Saturday, December 31, 2005


London researcher close to identifying Lewes shipwreck


Cape Gazette
By Henry J. Evans Jr.
December 30, 2005

Researchers are moving closer to learning the name and origin of the merchant ship that has been the source of thousands of artifacts which first began washing ashore on Lewes Beach near the Roosevelt Inlet last December.

Dan Griffith, director of the Lewes Maritime Archaeological Project, said a British historian working in London is assisting in putting a name, country of origin, cargo manifest, owner, insurer and possibly even the captain’s name with the ship that went down off the coast of Lewes sometime between 1762 and 1775.

Griffith said the historian has narrowed the list to four ships – Pitt Packet, Severn, Commerce and Vaughn – known to have wrecked near Lewes in the Delaware Bay during the estimated time period.

He said the British historian would use insurance records along with cargo listings and other documents to see if the ship on the bottom of the bay is one of those on the list.

“We hope that insurance records will exist for all four ships, all of them British,” Griffith said.

He said insurance records would provide information on size and other characteristics of the ships.

“Exactly how detailed that information is will vary from one policy to another. Our hope is that we’ll be able to compare the cargo lists with the range of artifacts that we have to see if we can’t find something distinctive enough to pin it down,” Griffith said.

This week the project moved its dry-lab operations from a makeshift laboratory, in a bunker at Cape Henlopen State Park to a University of Delaware lab near the College of Marine Studies main campus on Pilottown Road.

“This facility gives us central heating and air conditioning, restrooms and more space for work and storage,” Griffith said. He said the wet-lab, where artifacts of various types and sizes are kept submerged in water to be stabilized before cataloging and analysis, would remain at the state park.

As archaeological projects go, Griffith said this one is moving forward at a good pace.

“We’re in the middle of reviewing the final report that the underwater archaeologists did for the Army Corps of Engineers in the middle of spring,” Griffith said.

He said plans and permits for additional diving next year at the wreck site are being developed for the Army Corps’ to consider.

Griffith said the project has been awarded a $200,000 state grant to continue diving at the site and should hear about its application for a $300,000 grant from the federal government before the end of next month.

He said a substantial amount of work could be done with the combined half-million dollars in grants.

“That would cover some of the lab staff costs and conservation and not just the off-shore work,” Griffith said.

It was last December when beachcombers first picked up hundreds of pieces of pottery, earthenware containers and other objects on Lewes Beach near the Roosevelt Inlet.

The fragments were pumped ashore along with thousands of cubic yards of sand after a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beach replenishment dredge hit the wreck site about 2,000 feet offshore.


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