Researchers have just finished mapping the latest shipwreck discovered in the York River. It is believed to be one of two transport vessels that collided with a British warship in 1781 during the Siege of Yorktown, the last major battle of the American Revolution.
The wreck found last year near Gloucester Point, Virginia is currently known as “Wreck 11,” and contains at least seven iron cannons. JRS Explorations, Inc., which discovered the wreck, says it’s been the most difficult to study of all those in the Yorktown Shipwrecks National Register District. Strong tidal currents, almost no visibility, and a thick covering of oyster shell impede traditional methods of measuring shipwrecks.
Over the span of five days earlier this month, JRS Explorations researchers relocated the wreck using a side scan sonar, then divers inserted PVC pipes around its perimeter.
Located near the wreck of the battle’s largest British warship, HMS Charon, researchers believe Wreck 11 is one of the two transport vessels that collided with Charon before they were set on fire and sunk. Given the size of the wreck and the number of cannons on board, JRS Explorations think it is likely the transport Shipwright, and will do more research to confirm the possibility.
This survey is part of JRS Explorations’ larger effort to map and protect the 11 wrecks discovered since 1975, which hold international historical significance. By the time the Revolutionary War ended in 1781, some 40 British ships were sunk by enemy cannon fire or deliberately scuttled near shore by Cornwallis to prevent the French from landing troops on the beach.
The survey was led by chief archaeologist Dr. John Broadwater, who has been down to the wreck of the Titanic and on the York, recovered 5,000 artifacts from another British transport, Betsy, back in the 1980s. Fellow archaeologist Joshua Daniel headed the dive team and conducted the remote sensing survey from a Waldrop Diving Services research vessel. The Watermen’s Museum in Yorktown served as expedition headquarters.
JRS Explorations’ CEO Ryan Johnston says, “JRS Explorations is grateful to the continued efforts of our research and dive team who make these investigations possible. We are accumulating valuable data that is helping shape our long-range research plan for these important shipwrecks.”
JRS is now turning their attention to two shipwrecks on the Yorktown side of the river, looking into their archaeological potential. JRS and Watermen’s Museum President Steve Ormsby says of the ongoing project, “Our principal goal in this effort is to gain new insights and share our information with the American public so we can all better understand the historic events that led to the founding of our great nation.”
-Meg Walburn Viviano