Underwater Archaeological Investigation of the Roosevelt Inlet Shipwreck

Underwater Archaeological Investigation of the Roosevelt Inlet Shipwreck (7S-D-91A)

Prepared for:

  • Delaware Department of State
  • Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs
  • Federal Highway Administration
  • Delaware Department of Transportation


  • Michael C. Krivor, Nicholas J. Linville, Debra J. Wells, Jason M. Burns, and Paul J. Sjordal, Southeastern Archaeological Research, Inc. www.searchinc.com
  • April 2010

In the fall of 2004, a dredge struck an 18th-century wreck site during beach replenishment, resulting in thousands of artifacts being scattered along the beach in Lewes, Delaware. Local residents informed archaeologists with the Delaware Department of State, Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, about the artifacts, and investigations were undertaken to locate the source of the historic material. Approximately 40,000 artifacts from Lewes Beach were recovered by archaeologists from the Division as well as many private citizens who donated their artifacts to the Delaware Department of State.

In consultation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Philadelphia District, a Phase I and Phase II underwater archaeological survey and diver investigation (conducted by Dolan Research, Inc.) of the area confirmed the presence of an 18th-century shipwreck site in 2005. Initial estimates conjectured that approximately 80% of the shipwreck remained undisturbed offshore. The wreck site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on November 16, 2006.

The State of Delaware subsequently contracted with Southeastern Archaeological Research, Inc. (SEARCH) of Florida, to accomplish a variety of field investigations. From September 27 through October 27, 2006, SEARCH conducted a preliminary remote sensing survey, a non-intrusive hydro-probe survey, controlled surface collection of artifacts, a controlled excavation of eleven 10-x-10-foot grid squares, and a post-remote sensing survey of the Roosevelt Inlet Shipwreck. The phased investigation conducted by SEARCH, in cooperation with the State, was successful in better defining the nature and elements of the Roosevelt Inlet Shipwreck.

The Roosevelt Inlet Shipwreck provides an intriguing look into commerce and trade in the late-18th-century Atlantic World. Based on artifact analysis and historical research, the wreck appears to have been a merchant vessel, loaded with cargo inbound for Philadelphia, that ran aground and became stranded in the shallows off Roosevelt Inlet in Lewes, Delaware sometime between 1772 and 1800. The study of items recovered from the shipwreck has revealed artifact types unknown or unrecognized in North American historic archaeology prior to this discovery.

The Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs is pleased to provide the report on this nationally significant wreck site for the public. (Note that the precise location of the wreck is protected by both state and federal law. This report has been redacted to remove references to location coordinates and other location information.)

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