Ot-goh, meaning supernatural beings or spirits. The tumultuous sound of Le Griffon's cannons so amazed the Native Americans that the Frenchmen were able sleep at ease for the first time in months when they anchored off shore.
After Le Griffon was launched, she was rigged with sails and provisioned with 7 cannon of which 2 were brass. The French flag flew above the cabin placed on top of main deck that was elevated above the hull
Hull (watercraft)
A hull is the watertight body of a ship or boat. Above the hull is the superstructure and/or deckhouse, where present. The line where the hull meets the water surface is called the waterline.The structure of the hull varies depending on the vessel type...

. She had the figure of a griffin
The griffin, griffon, or gryphon is a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle...

 mounted on her jib-boom and an eagle flying above.
Some say Le Griffon was named for Count Frontenac whose coat of arms was ornamented with the mythical griffin. Hennepin said she was named to protect her from the fire that threatened her.

Niagara River to Saginaw Bay

In July of 1679, La Salle directed 12 men to tow Le Griffon through the rapids of the Niagara River with long lines stretched from the bank. They moored in quiet water off Squaw Island 3 miles from Lake Erie waiting for favorable northeast winds. La Salle sent Tonti ahead on 22 July 1679 with a few selected men, canoes, and trading goods to secure furs and supplies. Le Griffon set off on 7 August with unfurled sails, a 34-man crew, and a salute from her cannon and musketry. They were navigating
Navigation is the process of monitoring and controlling the movement of a craft or vehicle from one place to another. It is also the term of art used for the specialized knowledge used by navigators to perform navigation tasks...

 Le Griffon through uncharted waters that only canoes had previously explored. They made their way around Long Point, Ontario, constantly sounding
Sounding line
A sounding line or lead line is a length of thin rope with a plummet, generally of lead, at its end. Regardless of the actual composition of the plummet, it is still called a "lead."...

  as they went through the first moonless, fog-laden night to the sound of breaking waves and guided only by La Salle's knowledge of Galinée's
René Bréhant de Galinée
René Bréhant de Galinée was a member of the Society of Saint-Sulpice at Montreal and an explorer and missionary to the Native Americans. In 1670, he and François Dollier de Casson were the first Europeans to make a recorded transit of the Detroit River...

 crude, 10-year-old chart. They sailed across the open water of Lake Erie whose shores were forested and "unbroken by the faintest signs of civilization". They reached the mouth of the Detroit River
Detroit River
The Detroit River is a strait in the Great Lakes system. The name comes from the French Rivière du Détroit, which translates literally as "River of the Strait". The Detroit River has served an important role in the history of Detroit and is one of the busiest waterways in the world. The river...

 on 10 August 1679 where they were greeted by 3 columns of smoke signaling the location of Tonti's camp whom they received on board. They entered Lake St. Clair
Lake Saint Clair (North America)
Lake St. Clair is a fresh-water lake named after Clare of Assisi that lies between the Province of Ontario and the State of Michigan, and its midline also forms the boundary between Canada and the United States of America. Lake St. Clair includes the Anchor Bay along the Metro Detroit coastline...

 on 12 August, the feast day of Saint
A saint is a holy person. In various religions, saints are people who are believed to have exceptional holiness.In Christian usage, "saint" refers to any believer who is "in Christ", and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth...

 Clare of Assisi
Clare of Assisi
Clare of Assisi , born Chiara Offreduccio, is an Italian saint and one of the first followers of Saint Francis of Assisi...

, and named the lake after her. They again sounded their way through the narrow channel of the St. Clair River
St. Clair River
The St. Clair River is a river in central North America which drains Lake Huron into Lake St Clair, forming part of the international boundary between the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S. state of Michigan...

 to its mouth where they were delayed by contrary winds until 24 August. For the second time, they used a dozen men and ropes to tow Le Griffon over the rapids of the St. Clair River into lower Lake Huron. They made their way north and west to Saginaw Bay
Saginaw Bay
Saginaw Bay is a bay within Lake Huron located on the eastern side of the U.S. state of Michigan. It forms the space between Michigan's Thumb region and the rest of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Saginaw Bay is in area...

 on Lake Huron where they were becalmed until noon of 25 August. La Salle took personal command at this point due to evidence that the pilot
Maritime pilot
A pilot is a mariner who guides ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbours or river mouths. With the exception of the Panama Canal, the pilot is only an advisor, as the captain remains in legal, overriding command of the vessel....

 was negligent.

Lake Huron storm

On noon of 25 August they started out northwest with a favoring northerly wind. When the wind suddenly veered to the southeast they changed course to avoid Presque Isle. However, the ferocity of the gale
A gale is a very strong wind. There are conflicting definitions of how strong a wind must be to be considered a gale. The U.S. government's National Weather Service defines a gale as 34–47 knots of sustained surface winds. Forecasters typically issue gale warnings when winds of this strength are...

 forced them to retreat windward and lie-to until morning. By 26 August the violence of the gale caused them to "haul down their topmast
The masts of traditional sailing ships were not single spars, but were constructed of separate sections or masts, each with its own rigging. The topmast is one of these.The topmast is semi-permanently attached to the upper front of the lower mast, at the top...

s, to lash their yards to the deck, and drift at the mercy of storm. At noon the waves ran so high, and the lake became so rough, as to compel them to stand in for land."
Father Hennepin wrote that during the fearful crisis of the storm, La Salle vowed that if God would deliver them, the first chapel erected in Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

 would be dedicated to the memory of Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron of the sailor. The wind did slightly decrease but they drifted slowly all night, unable to find anchorage or shelter. They were driven northwesterly until the evening of 27 August when under a light southerly breeze they finally rounded Point St. Ignace
St. Ignace, Michigan
Saint Ignace, usually written as St. Ignace, is a city in the U.S. state of Michigan. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 2,678. It is the county seat of Mackinac County. From the Lower Peninsula, St. Ignace is the gateway to the Upper Peninsula.St...

 and anchored in the calm waters of the natural harbor at Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is an island and resort area covering in land area, part of the U.S. state of Michigan. It is located in Lake Huron, at the eastern end of the Straits of Mackinac, between the state's Upper and Lower Peninsulas. The island was home to a Native American settlement before European...

 where there was a settlement of Hurons, Ottawas, and a few Frenchmen.

