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Revolutionary War-Era Ship Found at the Site of Virginia’s First City, Alexandria

The city of Alexandria, Virginia has plans for building a new hotel in the area. During early construction work, archaeologists found well-preserved remains of a Revolutionary War-era cargo ship.

The new hotel is being built on a site where Virginia’s first city building once stood. Taking that into consideration, archaeologists have been on standby throughout the operation. They have been expecting some kind of historical artefact to show up during the new construction, and they have hit the jackpot with this!

The experts on site believe the ship was purposely scuttled in order to provide the foundation for  the construction of the original building during the years of 1755 and 1798.


According to the City of Alexandria, there were special laws passed to require archaeologists to be present during the major re-developments of the historic waterfront area. The law, passed in 1989, allows archaeologists to be present on site before any construction can begin, in case something like this would happen.

The city said that the archaeological team had discovered the port side of the vessel, which is about one-third of the hull. The ship has not yet been identified and the exact type of boat that they found is still unknown. However, the construction method and material that was used on the boat suggests it was used in the Revolutionary War-era.


In a recent report, the city claimed that the ship had been very sturdily built. The report also said that the sections of the frame were close together, which means that the ship must have carried something heavy. It could have even been used for military purposes, but archaeologists won’t know until more of the ship is uncovered.

The archaeologists have uncovered the keel, frame, a part of the bow stem, a section of the stern, exterior boards, and interior floor boards. Since there is so much uncovered already, the experts will examine more of the ship on site before removing it completely.

If the city decides to conserve the ship, it will eventually have to be submerged in a wet environment so the decay on the wooden remains does not get worse. This may be a difficult decision since not many people fund historical ships. However, the city itself could possibly fund the preservation of the ship, since it is a major find and such a big part of the city’s history.

From old records they know that in 1755 there was a warehouse constructed on the site of the discovery. In the records, it was written that there had been a boat deliberately destroyed in order to provide the foundations for the building. A Scottish merchant, John Carlyle, had been commissioned to build the warehouse.


Before the construction started, the archaeologists knew to look for the evidence of the original building that was there. However, they were unaware of the ship’s existence until the earth and mud were slowly removed.

The city’s report also stated that the frame foundation of the building had consisted of massive timbers 20 to 30-feet long with 12-inch-square cross sections. The wooden pieces spanned most of the length to the building.

The report goes on to say that the discovery of the building and the 260-year-old ship allows the city and the archaeologists to envision what the town looked like when it was founded. The warehouse’s pieces allow them to study how 18th-century buildings were built and the techniques that were used. Many building trades had to have been used, since this was a waterfront city and a major international trading site. By the end of the 18th century, Alexandria had become one of the top 10 busiest ports in America.

The remains found on the site could possibly be put up on the waterfront as a tourist attraction once archaeologists have finished studying them.

Follow the link to view the photos taken at the site.

All photos belong to City of Alexandria

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News