James M. Allan
FORT ROSS COVE: HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESEARCH TO IDENTIFY THE REMAINS OF CALIFORNIA'S FIRST SHIPYARD.
(Under the direction of Professor Gordon P. Watts, Jr.) Department of History, Program in Maritime History and Nautical Archaeology, August 1996.
This site report describes the research issues, methodology, and results of historical and archaeological investigations undertaken during the summers of 1990, 1991, 1992 at Fort Ross State Historic Park, site of the first shipyard in California. Established by the Russian-American Company, the shipyard was used to build six sailing vessels between 1816 and 1827. Each was declared unseaworthy within six years of its launching, leading to the closure of the yard in 1827. The historic literature generally attributes the poor durability of the ships to one of three different factors: 1) the wood used in their construction was unsuitable for the application; 2) that it was improperly prepared, and 3) that the skill and experience of the builders was not sufficient to the task.
In an effort to determine to what extent each of these factors contributed to the discontinuation of the shipbuilding industry, historical and archaeological research was undertaken to determine if any subsurface evidence of the shipyard exists. As none of the ships built at Ross survived, research questions were directed at the archaeological remains of the shipyard in which they were built. Questions regarding the placement and configuration of the shipyard facilities, the level of craftsmanship employed in its construction, and the interactions of the multiethnic workforce of Russian aristocrat, Russian peasant, native Alaskan, and native Californian that comprised the yard's construction crews were developed to assess the arguments regarding the failure of the shipyard.
Remote sensing surveys and limited subsurface testing of magnetic anomalies comprised the archaeological research. Although no specific evidence of the shipyard has been identified to date, the previously unborn location of a historic building, probably associated with the shipyard, was determined as a result of the surveys. Subsurface archaeological testing of this location, and a number of significant magnetic anomalies identified during the remote sensing surveys, is to be undertaken in the fall of 1996.