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Defying The Sands of Time

Mystery shipwreck identified as pre-Revolutionary War cargo vessel.
A 1958 photo shows the remains of a ship on a beach in York, Maine.

A 1958 photo shows the remains of a ship on a beach in York, Maine.

Like a ghost ship, she appears out of nowhere. First in 1958, then 1978 and since then three more times, most recently in 2018.

Now, a researcher believes he may have discovered the age and identity of a ship’s skeleton that only reveals itself from a York, Maine, beach after major storms.

Intrigued by the mystery, Stefan Claesson, owner of Nearview, an aerial drone and archaeological surveying company, sent pieces of the ship’s hull to the Cornell University Tree-Ring Laboratory, which determined that the trees used to build the ship were felled around 1753.

Using that date, Claesson scoured nearly 50 years of notary records at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, and concluded that the wreck is probably a pinky sloop called the Defiance.

The colonial-era cargo ship was built in 1754, one year after the trees were probably felled. In 1769, Defiance left Salem for Portland’s Casco Bay, loaded with flour, pork and other supplies, got caught in a storm and wrecked in Cape Neddick Cove. The crew survived, but the ship did not.

Claesson believes the remains could provide clues to how ships of that era were built and hopes to have them protected. He is searching for additional artifacts and photographs to rebuild the ship’s story.

Read more about Claesson’s discovery on the Smithsonian magazine website.