Frenchtown Landing, Maryland

By the close of 1812, the British Navy had accomplished little in its second war with the United States. Indeed, the young American Navy fared well against its dominant opponent. The following year, British Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren and Rear Admiral George Cockburn agreed to adopt a more aggressive approach towards the United States. The two admirals opened the 1813 campaign with a series of raids along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay designed to disrupt commerce and disable American naval vessels stationed within the bay.

John Demille, of Marine Sonic Technology, prepares 1200 kHz sonar to search for War of 1812 vessels lost at Frenchtown Landing. Photo courtesy of Sue Jourdan/SEAWORD Xpeditions.

In October 1999, East Carolina University Maritime Studies students Mike Plakos, Michael Hughes, and staff archaeologist Frank Cantelas, met Steve Bilicki of the Maryland Historical Trust, and Jeff Morris of Nauticos Inc. at Elk River to conduct a survey near Old Frenchtown to find the vessel remains of the 1813 attack.

Two vessels picked up by the Marine Sonic 600 kHz sonar. The upper target is a modern boat while the lower target appears to be a merchant ship burned during the War of 1812.

John DeMille, with Marine Sonic Technology, kindly offered to image the site as a demonstration of their sonar to a number of potential customers. A Marine Sonics 600-kilohertz side-scan fish relocated the vessel in the first pass. After switching to the 1200-kilohertz fish we made several passes over the site capturing very detailed pictures of the vessel. Individual frames and ballast stones are distinctly visible in a number of the images, which also illustrates the vessel’s boundaries and orientation to the surrounding area.

Mike Plakos discovers a ballast stone from the suspected War of 1812 vessel. Photo courtesy of Sue Jourdan/SEAWORD Xpeditions.

ECU Students Jeff Morris and Michael Plakos examine an anomaly recorded by the side scan sonar in October 1999.

The British targeted Frenchtown hoping to disrupt commerce in the northern part of the Bay.Upon their initial approach, the British were fired upon from a small battery manned by local militia. The British soon overpowered the battery and began burning the town, destroying large quantities of flour and military goods. Two vessels moored in the river adjacent to the town were also destroyed. One was run aground and burned, the other, a Baltimore- Frenchtown packet, was burned at anchored.

Mike Plakos and Mike Huges standing by the computer watching for targets. Photo courtesy of Sue Jourdan/SEAWORD Xpeditions.

Two vessels were located using a side scan sonar and magnetometer. One proved to be a modern boat with a plastic steering wheel. The other vessel, vessel exhibited characteristics that could date to the early nineteenth century. It is a wooden hull with doubled frames fastened with iron spikes and nails. Much of the vessel is covered in ballast stone and river sediment. The remains of the hull – everything up to the waterline – suggest that the vessel was burned, and burn marks were identified on a number of the vessel’s frame tops. The vessel’s construction and location indicate that it may be the packet burned in 1813. Further investigation of the vessel was conducted on 24-25 March 2000.

The 1200 kHz sonar reveals a detailed record of the larger vessel.

Additional fieldwork is currently planned for June 2000. During this outing, a detailed map of the vessel will be generated. The bow, stern, and a small midships section will be studied to obtain construction features that will aid in identifying this wreck. Studying the nature of this vessel will hopefully yield useful insight to early nineteenth century northern Chesapeake commerce and vessel construction.

This project is being funded in part by grants from the National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program, Department of Defense Legacy Resources Management Program and Maryland Historical Trust.