New Look at Old Shipwrecks
UPDATE: Sept. 20, 2020: News Release by JRS Explorations
Survey of New Wreck Completed
During Sept. 13-18, 2020, JRS Explorations Inc. conducted an extensive shipwreck survey within the Yorktown Shipwrecks National Register District, thanks to the efforts of experienced researchers.
The goals were to survey and map “Wreck 11,” a recently discovered wreck in the York River near Gloucester Point. This wreck, which contains at least seven iron cannons, was discovered on a JRS expedition in 2019. The wreck proved to be the most difficult of the York River wrecks to study, due to several factors. These included near-zero visibility, strong tidal currents and a thick covering of oyster shell that impedes efforts to trace the edge of the hull to determine the size and shape of the wreck beneath.
The wreck was relocated using a side scan sonar, then PVC pipes were inserted around the perimeter of the wreck. This survey was another step in JRS Explorations’ long-range research plan for this group of internationally significant shipwrecks.
The 11 wrecks discovered since 1975 played an important role in the Siege of Yorktown in 1781, the last major battle of the American Revolution. The battle ended on Oct. 19 when Major General Charles Cornwallis surrendered the British forces under his command. A combined army consisting of American Continental Army troops commanded by General George Washington, and French units commanded by Comte de Rochambeau won the battle.
Half the Story
What many do not realize is that the battlefield in Yorktown only represents half the story. The other half remains on the bottom of the York River. As many as 40 or more 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 behind the British position.
After nearly 239 years, JRS Explorations is making an effort to ensure that the history buried in the York River is protected. Dr. John Broadwater, JRS Explorations vice president and chief archaeologist, directed the York River survey. During the 1980s John directed the excavation of the British transport Betsy from within a cofferdam steel enclosure)in the York River, recovering more than 5,000 artifacts. Some of them are on exhibit today in the new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.
Joshua Daniel, archaeologist and owner of Seafloor Solutions LLC, conducted the remote sensing survey of Wreck 11 and headed the dive team that placed PVC pipes around the perimeter of the hull. Bill Waldrop, owner of Waldrop Diving Services, provided the research vessel and the Watermen’s Museum in Yorktown once again provided logistics and support and served as expedition headquarters.
Wreck 11 is the Shipwright
Located near the wreck of the largest British warship, HMS Charon, Wreck 11 is believed to be one of the two transport vessels that collided with Charon and were set afire and sunk. The location and size of Wreck 11, along with the number and size of the cannons, suggest that it may be the transport Shipwright. More research will be necessary to verify this possibility.
JRS Explorations’ CEO Ryan Johnston stated, “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.”
Daniel summed up the survey: “These shipwrecks represent a tangible part of one of the most significant events in the founding of the United States. It is a true privilege to be able to contribute to the knowledge of that moment in history through the study of these wrecks.”
Steve Ormsby, president of JRS Explorations and the Watermen’s Museum, said, “Surveys of the York River sshipwrecks help us rediscover key aspects of the decisive final battle of the American Revolution. Our principle goal 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.”
JRS is currently evaluating possible next steps for investigating the archaeological potential of two shipwrecks on the Yorktown side of the river.