Shipwreck May Be Tied to American Revolution


A researcher investigates a sunken ship in Caribbean waters. | Image by Antigua Naval Dockyard, UNESCO World Heritage

A sunken ship in Caribbean waters dating back to the 18th century may have ties to the American Revolution, according to researchers from East Carolina University.

“Compelling evidence” suggests the shipwreck, located eight feet below the surface of Antigua Bay, may be the Beaumont, a French vessel that was later rechristened as the Lyon. It could offer insight into how merchant ships were modified for war.

The ship was originally built for the French East Indies Company in 1762 and used for trade in the Indian Ocean. When the company dissolved seven years later, the ship was deployed by the French navy.

“[The ship] served for two years in the French navy. After that, it was bought by a private merchant and used in the American Revolution. It was then captured off Virginia by HMS Maidstone,explained National Parks Authority archaeologist Dr. Christopher Waters.

After being captured by the HMS Maidstone, a British warship, the Lyon was transported to Antigua “as a prize,” according to East Carolina University News Services.

“We know it was brought here; we just don’t know what happened to it. But it was very badly damaged and probably never left English Harbour again,” Waters said.

A 1780 map of Antigua’s Naval Dockyard located in London’s National Archives indicates that a French warship lies in the spot under investigation, according to the Antigua Observer.

A survey of the Caribbean waters a few years ago first indicated that a large ship may be located beneath Antigua Bay’s murky depths. However, a local diver, Maurice Belgrave, was the first to spot a large rib of the vessel.

“I have been working in the French West Indies for 15 years, and it’s the largest wreck I’ve ever seen,” said Jean-Sebastien Guibert, an associate professor at the University of the Antilles. “I did not expect it to be so big.”

Measuring 147 feet and weighing an estimated 990 metric tons, the ship remained hidden for more than 240 years underneath several feet of mud. Even with sonars, magnetometers, and other modern surveying equipment, Guibert described the discovery as “kind of like hitting the jackpot.”

The mud allowed the vessel to remain undetected and impeccably well-preserved.

If archeologists’ suspicions about the ship’s identity are correct, it would be the only French East India Company shipwreck with an intact hull left in the world.

Lynn Harris, who specializes in African and Caribbean maritime history and archaeology at East Carolina University, led a team of students last summer as they excavated around the bow, stern, and midship area of the vessel.

“New evidence like protective sheathing, burning, and fragile artifacts were uncovered between the timbers. … Each artifact has a potential story about manufacturing, distribution, trade, warfare, and daily life on the ship,” said Harris.

The archeologists plan to analyze the types of timbers used and the composition of the ballast stone. If the ship is indeed the Lyon, the find represents a window into 18th-century ship construction and America’s founding.

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1 month ago

One wonders if the ship was scuttled on purpose or possibly sank in the great hurricane that took out a lot of the English ships but spared French and American Revolution ships?