Remains of hero’s ship, wrecked off R.I. in 1811, said to be found
PROVIDENCE — A team of divers say they have discovered the remains of the USS Revenge, a ship commanded by US Navy hero Oliver Hazard Perry and wrecked off Rhode Island in 1811.
Perry is known for defeating the British in the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie off the shores of Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario in the War of 1812 and for the line, “I have met the enemy and they are ours.’’ His battle flag bore the phrase “Don’t give up the ship,’’ and to this day is a symbol of the Navy.
The divers, Charles Buffum, a brewery owner from Stonington, Conn., and Craig Harger, a carbon dioxide salesman from Colchester, Conn., say the wreck changed the course of history because Perry probably would not have been sent to Lake Erie otherwise. Tomorrow is the 200th anniversary of the wreck.
Buffum said he has been interested in finding the remains of the Revenge since his mother gave him the book “Shipwrecks on the Shores of Westerly’’ several years ago. The book includes Perry’s account of the wreck, which happened when it hit a reef in a storm in heavy fog off Watch Hill in Westerly as Perry was bringing the ship from Newport to New London, Conn.
“I always thought to myself we ought to go out and have a look and just see if there’s anything left,’’ Buffum said.
The two, along with Mike Fournier, set out to find it with the aid of a metal detector. After several dives, they came across a cannon, then another.
“It was just thrilling,’’ Harger said.
They made their first discovery in August 2005, and kept it secret as they continued to explore the area and make additional discoveries. Since then, they have found four more 42-inch-long cannons, an anchor, canister shot, and other metal objects that they say they are 99 percent sure were from the Revenge.
Buffum and Harger say that the items fit into the time period that the Revenge sank, that the anchor appears to be the main one that is known to have been cut loose from the ship, and that no other military ships with cannons have been recorded as sinking in the area.
They have not discovered a ship’s bell or anything else that identifies it as the Revenge, and all the wood has disappeared, which is not unusual for a wreck that old, they said.
The Navy has a right to salvage its shipwrecks, and the two say they have contacted the Naval History & Heritage Command, which oversees such operations, in hope the Navy will salvage the remains. A spokesman for the command did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
If the Navy does not, they said they hope to raise money for a salvage operation so the artifacts can be displayed at a historical society.
As for whether the wreck of the Revenge changed the course of history, David Skaggs, professor emeritus of history at Bowling Green State University, said Perry might not put it that way.
While Harger and Buffum say Perry was effectively demoted by being sent to the Great Lakes, rather than getting another high seas command, Skaggs said the Great Lakes commission still gave Perry great prestige. Perry, a Rhode Island native, became known as the “Hero of Lake Erie’’ after he defeated a British squadron, becoming the first US commander to do so.
Still, Skaggs said he was intrigued by the discovery, calling it “an interesting new find’’ on the eve of the bicentenary of the War of 1812.
Correction: Because of an error by the Associated Press, this story misstated the number of 42-inch cannons found. Divers say they found two 42-inch cannons, along with four 60-inch cannons.