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An Analysis of the Port Royal Shipwreck and Its Role in the Maritime History of Seventeenth-Century Port Royal, Jamaica.

Sheila Clifford
Thesis: May 1993
Chair: Hamilton
Nautical Archaeology Program


During the 1989 and 1990 seasons of Texas A&M University's underwater archaeological field school at Port Royal, Jamaica, a shipwreck was excavated as it lay amidst the submerged remains of a 17th-century building.

There were several noteworthy construction features evident on this shipwreck. The majority of the extant structure of the vessel was constructed of white oak while the keel was of slippery elm, a species native to the eastern half of North America. The keel of this vessel had only simple chamfered upper edges, against which the garboards lay, and had at least one scarf joint, the flat of which was in the vertical plain. None of the frame elements (floors and first futtocks) were laterally fastened and the first futtocks were offset from the keel by a distance of over one foot.

The relatively small artifact collection recovered from the wreck included fasteners, rigging elements, a shot gauge, barshot, various sizes of iron and lead shot, tobacco pipes, glass stemware fragments, ceramics, and tools.

The artifact collection, various construction features, and a Carbon-14 date place the date of this vessel's construction in the last quarter of the 17th century; furthermore, an English or Dutch port of origin is suggested.

This vessel must have been a part of the large scale, intricate, and lucrative maritime activity conducted out of 17-century Port Royal, Jamaica. Particularly, the Port Royal shipwreck bears some striking similarities to the H.M.S. Swan, a small Fifth Rate English warship of Dutch origin that was being careened, or repaired, at the time of the earthquake. The Swan was ripped from the careenage wharf by seismic sea waves associated with the earthquake, and carried into the sinking town where she came to rest in the midst of a Mr. Pike's house.

While this shipwreck cannot be positively identified, the excavation and recording of the wreck have nonetheless contributed information to the extremely small body of knowledge available concerning 17th-century ship construction.

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