A unique look at 18th century merchant vessels has been provided
by British shipwrecks at Yorktown, Virginia.
Those vessels, sunk during the Battle of Yorktown, 1781 , were for ten years the objects of intensive research by the Departmant of Conservation and Historic Resources.
The Yorktown Shipwreck Archaeological Project located a total of nine shipwrecks, one of which, known only by its archaeological site designation, 44Y088, has been completely excavated.
Because of the extremely poor visibilty, strong currents and stinging jellyfish in the York Ri ver, the project utilized a unique steel enclosure,
or cofferdam, which surrounds the site, permitting the enclosed water to be filtered to produce a “swimming pool” environment in the murky ri ver.
The excavation, conducted between 1982and1988, revealed a hull preserved to the level of the lower deck, with bulkheads,
The Yorktown Project both mast stumps and portions of the lower deck still intact.
Measurements show the hull to be very fu ll-bodied and bluffbowed, with heavy oak frames and planking.
The ship measures approximately 75 feet in length with an estimated tonnage of 180. Several dozen intact barrels were located in the bow,
along with hundreds of loose staves and head pieces, providing one of the few collections of welldated I 8th-century cooperage avail able for study.
That these barrels were located well forward suggests that at least some of them represent ship’s stores rather than cargo.
Markings on some barrels have been traced to government contractors and agents in Great Britain.
An article by myself as the project director in the June 1988 issue of National Geographic Magazine reports
that the ship excavated at Yorktown was likely a British-built merchant ship which had been leased by the Royal Navy as a military transport.
Timbers excavated from the hull suggest that it may have been used at Yorktown as a floating workshop for
the fabri cation of a variety of items including timbers to be used for the earthworks on shore.
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