Sunday, November 20, 2005


Shipwreck may hold loot from 1812 Washington

By Edward Colimore
November 18, 2005

Buttons from the uniforms of British officers and U.S.-minted coins.

The simple evidence found by a Newtown, Bucks County, company in the rough waters off Nova Scotia might not be conclusive, but together with the maritime record it makes a compelling case for the discovery of a historic treasure:

The wreck of the HMS Fantome and escort vessels, carrying valuables looted from the White House and Capitol by the British during the War of 1812.

Divers, archaeologists and conservators from the Newtown-based firm have been quietly working at the site over the last year and are preparing to begin full recovery operations.

The Fantome's manifests confirm it held the Washington plunder when it sank with several other ships in a convoy on a rocky reef near Prospect, about 20 miles southwest of Halifax.

Locals have long called the area Fantome Cove, said Curtis Sprouse, chief operating officer of Sovereign Exploration Associates International, based in Newtown. SEAI owns the company now surveying the site, Artifact Conservation and Recovery (ARC), also of Newtown.

Sprouse said the experts could not say with certainty that they had found the Fantome until they had fully evaluated artifacts and recovered others. The wooden ships at the site have long since disintegrated.

"But you can find cannon; the Fantome had unique cannon," he said. "You also will find a ship's bell, plaques and silverware with the impression of the ship."

ARC has been conducting a survey of the site under an official Treasure Trove licensing accord with the provincial government. The province will receive a 10 percent royalty on any official treasure, including artifacts. The remaining items belong to ARC.

"We've been very quiet about this for a year while we did operations and raised funds for the work," said Sprouse, adding that the retrieval could continue for a year. "We have been examining the site and determining how we will do the recovery."

A Canadian filmmaker, John Wesley Chisholm, hopes to make a documentary about the site. He has criticized the operation and wants to change the law to prevent historic items from falling into private hands.

Sprouse said the team was conducting the recovery in a "scientific and highly professional manner."

"We believe that the preservation and presentation of history is of utmost importance," he said.


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