Today, the United States has the most powerful Navy in the world. During the American Revolution, it was England that had the most powerful Navy in the world. How did we defeat them?

The answer is simple: We didn’t. The Revolution was won on land with help from the French Navy.

America’s largest fleet of the war was assembled in Maine during August 1779. Twenty armed ships, plus support vessels, were sent to Castine to attack the British, who were building a fort there.

One of the armed ships was a 16-gun privateer named Defense, which sailed north from Massachusetts. A privateer was a privately owned vessel that was given a commission by a government to fight on its behalf. More than half of the vessels on the Penobscot Expedition were privateers, who were out to profit from the war.

The expedition, as you probably know, was a failure. Leadership argued about whether to attack the fort from land or from the water. Meanwhile, five British ships arrived at the mouth of the Penobscot River. The American’s fled, then burned and scuttled all their ships. They were forced to march through the wilderness back to Boston, where Paul Revere was court martialed for his role in the disaster.

The Defense tried to hide out in Stockton Harbor. When a British ship arrived, the crew of the Defense set charges in the stern and sunk their ship to keep it out of the hands of the enemy. It went down with cannons, personal items and barrels of food still aboard.

This turned the vessel into an underwater time capsule, which was discovered in 1972. The Defense would become the first Revolutionary War vessel to be excavated by archaeologists.

Under the guidance of the Maine State Museum, which built an artifact preservation facility for the project, the Defense would be excavated by the Maine Maritime Academy, MIT, and the American Institute for Nautical Archeology. About 40 percent of the ship was still intact.

Much of the Defense’s hull still lay under the mud. The bow area contained artifacts of food production, including a brick cookstove, copper cauldron, wooden barrels with pork and beef bones inside, and several spoons with initials or symbols engraved on them.

Other artifacts recovered included grenades and ammunition, medicine bottles, ceramics, shoes (some with the impression of bunions and hammer toes inside,) and wooden deck fittings.

The Defense was a major archaeological find. The excavations lasted for six seasons, with the artifacts going to the Maine State Museum. Afterward, the hull was reburied in mud.

Zac McDorr is a Coastal Journal contributing writer. He can be reached at: [email protected].