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Saona Artillery: Implications for Inter-Island Trade and Shipboard Armaments in the First Half of the Sixteenth Century

Samuel Turner
Thesis: May 1994
Chair: Crisman
Nautical Archaeology Program

Between January and July, 1983, Burt D. Webber carried out an extensive survey for the shipwreck remains of the fleet of 1502 in the Mona Passage between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Many sites were found including three off the island of Saona which dated to the sixteenth century. Surviving remains included heavy iron objects such as wrought-iron artillery and anchors. The sites appeared to have been unsalvaged and probably represented complete artillery collections. Webber partially salvaged two of the sites by removing a number of cannons and swivel guns. This study examines the salvaged Saona artillery collection, and includes a history of the Mona Passage in the early sixteenth century, as well as an examination of wrought-iron artillery nomenclature and typologies, wrought-iron artillery construction, and sixteenth-century shipboard artillery tactics.

The objective of this thesis is to interpret and place the three sixteenth-century Saona sites and their artillery in their correct historical and operational contexts. Considerable trade developed between Santo Domingo, Saona Island, Salvaleon de Higuey, Mona Island, and San German in Puerto Rico during the first half of the sixteenth century. Sailing in relatively safe waters, vessels engaged in this trade frequently had small crews and therefore would have been lightly armed.

Two of the shipwreck sites represent the remains of lightly armed vessels which may have been involved in inter-island trade. The initial examination of these sites was brief and incomplete. The importance and rarity of the sites suggests a reinvestigation of all three sixteenth-century sites should be carried out in the future.

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