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Perry’s Revenge Revisited

Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Engineering Diving Support Unit (EDSU) dive supervisor Bill Graves hands a set of tools to EDSU engineer Christian Schumacher as he prepares to dive on the site believed to be the remains of Oliver Hazard Perry’s schooner Revenge. (U.S. Navy photo by Blair Atcheson/Released)

Last week, the Navy returned to Rhode Island to continue the archaeological investigation of the site believed to be the remains of Oliver Hazard Perry’s schooner Revenge. The 2018 fieldwork builds upon remote sensing surveys conducted in 2012 and 2015 and last year’s diver documentation and cannon recovery. Research this year involved continued mapping of the site, carronade recovery, and recording of an anchor potentially associated with the wreck.

Perry’s schooner was used to survey the coast of Rhode Island when under his command in 1811. Upon her return to port from a sounding mission in early January, the vessel encountered heavy fog and struck Watch Hill Reef. With Revenge lodged on the reef, Perry attempted to lighten the vessel by cutting down the main mast and jettisoning armament and other heavy objects. It was a losing battle and the ship eventually sank, but Perry was later cleared of all charges. Later, he would go on to command the Lake Erie squadron during the War of 1812 and gain gained fame for his victory at the Battle of Lake Erie on Sept. 10, 1813.

Naval History and Heritage Command archaeologist Dr. George Schwarz briefs the dive team from Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) on the conditions at the site believed to be the remains of Oliver Hazard Perry’s schooner Revenge. (U.S. Navy photo by Heather G. Brown/Released)

Over the past year, Navy research revealed that Revenge was formally the merchant schooner Ranger built in Baltimore before she was purchased by the Navy in New Orleans in 1807, and more clues about the ship’s previous life and design characteristics are being sought in local and regional archives. As little information was recorded in naval records about the construction, arming, or outfitting of Revenge, this information will complement the archaeological data found at the site, such as the source of the guns and iron ballast, which has been observed among the reef.

The 2018 work was a cooperative effort among Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Engineering Diving Support Unit (EDSU), and wreck site discoverers Charlie Buffum and Craig Harger. Thomas Mitchell dedicated his boat and time to the project, and the Wadawanuck Club again provided space for the Navy dive boat. The project also marked the first diving mission by NHHC operating under the Navy Dive Program. Dr. George Schwarz from NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology Branch completed Navy scuba diver training at Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center on September 17, 2018.

Although the rough sea state and tidal cycles severely limited the amount of time on site this September, the team succeeded in mapping the location of all cannons on the reef, recording the encrusted anchor of unknown origin south of the main wreck site, and documenting and recovering the carronade. After rigging the gun and lifting from the reef via high-capacity lift bags, the carronade was carefully hoisted aboard a Navy torpedo retriever and transported to NUWC facilities. It was then transported by truck to the Washington Navy Yard, where it now undergoes desalination as the first step in the lengthy conservation process. This process will eventually stabilize the iron and allow the artifact to be exhibited and viewed by the public and accessed by other researchers. The heavily-concreted gun will undergo a similar conservation process as the 6-pdr recovered in 2017, and once cleaned, will hopefully bear surface details to assist researchers in learning about its manufacture.

Crewmembers of TWR-841 oversee the lift of the carronade from the site believed to be the remains of Oliver Hazard Perry’s schooner Revenge onto the deck for transit to Newport, Rhode Island. From there the carronade was transported to the Washington Navy Yard for conservation. (U.S. Navy photo by Blair Atcheson/Released)

Continued study of the site is planned, including expanded survey to determine if hull remains may exist apart from the collection of materials scattered about the reef. Multibeam echosounder and sector-scanning surveys are being considered as ways to collect additional data on the extents of the site in 2019.