Stockton U. drops anchor on new Revolutionary shipwreck exhibit
GALLOWAY — The anchor of a ship that sank in the Mullica River during a crucial Revolutionary War battle has been recovered, restored and put on display at Stockton University thanks to a professor and his enthusiastic students.
Stephen Nagiewicz, an adjunct professor of marine science, said the students didn't participate in order to get class credit; they wanted to feel like they were a part of history and Stockton gave them the chance to do that.
"The nice thing was that the university and the students really came together. It was a volunteer (effort). It wasn't expensive, but it was a project," Nagiewicz said. "I think it's an example for students to realize that in order to learn, you need to do sometimes more than just attending class."
Although the timing of the unveiling of the exhibit seemed too good to be true — Oct. 6, the very day the Battle of Chestnut Neck took place in 1778 — Nagiewicz said the installation and dedication were in the works for months.
That in itself followed the initial discovery of the anchor of the Bead via sonar screening, which happened almost by accident. Historians and divers had long known the ship had wrecked in the Mullica, but Nagiewicz said the anchor was found almost by accident.
"They had a choice of either putting it back or conserving it, and Stockton elected to conserve it, and it took us two and a half years to conserve the anchor and put it on display," he said.
The Battle of Chestnut Neck is not as well-known as many other Jersey skirmishes of the Revolution but it spotlighted the role of colonial privateers who sought to commandeer British ships and raid them for military supplies.
To combat that, the British would often burn and sink their own vessels once they'd secured their valuables.
Nagiewicz said the Americans were ready for the British in this particular case, with Benedict Arnold himself being the courier who brought communications back and forth between the privateers and Gen. George Washington in New York.
Stockton's hope for the new display is to educate future generations about how important the battle, and the shipwreck, were to American efforts, and what role New Jersey played in it all.
"When you drive over the Garden State Parkway, north or south, on Exit 48, you literally pass over the battlefield," Nagiewicz said.