BOSTON – Somewhere along an industrial stretch of river pocked with rotting piers and towering salt piles north of Boston lies the answer to one of the great riddles of the Revolutionary war.
Where is the final resting place of the British schooner, the HMS Diana?
The river — known as Chelsea Creek — separates the city of Chelsea from the East Boston neighborhood of Boston. Today the river is plied by oil tankers and is home to a landscape dotted with the city's iconic tripledeckers.
But more than 200 years ago, the creek was the site of one of the earliest and least-remembered engagements of the Revolutionary War. The Battle of Chelsea Creek was also the first naval engagement of the American Revolution.
For two days in May 1775, British Redcoats and members of the Continental Army battled up and down the waterway.
The British were trying to reach farmers who would still trade food and livestock. The revolutionary forces were trying to deny them those resources.
As the fighting raged, the British sailed the Diana up the river to provide reinforcement. For a while it worked. Then the tide turned, literally, and the Diana found itself run aground in the mud despite the best efforts of British troops to free it.
An unknown number of redcoats died in the fighting. The rest fled, leaving the ship behind. The Continental Army forces took what they could and torched the rest.
That might have been the end of the story, except the mystery of the Diana never completely faded, even as stories of far more famous skirmishes — including the Battle of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill — have stolen the historical limelight.
Now, Massachusetts has received a $48,300 grant from the National Park Service to preserve the battlefield where the Battle of Chelsea Creek was fought.
State researchers will use the money to pull together all they know about the battle, fill in what blanks they can, and then try to match that narrative to the existing landscape. And maybe dig up the remnants of the Diana along the way.
"It's a relatively unknown or unrecognized battle so we want to give it more definition," said Victor Mastone, director and chief archaeologist at the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources.
Mastone said there have been occasional reports of the Diana remnants being discovered over the years, but each time the wreck turned out to be another, unrelated ship.
While the main goal of the grant is to help preserve an important battleground — including any remaining buildings or land forms from the time — Mastone said he still "interested in finding the Diana in the long run."
He's not alone.
George Ostler is a retired firefighter and amateur historian who's long been fascinated with the battle in his hometown of Chelsea.
Ostler said the battle never received the recognition it deserves — a wrong he hopes may be righted in part from the renewed interest in pinpointing the exact locations of the fighting.
"It was right after Lexington and Concord, but it was before Bunker Hill," said the 88-year-old Ostler. "It was maybe not the greatest, but it was a leading battle in the Revolutionary War in our fight for our independence."
Lexington Common boasts its iconic Minuteman Statue and a 221-foot tall monument soars over Breed's Hill (the actual location of the Battle of Bunker Hill), and someday, Ostler said, the Battle of Chelsea Creek may also get its due.
And even though the Diana was set ablaze, Mastone said there's always a chance some portion of the ship survived and remains buried along the banks of the river.
"Even though areas are heavily dredged and urbanized, the landscape can stay pretty much the same," he said. "And they can give up something recognizable."