Man's 50-Year Quest: Solve Mystery of NH Shipwrecks

Ray Demers has spent his life studying the site
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 22, 2014 2:25 PM CDT
Man's 50-Year Quest: Solve Mystery of NH Shipwrecks
A photo of a shipwreck, but not one off New Hampshire.   (AP Photo/Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society)

Ray Demers has been at the same hobby for half a century: learning all he can about shipwrecks he discovered in New Hampshire waters in the 1960s. The 73-year-old is now coming forward with what he believes to be the story of the ships, and it's a tale of Native Americans battling Colonists—on the water. Demers' own story begins with some dropped air tanks. He accidentally lost them in the water during a dive off Salamander Point in New Castle (it's near Portsmouth, and just south of the Maine border) decades ago, and when he dove to retrieve them some 16 feet below the surface, he came across two cannons. "I put my hand on one of them and I said, 'Ray, you are going to spend the rest of your life studying this site' ... and, you know what?" he tells Foster's Daily Democrat. "I did."

Though not a trained archaeologist, he tried to approach the scene as a professional would, with great care to avoid contamination. Using the cannons as a starting point, he discovered a shipwreck about 75 feet away, then a second wreck in deeper water. He also found a number of artifacts, including an onion bottle whose seal featured the name of W. Darracott and the date 1723, reports the Union Leader. By relying on a 1959 book, input from Colonial Willamsburg's then-chief archaeologist, and the name Darracott, Demers was led to George Jackson and Sylvester Lakeman, men he believes commanded privateers and attempted to "engage" Native Americans who had themselves seized hold of a privateer and were attacking fishing ships in the area. The "unique naval engagement ... could have resulted in the Salamander Point wrecks," notes Foster's. (Another shipwreck was recently uncovered in Upstate New York.)

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