Sunday, July 17, 2005


Divers not able to track ‘Polly'


Daily Advance
By Jeff Holland
July 15, 2005

Divers came up empty-handed this week during their search for evidence that two ships lie at the bottom of the Currituck Sound, a state archeologist said.

A team from the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the N.C. Division of Archives and History had hoped to confirm the location of a Revolutionary War-era ship known as the "Polly," a ship that locals say lies sunken in the northern part of the sound near the North Carolina-Virginia line.

But as of Wednesday, the dive team – comprised of two archaeologists and a summer intern – had been unable to locate remains of the ship, Richard Lawrence, director of the Underwater Archaeology Branch based at Fort Fisher.
"We don't have historical records that say that the Polly sank in the Currituck Sound, but we do have oral tradition that says so," Lawrence said.

The dive team searched a third location on Thursday for remains of a shipwreck off Swan Island, a small island off Knotts Island, according to Fred Waterfield, a Knotts Island resident. That ship had belonged to the original owners of the Swan Island Hunting Club, Waterfield said.

The dive team was scheduled to leave Currituck today.

At least one family on Knotts Island has helped keep alive the story of the Polly's final resting place. Waterfield said his cousin, Jimmy Waterfield, was told by his grandfather that the ship lies at the bottom of the sound. Fred Waterfield says he, too, learned about the location of several shipwrecks through his own father.

"My father knew where these wrecks were," Fred Waterfield said. "My people did commercial fishing and hunting for years. My people knew where all these ships were."

Fred Waterfield said he spotted boards in the sound a few years ago when the tide caused the water to be lower than usual.

Waterfield said he made the discovery while he and other Knotts Islanders were driving their lawnmowers out on the sound floor. Waterfield and the others were using the lawnmowers to pull trailers they had filled with ship ballast stones they found on the sound bottom. Knotts Islanders used the stones to landscape their flower beds.

Local historians and residents often talk about the Polly, a ship that likely sank after the Revolutionary War.

According to local historian Barbara Snowden, the Polly is of historical importance because of an incident aboard ship during the Revolutionary War that involved a slave, known locally as "Currituck Jack."

While Jack was aboard the Polly, the ship was captured by the British, Snowden said. After he was promised freedom, Jack began cooperating with the ship's British captors. However, Jack's cooperation was apparently only a ruse, Snowden said. He later freed his masters, who were then able to recapture the ship.

Jack, who later was given his freedom, was cited for his action by the Continental Congress and his exploits have been the subject of historical articles, including one in American Heritage, Snowden said.

Ships entered Currituck Sound when the old Currituck Inlet and the new Currituck Inlet permitted them passage and when the depth of the sound permitted larger vessels, Lawrence said. The new Currituck Inlet closed in the 1820s, he said.
Waterfield says he shared his knowledge about the shipwrecks in the sound with Snowden and her husband, Wilson, a few years ago. So, when Lawrence and a dive team were in the vicinity two years ago, the Snowdens passed along that information to Lawrence, who made a note to return and search the sound for the ships.

Though Lawrence's searches proved fruitless this week, the archeologist said his team plans to return to the sound with a magnetometer – a remote-sensing device – that can be used to detect the presence of iron or steel underwater. Wooden boards on ships were often secured with iron fasteners, Lawrence said.

If divers had found the remains of a ship, the team would have completed a field report and marked the exact location of the ships using a global positioning system. Beyond that, the state likely wouldn't have approved further work on the shipwrecks, because it has scarce resources for such projects, Lawrence said.

Usually, Lawrence's dive team turns its findings over to archaeology students at East Carolina University and other colleges, who then conduct further research on the discoveries.

The presence of ballast stones sometimes indicates the presence of shipwrecks, Lawrence said. Cargo ships carried ballast stones, but crew members would also get rid of the stones near a port as the ship prepared to take on cargo.
The team did spot boards during its dive Tuesday at what's believed to be the site of the second shipwreck. The site is 150 yards southeast of a wharf located at the end of Caison Point Road on Knotts Island.

During the team's return to the site on Thursday, divers used handheld dredgers to clear mud and debris from the wood. However, the wood is believed to have been part of a fish pen instead of a shipwreck, Waterfield said.
Storms passing through the area prevented a dive on Wednesday.


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