BlogVirginia February 3, 2022

Yorktown Virginia: Shipwrecks

Yorktown Virginia: Shipwrecks

The Yorktown Wrecks is an expansive archaeologically sensitive area of Virginia’s York River, in whose waters significant naval remnants of the American Revolutionary War are located. As a result of surveys conducted in the 1970s, at least ten sunken vessels sunken or scuttled around the time of the 1781 Siege of Yorktown have been identified. In the days preceding the siege, American and French naval forces sank a number of British vessels off Yorktown, and General Charles Cornwallis ordered the scuttling of other ships. At the end of the siege and the British surrender, at least twenty-six British vessels were unaccounted for, and are believed to lie in the York River.

The wreck of what appears to be a British ship destroyed during the siege of Yorktown in 1781 has been discovered in Virginia.

Experts from JRS Explorations spotted the wreck, which is believed to be the armed transport ship ‘Shipwright,’ in the York River last week.

The siege of Yorktown was the last major battle of the Revolutionary War and saw British forces commanded by Lord Charles Cornwallis trapped by Continental Army troops commanded by George Washington and French units under the command of the Comte de Rochambeau. The beleaguered British defenders surrendered on Oct. 19, 1781.

The site of the famous battle continues to be a source of fascination for historians.

On June 19, Bill Waldrop, a volunteer working with the JRS Explorations research team, spotted a partially buried metal object sticking out of the river bed, which was proved to be an iron cannon. The cannon, like the rest of the wreck, is covered in oyster shells.

On a subsequent dive, a second, and possibly third cannon, were discovered by team member Joshua Daniel. Working with team leader John Broadwater, Daniel examined the riverbed and found what appears to the wooden hull of a large ship. The hull is buried between one and several feet beneath the riverbed, according to JRS Explorations.

“This certainly is an incredible discovery, we were very happy to locate the shipwreck and know that there’s cannons on her,” JRS Explorations CEO Ryan Johnston told Fox News, via email.

Johnston explained that the mysterious wreck was found about 1,000 feet from the wreck of the HMS Charon, a 44-gun British frigate sunk during the siege. The newly discovered wreck, he said, could have been one of the ships that HMS Charon ran into after she was set alight by French “hot shot.” The burning frigate reportedly drifted into two anchored British transport ships, setting them alight. One of the ships was the Shipwright.

“One of our divers then recovered a small piece of what appears to be charred wood, indicating that this ship was lost to fire, which would account for its vicinity to the known HMS Charon,” said Johnston.

If the wreck is proved to be the Shipwright, it would solve the 238-year puzzle about the ship’s final resting place. However, researchers note that mapping and identifying the wreck is challenging as a result of the layers of oyster shells, strong currents and near-zero visibility in the heavily silted water.

Nonetheless, further study of the site will be undertaken. “We’ll be going back down when we can,” Johnston told Fox News.

Long term, JRS Explorations will use the data it compiles from the shipwreck sites to develop a new management plan for their preservation.

Other Revolutionary War wrecks have been grabbing attention in recent years. Last year, for example, the remains of the famous Revolutionary War frigate USS Bonhomme Richard were discovered off the coast of the U.K., more than 200 years after it sank following a naval battle.

Also in 2018, a Nor’easter uncovered the remains of a Revolutionary War-era ship on a beach in Maine.

A 22-gun British warship that sank during the American Revolution regarded as one of the “Holy Grail” shipwrecks in the Great Lakes was discovered at the bottom of Lake Ontario in 2008.