Crews find possible Revolutionary War ship cannons in Savannah River

SAVANNAH, Ga. — Cannons, an anchor and other nautical relics dredged from the depths of the Savannah River last month could be from a British war ship that wreaked havoc during the Revolutionary War and led to the commission of the fledgling country’s first naval vessel.

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The Army Corps of Engineers were using a clamshell dredger Feb. 22 as part of a project to expand the depth of Savannah Harbor when they found the artifacts.

Andrea Farmer, Savannah District archaeologist, discusses recent maritime artifacts discovered near Old Fort Jackson...

Posted by Savannah District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday, March 11, 2021

That section of the river is swift and offers little visibility. Other debris, including pottery from indigenous people who lived upstream, pieces of the Confederate warship CSS Georgia and other vessels have been recovered from the riverbed over the years.

The canons are about five feet long. Because of their length, they are believed to date from the mid-1700s. Although the Georgia could have been outfitted with older guns it is believed they came from another ship.

“We are looking at whether they came from a single context, or if the anchor came from a later ship,” Andrea Farmer, an archaeologist for the Army Corps, told CNN.

The cannons are believed to be those from the HMS Rose, considered the scourge of the Revolution for its success at intercepting smugglers 250 years ago off the coast of Rhode Island. The intrepid ship, outfitted with 20 guns and a 160-man crew, led to the commission of the first vessel for the Continental Navy, Providence, in response.

The Rose patrolled off the Eastern Seaboard until it was ordered to blockade the port of Savannah in 1779. The Rose was sunk in September 1779 in an effort to keep French ships from entering the harbor. The Rose is one of two ships that sunk at the mouth of the river. The crew survived the sinking and joined other soldiers in Savannah. The British eventually won the battle. Britain left the city in 1782 and much of the wreckage was cleared at that time to open the waterway.

“It is exciting when artifacts from naval history are found,” Commander Jim Morley, the U.K.’s assistant naval attaché in Washington, said in a statement. “The possibility that they may, in fact, be from HMS Rose, a Royal Navy vessel that was part of our fleet operations during the American Revolutionary war is fascinating.”

Cannon and objects probably from a British warship scuttled off Savannah in 1779 have been recovered during routine...

Posted by Royal Navy on Wednesday, March 10, 2021

A replica of the ship was built in 1970 in Canada. It was later turned into the HMS Surprise for the nautical epic “Master and Commander.” That ship is now part of the Maritime Museum in San Diego.

“I think it is a significant find. Future investigation will tell us just how significant it is,” Robert Neyland told CNN. “You have to do the detective work to solve the mystery. We are not going to find a name on it. You have to build a body of evidence.”