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Sailing Canal Boat General Butler

Part of the Lake Champlain Underwater Historic Preserve System , freely available to any certified SCUBA diver. Please Register Annually to dive this system.

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Plan drawing of Canal Schooner General Butler
Sailing Canal Boat General Butler

The General Butler was built in 1862 in Essex, New York. The schooner-rigged Butler is an example of a Lake Champlain sailing canal boat designed to sail on the lake and, with masts removed and centerboard raised, travel though the Champlain Canal.

On her last voyage she was under the command of her third owner, Captain William Montgomery of Isle La Motte. While sailing up the lake on December 9, 1876 a powerful winter gale struck and upon approaching Burlington, the Butler's steering mechanism broke. The captain jury-rigged a tiller bar to the steering post and attempted to maneuver his craft around the breakwater. The attempt was unsuccessful and the schooner crashed headlong into the breakwater. The force of the water was so great that the vessel was repeatedly lifted on top of the ice-covered stones. One by one each of the ship's company made the perilous jump onto the breakwater. The captain was the last to leave the ship which immediately sank into the 40' of water where she now rests.

Sonar image of General Butler
Sonar image of General Butler.

Having narrowly escaped death by drowning, the Butler's survivors now risked freezing to death on the breakwater. All surely would have perished had it not been for the heroic intervention of Burlington ship chandler James Wakefield and his son, who rowed out in a 14' lighthouse boat and took all five to safety. The Butler was declared a total loss. Artifacts from the General Butler are on display at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum's Basin Harbor facility.

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Diving Information



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LCMM's Founding Director Art Cohn tells the riveting tale of the sinking of General Butler:

Thanks to the Center for Research on Vermont for sharing!