A postcard from the Jamestown Exposition of 1907, depicting the arrival of Lord Dunmore aboard a British warship. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

TALL TIMBERS, Md. – The Institute of Maritime History (IMH) is a nonprofit society devoted to maritime historical research and underwater archaeology. Now, they are searching for Revolutionary War history that could be found in the waters of Southern Maryland.

IMH has been studying one of the earliest victorious battles of the American Revolution, fought at St. George’s Island in July of 1776. 

Loyalists under John Murray, known as Lord Dunmore, the last British colonial governor of Virginia, landed on the island and tried to cross to the mainland. 

However, they were repelled by Maryland’s Flying Camp militia led by Capt. Rezin Beall. Beall and Dunmore were both said to be wounded in the battle, and offshore five British ships were disabled.

As Dunmore and his loyalists left the island, they tried to scatter. At the time, several of their vessels were deemed unseaworthy, so they scuttled the ships themselves hoping that the Patriots would not get ahold of them. 

David Howe, the Secretary of the IMH, developed and leads the Submerged Historical Inventory Project (SHIP) – a volunteer program to reconnoiter and inventory shipwreck sites. 

According to Howe, the number of scuttled ships may be anywhere from eight to 23, depending on the differing historical accounts. 

Howe said he believes that Dunmore’s larger ships, including his own privateer frigate, The Dunmore, likely stayed in the Potomac. 

However, Howe also believes that the smaller merchant vessels may have been anchored and scuttled in St. Mary’s River or St. George’s Creek. 

Howe studied a letter from Brigadier General Jonathan Dent to the Maryland Council of Safety, dated 19 July 1776, which states, “Had we a few Great Guns at a Place called Cherry Fields Point well planted & served we might annoy the [British] fleet so as to oblige them to quit their Station.” 

Since the field guns of the period had an effective range of one mile or less, Howe estimates the merchant ships General Dent was hoping to fire upon could have been anchored near St. Mary’s River or St. George’s Creek.

IMH has been using side-scan sonar, magnetometer, and scuba diving to look for the remains of the ships. IMH is seeking support and funding for fuel and other out-of-pocket expenses from the Maryland Historical Trust. 

“We’re also asking for letters of support from anyone else who may be interested, such as the St. Clement’s Island Museum and the Daughters of The American Revolution,” said Howe. He also recently reached out to the St. Mary’s County Commissioners hoping for their support.

According to Howe, letters to the Maryland Historical Trust from these organizations will help IMH secure funding so they can continue their research through underwater archeology. 

For more information, visit www.maritimehistory.org.

Contact our news desk at news@thebaynet.com

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  1. I live at Cherryfields and this past year we searched for the militia camp that was here during the revolution, as a former archaeologist my gut feeling is the cannon implacement is now gone due to the extreme erosion at the Point but will continue the search next winter, too many ticks and chiggers in the warm months.

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