In the summer of 1775, the British built two warships at St. John, Quebec, on the outlet of Lake Champlain. That fall, the American forces invading Canada captured the ships and added them to their little fleet on the lake. The largest, a 50-foot topsail schooner named the Royal Savage mounting six 6-pounder cannons, four 4-pounders, and twelve 1-pound swivel guns, became the flagship of the fleet. A year later while under the command of Benedict Arnold, the American ships prepared to engage a British fleet in a battle over control of the lake.
At 8 o’Clock on the morning of 11 October 1776, the American fleet of fifteen ships lay hidden in the ¾-mile-wide strait between Valcour Island and the New York shore as the British fleet sailed past on the other side of the island before a north wind. In spite of being out-numbered, out-gunned, and out-classed, Arnold planned to fight and ordered the Royal Savage and three other ships under sail to open the engagement while the remainder of the fleet set themselves in a line across the strait. The four American ships got the attention of the British flotilla and then came about to re-join the rest of their fleet.
The Royal Savage, however, encountered problems. Three months earlier, John Trumbull, artist and son of Connecticut’s governor, made a comment in a letter written from Ticonderoga to his father about the sloop Enterprise that may well have been applicable to the Royal Savage. He precisely described the Royal Savage’s difficulties that morning when he wrote that the Enterprise was, “a most unmanageable thing; it is not possible to beat up against a head wind in her.” Attempting to tack back against a north wind, the inexperienced crew of the Royal Savage missed stays a number of times and could not make much headway. Whether by mismanagement or intention is not known but, around 11 o’Clock, she ran aground on the southwest point of the island and the crew abandoned her. A British boarding party turned the guns on the rest of the American fleet but soon found themselves under considerable fire and abandoned the ship as well.
The battle lasted until dark with the American fleet getting the worst of it. Not wanting to give the Americans the opportunity to re-take the Royal Savage, the British set fire to her and, unwittingly, helped the rest of Arnold’s ships escape. The fire lasted all night and provided a magnificent distraction, especially when the ammunition blew up. Add to that eyes unable to quickly adapt to the darkness of a moonless night after staring at the fire and the British never saw the American fleet slipping away close to the New York shore. The next day, the battle moved south but the burned-out hulk of the Royal Savage would sit on the bottom for another 158 years.
In 1917, a young soldier named Lorenzo Hagglund received military training in Plattsburgh, New York, on Lake Champlain. A lover of history, he must have been captivated by stories of the nearby battle and tales of seeing remains of the Royal Savage in the shallow waters just off the island. Following his service in World War I, the ex-officer found work as a marine engineer with a New York salvage corporation and eventually became a manager for a subsidiary company. Over the years, he gained considerable experience diving which would serve him well in Lake Champlain.
Never forgetting the stories of the battle, Hagglund submitted proposals to government agencies in an attempt to interest them in salvaging the remains of Arnold’s fleet. None of his submissions had any success. Still keenly interested in the battle, he returned to the Champlain valley for a family vacation in 1932 and spent most of the time trying to find the Royal Savage. First, he tried to narrow its possible location from local residents and then conducted a series of dives on the likely site. He found large numbers of various types of shot that had been fired during the battle but could not locate the wreck. Finally, on the last day of his vacation, Hagglund found the remains mostly buried in silt 150 feet offshore in 20 feet of water.
Now, with a definite location of a documented wreck from the battle, he made one more attempt to get government backing for a salvage operation. The proposal failed again. Determined to raise the remains of the ship, Hagglund decided to use his own resources for the project, found a partner in J. Rupert Schalk, and returned to Valcour Island with a salvage team in 1934.
In preparation for lifting the hull, the team first removed by hand the mud from inside the hull and for some distance around it. They carefully washed each bucketful and collected the artifacts found in the silt. As would be expected during exploration of a warship, they found cannon balls, grapeshot, and barshot, but they also found several more uncommon items like marked buttons, spoons, a canteen, a frying pan, a drumstick, and parts of an iron pot that may have been fragmented by the ammunition exploding. With the surviving portion of the ship clear of silt, the team attached sealed empty tar drums to help lift it off the bottom and hauled it up on shore. Once there, Hagglund had the assemblage mapped and tagged, numbering each timber and plank in sequence in anticipation of reassembling it for display. The team then disassembled the wreck and carried it away.
With the science of underwater archaeology non-existent, Hagglund and Schalk used hard-hat salvage divers and relatively crude techniques to accomplish their goal. Interested more in collecting the ship’s remains and the artifacts found on and around her than what could be learned from them, the team’s methods certainly cost considerable information. They never mapped with any detail the area of the wreck or where they located artifacts nor did they place much emphasis on conservation—key practices in today’s nautical archaeology.
Hagglund gave away some of the artifacts recovered from the wreck to friends and influential people and others probably ended up in the hands of the team’s members. Regrettably, these bits of evidence of a fierce naval battle are probably lost forever. Some have certainly been misplaced or thrown out over the years. Others, lacking proper conservation and sitting on some shelf or in a box in an attic or basement for decades, will likely have suffered some degree of decay, particularly those made of wood.
The remains of the ship will have suffered the most. In the process of being moved, assembled, disassembled, and moved again however many times over the course of eighty years, pieces have likely been lost or certainly damaged. Worst of all, lacking proper conservation treatment, the remains of the ship sadly will have suffered from warping, shrinkage, and decay. They will never fit together again and are slowly disappearing as Nature takes her back.
