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USS Scorpion


Battle20of20Leonards20CreekUSS Scorpion, the first American naval vessel of that name, was a 48-foot sloop-rigged floating battery built in 1812 for defense against the British forces. Equipped for rowing and with a draft of only 4.5 feet, it was ideal for service in the shallow riverways of the northeast coast. In March of 1813 it was attached to the Potomac Flotilla protecting Washington, D.C., where it served until it was reassigned as flagship of the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla in February 1814.

Conceived and commanded by Commodore Joshua Barney, the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla was a collection of armed barges and ships with shallow draft that could attack British ships in the bay then return to the relative safety of the rivers where the British fleet could not follow. Although heavily outmanned and outgunned, the flotilla continued to harass the British and hinder the plunder of coastal towns along the Chesapeake until late summer of 1814. When the British landed a significant force at Benedict, Maryland, Secretary of the Navy William Jones ordered Commodore Barney to bring the majority of his 400 seamen to join the land forces defending the capital. Under Barney's direction, Lt. Simon Frazier and a small group of men took the flotilla up the Patuxent where, on August 22, they scuttled Scorpion and the rest of the flotilla to prevent them from falling into British hands.

USS Scorpion Background

The Underwater Archaeology Branch of the Naval History & Heritage Command (UAB), the Maryland Historic Trust (MHT), and the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) are undertaking the archaeological investigation of the shipwreck site assumed to be that of USS Scorpion, built in 1812 in response to the British threat to Washington D.C., and scuttled two years later in the Patuxent River.

The project is envisioned as having two distinct phases. The 2010 and 2011 seasons take the form of intrusive survey, sampling, and documentation of the wreck site to ascertain its extent, condition, artifact dispersal pattern, and to conduct any engineering studies necessary in preparation for the second phase. The second phase will involve a full site excavation through the use of a cofferdam. Extensive artifact removal and documentation of the buried hull will be followed by several years of conservation and study, leading to the final publication of the project in 2017.

Project Priorities

• Collect archaeological data through artifact recovery and site mapping. Document and analyze the shipwreck for scientific interpretation and site preservation.

• Preserve, study, interpret, and display recovered artifacts.

• Provide media, dignitaries, and the general public a high-profile opportunity to observe the live re-discovery of a U.S. Navy ship that fought the British during the War of 1812.

• Make Navy history come alive by educating and instilling pride in Navy midshipmen, recruits, sailors, and officers, and raising national and international public awareness of the US Navy's past and present.

• Commemorate U.S. Navy resilience in the defense of Washington and emphasize Navy's role in the protection of homeland security during wartime.

What Can We Learn from this Project?

• Details regarding life of U.S. Navy seamen during the War of 1812 including the diversity among crewmembers of the early U.S. Navy.

• Studies on ship construction, war tactics, arming and fitting out of naval war craft.

• Information regarding bio-corrosion of metals and conservation treatments through scientific analyses of materials and substances recovered from the wreck.

• Confirm, contradict or complement the historic record of Barney's fleet and the War of 1812.


• Naval History & Heritage Command (NHHC)

• Maryland Historical Trust (MHT)

• Maryland State Highways Administration (SHA)

• U.S. Naval Academy


• Marine Corps History Division

• Prince George's County Parks and Recreation

The Excavation of the USS Scorpion

2011 Excavation season ends; Planning for 2012 now underway

Scissors smallThe NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) of the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) has concluded the 2011 field investigation of the Patuxent River ship wreck believed to be the remains of USS Scorpion.

In addition to discovering the length, width, orientation and preservation of the wreck, archaeologists recovered 56 artifacts including a glass pharmaceutical bottle, a pair of surgical scissors (see photo at right) and a ceramic stoneware jug. The team will continue to post updates as we begin to analyze and interpret the field images and data recovered, and conserve the artifacts at the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Lab.

UAB extends its sincere thanks to the Naval History and Heritage Command for its continued support of the USS Scorpion Project, as well as its partners at the Maryland Historical Trust and Maryland State Highways Administration for their hard work and cooperation.

Archaeologists discuss where to place aluminum shoring over the wreck believed to be the remains of USS Scorpion. A cofferdam will be constructed around the wreck to enable excavation in 2012.

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