Divers believe they've found Perry's Revenge

At the Ocean House in Watch Hill Friday, Charlie Buffum of Stonington talks about discovering cannons in the waters off Watch Hill with Craig Harger of Colchester. The two divers believe the guns are from the wreck of the Revenge, which was commanded by Oliver Hazard Perry at the time.
At the Ocean House in Watch Hill Friday, Charlie Buffum of Stonington talks about discovering cannons in the waters off Watch Hill with Craig Harger of Colchester. The two divers believe the guns are from the wreck of the Revenge, which was commanded by Oliver Hazard Perry at the time.

Westerly - On Jan. 9, 1811, the Revenge, a 14-gun schooner under the command of Oliver Hazard Perry, who was not yet an American maritime legend, was sailing from Newport to New London.

The fog along the Rhode Island coast was thick that day and, due to an error by the ship's pilot, the 70-foot Revenge slammed into a reef and sank just off Watch Hill.

Now, nearly 200 years to the day, owing to the passion of two local recreational divers, the Revenge may finally be making a port call of sorts.

Charlie Buffum, owner of Cottrell Brewery, and his carbon dioxide salesman, Craig Harger, said Friday they believe they have found the remains of the Revenge in turbulent waters not far from the reef where the ship met its demise.

Buffum and Harger, who have been diving chums for years, held a news conference Friday before 200 clearly intrigued people at the Ocean House in Watch Hill.

Buffum, who said he is a descendent of Perry, deduced the approximate location of the Revenge using a book about local shipwrecks published in the 1970s.

"Charlie heard the mariners' call," Harger said.

Buffum and Harger, who were sometimes joined by their fellow diver, Mike Fournier of Rocky Hill, began looking for the Revenge in 2005 using an underwater metal detector.

Buffum said that although waters around the reef are shallow, at roughly 15 feet, the search was difficult because of poor visibility and swift currents.

"They are 2- to 4-knot currents," Buffum said. "You could only dive during a slack tide, and that gave us 30 minutes."

On the pair's third dive, they said they discovered a cannon that matches the type used on the Revenge.

Buffum said the Revenge is the only ship documented to have sunk off Watch Hill that was fitted with that type of heavy gun.

During the next five years, the divers found other iron artifacts they believe are from the ship. The Revenge's wooden hull would have disintegrated in the saltwater.

Perry, who was court-martialed and later exonerated for wrecking the Revenge, tacked into the history books anyway as a result of his exploits in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.

Flying the now-famous "Don't Give Up The Ship" flag, Perry forced a British squadron to surrender - the first time in history that had happened.

Perry, who was born in South Kingstown, R.I., on Aug. 23, 1785, and lived for a time in Westerly, died at 34 off the coast of Trinidad.

Because of Perry's Rhode Island roots, Buffum and Harger hope one day to put one of the cannons on display or otherwise showcase their findings - if the remains they found do, in fact, belong to the Revenge.

"It's conjecture at this point," Harger said, adding that markings on the cannons could determine whether they were aboard the Revenge.

Buffum and Harger said they've had preliminary discussions with Navy researchers to help them solidify the identity of their find. The Navy still considers the ship its property, according to Buffum, who said he and Harger "want to see how it can be preserved and protected."

Craig Harger of Colchester, left, and Charlie Buffum of Stonington announce Friday that they believe the wreckage of a ship they found off Watch Hill is that of the Revenge.
Craig Harger of Colchester, left, and Charlie Buffum of Stonington announce Friday that they believe the wreckage of a ship they found off Watch Hill is that of the Revenge.

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