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History Comes Alive Through Ocean Exploration

History came alive this week just off the NESS docks in Stonington Harbor! A collaboration between the Stonington Historical Society and the University of Rhode Island has brought URI’s Brennan T. Phillips, Assistant Professor from the Dept. of Ocean Engineering, to discover and explore the 1814 Battle of Stonington. The National Park Service’s Battlefield Protection Program is funding a grant for this research.

The War of 1812

The War of 1812 lasted from June 18, 1812 – February 17, 1815. It was fought between the United States and Britain over British violations of U.S. maritime rights. On August 9, 1814, a British naval squadron under the command of Captain Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy began bombarding Stonington Point. The British had the Pactolus with 38 guns, the Dispatch, a 22-gun brig, the bombship the Terror, the flagship Ramillies with 74 guns, and the brig, Nimrod. The settlement of Stonington only had three cannons. You can even see two of them displayed in Cannon Square today! Stonington kept the British at bay and they left by August 12, unsuccessful in their attempts to come ashore.

What’s the project?

Exciting research has already gone into the project with new findings such as the discovery of a sixth British ship. Along with Stonington Historical Society’s (SHS) Chris Kepple and Liz Wood, the SHS library and director, Chelsea Ordner, and the Chair of the Battlefield Protection Program Grant committee, Bob Reiger, have ordered documents from British archives and examined logs of the British ships from the battle. They even ordered a cipher that will reveal more about secret coded communications!


URI’s Exploration team will be docking at NESS for three days from April 2-4. The goal of this project is to make new discoveries in the archives and in the field, to make a map of the battlefield, and to better understand the battle. URI’s Shanna Rose is a 42 foot research vessel with side scan survey and magnetic survey technology. The team will be surveying the area where the 1814 Battle of Stonington took place. They will be looking for underwater artifacts like cannonballs, cannons, and muskets.

How can we explore the deep?

Students from our STEM Magnet Middle School after school program got a firsthand peak at all the activity! We were able to video chat with the students in our Ocean Beach classroom to the research vessel with Chris Kepple. The students got a virtual tour of the boat and got to see how it works! Then, from the Historical Society, they got to look at some of the historical documents from the battle.

NESS is happy to welcome the URI team and excited to be part of this project! We can’t wait to see what they find! If you’re looking for a way for your students or children to explore the deep, try out one of our ROV programs. Students learn to build Remotely Operated Vehicles from the ground up and drive these underwater robots off our docks! Check out our school group offerings here! Many of our summer camp programs will also utilize NESS’s fleet of ROVs. Learn about our summer camp sessions with on our e-book!