The wreckage of the Endeavour, the storied British ship that 18th century explorer Captain James Cook sailed through the uncharted South Pacific, may reside submerged in Rhode Island's Newport Harbor, researchers said.
Marine archaeologists said they are at least 80 percent certain that wreckage found in the harbor includes the remains of the historic three-masted bark among the 13 vessels that were deliberately sunk by the British in 1778 during the American Revolutionary War.
Cook sailed the 105-foot (32-meter) long Endeavour with a crew of 94 on a 1768-1771 Pacific expedition that marked the first time Westerners laid eyes on New Zealand and Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
By the time of its sinking, the ship had been renamed the Lord Sandwich, a man for whom Cook also had a soft spot, having labeled the Hawaiian Islands the Sandwich Islands the first time he encountered them.
The voyage was the first Western expedition through the South Pacific to end with most of the crew alive, said Edward Gray, a Florida State University history professor and author of a 2007 book about John Ledyard, a Connecticut-born man who served on Cook's final Pacific voyage.
"Every time Europeans did this, it was an absolute cataclysm," Gray said. "There was no record of anyone exploring the Pacific without massive loss of life."
There is a replica of the Endeavour at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney.
"For RIMAP (Rhode Island Marine Archeology Project) to be closing in one of the most important shipwrecks in world history, for that ship to be found in Newport, and for it to have an international reputation, should be an intriguing birthday gift for all of Rhode Island," the researchers said in a statement.
Wednesday marked the 240th anniversary of the Rhode Island colonial legislature disavowing loyalty to King George III of Britain, some two months before all 13 American colonies officially declared independence on July 4, 1776.