New clues to ship’s
history found at ground zero dig site

Archaeologists trying to unravel the history behind an 18th century ship excavated from ground zero have found some important maritime clues: birdshot pellets, musket balls and small cannon shot the size of golf balls embedded in the ship’s wooden planks, Newsday reports.

Why on a merchant ship? There were New Jersey “gangsters” who hid in the marshes of the Hudson River and attacked ships as they entered New York Harbor, said Warren Riess, 62, lead maritime archaeologist and historian working on the dig. Some of the remnants also may have come from weapons the ship’s own crew used to protect it.

“There were still some pirates in the Caribbean at the time, but there were also gangsters in New Jersey who came out of the marshes and did some nasty things,” he said.

The “work horse” merchant ship — discovered earlier this summer at ground zero — traveled as far south as the Caribbean, and its merchant sailors were armed with muskets and cannons to perhaps fight off pirates on the turquoise waters of the southern sea, archaeologists say.

More artifacts are expected to be discovered at the site, said Elizabeth Meade of Northport, N.Y., an archaeologist who has worked at the dig and specializes in history.

The ship was used as landfill to extend the lower Manhattan shoreline and to build more piers, docks and wharves into the Hudson River, Meade said.

“This is extremely exciting,” she said of the find, adding the landfill waste that’s become a treasure trove of the past will “pretty much tell us how people were living back then.”

The archaeological team also found broken plain white and decorative motif china; animal bones and broken crates from a market, or butcher store, she said. Also found were the shells of ship worms, which archaeologists could trace from the warm tropical waters of the Caribbean, said Riess, professor of maritime history and archaeology at the University of Maine.

A 32-foot stern section of the wooden hull is being cleaned and its wood preserved at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab. It has not yet been established if there will be funds available to exhibit the find, said Riess.

“This ship has no monetary value, but it will tell the story of what life was like back then in lower Manhattan,” he said.

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