00:45 - Source: CNN
Bomb cyclone uncovers Maine shipwreck
CNN  — 

Ever since it first emerged in 1958 on a beach in York, Maine, the 50-foot skeleton of a shipwreck has intrigued both locals and experts alike. It reappeared in 1978, 2007, 2013 and 2018 after powerful storms swept away the sand burying it. But then the wreck disappeared again, frustrating those who desired to know more about the ship’s history.

Now, the decades-long mystery has been somewhat solved after marine archaeologist Stefan Claesson discovered evidence that links the shipwreck to a Colonial-era ship called the Defiance that was built in 1754.

To identify the origin of the shipwreck, Claesson, who is also the owner of Nearview, an aerial drone and archaeological surveying company, sent pieces of the wreck to the Cornell University Tree-Ring Laboratory.

“The sampled timbers matched a New England tree-ring index indicating a felling date of approximately 1753,” Claesson told CNN.

A person photographs a shipwreck's remains after the nor'easter that battered the New England coast made it visible Monday, March 5, 2018, on Short Sands Beach in York, Maine.

He then looked through nearly 50 years of notary records to discover that a sloop called Defiance had wrecked at the York Beach location in 1769. Research also showed that a sloop of the same name was “coincidentally built in 1754 in Massachusetts, which fits well with our tree-ring dates of circa 1753,” Claesson said.

Records from the 18th century show that Defiance was sailing out of Salem, Massachusetts for Portland, Maine, according to Claesson. The ship was carrying a cargo of flour, pork and English goods along with a four-man crew. But the ship encountered a fierce storm.

“They took anchor, but in heavy seas the crew was forced to cut the anchor cables, and they were pushed ashore onto York Beach,” Claesson said. “The ship was a total loss, but the crew survived.”

Claesson’s discovery is significant because it’s one a very few examples of a pre-Revolutionary War ship built in New England, he said. But also because it can reveal the increase and impact of storm events and sea level rise.

“Shipwrecks like this can also be thought of as living organisms, or environmental warehouses, that store and can reveal information about regional climate variations through study of tree rings. In this initial study, we now have tree-ring data for multiple species from the early 1600s to the 1750s,” Claesson said.

When the ship most recently emerged at Short Sands Beach in 2018, locals flocked to the site. People took pictures, children climbed on it, and some even took pieces of it home.

A boy displays pieces of wood he took as souvenirs from a shipwrecked sloop at Short Sands Beach on March 6, 2018.

But Claesson said there needs to be better protective measures in place “to ensure that the next generation will have an opportunity to see and appreciate this important site in American history.”

Plus, while the Defiance seems to fit every description of the shipwreck, Claesson said additional historical research and archaeological investigations are needed to confirm it as fact.

“The cost of archaeological excavation to document and reconstruct the vessel is very doable,” Claesson said. “This would ensure, even if it is taken one day by the ocean, that we have preserved its memory for future generations. We may not have too many opportunities to document marine architecture of this vintage and tell the story of these early American seafarers.”