Savannah, Ga. ( Associated Press) — A warehouse along the Savannah River holds historic treasures that evidence suggests were lost over 240 years — a cache of 19 cannonballs that researchers suspect were scattered on the river bed during the American Revolution Came by British ships. ,
Mud and rusted guns were discovered by accident. A dredge scooping sediment from the riverbed with a cannon mounted in a metal jaw surfaced last year as part of the $973 million depth of Savannah’s busy shipping channel. The crew soon dug two more.
Archaeologists speculate that they were probably the remains of a sunken Confederate gunship excavated a few years ago in the same area, said Army Corps of Engineers archaeologist Andrea Farmer. But US Navy experts found that they did not match any known guns used in the Civil War. Further research indicates that they are almost a century old and were sunk in 1779 during the build-up to the bloody siege of Savannah in the Revolutionary War.
In a time frame of just over a year, 19 cannons were fired from the same area of the river, a few miles from Savannah, where Georgia was founded in 1733 as the last of Britain’s 13 American colonies.
“They are in remarkably good shape,” Farmer said. “Many people were buried in the mud and covered with silt and debris that protected them.”
Now the US and British governments as well as Georgia state officials are working on an agreement to preserve the newly found guns before they are displayed. Commodore Philip Nash of the British Royal Navy, a Washington-based military attache, saw artifacts submerged in a metal tub of water during a visit on Thursday.
“Some of these pieces are in amazing condition and I’m sure can tell some stories,” Nash said.
The cannons are being kept in water to prevent further deterioration until the experts clean them carefully. Meanwhile, researchers are looking for more definitive evidence linking the cannons to British ships from the American Revolution.
Farmer said the researchers are very confident about the connection. Savannah was under British occupation for almost a year until the fall of 1779, when colonists, with the help of French and Haitian allies, planned an attack to retake the city.
When French ships carrying troops were spotted off the Georgia coast, the British hurried to scuttle at least six ships into the Savannah River downstream from the city to block the French ships. The land war that followed was one of the bloodiest battles of the war. The British forces killed around 300 colonial fighters and their allies, while hundreds were wounded.
Farmer said the researchers suspected that the cannons found in the river came from the British ship HMS Savannah and possibly a second ship at the same time, HMS Venus. He said the long guns corresponded to cannons manufactured in France in the mid-1700s. Researchers are looking for ship logs and manifests in hopes of confirming the weapons on those ships.
It is also possible that the cannons themselves and other artifacts found at the site – pieces of anchorage and a portion of a ship’s bell – once cleared may contain marks or other clues as to which ship they belonged to. The wood from those ships, Farmer said, long ago rotted or was destroyed by prior dredging projects over a series of decades.
The question of who owns the artifacts becomes a bit ambiguous. They were found in Georgia’s state waters during a dredging project headed by the Army Corps, a US government agency. The British government can claim an ownership if there is strong evidence that the artifacts came from British ships.
Farmer said they were working on an agreement to have all sides preserve the cannons and eventually have them on display at the Savannah History Museum, which includes the battlefield where the bloodiest fighting took place during the siege of 1779.
“Everybody wants to have artifacts in the savannah,” Farmer said, “because it makes the most sense.”