Sunken British ships are focus of Newport archaeology project

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The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) is currently engaged in a multi-year search to locate and identify 13 British transport ships that sunk in Newport Harbor in 1778. The British navy scuttled the ships in an effort to blockade the French fleet that was threatening the city.

RIMAP is an organization that is interested in the state’s maritime history. Its goal is to locate, identify and study cultural resources in Rhode Island waters such as shipwrecks, debris fields, submerged man-made structures and inundated terrestrial sites. Such discoveries can include Native American watercraft and Colonial and Revolutionary war wreckage. It also studies local slaving, steamship and naval histories.

Carolyn Frank is a Jamestown resident who teaches history at Brown University. At one time she participated in RIMAP wreck dives, including those in Newport Harbor, and she has followed the progress of the search since that time.

During the Revolutionary War, the French fleet came into Newport, Frank said. “There were British ships that had been anchored around Newport Harbor. When the French fleet sailed in with bigger guns than the British had, they decided that the best plan would be to scuttle their vessels and try to create a blockade around Newport so that the French ships couldn’t sail in because they would get hung up on the sunken vessels. They took everything off of the ships and sunk them right before the Battle of Newport.”...

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