Lewes shipwreck site a window into 1770s economy

By Molly Murray - The News Journal

The wine: imported from South Africa; the porcelain from China, the bottled water from Germany. More evidence of a global economy ? You bet, said historian and archaeologist Charles Fithian. But we're not talking 21st century, here.

This global economy was vibrant in the 1770s and researchers have found clear evidence of it at the bottom of the sea with a Lewes shipwreck, discovered by accident during a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beach replenishment project in 2004.

"History repeats itself," said Faye Stocum, a state archaeologist who is working on the project.

As it turns out, the Roosevelt Inlet Shipwreck is a significant historical resource for researchers and historians who want to learn more about British mercantilism in the colonies, what types of commodities colonists in places like Philadelphia and Delaware were buying and what went wrong with this fragile economic system that eventually led to the Revolutionary War.

It is the first British merchant ship from the time period that archaeologists have been able to explore and study.

The remains of the ship still rest just off the beach in about 15 feet of water near Roosevelt Inlet. But thousands of artifacts - many of them glass and pottery shards - were pumped to dry land along with sand borrowed to restore the beaches. Six years later, artifacts are still washing onto the beach.

The wreck site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Nov. 2006.

Archaeologists with Southeastern Archaeological Research Inc., the Florida consulting company that was hired by the state, suggest that only a small part of the hull remains intact. They estimate than some 40,000 artifacts were recovered - much of it material that ended up on the beach or washed in later.

The state's consultant completed a historic review of the wreck site during the spring and was reluctant to pinpoint the identity of the vessel. The consultant points to 31 possibilities from the hundreds of vessels that sank in Delaware Bay in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

They suggest the ship may have been Dutch -- based upon the large number of Dutch-made tobacco pipes that were recovered and the thought that the ship may date from the Revolutionary War at a time when trade with England would have been limited. The consultants suggest that Dutch tobacco pipes were not common in the Mid-Atlantic except during the Revolution and immediately following it.



America shipwreck archaeology

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