Before there were space shuttles, there were sailing ships. Like the great space shuttles of our time, Captian James Cook’s HMS Endeavour was revered by the masses of the 18th century.

As news stories around the globe were declaring that Cook’s Endeavour had been discovered in Newport Harbor off the coast of Rhode Island this week, researchers were saying “not so fast.”

Turns out they are almost certain the ship, renamed Lord Sandwich, had been scuttled along with more than a dozen others in 1778 at the height of the Revolutionary War. They just have to actually confirm it.

Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project held a press conference on Wednesday to describe their findings. The group has identified 13 ships that were sunk. They had previously confirmed a group of five ships and they believe Lord Sandwich, previously Cook’s Endeavor, is one of them.

ALSO READ: Ancient Shipwreck off Oman is Vasco De Gama’s

Following Cook’s circumnavigation on board Endeavour from 1768-1771 the British Navy sold the vessel into private ownership and was renamed Lord Sandwich. This makes sense Lord Sandwich was the first lord of the admiralty at the time. 

The vessel was used as a transport vessel and later a prison ship for American loyalists. When it was sunk as a way to keep an approaching French fleet of ships from entering the harbor to support the Americans leading up to the Battle of Rhode Island in Portsmouth, Lord Sandwich was reportedly carrying whale oil. 

In the year to come, researchers plan to continue mapping the wreck and gain confirmation that what lies at the bottom of Newport Bay may actually be the famed Endeavour of the legendary Captain Cook. 

All of the 13 ships lost in Newport during the Revolution are important to American history, but it will be a national celebration in Australia when RIMAP identifies the Lord Sandwich ex Endeavour,” read a statement on the group’s website.  So for RIMAP to be closing in one of the most important shipwrecks in world history, for that ship to be found in Newport, and for it to have an international reputation, should be an intriguing birthday gift for all of Rhode Island. 

According to National Geographic, Rhode Island has more shipwrecks per square mile than any other state in the nation, and Narragansett Bay, which includes Newport Harbor, has the highest concentration of Revolutionary War shipwrecks in the world, says Robert Doane, curator of the Naval War College Museum in Newport.

Photo credit: Wikimedia