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Divers find 1811 wreck of USS Revenge

Published January 7, 2011 6:15 pm

History • The ship was commanded by Oliver Hazard Perry, later a Navy hero.
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Providence, R.I. • A team of divers say they've discovered the remains of the USS Revenge, a ship commanded by U.S. Navy hero Oliver Hazard Perry and wrecked off Rhode Island in 1811.

Perry is known for defeating the British in the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie off the shores of Ohio, Michigan and Ontario in the War of 1812 and for the line "I have met the enemy and they are ours." His battle flag bore the phrase "Don't give up the ship," and to this day is a symbol of the Navy.

The divers, Charles Buffum, a brewery owner from Stonington, Conn., and Craig Harger, a carbon dioxide salesman from Colchester, Conn., say the wreck changed the course of history because Perry likely would not have been sent to Lake Erie otherwise. Sunday is the 200th anniversary of the wreck.

Buffum said he's been interested in finding the remains of the Revenge since his mother several years ago gave him the book Shipwrecks on the Shores of Westerly. The book includes Perry's account of the wreck, which happened when the ship hit a reef in a storm in heavy fog off Watch Hill in Westerly as Perry was bringing the ship from Newport to New London, Conn.

"I always thought to myself we ought to go out and have a look and just see if there's anything left," Buffum said.

The two, along with a third man, Mike Fournier, set out to find it with the aid of a metal detector. After several dives, they came across a cannon, then another.

"It was just thrilling," Harger said.

They made their first discovery in August 2005, and kept it secret as they continued to explore the area and make additional discoveries. Since then, they have found four more 42-inch-long cannons, an anchor, canister shot, and other metal objects that they say they're 99 percent sure were from the Revenge.

Buffum and Harger say all the wood has disappeared, which is not unusual for a wreck that old, they added.