Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Field Season is Open!

Yesterday marked the beginning of our fieldwork season for 2012. Our goals for this summer are to locate the site and create accurate site maps tied in to a known geo-spatial coordinate system, and to make a thorough assessment of the site. For those of you just joining us, this project is based on a site in the St. Mary’s River, adjacent to the St. Mary’s City town center, which past work has suggested to be the remains of ¬†a trade vessel from the seventeenth century. If so, this will be the oldest British ship remains known in the region. The site is known as a ballast distribution, of which preliminary testing has suggested European origins. We hope to obtain a sample of this ballast for further testing. The site sits against what is believed to be the seventeenth-century shoreline. Historic map regression shows that as late as 1850 this was indeed the shoreline. Based on the data we currently have, we are operating under the assumption that the site represents an ocean-going trading vessel from the seventeenth century, which was likely faulty or beyond its usable life and then abandoned against the shoreline. If this is the case, anything of any value, including iron fittings, would have almost certainly been stripped of the ship. While this perhaps for some makes it less interesting, from an archaeological perspective it perhaps makes it more interesting. Any artifacts we find in association will be quite literally, the trash from the ship. Many shipwreck sites are seen as a sort of time capsule, showing an array of goods both for use on this vessel and for trade. Abandonments will show what was not valued, telling us a new side of the story.

To start, Kevin Norris, a surveyor with Lorenzi, Dodds, & Gunnill, Inc. came to set our datum points along the beach. Using RTK and a robotic total station, we were finally able to set two points near the site off of which we can base all of our measurements. Many thanks to him for all of his hard work after normal working hours last evening.

Today has been spent doing preparatory logistic work, getting ready for dive operations to begin on Sunday. I took many pictures and began stockpiling video footage as well in hopes that in the coming days I will have a video blog to post.

And to end, I would like to thank many of the people who have made this possible and contributed to this project in a significant way. Dr. Regina Fadden, director of the Historic St. Mary’s City museum, has been crucial in obtaining funding for this project, as well as providing accommodation for those venturing to St. Mary’s City for the project. Dr. Henry Miller, Director of Research at HSMC has worked with me very extensively in developing my research plan and providing support wherever he can. David Howe & co. of the Institute for Maritime History has provided amazingly useful support by loaning me both his time, equipment, and volunteers to ensure that we have what we need to preform the fieldwork to the highest standard possible. Terry Brock, a graduate student at Michigan State as well as close personal friend, has been very instrumental in helping me publicize this research in a meaningful way that has generated a fair amount of interest from both other archaeologists as well as public. Lastly, Dr. Susan Langley and Troy Novak from the Maryland Historical Trust’s Maryland Maritime Archaeological Program provided me with invaluable assistance in developing a fieldwork plan. Many thanks to all of you, as well as to the individuals volunteering their time on this site to help us learn about Maryland’s colonial maritime past.

Fieldwork Schedule

Hi Folks,

I have finally managed to work out a fieldwork schedule for my survey of a ballast distribution near St. Mary’s City Maryland that just might turn out to be the oldest English ship remains known in the Chesapeake! This was my primary purpose for beginning this blog, so I am happy to finally be able to get out and begin the work. We will be starting out on May 31st with some preliminary work such as setting datums. From the 3rd to the 10th of June we will be diving the site to create detailed maps of the site and collect as much data as possible as to the sites origin. During this time, please check in for daily updates on our activities. If you are an archaeologically trained diver and would like to volunteer, please contact me directly at


Edward Rhodes – His Booke

In my last post I discussed the importance of historical documents to my research, just prior to visiting Oxford to examine some ship logs from the seventeenth century. I was unsure of just what I would find, but what I found was more valuable than I had imagined. In the Bodleian Library at Oxford University I was able to access a logbook, written by a sailor called Edward Rhodes, dated to 1670-1676. This book was aboard four different ships in these years, crossing the Atlantic twelve times in all on six round trip voyages between London and the Chesapeake Bay, both to Maryland and Virginia.

