Revolutionary War British shipwreck from the siege of Yorktown discovered

The wreck of what appears to be a British ship destroyed during the siege of Yorktown in 1781 has been discovered in Virginia.

Experts from JRS Explorations spotted the wreck, which is believed to be the armed transport ship ‘Shipwright,’ in the York River last week.

The siege of Yorktown was the last major battle of the Revolutionary War and saw British forces commanded by Lord Charles Cornwallis trapped by Continental Army troops commanded by George Washington and French units under the command of the Comte de Rochambeau. The beleaguered British defenders surrendered on Oct. 19, 1781.

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The site of the famous battle continues to be a source of fascination for historians.

1781: French map of the coast of Virginia showing Cornwallis' army entrenched on the York River with the American and French armies laying siege around it. French Admiral de Grasse's fleet blocks the entrance to Chesapeake Bay.

1781: French map of the coast of Virginia showing Cornwallis' army entrenched on the York River with the American and French armies laying siege around it. French Admiral de Grasse's fleet blocks the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

On June 19, Bill Waldrop, a volunteer working with the JRS Explorations research team, spotted a partially buried metal object sticking out of the river bed, which was proved to be an iron cannon. The cannon, like the rest of the wreck, is covered in oyster shells.

On a subsequent dive, a second, and possibly third cannon, were discovered by team member Joshua Daniel. Working with team leader John Broadwater, Daniel examined the riverbed and found what appears to the wooden hull of a large ship. The hull is buried between one and several feet beneath the riverbed, according to JRS Explorations.

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“This certainly is an incredible discovery, we were very happy to locate the shipwreck and know that there's cannons on her,” JRS Explorations CEO Ryan Johnston told Fox News, via email.

A diver taking part in the search for the shipwreck. (JRS Explorations)

A diver taking part in the search for the shipwreck. (JRS Explorations)

Johnston explained that the mysterious wreck was found about 1,000 feet from the wreck of the HMS Charon, a 44-gun British frigate sunk during the siege. The newly discovered wreck, he said, could have been one of the ships that HMS Charon ran into after she was set alight by French “hot shot.” The burning frigate reportedly drifted into two anchored British transport ships, setting them alight. One of the ships was the Shipwright.

“One of our divers then recovered a small piece of what appears to be charred wood, indicating that this ship was lost to fire, which would account for its vicinity to the known HMS Charon,” said Johnston.

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As the battle raged, 40 or more British ships were sunk by enemy cannon fire or deliberately scuttled by Cornwallis to prevent French forces from landing behind British positions, according to JRS Explorations. The Yorktown shipwrecks are now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

General George Washington (center) inspects the French battery on the opening day of the siege of Yorktown, October 1781. Lithograph by Zogbaum published in 1881.

General George Washington (center) inspects the French battery on the opening day of the siege of Yorktown, October 1781. Lithograph by Zogbaum published in 1881. (Photo by Interim Archives/Getty Images)

If the wreck is proved to be the Shipwright, it would solve the 238-year puzzle about the ship’s final resting place. However, researchers note that mapping and identifying the wreck is challenging as a result of the layers of oyster shells, strong currents and near-zero visibility in the heavily silted water.

Nonetheless, further study of the site will be undertaken. “We'll be going back down when we can,” Johnston told Fox News.

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Long term, JRS Explorations will use the data it compiles from the shipwreck sites to develop a new management plan for their preservation.

American War of Independence: Battle of Yorktown, 1781.Two lines of warships firing broadsides. From a French logbook, held by the Henry Huntingdon Museum.

American War of Independence: Battle of Yorktown, 1781.Two lines of warships firing broadsides. From a French logbook, held by the Henry Huntingdon Museum. (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)

Other Revolutionary War wrecks have been grabbing attention in recent years. Last year, for example, the remains of the famous Revolutionary War frigate USS Bonhomme Richard were discovered off the coast of the U.K., more than 200 years after it sank following a naval battle.

Also in 2018, a Nor’easter uncovered the remains of a Revolutionary War-era ship on a beach in Maine.

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In 2015, a Revolutionary War-era ship was unearthed at a construction site in Alexandria, Va.

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A 22-gun British warship that sank during the American Revolution regarded as one of the "Holy Grail" shipwrecks in the Great Lakes was discovered at the bottom of Lake Ontario in 2008.

Fox News’ Katherine Lam and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers