Coombs Wharf has been discovered while work was being done at the Waste Water Treatment Plant. Unfortunately, the site was greatly disturbed with no attempt to notify Mass Historic or even the local Historical Commission. Bill Harris of Waterfront Trust and an earnest advocate for archeological discovery and historic preservation was able to notify all parties as to the significance of this find in an attempt to rectify this error.
William Coombs was President of the Newburyport Marine Society and was a enthusiastic supporter of privateering as a means to advance the cause of liberty and the American Revolution. It was his efforts as well as others that led the British to realize that Newburyport was a hotbed of ‘piracy’.
Privateering was ‘legal’ as designated by a legitimate government for the purpose of capturing ‘prizes’ of ship and materials. These would be sold and a portion would be given to the ship owner and the crew and the rest of the profit would go toward the sponsoring government. Unfortunately, in the American Revolution, the British did not recognize America as a legitimate government and was cruelly harsh against those who participated in this ‘treasonable’ practice.
Later historians were also somewhat embarrassed at this unruly practice and privateer history in Newburyport is sketchy at best. A large number of ships were sent out from Newburyport with results ranging from wildly successful to mysteriously disappointing. (One ship went out with a full crew and was never heard from again and no records have been discovered in British or any other overseas records to this day.)
An archeological dig or at least an exploratory survey would reveal much about this period of history. Mass Historic has recommended to the City that Mitchell T. Mulholland, Director of Archaeological Services, University of Massachusetts Amherst, be contacted. In response, he has recommended that a serious gathering of background historical materials be assembled and an excavation undertaken of a portion of the Wharf that hasn’t been disturbed as of yet.
The ball is in the City’s court and I hope they do the right thing. According to Federal Law, as much as 2% of the [sewer plant] project funding can go to archeological work.
It would be great if a location complete with some of the wharf blocks be displayed as an interpretive display at the Wharf’s site along the Clipper City Rail Trail, Phase II.