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Study of Orleans shipwreck sheds new light on vessel's origin

Timbers from the Sparrow-Hawk.
Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth
Timbers from the Sparrow-Hawk.

The most in-depth scientific analysis of a shipwreck found in Orleans more than 150 years ago has provided the best evidence yet that the timbers are from an English vessel that stranded in 1626.

Don Wilding, author of “Shipwrecks of Cape Cod: Stories of Tragedy & Triumph, " says timbers from the Sparrow-Hawk were well-traveled after they surfaced and were found by beachcombers in the 1800s. They now reside in Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth and were sampled by researchers for the study.

The results of the international, multi-year study on the remains of the ship named by locals the Sparrow-Hawk are published in the "Journal of Archaeological Science Reports." The study used a technique called wiggle-match dating, a form of radiocarbon analysis, and dendrochronology, the study of tree ring growth, to narrow down roughly when the Sparrow-Hawk was built.

The ship was headed for Virginia when it grounded on Cape Cod.

"After they finally figured out what it was, it was brought to Boston for an exhibit and to Providence. That ended up being a three-ring circus by itself. The actual frame of the ship has been all over the place and it ended up in Plymouth."

Wilding also tells CAI that local historical accounts record that the crew and passengers of the Sparrow-Hawk were met by natives and at first thought there would be trouble.

"They approached them and much to their surprise, one of them spoke to them in English and said 'are you with Governor Bradford's men'? And that's when they started negotiations that would get them to Plymouth."

The scientific study of the timbers found that they are of the appropriate age to be from the ship found in Orleans.

Here's a link to the scientific study.

John Basile is the local host of All Things Considered weekday afternoons and a reporter.