More than two decades after it was discovered at the bottom of Lake Champlain, a Revolutionary War gunboat may see the light of day under a museum plan to raise and preserve the vessel.
The Spitfire, a 54-foot boat that’s part of a fleet built by Benedict Arnold before he turned traitor, sank a day after the 1776 Battle of Valcour Island, helping delay a British advance down the lake.
The Spitfire’s sinking made it possible for the 1777 American victory at the Battle of Saratoga – a key moment in the American Revolution.
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BATTLE OF VALCOUR ISLAND
The Battle of Valcour Island, on October 11 1776, caused the British to turn back for Canada and abandon efforts at a southward invasion until the following spring.
This gave the Americans crucial time to build their defenses.
Lake Champlain was a key strategic waterway in 1775 and 1776, used both for American incursions into British-held Canada and as an invasion route south for the British.
The British had hoped their troops coming from the north would meet at Albany with their forces coming from the south, up the Hudson River, and cut off New England from the rest of the colonies.
But American resistance in the region delayed the advance of British forces southward long enough to allow rebels to make two key achievements that would turn out to be crucial in the war as a whole.
‘At the end of the day, the obligation to try to preserve the Spitfire for future generations and be able to utilize it as a connection to the formative years of this nation proved to be the overwhelming value that drove us,’ said Art Cohn, co-founder of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, which is planning the work.
The Spitfire represents the hundreds of shipwrecks in Lake Champlain and other waterways that provide links to the nation’s past, Mr Cohn said.
The boat is ‘the closest contact you can have with the men and women of the past,’ said John Krueger, a retired University of Vermont history professor who serves on a committee that promotes the lake’s environmental and cultural resources.
The Spitfire was found during a 1997 sonar survey of the lake.
Museum divers check on it yearly. Its mast is still erect and the bow cannon still in the firing position.
The ammunition and other artifacts from the battle are buried in mud.