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The Readers Point Vessel: Hull Analysis of an Eighteenth-Century Merchant Sloop Excavated in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica

Gregory D. Cook
Thesis: August 1997
Chair: Crisman
Nautical Archaeology Program

Archaeologists from the Nautical Archaeology Program at Texas A&M University, the Jamaican National Heritage Trust and the Maritime History Program at East Carolina University excavated the remains of an eighteenth-century merchant sloop in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica, in 1994. Excavators removed overburden and the ballast pile, recovering over 600 artifacts associated with the vessel. After exposing well-preserved hull remains, divers recorded the ship's structure. The vessel is preserved from the base of the apron in the bow to its eroded stern knee, and an intact mast step provides evidence for a sloop rig. Portions of the vessel were disassembled to expose the sloop's bow construction, mast step, and framing patter. Archaeologists then reburied the remains under sediment and ballast stone.

The hull remains are preserved to a length of 56 feet, 6 inches (17.22 meters) and a maximum beam of 14 feet, 4 inches (4.34 meters). Shipwrights built the vessel predominantly out of white oak (Quercus sp.), and the keel is maple (Acer sp.), suggesting construction in the northeastern American colonies.

The vessel was a derelict at the time of its sinking. Nearly all artifacts associated with the ship were found broken and discarded within the ballast pile or hull structure. No evidence of the deck structure, bilge pumps, or mast survives in the archaeological record. Numerous repairs suggest that the vessel saw long service as a merchant trader.

Exhaustive searches of historic documents at the Jamaican Archives in Spanish Town, Jamaica, and the National Library in Kingston failed to produce any records identifying the sloop. Regardless, contemporary documents at these locations provided relevant historic data relating to the use of sloops in maritime commerce during the later eighteenth century.

Analysis of the Readers Point vessel and its artifact assemblage suggests that the sloop traded among the Caribbean islands and North American colonies. This study concentrates on the hull analysis of the first eighteenth-century vessel to be excavated in the West Indies.

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