Le Griffon is considered by some to be the “holy grail of Great Lakes Shipwrecks” largely because it was the first sailing ship to cruise the Great Lakes. Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle was a French explorer in 1679 and he wanted his ship, Le Griffon, to sail the Niagara River, Lake Erie, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan in order to survey the bodies of water. La Salle was also on a quest to find a Northwest passage that would offer a sailing route from Canada to Japan. La Salle had previously built ships to sail on Lake Ontario that were launched from Fort Frontenac, it is believed by some that La Salle took one of those boats to his launch point on the Niagara River. He then built Le Griffon from parts of the ship that had sailed there and supplies that a second ship delivered.
The ship was launched somewhere around Cayuga Creek on the Niagara River for its maiden voyage on August 7th, 1679. The ship had a crew of 34 including La Salle and Father Louis Hennepin and began moving through waters that had previously only been traveled by canoe. They moved up the river passing through the St. Clair River to get to lower Lake Huron. From there they landed for a time at Mackinac Island before moving on to the entrance to Green Bay. They stopped at an island there where La Salle and some of the crew decided to use canoes to explore the opening of Lake Michigan. While he explored, he sent a six-man crew to take Le Griffon back to Mackinac Island to offload the furs they had thus far collected so that they could be picked up on the return trip.
The ship was never seen again. It is unclear whether it was lost to a storm or if it was sunk by natives or other fur traders. La Salle himself believed that the crew sunk her and made off with her cargo of furs. But the answers have never come even as numerous attempts have been made to find what is believed to be the first shipwreck of the Great Lakes. Several groups have claimed to have found Le Griffon but none have been conclusively determined to be Le Griffon. A 2015 book, The Wreck of the Griffon suggested that an 1898 find by Alber Cullis in northern Lake Huron is the most likely to be Le Griffon.