Charon (1781)

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This beautiful ship was set afire during siege of Yorktown and sank downstream. Less than five percent of the hull survived, all bottom timbers. The remains still rest on the bottom of the York River, where they have been designated and protected as a National Historic Site. It was excavated by a team of Texas A&M Nautical Archaeology students and volunteers from Virginia and North Carolina under the direction of J. Richard Steffy.

Charon was a 44-gun, fifth-rate British warship built in Harwich in 1778. Original builder’s drawings survive. A model is displayed in the Science Museum in Kensington.

This was one of the earliest hull’s to be sheathed in copper. An apron and some deadwood also survived. Much of the keel was inaccessible, and some exposed portions were fragmentary. Consequently, its actual length cannot be confirmed. Frame end butts were overlaid with chocks secured with treenails. Floor timbers were about 6.7 m in length. Treenail wedges could not be confirmed. Parts of two shot lockers, as well as remnants of chain and suction pumps, were found and analyzed.1


1. Richard Steffy, INA Shipdata Project, Texas A&M University.

2. Steffy, J. R. et al. “The Charon Report, ” in G. Watts, Jr. (ed.), Underwater Archaeology: The Challenge Before Us (1981).

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