Summer Field School 2001
This year’s summer field school took place in Edenton, North Carolina. Under the direction of Dr. Brad Rodgers, ECU maritime students examined a wreck discovered by Edenton resident Mr. Gil Burroughs. The crew conducted a Phase II and III investigation of the site, which included an overall assessment of the remains, the production of plan view map, a survey map of the wreck's orientation to the shoreline, and a preliminary analysis of diagnostic artifacts and now being conserved at the ECU conservation lab.
Description of Site
The Burroughs wreck is located .6 miles west of the Edenton waterfront, near the mouth of Pembroke Creek. Water visibility on the site varied from zero to a few feet. The wreck lies in 2 to 5 ft of water, making documentation fairly easy, as our time was limited only by the amount of air in our scuba tanks. The area was rich in wildlife such as Cyprus trees, water lilies, fish, birds, snakes and leeches. The leeches in particular enjoyed our extended bottom times.
Brief History of Edenton
Founded in 1712, the town of Edenton served as North Carolina’s capital until 1746. It enjoyed great prosperity as an inland port throughout the eighteenth century, receiving ships from England and her various colonies in the New World. During this time the area of the wreck site, about half mile from the town, served as a shipyard and a ship graveyard.
During the nineteenth century however, several geographical and political changes combined to cause Edenton’s decline. In 1808, the Dismal Swamp Canal connecting the Albermarle Sound to the lower Chesapeake region, redirected traffic to nearby Elizabeth City. In 1828 Currituck inlet, along North Carolina's Outer Banks, closed during a storm, greatly reducing the viability of Edenton's maritime trade. Commercial vessels relied on this inlet for trade in the state's north eastern Albemarle Sound region. From the early nineteenth century until recently Edenton's economy was based on fishing and agriculture. This continues to be the case today, with the addition of a successful tourist industry.
Description of Work
During the first week of field school the crew did some historical research on Edenton, conducted an initial evaluation of the wreck, drove pieces of PVC pipe into the mud at the ends of the frames to outline the hull remains. The crew also laid a baseline from the bow to twenty-five feet beyond the stern. A baseline is a metal cable drawn tight using a hand winch. The position of the baseline is plotted into a map of the surrounding area using surveying equipment, and is used as reference for measurements of the wreck.The following week a ten-foot wide trench was excavated amidships across the wreck using a water induction dredge. Material from the trench was sorted and analyzed at the surface. This material consisted of silt, leaves and mud, as well as a large amount of refuse from a nineteenth century lumber mill, such as log scabs, bark, and log dogs (iron chain connected to iron wedges used to secure logs together).
Pieces of charred wood and charcoal were also found among the debris, which along with the burned frame ends on the wreck, suggested that the vessel had been burnt to the water line. After examination of the test trench, students excavated the port side of the wreck. Numerous artifacts were found. Most were photographed and returned to the site. Only a few diagnostic artifacts were recovered and kept for conservation and analysis at ECU.During the last week of field school each student documented a five-foot section of the vessel's port side. Each diver had a measuring tape and plumb bob in order to accurately map in points on the wreck, such as trunnels, bolts, frames, planking, mast steps, and artifacts on a mylar covered slate. A profile of the wreck was also drawn, and an overall site map was drawn up, recording the wreck’s exact location using a transit and EDM (electronic distance meter).
The hull is quite intact from bow to stern and from the keel to the turn of the bilge, except for a Cyprus tree defiantly growing through the center of the wreck near the bow. The ship is made almost entirely of white oak with sacrificial pine planking on the outside of the hull. The presence of sacrificial planking indicates that the ship traveled in warm ocean waters where wooden hulls are susceptible to damage by burrowing marine organisms such as torredo worms. Sacrificial planking was applied to hulls to decrease the risk of damage. By the late eighteenth century copper sheathing replaced sacrificial planking as the preferred method of hull protection. The vessel has a deep draft, considerable dead rise and lacks a centerboard. It is single framed and the frames are notched to fit the keel, and the keelson is notched to fit the frames. Frames are constructed using scarf chocks. The keelson is also joined with a hook and wedge scarf with the keys still in place. All of these construction techniques help date the ship to the eighteenth century.The eroded remains of a rider keelson are fastened to the keelson with long iron drift pins. The rider keelson increased the longitudinal strength decreasing the affects of hogging. One mast step (most likely for the mizzen mast) is located on the rider at 70 feet from the bow. The rudder is still attached to the stern post with an iron gudgeon and pintle, turned slightly to starboard. The rabbet (a notch accept the outer hull planking) can be felt in the stem and stern posts.The of artifacts found in the upper levels of the excavation were intrusive chains, log scabs, log dogs, and several early 20th century glass bottles. The artifacts most likely related to the wreck fall into four categories: fastenings, weaponry, rigging material, and ceramic and glass fragments. The fasteners include wooden trunnels, long iron drift pins, and wrought iron nails and spikes. All the fasteners were hand made and no two are identical. A piece of grape or canister shot and a piece of star or Spanish shot were found on the site. Both types of shot were fired from a cannon. A large amount of charred rope was found, as well as several wood sheaves and wooden block pieces. One intact wooden block with working sheaves was discovered. A few pieces of crizzled green glass and three pieces of European imitation porcelain are amongst the artifacts found on the site.
The ship was 85 feet in length, between 20 to 25 feet in beam, and 200 to 240 tons burthen. It drew roughly six to nine feet of water and was most likely a three-masted vessel. It is unclear due to the relative dearth of artifacts whether or not it was a merchant vessel or warship. From the evidence of fire, location in shallow water, and the lack of ballast and artifacts it appears the vessel was abandoned and burned. A great deal of research remains to be done in order to identify the vessel and place it into the historical context of colonial Edenton. It is highly likely that the shipwreck is one of the oldest in North Carolina.