Wreck of purported British ship sunk in American Revolutionary War found in Savannah, Georgia

One of the cannon recovered from the wreck believed to be that of the 1757-built Royal Navy 20-gun ship HMS Rose (Photo: Royal Navy)

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) may have found the remains of a British warship dating back to the American Revolutionary War.

Some cannon, an anchor, and other objects thought to belong to the 20-gun sixth rate post ship HMS Rose have been dredged from the bed of the Savannah River in Georgia, nearly 250 years after the ship was scuttled at the height of the conflict.

The Royal Navy said the artefacts have yet to be formally identified. However, given their location and the fact they pre-date the American Civil War by a century, Royal Navy historians believe they are likely to date to the siege of Savannah in 1779.

HMS Rose was sunk in the river to deny the French Navy access to the Georgian capital – held at the time by British forces – in support of American troops besieging it.

The ship had been active in the Americas throughout the 1770s. Its success in intercepting smugglers to Rhode Island prompted the Americans to commission their first armed ship in response, the sloop USS Providence, and form the Continental Navy – forerunner of today’s US Navy.

The British vessel also frequently conducted forays up the Hudson River, which helped to drive George Washington out of New York when war broke out and continued to patrol the Eastern Seaboard until the decision to use it as a blockship off Savannah.

The British abandoned the city in 1782 and the wreck was largely cleared away to allow free navigation of the river to resume. There it remained until the USACE was conducting dredging operations in the river when it found the objects, put a halt to further dredging, and recovered the historic items.

Archaeologists and naval historians on both sides of the Atlantic are working to definitively identify the wreck.

Contemporary records show that Rose was one of two ships sunk on the bar at the mouth of the Savannah River in September 1779 and prevented the French fleet from getting close to the namesake city, thus providing support to American soldiers attacking it.

All of Rose‘s crew survived the sinking and subsequently joined the defence of Savannah. They played a key role in lifting the siege, though the ship’s captain, Philip Browne, was killed.

A near-replica of the ship was built in 1970 in Canada and subsequently was turned into the ship HMS Surprise for the 2003 motion picture Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. It is now a museum ship in San Diego, California.

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