Looking back in hindsight, however, we cannot judge and fault Hagglund, Schalk, and their team for the methods used in recovering the wreck. They simply followed the accepted attitudes and practices of the day. Today’s nautical archaeology is worlds away from theirs. In the later decades of the twentieth-century, the development of SCUBA diving equipment has greatly aided development of the science of underwater archaeology and a concomitant “growing consensus that historic shipwrecks are culturally significant public property and worthy of preservation and protection.” UNESCO’s 2001 Treaty to Protect Underwater Cultural Heritage and the 2005 Federal Sunken Military Craft Act have been significant efforts at putting the new attitude into law. How these regulations affect the Royal Savage is not clear and ownership of the remnants is now in question.
The Hagglund family retained possession of the Royal Savage and the remaining artifacts until Lorenzo’s son, Hudson, sold them to the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1995 for $42,500. The city’s mayor at the time, Stephen Reed, and the then governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, strongly supported the creation of five museums in the city. Between 1991 and 2006, using millions of dollars of city money set aside for the projects, Reed purchased around 38,000 artifacts. While the ship had no real connection with the city or central Pennsylvania, plans called for revolving displays covering other periods and places in history thereby providing Reed the rationale for purchasing the Royal Savage. Two of the museums eventually opened but plans for displaying the ship and its story stalled and the remains ended up as a pile of boards and timbers in the corner of a city garage.
The purchase of so many artifacts unrelated to the focus of the museums caused considerable distress, particularly when the plans for rotating displays went awry. Eventually, the city council decided to recoup some of the city’s money by auctioning off many of the artifacts the former mayor had bought including the pieces of the Royal Savage. In 2006, a number of the items with an American West connection went up for auction in Dallas, TX. A similar series of auctions took place over the following years culminating in the hiring of the large New York auction firm, Guernsey Auctions, to sell off the bulk of the remaining items, including the remains of the Royal Savage. On 8 October 2013, the ship came up for bid during the second part of the auction. Pre-auction estimates of the selling price ranged from $20,000 to $30,000—well below the price actually paid for it—with a hoped-for starting bid of $10,000, but the remains sold for only $5,000. In the end, however, the bidder apparently decided not to take possession and Harrisburg has retained ownership of the pieces.
Using the new UNESCO and federal laws as a foundation, the United States Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) laid a claim of superior title to the remains of the Royal Savage. On several occasions, NHHC and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM) attempted to gain access to the pieces or, at least, get an accounting of them. Once the city announced they would be auctioning off the remains, the NHHC and LCMM expanded the requests to include asking that the auction be delayed. Initially, Harrisburg—and more recently, Guernsey Auctions—ignored the requests. The fate of the ship looked even bleaker when the 2013 government sequester and shutdown severely hampered NHHC activity relating to the ship’s remains. As of this writing, however (March 2014), communication between NHHC and Harrisburg has begun again. Even better, representatives of NHHC have been able to examine the pieces and feel they are currently secure.
The future is looking a bit brighter for the Royal Savage. Art Cohn, LCMM co-founder, special advisor, and leader in the efforts to return the Royal Savage to a location around the lake, wrote, “What happens now will be critically important to the proper preservation and public sharing of this national treasure. It also becomes a very important case study in the way these protected cultural materials are managed.” In 1776, the ship had an inglorious role in a major naval action and, more recently, has been stuffed away in a corner of a shed. Today, the Royal Savage may well become a test case for the new underwater archaeology laws that attempt to grant ownership of such artifacts to governmental agencies even if recovered decades ago by private individuals. Whether NHHC is successful in its title claim or Harrisburg retains ownership, the Royal Savage may end up on display helping to explain the formation of our country. Maybe she will achieve the glory she searched for after all.[FEATURED IMAGE AT TOP: Schooner Royal Savage. Source: New York Public Library]
 Cannons are rated by the weight of the iron ball they fire. Swivels are small portable cannons mounted in a “Y”- shaped yoke which can be moved between brackets on the top of the sides of the ship. Armament information drawn from the “Townsend Document” (dated 22 October 1776) in the collections of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Courtesy of LCMM and John Townsend.
 John Trumbull to Jonathan Trumbull, 12 July 1776, in John Trumbull, The Autobiography of Colonel John Trumbull, Patriot-Artist, 1756-1841, ed. Theodore Sizer (1841; revised ed., New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1953), 27-28. The Enterprise did not serve as part of the fleet intended for combat but, rather, functioned as a supply and hospital vessel sailing back and forth between the fleet and Ticonderoga.
 Period illustrations of the ship show the foremast quite far forward. This feature may well have caused her to be unbalanced with regard to the center of rotation and overly sensitive to headwinds.
 For a more detailed description of the battle, see “The Battle of Valcour Island,” Journal of the American Revolution, 2 January 2014. http://allthingsliberty.com/2014/01/battle-valcour-island/.
 The information on Hagglund’s early years and the process used in recovering the Royal Savage comes from John Raymond Bratten, “The Continental Gondola Philadelphia” (Ph.D. diss. , Texas A&M University, 1997), 120-2.
 The team took photographs documenting the salvage operation and a number of them, along with comments, ended up in a scrapbook titled “Royal Savage Sketchbook.” The book is currently in the possession of Wes Small of The Horse Soldier, a military antiques shop in Gettysburg, PA (http://www.horsesoldier.com/). Mr. Small graciously allowed the use of some of the photos for this article.
 “Harrisburg Artifacts,” Roxbury News (Harrisburg, PA), 27 August 2008. http://www.roxburynews.com/index.php?a=525 (accessed 8 February 2014).
 “Harrisburg rediscovers lost artifact,” WHTM (Harrisburg, PA), 24 July 2013. http://www.abc27.com/story/22923734/harrisburg-rediscovers-lost-artifact-reed-speaks-on-auction (accessed 8 February 2014).
 “liveauctioneers” on-line catalog entry, Lot 8342, http://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/20185726_revolutionary-war-ship-the-royal-savage, accessed 10 February 2014).