It appears to be a late 18th-century or very
early 19th-century coastal vessel. What I mean is a ship that might have been a brig
or brigantine, a two-masted ship going along the coast from New York. Maybe it was going
to Boston or going down to the West Indies, Virginia or Maryland. It was carrying everyday
cargo: food, timber products, any kind of goods that might be available. I can tell
by the construction that it probably wasn’t built for going across the Atlantic.
The most interesting thing is that we don’t know much about these. For the war ships and
the government ships, there are all kinds of drawings and models. But these everyday
coasters in that time period — we’ve only found three of them, “we” meaning the
whole nautical archaeology scene —we don’t have drawings in any detail. You just see
these little images going by in a painting. So to be able to study this is very important,
because it tells us about everyday life at that time. It tells us about the 99.5 percent
of the people who weren’t recorded and tells us the level of technology at the time —
what were they using? — because these ships or any ships at that time were really about
as technologically advanced as anything that a civilization made.
Each one of these timbers is a naturally curved crook they’ve gotten from an oak tree. So
they’ve taken the bow of a tree where the roots come out, and they’ve cut out that
piece so they have a natural grain. It’s very expensive.
In between the timbers of the ship, we normally find a few artifacts from the shipbuilders.
One that I like is a very well-used clay pipe bowl. It’s all badly burned and obviously
used quite a bit, so this is probably one of the shipwright’s favorite pipes that
got lost down in between all the timbers. We found birdshot, a couple of musket balls
and a small cannonball, so chances are that this vessel was slightly armed. There were
pirates and privateers around at that time period. In fact, there were pirates right
across the river in New Jersey at the time. They called them the “marsh pirates”;
they’re more like gangsters. The other thing is that it’s at the World
Trade Center, 200 yards from the south tower. So yes, we get focused on our work, but every
once in a while, you realize where you are. When we came in and out of the site, we were
looking right at the fire station where all those men were lost, and the memorial and
all the tourists are there. And it hits you, the whole combination of things.