British warship ‘found’ after 250 years

An encrusted cannon

American soldiers may have found the remains of a British warship which was the scourge of their countrymen during the War of Independence.

Cannon, an anchor and other objects – thought to belong to HMS Rose – were dredged from the bed of the Savannah River, nearly 250 years after the ship was scuttled at the height of the conflict.

A near-replica of the ship was built in 1970 in Canada and subsequently was turned into HMS Surprise ‘captained’ by Russell Crowe in Master and Commander.

The artefacts have yet to be formally identified, but given their location and the fact they pre-date the American Civil War by a century, Royal Navy historians believe they are likely to date to the siege of Savannah in 1779.

HMS Rose was sunk in the river to deny the French Navy access to the Georgian capital – held by British forces – in support of American troops besieging it.

The ship – a sixth rate armed with 20 cannon – had been active in the Americas throughout the 1770s. Her success in intercepting smugglers to Rhode Island prompted the Americans to commission their first armed ship in response, the sloop Providence, and form the Continental Navy – forerunner of today’s US Navy.

The British vessel also frequently conducted forays up the Hudson River which helped to drive George Washington out of New York when war broke out and continued to patrol the Eastern Seaboard until the decision to use her as a blockship off Savannah.

The British abandoned the city in 1782 and the wreck was largely cleared away to allow free navigation of the river to resume.

And there it remained until the US Army Corps of Engineers was conducting dredging operations in the river and found the objects. Putting a halt to further dredging, they recovered the historic items. Archaeologists and naval historians on both sides of the Atlantic are trying to identify the wreck definitively.

Contemporary records show that Rose was one of two ships sunk on the bar at the mouth of the Savannah River in September 1779 and prevented the French fleet from getting close to the namesake city, thus providing support to American soldiers attacking it.

All the crew survived the sinking and subsequently joined the defence of Savannah.

aged image of a naval scene with old navel boats in the water with dark Skys
An encrusted cannon

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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