Field School - Fall 2004
Washington, North Carolina, Tranter's Creek Vessel
In early September 2004, a team of six Maritime Studies graduate students led by Drs. Annalies Corbin and Nathan Richards began a comprehensive investigation concerning the maritime heritage of Washington, North Carolina. The multi- faceted study consisted of several research objectives highlighted by a full Phase III archaeological excavation of a submerged 19th century schooner near the confluence of Tranters Creek and the Tar River. In addition, the historical and archaeological survey also involved a wide-ranging remote sensing component complemented by numerous individual underwater and terrestrial site assessments. Washington, NC has a rich historical background steeped in maritime activity which fostered its growth and enabled its development, but much of what occurred along its nearby waterways remains undocumented. By merging the individual research components of this study into a comprehensive whole, a more complete representation of the region’s maritime culture can be attained, and hopefully more clearly understood.
Of the numerous shipwrecks in the Washington area, the Tranters Creek site was chosen as a field school project for several reasons. The wreck is readily accessible and had been briefly investigated several years prior to this study allowing comparisons to be made about its current condition and rate of deterioration. Additionally, the vessel is believed to have been abandoned on site, thereby suggesting a limited amount of material culture would remain. This conclusion lessened the potential for extensive artifact conservation at the end of a full Phase III excavation and made the site more approachable. A thorough examination of the centerboard schooner’s construction will contribute to a better understanding 19th century North Carolina wooden sailing craft. The shipwreck also provided students with an excellent opportunity to hone their underwater archaeological survey and mapping skills in a near zero visibility environment.
While the Tranters Creek shipwreck excavation was an integral part of the overall project, it was not the only component in which Maritime graduate students participated. Team members also utilized a shallow draft research vessel to conduct side scan sonar remote sensing sweeps of the inland waters surrounding Washington. During these operations, previously undocumented archaeological sites were rediscovered and evaluated. Each student was tasked with conducting individual site assessment surveys of both underwater and terrestrial significance. Examples included the remains of a Colonial-era crib wharf, plank-built plantation flats, an isolated creekside chimney, abandoned underwater boilers, derelict timber corrals, and several submerged wrecks.
The significance and diversity of these sites provide additional weight to an already important regional maritime reputation, and their analyses are as varied as the sites themselves. The student reports are important pieces to an expanding cultural puzzle and are filled with systematic visual inspection studies, interpretations of remote sensing data, digital photo- graphic evidence, extensive mapping, environmental information, historical research, appraisals of maritime heritage significance, and recommendations for future archaeological endeavors. The quality of each individual effort was surpassed only by the formation of an expansive cultural framework which has greatly increased the potential for regional historical awareness and understanding.
- Chris McCabe ('07)