Virginia (United States)

Virginia (United States)

The Nansemond Ghost Fleet: Intertidal Sites as Occasional Museums and Stewards of Community Histories

Brendan Burke (Virginia Department of Historic Resources)

In 2019 a collaborative research project between the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP), Longwood University, and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR) documented a vessel abandonment area in the Nansemond River near downtown Suffolk, Virginia, USA. The project documented an assemblage of vessels related to 19th century industrial roots of the city and region. Vessel styles and uses ranged from pleasure craft, sailing barges, fishing vessels, and vernacular transport craft. Research into the Nansemond Ghost Fleet indicated the area’s engagement with a substantial transition in the oyster fishery of the Mid-Atlantic region, including a shift from wild-caught oysters to aquaculture. The centerpiece wreck of the project, a plank-on-frame bugeye, represents that fishery as well as adjacent patterns of pilings and shoreline artifacts revealed at low tide that once supported historic fish houses and a thriving shellfish industry. This intertidal project involved a collaborative approach to documenting a unique maritime landscape that speaks to the formation of a modern city and common transitions from and abandonment of the maritime perspective within communities. Both submerged and maritime remote sensing techniques were involved to gather landscape data efficiently and accurately. This paper highlights the Nansemond Ghost Fleet project and its endeavor to reconnect a locality with its maritime roots.

Cover image: Virginia Department of Historic Resources

(Illustration: Virginia Department of Historic Resources)