Alexandria’s 18th Century Ship Sets Sail
Ship to Be Conserved Before Returning to Alexandria
In January 2016, an 18th century ship was discovered at the site of the new Hotel Indigo by archaeologists from Thunderbird Archaeology, a division of Wetland Studies and Solutions, Inc. Recent studies have revealed that the ship was most likely built in Massachusetts sometime after 1741, and used as landfill along the Alexandria waterfront during the late 18th century. Since excavation, the ship’s timbers have been stabilized by Alexandria Archaeology and stored in tanks of water in a City facility while awaiting professional conservation.
This spring, Texas A&M University’s Conservation and Research Laboratory was awarded the contract for the ship’s conservation. Operating under TAMU’s Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation, the Conservation Research Laboratory is known for working with archaeological material from shipwrecks and other underwater sites, such as the Belle, a 17th century French ship that wrecked off the Texas coast in 1686, and the remains of an 18th century ship uncovered during excavations at the new World Trade Center in New York City.
During the week of June 12th, the ship was carefully packaged to prevent any damage to the timbers during its trip to Texas. This work was done thanks to the help of individual volunteers and groups including Friends of Alexandria Archaeology, the Naval History and Heritage Command, and the Alexandria Seaport Foundation. The waterlogged wood of the centuries-old ship is susceptible to shrinking and disintegration once exposed to air. To prevent damage, each timber was wrapped in layers of wet towels, plastic, and foam to prevent the wood from drying out during the drive to Texas.
On Thursday, June 15, Alexandria Archaeology held a free Bon Voyage event for the ship. The public was invited to watch the packaging process, ask questions, and participate in family-friendly activities that focused on the ship’s history and the science behind conservation. Allison Silberberg, Mayor of the City of Alexandria, and Eleanor Breen, Acting City Archaeologist, both spoke about the importance of preserving such a unique piece of Alexandria’s heritage and the need for future support upon the ship’s return to Alexandria.
While in Texas, the ship will be conserved and analyzed to provide further insight into the 18th century ship’s story. The conservation process will take multiple years. After conservation, the ship will return to Alexandria. For the latest news and events related to the Alexandria ship, visit AlexandriaArchaeology.org. To ensure the preservation of the fragile wood timbers, donate today!
For more information, please call Eleanor Breen at 703.746.4399, or e-mail Eleanor.Breen@alexandriava.gov.