Divers Explore Revolutionary War-Era ShipwrecksAP , Associated Press
Oct. 25, 1985 9:59 PM ET
PORT REPUBLIC, N.J. (AP) _ Maritime history experts and divers say they've discovered the remains of two ships that were sunk by the British in the murky Mullica River during the Revolutionary War.
The Atlantic Alliance for Maritime Heritage Conservation spent three days this week surveying, mapping and photographing the river-bottom locations of the ships about 10 miles northwest of Atlantic City.
The sites of two submerged ships were pinpointed years earlier, but the divers this week found two more wrecks and may have found a third, said Jim Sinclair, an archeologist and conservator working with the Atlantic Alliance, a Washington-based, non-profit organization.
In all, 10 ships were wrecked by the British in the 1778 incident.
Sinclair said the team was not after sunken gold and jewels. Instead, he said, ''the treasure lies in the history.''
R. Duncan Mathewson, the chairman of the Alliance, said archeologists determined that one of the wrecks was a British merchant ship while the other was a two-masted sloop, which they believe was built in America.
The discovery should provide new information on American shipbuilding in the Colonial period, he said.
''It is the combination of archeological evidence with historical documentation that I think will make this very exciting,'' said Mathewson.
According to Franklin Kemp, a local historian, British ships were instructed to destroy the settlement of Chestnut Neck, several miles inland on the Mullica, because it was a hub of efforts to attack British shippers during the American Revolution.
On Oct. 6, 1778, the British forces carried out those orders, Kemp wrote in his book on the settlement, ''A Nest of Rebel Pirates.''
After destroying the village, the British forces found 10 ships, including some that the rebels had captured.
Because it would have been too difficult to sail the ships out to sea on the treacherous Mullica, the British dismantled them and set them afire, Kemp said.
The wrecks are buried in mud in water that is less than 20 feet deep, but visibility is poor and the currents are dangerous.
''There's a lot of mud and a lot of oyster shells,'' Sinclair said. ''It is very dark. You come upon the ribs of these vessels sticking up with oyster shells on them.''
This week, the five alliance members and 15 divers found an 8-foot iron and wooden anchor and a smaller anchor about 51/2 feet long, Sinclair said.
Also recovered from the river bottom were iron fittings, a ship's rigging, pieces of rope, ballast stones and small pieces of pottery and glass.
The work has involved using a device to measure magnetic activity on the river bottom.