By George Schwarz, Ph.D, Underwater Archaeology Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command
When NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) received the artifacts and timbers of Royal Savage this summer from the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a plan began to reconstruct the schooner based on the remaining timbers. In addition to over a thousand artifacts ranging from lead shot, rope, belt buckles, and pieces of a leather shoe, the assemblage of the wreck included many of Royal Savage’s disarticulated timbers, leaving archaeologists and conservators to solve a 239 year old jigsaw puzzle. With the help of a fellow archaeologist and 3D scanner, UAB is one step closer to fitting the pieces back together of Royal Savage.
From 16-17 December, NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology Branch worked with Dr. Ben Ford, an archaeologist at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), to complete 3D scans of the timbers of Royal Savage. Using a Leica ScanStation C10 owned by IUP, Dr. Ford and his graduate assistant Jonathan Crise scanned the timbers and captured their details from multiple angles. After 51 of the main timbers of the vessel, including the keel, keelson, frame pieces, bow components, and the stern assembly, were laid out on tarps, the scanning process began. Other ship components, including a number of planks, were also scanned. Although many of Royal Savage’s timbers were burned, enough of the vessel remains to reconstruct it. The 3D scans will allow archaeologists to digitally recreate Royal Savage based on the curvature and construction of the remaining timbers.
The wreck of Royal Savage remained on the lakebed of Lake Champlain for more than one hundred and fifty years after it sank during the Battle of Valcour Island on October 11, 1776. In 1934, a team of local salvors decided to raise it and its associated artifacts. The assemblage was then sold to the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1996 for a museum display. In July of 2015, the city formally transferred the artifacts to the United States Navy. The artifacts and timbers now reside at UAB’s Conservation and Research Laboratory where they are currently being catalogued and conserved.
In the end, archaeologists will reconstruct the original lines of the ship which will serve as a vital tool in understanding the construction of similar vessels from this period. The complete conservation and reconstruction of Royal Savage is estimated to be a multi-phase, multi-year project. This project exemplifies NHHC’s mission to protect and preserve the Navy’s deep history and heritage.
Editors Note: Find out how the remains of this Revolutionary War schooner was returned to the Navy by clicking here.