Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Benedict Arnold Gunboat Volume 50 Number 5, September/October 1997
by Jessica E. Saraceni

[image] Starboard side view of the gunboat's bow cannon (Courtesy Lake Champlain Maritime Museum/Benthos, Inc.) [LARGER IMAGE]

A vessel that was part of a 15-ship squadron led by Benedict Arnold in a Lake Champlain engagement with a superior British fleet on October 11, 1776, has been found in the lake, its 50 feet of mast still standing, its large bow gun, a 12-pound cannon, still in place. Two ships were lost and ten percent of Arnold's men were killed in the first five hours of fighting. The remaining 13 ships attempted to slip past a British blockade during the night, their oars wrapped in greased rags. One ship was captured and another sank. The following day, the British engaged the remaining rebel ships, in a second battle, which ended when Arnold intentionally destroyed five vessels to keep them from falling into British hands. Arnold and his men escaped overland to Fort Ticonderoga, to which only four of the original 15 ships safely returned. Art Cohn, director of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, believes that the newly discovered gunboat is the one lost during the blockade run. It is similar to the Philadelphia, a gunboat sunk in the first engagement. It was discovered in 1935 and is now in the Smithsonian Institution. Cohn dove on the well-preserved wreck, and a remotely operated vehicle took photographs and videotaped the ship to record it.

[image] The top and very stern end of the gunboat with a fish on the stern post (Courtesy Lake Champlain Maritime Museum/Benthos, Inc.) [LARGER IMAGE]

The gunboat was found during a survey of the lake bottom begun in 1996 in reponse to an invasion of nonnative zebra mussels that threaten the lake's archaeological resources. The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum will be working with the appropriate federal agencies and the states of New York and Vermont to develop a management plan for the gunboat, and to decide whether to leave the ship in place or raise, conserve, and exhibit it.

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America