'Holy grail' shipwreck haunted by crew is found 350 years after being 'sunk by curse'

By Charlie Pittock & Kate Buck

A 'cursed' shipwreck which sank almost 350 years ago has been identified in one of North America's Great Lakes, bringing to an end a maritime mystery.

The Griffin sank to the murky depths of Lake Michigan during its maiden voyage in 1679 while carrying a precious cargo of furs.

Rumours say fearful natives had cursed it after a prophet from the native North American Iroquois tribe told French explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle to beware "Darkness like a cloud...ready to envelop you."

La Salle had hoped to find a route through the lakes to somehow reach the distant shores of Japan and China.

Since vanishing, it was held as the "holy grail" for shipwreck hunters keen to unlock a piece of history.

La Salle, who was not on board for the fateful voyage, never found out what happened to the ship.

A gripe plate can be seen attached to the keel (Credit: Great Lakes Exploration Group via Pen News)

But before it departed, Metiomek, an Iroquois prophet, apparently told him: "Beware! Darkness like a cloud is ready to envelop you.

"The Christian Indian's curse rests on you and on your great canoe.

"She will sink beneath the deep waters and your blood shall stain the hands of those in whom you trusted!"

Steve and Kathie Libert, a husband and wife team, determined that a wreck found in 2018 was likely that of the mysterious Griffin, reports the Express.

The ship's keelson is still partially intact (Credit: Great Lakes Exploration Group via Pen News)

Mr and Mrs Libert claim The Griffin matches the wreckage which was found in 2018 near Poverty Island in Lake Michigan.

Native traditions say The Griffin became a ghost ship, and the the crew can still be heard chanting as she sails among the clouds under the light of the moon.

But the wreckage suggests the most plausible theory was that the ship was lost in a storm, and the cargo furs, estimated at up to $12,000 at the time– £640,000 in modern day money – sank with her.

The bowsprit is believed to have broken off and sank a few miles before the rest of the ship went down.

The ship's crew can still be heard chanting as it sails among the clouds at night, legend says... (Credit: Great Lakes Exploration Group via Pen News)

Carbon dating studies of the bowsprit put the age of ship within a year of the boat's construction.

Mr Libert said: "There are numerous theories as to what happened to The Griffin.

"Father Louis Hennepin said it was lost in a violent storm. Some say that the native Indians boarded the ship and killed the crew. They then set the ship on fire.

"Many believed the Jesuits were responsible for the ship's disappearance. La Salle was certain that the captain and his men committed mutiny, sank the ship and absconded with all the furs."

How it would have looked (Alamy Stock Photo)

"Many believed the Jesuits were responsible for the ship's disappearance. La Salle was certain that the captain and his men committed mutiny, sank the ship and absconded with all the furs."

Mr Libert added: “The ship has no indications of fire damage to the wooden remains. We are confident the ship was wrecked due to a severe storm.

“The distance of 3.8 miles between the bowsprit and main sections highly suggests the Indians did not sink it either, nor did La Salle’s men mutiny and sink the ship.

“If any of the latter was true the ship would rest in deeper water instead of shallow waters.”

The bowsprit is believed to have broken off and sank a few miles away before the rest of the ship went down (Credit: Great Lakes Exploration Group via Pen News)

The Griffin, Mr Libert believes, was caught in a four-day storm.

Carbon dating of the bowsprit estimated an age range within a year of The Griffin’s sinking in 1679.

The other nearby wreckage, meanwhile, had been dated to between 1632 and 1982.

Mr Libert addded: "Both the Seneca and Iroquois felt threatened by the construction and sight of Le Griffon, and felt that it was a threat to the 'Great Spirit.

The wreck of the ship's keelson is pictured during a dive (Credit: Great Lakes Exploration Group via Pen News)

"The Seneca were in awe of the French for having built such a large canoe. They were concerned for their safety in as much that they tried to burn the ship during construction."

Mr Libert explained the discovery had been long in the making, sparked by a history teacher when he was still at school.

He said: “My interest began the day my teacher reached over and touched my shoulder, and said out loud in class, ‘Maybe one day, someone in this class will find it.’

“Fifty-one years later, I am still intrigued by this story.”

First Sailing of the Griffin on Lake Erie, August 7, 1679 (Alamy Stock Photo)

Yet the battle to find The Griffin has been riddled with issues.

After the discovery of the bowsprit, a 10-year legal battle with the State of Michigan prevented explorers from excavating the rest of the ship. Only then did Mr Libert and various archaeologists discover that the bowsprit and the remainder of the vessel were separate.

After two years sifting through satellite imagery, Mr Libert found what he believed was the rest of the wreck, and this was later confirmed in a September 2018 dive.

He recalled: “I was emotionally drained of all my energy, and was in a complete state of relief and exhaustion, but I could still yell out the words ‘We found it!’ once I broke the surface.”

The ship was trying to cross Lake Michigan in North America (Getty Images)

The State of Michigan continues to prevent an in-depth excavation. According to Mr Libert, the state “feels we are encroaching upon their sovereignty and feels we are nothing more than treasure hunters intruding on the rights of academia and archaeologists”.

Mr Libert will continue to search the bed of Lake Michigan using non-intrusive techniques, with the ultimate aim of finding a cannon with the date stamped on it.

The Liberts have since written a book about their findings, Le Griffon and the Huron Islands – 1679: Our Story of Exploration and Discovery.


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