Robinson Terminal South Excavation Update: Uncovering Two Historic Ships

Archaeologists working at the former site of Robinson Terminal South have uncovered two historic ship. Initial analysis indicate these ships were probably used as fill when Alexandrians filled in the Potomac River during the late 18th/ early 19th century.

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Note: The information on this page reflects the state of knowledge when this update was written. Information may have changed. 

Uncovering Two Historic Ships

March 2018

Spring brings more exciting discoveries at Robinson Landing. Archaeologists have recently uncovered two historic ships at the site.

Uncovering Ship #2 at Robinson Terminal SouthPreliminary analysis in the field of the materials and construction technique suggests that the ships likely date to the late 18th/early 19th century, the same time period as the ship uncovered at the Hotel Indigo site one block to the north.  One likely interpretation is that both ships may have been abandoned and covered by fill or intentionally scuttled and used as fill to bank out, or extend, the City’s shoreline into the Potomac. Most of the Robinson Terminal South block was filled in and the outline of the original Point Lumley had disappeared by the turn of the century.

One ship was found underneath the 1852 Pioneer Mill foundation, pulled up to the original shoreline and beached near Point Lumley. Archaeologists uncovered it in early March. It is listed on its side and oriented roughly east-west, perpendicular to the shoreline. This vessel may be more intact than the one found at the Hotel Indigo site and may provide additional clues about ship building traditions and construction techniques. The second ship was found in mid-March and is located to the southeast of the first one. It appears to run roughly parallel to the current shoreline and is adjacent to a stone warehouse foundation and associated wharf structure. Both vessels show a mix of trunnels (or wooden pegs) and iron fasteners.   

Currently, both ships are being evaluated by archaeologists from Thunderbird and the City with assistance from other maritime archaeologists, dendrochronologists, and other experts to reveal further information about their construction and to assess their structural integrity.  Dendrochronology of the ship timbers may be able to provide additional information on construction date and location of these vessels. Once more is known about them, contract archaeologists and City archaeologists will develop a plan for these unique finds for future research. 

These two ships along with the one previously recovered at the Hotel Indigo site provide insight into a critical period of Alexandria’s early history of trade and commerce as well as the larger maritime world of the late 18th and early 19th century. Recovering one ship is unusual, but having three within a two-block area to compare is very exciting. Together these ships are a valuable data source for maritime historians and archaeologists.