New analysis provides more clues about pilgrim-era shipwrecks

Founded in the Storm at Sea in 1626, a ship wrecked at Cape Cod was helped by local indigenous peoples and nearby Plymouth pilgrims.

Today, the most detailed scientific analysis of wood discovered over 150 years ago provided the best evidence that they belonged to an unlucky ship known as the Sparrow-Hawk.

The results of an international multi-year study of ship wreckage were published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports on Friday.

Donna Curtin, Managing Director of the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, has owned 109 timbers from Sparrowhawk since 1889.

The lumber has long been assumed to come from the sparrowhawk, about 40 feet (12 meters), the oldest known shipwreck in the British colonial United States, primarily based on where it was discovered. However, uncertainty always remained.

“Historical stories are distorted over time,” Curtin said.

Historians know that a small ship to Jamestown, Virginia, was landed by a storm in 1626, carrying a pair of British merchants and several Irish servants, according to Plymouth Colony documents. increase. Governor William Bradford.

“There were a lot of passengers on board, and there were miscellaneous goods for Virginia,” Bradford wrote. There is a shortage of water and beer.

Regarding passengers, “the chiefs among these people were Mr. Ferz and Mr. Sibsey, who had many servants belonging to them, many of whom were Irish,” he wrote.

Although they were the first recorded Irish settlers in New England, they had few choices as indentured servitude and never stayed forever, Curtin said.

Passengers were initially helped by English-speaking Nauset members and then taken to pilgrims for nearly a year, eventually finding a way to grow tobacco in Virginia on other boats.

Meanwhile, the irreparable ship was buried by the movement of sand and was lost until 1863. The storm found a very well preserved wreckage. The wreckage was presumed to be the same ship that Bradford described from where it was discovered.

The original name of the ship remains unknown, but it has been called the Sparrow Hawk since the 1860s.

According to Curtin, the shipwreck has long been one of the museum’s most interesting relics. It has been studied and scrutinized by generations of maritime experts, but has never been such a detailed analysis.

The study was led by Calvin Miles, a marine archaeologist and researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Aiofe Daly, an associate professor at the Saxo Institute at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Fred Hocker, Principal Investigator of the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.

They used wiggle-match dating, a form of radiocarbon analysis, and dendrochronology, a study of annual ring growth, to roughly narrow down when the sparrow hawk was built.

Studies have shown that wiggle match dating showed that the wood used to make the boat was harvested between 1556 and 1646.

A ring of trees is like a “climate-based fingerprint of the area where the tree grew,” Daily said. Studies have shown that the annual ring pattern of Sparrow-Hawk wood coincides with the age of the tree rings of southern England in the 17th century.

The same technique was used to study the Swedish warship Versa, who set out on her maiden voyage in 1628, just two years after the sparrow hawk was wrecked.

“I can’t say 100% sure that this is a sparrow hawk,” Curtin said. “But we can say more confidently that what we have is compatible with the story of Governor Bradford’s diary.”

Another clue that the sparrow hawk is from the early 17th century is the oak and elm it is made from, Hocker of the Vasa Museum, who specializes in shipbuilding history, said.

“That wood combination is a combination of traditional materials in British shipbuilding of that era,” he said. “Everything I saw shouted at me in the 17th century.”

Although previously published, the remains of the sparrow hawk are now stored in the Plymouth Museum.

More scientific research is planned, and Curtin wants to use digital modeling to create 3D images of the ship with the goal of revealing the ship in 2026, the 400th anniversary of the shipwreck. ..