Mackinac Island

Upon Le Griffon's safe arrival at Mackinac Island, the voyagers fired a salute
A salute is a gesture or other action used to display respect. Salutes are primarily associated with armed forces, but other organizations and civil people also use salutes.-Military salutes:...

 from her deck that the Hurons on shore volleyed three times with their firearms. More than 100 Native American bark canoes gathered around Le Griffon to look at the "big wood canoe". La Salle dressed in a scarlet cloak bordered with lace and a highly plumed cap, laid aside his arms in charge of a sentinel and attended mass with his crew in the chapel of the Ottawas and then made a visit of ceremony with the chiefs
Tribal chief
A tribal chief is the leader of a tribal society or chiefdom. Tribal societies with social stratification under a single leader emerged in the Neolithic period out of earlier tribal structures with little stratification, and they remained prevalent throughout the Iron Age.In the case of ...


La Salle found some of the 15 men he sent ahead from Fort Frontenac to trade with the Illinois but they had listened to La Salle's enemies who said he would never reach Mackinac Island. La Salle seized 2 of the deserters and sent Tonti with 6 men to arrest 2 more at Sault Ste. Marie
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
Sault Ste. Marie is a city in and the county seat of Chippewa County in the U.S. state of Michigan. It is in the north-eastern end of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, on the Canadian border, separated from its twin city of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, by the St. Marys River...


Green Bay

The short open-water season of the upper Great Lakes compelled La Salle to depart for Green Bay on 12 September, 5 days before Tonti's return. They sailed from the Straits of Mackinac
Straits of Mackinac
The Straits of Mackinac is the strip of water that connects two of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and separates the Lower Peninsula of Michigan from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is a shipping lane providing passage for raw materials and finished goods, connecting, for...

 to an island (either Washington Island or Rock Island
Rock Island (Wisconsin)
Rock Island is a wooded island off the tip of Wisconsin's Door Peninsula at the mouth of Green Bay. The uninhabited island is almost entirely owned by the Wisconsin DNR, which maintains Rock Island State Park. It is the northernmost part of the Town of Washington.-History:Rock Island was...

) located at the entrance of Green Bay (Lake Michigan). They anchored on the south shore of the island and found it occupied by friendly Pottawatomies and 15 of the fur traders La Salle sent ahead. The traders had collected 12000 pounds (5,443.1 kg) of furs in anticipation of the arrival of the Le Griffon. La Salle decided to stay behind with 4 canoes to explore the head of Lake Michigan. La Salle gave instructions for Le Griffon to off-load merchandise for him at Mackinac Island that would be picked up on the return trip. Le Griffon rode out a violent storm for 4 days and then on 18 September, the pilot Luc and 5 crew sailed under a favorable wind for the Niagara River with a parting salute from a single gun. She carried a cargo of furs valued at from 50,000 to 60,000 francs ($10,000 – $12,000) and the rigging and anchors for another vessel that La Salle intended to build to find passage to the West Indies. La Salle never saw Le Griffon again.


Father Hennepin wrote that Le Griffon was lost in a violent storm. Some charged fur traders, and even Jesuits with her destruction. Some said that the Ottawas or Pottawatomies boarded her, murdered her crew, and then burned her. La Salle was convinced that the pilot and crew treacherously sank her and made off with the goods. There is no conclusive evidence about any of the theories about Le Griffon's loss.

Le Griffon is reported to be the "Holy Grail" of Great Lakes shipwreck hunters. A number of sunken old sailing ships have been suggested to be Le Griffon but, except for the ones proven to be other ships, there has been no positive identification. One candidate is a wreck at the western end of Manitoulin Island
Manitoulin Island
Manitoulin Island is a Canadian island in Lake Huron, in the province of Ontario. It is the largest island in a freshwater lake in the world. In addition to the historic Anishinaabe and European settlement of the island, archeological discoveries at Sheguiandah have demonstrated Paleo-Indian and...

 in Lake Huron, with another wreck near Escanaba, Michigan
Escanaba, Michigan
Escanaba is a city in the U.S. state of Michigan, located in the banana belt on the state's Upper Peninsula. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 13,140, making it the third-largest city in the Upper Peninsula after Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie...

, also proposed. Le Griffon was the second in a string of thousands of ships that found their last berth on the bottom of the Great Lakes.

Le Griffon may have been found by the Great Lakes Exploration Group but the potential remains were the subject of lawsuits involving the discoverers, the state of Michigan
Michigan is a U.S. state located in the Great Lakes Region of the United States of America. The name Michigan is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake"....

, the U.S. federal government and the government of France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...


Le Griffon is considered by some to have been the first ship lost on the Great Lakes. It was another vessel used by LaSalle and Tonti, however, that was the first loss on January 8, 1679. As noted above, sources give its size as either 20 tons or 40 tons. It dragged anchor and ran aground near Thirty Mile Point on Lake Ontario, where it broke apart. Some say that this vessel was named the Frontenac, while others say the other vessel used on LaSalle's expedition was the Frontenac. Some sources confuse the two vessels.

In July, 2010 the Great Lakes Exploration Group issued a press release stating that they, the state of Michigan and France had reached agreement to co-operate in the next phase of an archaeological site assessment for identifying the shipwreck.

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