Monday, March 26, 2007

 

Brig’s artifacts believed from War of 1812 era

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The Chronicle Herald
By Bill Power
March 26, 2007



Archeologists believe many dramatic tales about one of Nova Scotia’s more exciting historical periods will be extracted from some remains of a 200-year-old ship found buried in clay prior to the commencement of the Halifax Harbour cleanup.

"This is a significant find," archeologist Michael Sanders said Wednesday as artifacts from the wreck site, about 200 metres north of the Woodside ferry terminal, were prepared for a rare public viewing.

"The hull uncovered at the site is an excellent example of a brig from this era in spectacular condition," the researcher said of an ongoing assessment of data and samples collected at the site.

A musket ball, a button and a comb carved out of bone are just some the artifacts found at the site. One especially intriguing find is a piece of a pocket knife handle with the initials "E.W." emblazoned on one side.

An enormous amount of archeological data was also collected.

"We know of only three other similar vessels that have had similar archeological work undertaken and there is certainly a lot more to be learned about this particular brig."

Teams of archeologists and volunteers co-ordinated by Cultural Resource Management Group Ltd. in Halifax converged on the Woodside location and a major portion of the harbour cleanup was rescheduled after questions were raised about the potential significance of some wooden ship remnants, originally spotted buried under clay and rubble about a decade earlier.

There was some initial speculation it was an abandoned ferry that was in the path of the massive harbour cleanup project. It was not long before archeologists realized they were dealing with something more significant.

Remnants of a brig from the 1800s, a workhorse of a vessel with two masts, slightly bigger than a schooner like the Bluenose, appeared as mud was cleared away.

Mr. Sanders and colleague Darryl Kelman will cover details of the excavation of the shipwreck and their analysis of the site during a March 27 presentation, beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History on Summer Street in Halifax.

The general public is invited, but seating is limited.

The archeologists determined by examining construction techniques and components the vessel is from the War of 1812 era and could very well have been destroyed during a powerful hurricane that hit the bustling wartime Port of Halifax in 1813, killing 14 people.

An examination of newspaper reports of the time indicate as many as 116 ships were severely damaged and about 40 were beached on the Dartmouth side of the harbour in the huge windstorm.

Among the big man-of-war battleships and commercial schooners destroyed was a mysterious two-masted, square-rigged brig, and this is where the story becomes more complex and interesting.

Halifax was a very busy Royal Navy base supporting a blockade against U.S. and French shipping in the big war, often described as America’s second battle for independence.

Pirates and privateers loved the quick-turning brigs and so did the fledging U.S. Navy. Who owned this ship? Had it been captured? Many questions remain to be answered about this ship’s history and its possible involvement in the war.

There is also a possibility the vessel was constructed in Nova Scotia, which could add a new level of significance to ongoing and future archeological research.

"It is a time when you could have seen sailing ships passing offshore from just about anywhere in Nova Scotia," said Mr. Sanders. "Halifax was booming because of the war and the harbour was chock full of vessels. . . . It’s a fascinating period."


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