Cornwallis’ Fleet

ABPP Display

National Park Service’s ABPP Grants

The Watermen’s Museum is proud to announce that we continue to search for, preserve, and educate the public about the shipwrecks that still remain in the York river from the Revolutionary War Battle of Yorktown in 1781.

We have worked with the 1781 Foundation in support of the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) Office.  During the 2015-2017 ABPP Grant period, the 1781 Foundation was awarded a $32,600 grant. This project sought to develop a comprehensive planning and management document.  Products included a detailed research design for the British ships (often called Cornwallis’ Fleet) sunk off of Yorktown VA and Gloucester Point VA during the Battle of Yorktown.  Part of the 1781 Siege of Yorktown, this was the last major battle of the American Revolutionary War and was fought over a two-month period in the fall of 1781 in Virginia.  The planning document includes objectives for investigating, protecting, and interpreting the more than two dozen shipwrecks in the area.


Early Map of Cornwallis’ Sunken Fleet

We completed research of existing documents and held multiple public meetings and meetings with county leaders and private individuals.  We also conducted interviews with historic and archaeological experts and performed preliminary meetings with dive teams to discuss the process of scuba diving to investigate shipwrecks.  We also conducted preliminary multi-beam sonar examinations of some known shipwrecks and potential shipwreck areas as a means to determine the complexities of mapping out as much of shipwreck area as possible.

In July of 2017, the Museum was awarded a 2-year grant from the National Park Service to develop and distribute educational materials and presentations about the Cornwallis Shipwrecks.  We developed syllibi for multiple classes and training sessions, developed and installed a museum exhibit specifically about the shipwrecks and their recovery, initiated and outdoor exhibit featuring a completed 40-foot colonial gunboat hull, and more.  In addition, we worked with private volunteers and corporate donors to perform more side scan sonar investigation of the York River shipwreck area.

In 2019, working with JRS Explorations, Inc. and other partners, we rediscovered the 10th known shipwreck of Cornwallis’ Fleet, a ship that may be the boat named the Shipwright.  And, We worked with National Geographic’s ‘Drain the Oceans’ team to document and film segments for a televised segment about the York River Shipwrecks, which aired in June of 2019.

We continue to work with non-profit and commercial companies to investigate the entire historic shipwreck area and initiate documents for shipwreck protection that can be coordinated with community and industry activities.  We are also in the process of developing guidelines and learning objectives for interpretive educational materials which can be used in both physical and virtual training environments.