August 7, 1679 - It was on this day that French explorer Robert de La Salle set sail on a 45-ton barque called Le Griffon. The ship had been built on the shore of the Niagara River. All the rigging, anchors and seven cannons were dragged 30 miles overland. The construction site had to be closely guarded as the Iroquois and Seneca tribes in the area were not keen on La Salle's plan to control the lucrative fur trade.
On its maiden voyage, Le Griffon became the first sailing ship to cross Lake Erie and Lake Huron. LaSalle and his 32-man crew had to carefully navigate through the uncharted waters. They survived some very nasty storms and they rounded up some long-lost men who had fled the expedition. Apparently these deserters didn't believe that La Salle would ever succeed in making it across the Great Lakes - as up until this point only canoes had made the trip.
La Salle got off the ship near present-day Green Bay so he could explore the western shore of Lake Michigan. It was the last time he would ever see Le Griffon. She sailed back to Niagara to restock with supplies but nobody is sure what happened. Maybe Le Griffon was attacked by hostile tribes. Maybe the crew decided to run off with the valuable cargo of furs. One of the most credible theories is that the ship was lost in a storm.
Thanks to Le Griffon's historic role as the first sailing ship on the Great Lakes, shipwreck hunters have long searched for her final resting place. Recently an organization called the Great Lakes Expedition Group claims to have found what may be the wreck of Le Griffon. The identity of the ship has not yet been confirmed.