Historians ponder future of Revolutionary War relic
By WILSON RING
Published: March 14, 2015
FILE - In this Aug. 18, 1991 file photo, a replica of the Revolutionary War gunboat, the Philadelphia, fires guns during its launch on Lake Champlain in Vermont. A similar gunboat, the Spitfire, has been on the bottom of the lake since it was sunk in 1776 during the Revolutionary War, while being used by Benedict Arnold to help hold off the British in the key naval Battle of Valcour Island.
CRAIG LINE/AP FILE PHOTO
MONTPELIER, Vt. — When it was built late in 1776 the gunboat Spitfire wasn't meant to be the pride of the American fleet. It was built to fight and fight it did, helping slow down the larger British fleet that sailed south out of Canada onto Lake Champlain as part of an effort to crush the colonial rebellion.
The 54-foot Spitfire sank a day after the critical Oct. 11 Battle of Valcour Island, settling into deep water where it went unseen for more than 200 years.
Now the historian who led the search that found the Spitfire nearly two decades ago is developing a management plan for the future of the boat that today sits on the lake bottom, its mast upright and its bow cannon pointing straight ahead, just as it was when it was abandoned by its crew.
"This is not a sexy boat," said Art Cohn, the emeritus director of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum who is now writing a management plan for the Spitfire that he will submit to the U.S. Navy. "It was relatively small, flat-bottomed and quickly built, but that's not its value."
"The principal value, in my opinion, is it connects us to 1776 and the formative years of this country," he said.