PORTLAND, Maine — A researcher believes he’s identified the mysterious shipwreck that appears every few years in the right conditions on a beach in York.
The ship’s remains, which were last exposed by a nor’easter in 2018, are likely those of the Defiance, a sloop that washed ashore during a violent storm in 1769, said researcher Stefan Claesson, owner of Nearview, an aerial drone and archaeological surveying company.
The Defiance was built in 1754 in Massachusetts, which fits with historical documents and tree-ring dating conducted by Cornell University, he said.
But, he said, “additional historical research and archaeological investigations are needed to confirm the identification.”
All that’s left of the ship are the keel, and some ribs and planks that hauntingly reappear on the beach every few years due to the natural movements of the ocean floor at Short Sands Beach.
Claesson undertook the first scholarly look at the shipwreck with funding help from the Maine Historical Commission, using a combination of archaeological work, scientific dating and review of historical records.
The 60-foot Defiance set sail from Salem, Massachusetts, with a four-man crew and a load of flour, pork and English goods in 1769, but it never made it to its destination of Portland, Maine, Claesson said.
The ship encountered a violent storm and set anchor off York, he said. The storm was so powerful that the crew had to cut the tether, and the ship wrecked on the beach. The four crew members survived but the sloop was a total loss, Claesson said.
Over the years, some locals have speculated that the wreck was another vessel, the Industry, but that ship sank at a different location, he said.
The Maine Historic Preservation Commission considers the site a significant historical find, a designation that means the shipwreck would qualify for the National Registry of Historic Places.
Claesson was being cautious when he said there’s no way to be absolutely sure if the ship is the Defiance, said Leith Smith, historical archaeologist with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.
“That’s often the case in archaeology. You err on the conservative side. A lot of factors match up. There’s a very strong possibility that’s the ship,” Smith said. “The indications are all pointing in that direction.”
Claesson, who’s company is in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, wrote in an email that he hopes the archaeological site is preserved and that there’s a plan in place to protect it the next time it emerges. The site is under the jurisdiction of the town of York.
“I do hope that the community will form a stewardship team and plan to protect and keep an eye on the wreck, and help educate the public how to responsibly interact with the site when it is exposed and not cause further damage to it,” he said.