Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Spot on historic register sought

By Drew Volturo
October 11, 2006
Diver Matt DeFelice emerges from the water after
scouring the wreck believed to be British commercial
vessel the Severn, which sank in 1774. Helping him out
of the water are Justin McNesky, left, and Mike Murray.

LEWES — Delaware’s underwater “big dig” has resumed and numerous new artifacts from the state’s oldest-known shipwreck have surfaced.

The Roosevelt Inlet shipwreck, which archaeologists have been studying for nearly two years, is believed to be British commercial vessel the Severn, which sank in May 1774.

Archaeologists and beachcombers have recovered more than 45,000 artifacts from the vessel and more are being unearthed each day.

Additionally, the state has applied to list the shipwreck on the National Register of Historic Places.

“This is an exciting chapter in Delaware’s maritime history,” Secretary of State Harriet Smith Windsor said Wednesday during a briefing on the resumption of recovery efforts.

Mrs. Windsor marveled at how far the state has come since announcing the discovery of the buried ship.

“We know basically her name and her mission,” she said.

The Severn, Mrs. Windsor said, was a three-mast, 80-foot vessel bound for Philadelphia from Bristol, England, in late April and early May 1774 when it encountered what likely was a nor’easter.

“The captain of the Severn, James Hathorn, apparently ran the ship aground because he wanted to save the crew, and did,” she said.

Daniel R. Griffith, one of the project leaders, said many ships facing severe storms would hide behind Cape Henlopen, a natural barrier, in the Harbor of Refuge.

The ship remained undisturbed until November 2004 when beachcombers began finding pieces of pottery, ceramics and metal military miniatures along a section of beach that had been built up through a replenishment project that fall.

After researching the area, archaeologists discovered that a dredge had churned up the artifacts after sucking sediment from the edge of the wreck site and throwing it onto the beach.

Archaeologists were able to approximate the date of the vessel through the various ceramics, earthenware and glass from the ship, pinpointing a range of 1769-75.

Mr. Griffith said he is “90 percent sure” that the wreck is the Severn, noting that three other vessels that sank in the area have been ruled out due to the cargo or news reports at the time of the sinking.

The vessel easily predates the HMS DeBraak, a shipwrecked British brig found off the Lewes coast 20 years ago, by nearly a quarter-century.

The DeBraak sank in 1798.

Diving at the Roosevelt Inlet wreck site resumed Sept. 27 and will continue throughout October, senior underwater archaeologist Jason Burns said.

Mr. Burns hopes to learn more about the vessel by exploring its hull and excavating more artifacts.

Visibility, he said, is limited to about 6-10 inches on most days, and divers are expected to cover about 30 percent of the site, which is 15 feet underwater.

Wednesday, divers brought sifted sediment aboard a dredge, where archaeologists meticulously searched for hidden treasures.

Even the tiniest piece of German stoneware was set aside for cataloging.

The new dig already has yielded artifacts that have not been seen in Delaware previously, Mr. Griffith said, such as a pewter plate warmer and a glass linen smoother.

“We’re hoping to see what life was like on an 18th century British commercial ship,” Mr. Griffith said.

Although the on-site research is expected to wrap up this year, there is plenty of work to be done on land.

Mr. Griffith noted that project members have learned that Capt. Hathorn of the Severn died in 1795 and was buried in Philadelphia.

Archaeologists have the names of the 15-20 crewmembers and will see if any of them remained in Lewes after the wreck.

If the state’s application to have the vessel added to the National Register of Historic Places is successful, it would be the first Delaware shipwreck to be placed on the list.


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