Warship excavation planned near Upper Marlboro

USS Scorpion

By Erich Wagner - Maryland Community News

Southern Prince George’s officials and historians hope a nearly unprecedented archaeological dig in the Patuxent River near Upper Marlboro will advance historic tourism during the state’s War of 1812 bicentennial commemorations.

Archaeologists with the State Highway Administration, the Maryland Historical Trust and the Navy are working on plans to excavate a shipwreck they believe to be the U.S.S. Scorpion, a scuttled warship from the War of 1812, starting next spring as part of the state’s efforts to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the war.

This year officials are preparing plans for how to excavate the wreck and obtain a series of environmental permits to allow the dig to move forward.

Stephen Sonnett, president of Upper Marlboro’s board of town commissioners, said he hopes interest in the shipwreck will attract additional visitors to the town’s own piece of War of 1812 history: the grave site of Dr. William Beanes, a Revolutionary and War of 1812 doctor who was taken captive by British troops during the war.

“We are active participants in the Prince George’s County War of 1812 Committee, and we hope events like this will certainly add to the interest people may have in the town,” Sonnett said. “We hope to be ready for them.”

Dave Turner, chairman of the county Historic Preservation Commission, said the shipwreck shows how the war was felt throughout Prince George’s County, not just around Bladensburg. He said there’s no reason the county shouldn’t capitalize on the battlefields, which draw people to Gettysburg, Pa., and archeological digs, which draw people to Williamsburg, Va.

“It truly is a countywide tourist experience,” Turner said. “We’d like to see some kind of effort made by either the private sector or the county to get actual tours from Washington [D.C.] out to the sites. ... We need to go to where the tourists are, rather than rely on them coming to us.”

Officials plan to excavate artifacts from the wreck using a method of cutting the ship off from the rest of the river and excavating as if it were on dry land, something that has only been done once before North America, they said, to excavate the La Belle, a 17th century French ship that wrecked in Matagorda Bay in Texas.

Bob Neyland, a Navy underwater archaeologist, said the ship in question is believed to be the flagship of Navy Commodore Joshua Barney’s Chesapeake Bay Flotilla, which was built in 1814 to harass the much larger British ships that had formed a blockade in the bay.

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War of 1812 Patuxent River Maryland Historical Trust Southern Prince George U.S.S. Scorpion