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The 1794 Wreck of the Ten Sail, Cayman Islands, British West Indies: A Historical Study and Archaeological Survey

Margaret Leshikar-Denton
Dissertation: December 1993
Co-chairs: Bass & Crisman
Nautical Archaeology Program

The French Revolution had begun in 1789 and by 1793 Britain and France were engaged in war. Hostilities extended to their world-wide possessions, and to the high seas where each nation strived to capture the other's naval and merchant ships as prizes. In November 1793, the French Navy's 12-pounder frigate l'Inconstante was captured off the French West Indian colony of St. Domingue, taken to Jamaica and sold into His Majesty's Service as the Convert. The Royal Navy frigate was to escort and protect a produce-laden convoy of 55 merchantmen from Jamaica to ports in Britain; three vessels bound for America would join them. The greatest danger to the fleet, however, was not to be the French, for on 8 February 1794 the Convert, together with nine of the merchant ships, wrecked on the windward reefs of Grand Cayman.

This dissertation investigates the history and archaeology of the shipwreck disaster which has survived in Cayman Islands folklore as the legend of the Wreck of the Ten Sail. But current research indicates that the incident has historical significance that exceeds the bounds of Cayman's national attention. It is tied to the history of Britain and France in the French Revolutionary Period, and is evidence of the wide geographical distribution of European war and trade at the close of the eighteenth century.

This study is a presentation of history, archaeology and folklore. Research entailed archival work in Jamaica, Britain and France; archaeological survey and mapping of shipwreck sites scattered over the reefs of Grand Cayman's East End; and oral history interviews with older Caymanians whose parents and grandparents told them the story of the Wreck of the Ten Sail.

Results of the investigation include a better understanding of the historical and geographical context of the shipwreck disaster; a more thorough and accurate account of the event; specific knowledge of the locations and nature of archaeological remains; recovery, conservation, and analysis of artifacts; and an awareness of the enduring effects of the Wreck of the Ten Sail on the Cayman Islands.

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