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, towed though the Champlain Canal.
Painting of the General Butler by Ernie Haas and Sonor image of the General Butler on the bottom of Lake Champlain.
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, 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.
Having narrowly escaped death by drowning, 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. Butler was declared a total loss. Take a virtual shipwreck tour of General Butler and listen to the harrowing rescue tale as told by a former staff member: General Butler Virtual Shipwreck Tour. Artifacts from the General Butler in the collections of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.
Features of Interest
- Size of wreck: 88′ long, 14′ wide
- The vessel rests on her keel, bow towards the breakwater.
- There are five hatches in the deck.
- Note the dead-eyes, windlass and cleats used for sailing.
- The masts were stepped on deck in three sided “tabernacles” and held in place with iron pins.
- Experience level: Beginner
- Depth of water: 40′
- Buoyancy should be carefully controlled to avoid damaging this fragile and remarkably intact wreck.
- Exercise special care at the stern to avoid damaging the extremely fragile rudder.
- 44 28′ 15.78″N 073 13′ 37.416″W
- Approximately 75 yards west of the southern end of the Burlington breakwater.
- Note: The General Butler is located 300′ north of the City of Burlington’s waste water discharge pipeline.