Monday, June 13, 2005


Recovered millstones create more shipwreck questions


Cape Gazette
By Henry J. Evans Jr.
June 10, 2005

Archaeologists are putting their minds to the grindstone as they research two millstones recovered from the 1750s-era shipwreck discovered after being hit by a dredge near the Roosevelt Inlet last winter.

The millstones are creating as many questions as archaeologists have answers but researchers hope finding the origin of the millstones could shed light on the origin and destination of the sunken ship.

Dan Griffith, director of the Lewes Maritime Archaeological Project and state archaeologist Chuck Fithian, have been working to unlock secrets of the millstones since they were floated from the bottom of the bay in April.

Divers who had been conducting a survey of the shipwreck used heavy-lift air bags to bring the millstones to the surface.
Griffith said two of six visible millstones were recovered. He said the two millstones were selected because they could be removed causing minimal disturbance to the shipwreck site.

The larger millstone weighs an estimated 500 pounds – they haven’t weighed it yet – measures about 43 inches from edge-to-edge and is about five inches thick. The smaller millstone weighs about 200 pounds and is 28-inches in diameter.

With help from University of Delaware College of Marine Studies staff and staff and equipment from Cape Henlopen State Park, the millstones were moved into a state lab/storage facility.

“We’re going to see if we can have one of the University of Delaware’s geologists come down and take a look because we’re sure not taking it to them,” says Griffith with a laugh as he examined the 500-pounder.

“They look to be a type of sandstone or what’s sometimes called grit stone,” says Fithian.

“What’s important about knowing the type of stone is that it could tell us the source, where it was mined. They were usually manufactured not too far from where they were mined,” says Griffith.

Mining the raw stone needed to create millstones, chiseling the millstones into nearly perfect rounds, cutting a hole in the center of them, moving them to a ship, loading them into the hold, transporting, unloading, hauling them to the mill, dressing them for use by cutting furrows and finally installing them in the mill – was a labor-intensive process in the extreme.

Even so, Fithian says people of the times were clearly able to get the job done again and again.

Fithian says the English were probably milling grains in Delaware by the late 1660s and by the1680s the Dutch and English had regular milling operations in the area.

Fithian has been combing through editions of the “Pennsylvania Gazette” from the mid-1700s where the cargo of various ships is described in detail –including the millstones they were transporting and the country of origin for the stones – in advertisements and notices of merchandise that had just arrived.

“We’re hoping to find an ad that says, Ship lost, Lewes Capes, that has a list of its contents,” says Griffith.

“Even though the imported millstones appear to be the most common, we can’t at this stage rule out local production as well,” Fithian says. New York and Pennsylvania could be points of origin for the raw stone, the archaeologists say.

“There were guys who were starting to become specialists in dressing stones. One of them was a Delaware miller. This was by the 1760s and we’re a little surprised to see it was happening that early,” says Fithian.

He says Sussex County had numerous mills by the mid-1700s and is known as the “Bread Basket of the Revolution” because much of the food that supported the Continental Army was grown in the county.

Two things archaeologists know for sure – the millstones were being shipped “new” because none of the furrows that would have been cut by a miller customizing them for specific grains are present and they didn’t come from France.

“French grinding stones were built from four pieces because the stone didn’t occur in great veins as it did in Great Britain,” says Fithian.

“We’re going to send some descriptive information with digital photos around to people who are familiar with historic milling to see if they have some ideas,” says Griffith.

In the meantime, the millstones are doing what they have done for the past couple of centuries – resting comfortably, only now, above water.

“We want them to dry out thoroughly but not too quickly,” says Griffith.


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?