On an average day, Rhodes mentions the wind, weather, and how far they traveled. Each day at sea, from making it past Plymouth and until reaching the capes of the Chesapeake Bay (or the other way around in the return direction), Rhodes gives the latitude and relative longitude of their position. Until now, we could only speculate on what the Northern passage across the Atlantic looked like, but now we can see exactly what course they took! Even more interestingly though, is that until the mid-eighteenth century, longitudinal calculations were based more on reckoning than actual position. That Rhodes was writing these down, and consistent in his end points, really shows that they were able to determine this with a degree of accuracy. London, or in the return the Bay, are always set to 0 degrees longitude, and the final entries are between 55 and 57 degrees. By today’s measurements, this should be around 75 degrees, but the consistency means that this error is manageable.

On a less than average day, Rhodes writes about the other events that occurred. On the First of January, 1672, he writes while anchored in St. Jerome’s Creek near St. Mary’s City, Maryland: ‘This day we buryed one of our Seamen Henry Miller.’ On the third of January, he writes: ‘we buryed one of our passengers named John Sippse.’ And two days later on the 5th of January, another entry: ‘We buryed our Second mate named Gabrill Hamon.’ One must wonder what has happened that caused these three deaths in such a short time. One other mention that I have seen thus far of a death on board was on another voyage from London, started in December 1672. They spent more than a month in London waiting for the right wind to get out of the River Thames. On the 5th of January 1673, a note appears in the side column saying: ‘We buryed one of our passengers ashore.’ Two horizontal lines separate this from an addendum: ‘a nigro.’ The log then states that ‘Being a sunday our (unknown word) departed this life att 4 in the morning. Then I went presently onshore and spoke for a grave for him…’ He goes on to write that he found a grave for him at a parish church, and describes what was payed for the services. Ten shillings in all. What this tells us though, is that a black man was traveling as a passenger on this ship from London to Virginia as a free man, and was of the Christian faith as he was buried at a parish church. This serves as a reminder that while race was clearly an issue at the time (otherwise it would have not been stated), it was not the only condition leading up to slavery. In the seventeenth century, slavery by the English was more a condition for those of a non-Christian faith. This shift is something I am not overly qualified to comment on, but occurs later in the 18th century.

Not all of the other special entries deal with death, however. Some of them describe events such as trade, or just something a bit special: ‘Today we caught a dolphyn.’ Of those dealing with trade, this is only mentioned in the 1671/72 voyage to ‘Merryland.’ Rhodes mentions that they sent the ship’s master ashore at St. Mary’s City to take care of customs. The next day they sailed for St. Jerome’s Creek, where the three men were lost. The log picks back up in late March, and mentions that they have now 550 hogsheads of tobacco aboard. They then sailed for St. Mary’s City and collected 160 more hogsheads. Specifically, it mentions the use of ‘Shalups,’ small tender boats brought along with the ship, to acquire the tobacco. I have heard in the past people describing the ships themselves pulling up to wharves, piers or landings at individual plantations to load the tobacco, but this is not what we see here. And archaeologically, we have not found any evidence wooden structures in the rivers dating to this time period. It seems that at this point of time, loading of the cargo was a task performed by the ship’s crew with the ship’s own tender vessels. Further, while a specific time is not mentioned to pick up the 160 hogsheads they load at St. Mary’s City, it is more than a month before it mentions that they leave the area with their load of 726 hogsheads to travel back to England. That this process took perhaps 25 days to complete just in the St. Mary’s River shows a total lack of centralization to the process.

I am now hoping to acquire more texts dating to different periods of the seventeenth century to gather comparative data, plot more routes, especially on the Southern passage, and perhaps better describe the cargoes that the ships are carrying. Further, following out this information on early calculation of longitude is an exciting and unexpected find that I hope I can elaborate on at a later date. A big thank you to Dr. Henry Miller of Historic St. Mary’s City, currently teaching in Oxford, for housing me while I scoured this document for several days!