In July and August of 1778 the French fleet came to Narragansett Bay to provide support for the American army preparing to attack Newport. On August 3, 1778, the British Commanding officer in Newport ordered the transport ships in the Outer Harbour to be sunk to provide a blockade and to protect the city.
The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) has located at least two of the transports, and in 1997 and 1998 began to study one very close to the shore, in front of the Newport Naval Hospital property. This year RIMAP spent a full month investigating this one transport with a team of 22 volunteers, three of whom came from the Australian National Maritime Museum and were supported by a A$52,000 fund by the Federal Government.
The team exposed the timbers of the ship in a pre-selected area 10' by 10'. This area was selected because it was believed to be shallowly covered by silt and because earlier divers visiting the site had previously disturbed it. The exposed area turned out to be more complex than expected, with many structural features intact; there were also small artifacts to be found in the deeper silt.
Structural features included keel, frame-futtocks, keelson, floors, ceiling planking, exterior planking, treenails, and what appear to be numerous repairs. These have been measured, sketched, photographed, and videographed. Cultural materials include ceramics, glass, wood, leather, textiles, and brick. These have been removed for conservation and study.
Samples of the wooden timbers, silt deposits, small and large ballast stones, and water have been taken for identification and study. When the research was complete, the timbers were covered with non-woven polyester cloth, and the ballast stones replaced. The silt was so fine that the site cannot be back-filled, so it was sandbagged to stabilize it until they return in 2000. Although it will take months to analyse and digest the data collected during the fieldwork, there is nothing on the site to indicate that this is NOT the Cook's Endeavour.
There are reports of the survey work and pictures of some of the finds on the web site at: http://www.cookships.org
From information supplied by James Ross, Marjorie Simpson, Ted Webber and D. K. Abbass, (Project Director, RIMAP)
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1684, volume 22, number 4 (1999).
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