New Study Shines Fresh Light on Battle of Chelsea Creek

Finding the Battle of Chelsea Creek is an elusive task, and one that many have tried to conquer over the years without great success. However, one new report funded by the National Parks Service may shed some new perspective on an old and tired search.

Perhaps most important for Chelsea is the possibility of finding remains of the long-lost ‘Diana’ – the British schooner that Colonials sank. Researchers said there is a good possibility that the old schooner could be under the Fitzgerald Shipyard at the base of Winnisimmet Street.

“That’s the area where we want to look – where we think it might be now,” said Vic Mastone, director of the state’s Board of Underwater Archeological Resources and the author of the recent study. “It’s a place where people won’t go diving down to scavenge, so it’s probably safe there. Broadway may not have been that wide then, but the same alignment was there and Winnisimmet was there. That seawall has been there a long time…I think [the Diana] is under the water just outside the seawall.”

This past December, Mastone finished up the 18-month study on the area’s Revolutionary War naval confrontation (which pre-dates the Battle of Bunker Hill by one month) and found some interesting new discussion points, which included prominent discussion of the Diana.

Mastone will present that 200-page study in a program at the Orient Heights Yacht Club in Eastie (63 Bayswater St.) on Monday, April 2nd at 7 p.m.

“I’ll be pointing things out on the map and talking about where we think things and sites were located,” he said. “This battle is sort of like lead shot. It’s not easy to find. It’s not like they had forts and ramparts during this battle. This was on-the-fly-fighting. It’s what they call a running engagement. It did last a long time, but they didn’t have time to sit down and build fortifications…What we tried to do was not a technical survey. We were trying to identify some of the sites of the battle and where they might be located now.”

The Battle of Chelsea Creek took place on May 27-28, 1775 and was the second major engagement in the Boston campaign. The British had come down the Creek to poach livestock and supplies. During the two-day battle, the Colonials actually drove the British out of the Creek and sank the ‘Diana.’ It was a great morale booster for the Colonials at the time.

Mastone said he and a student intern used the federal grant to look at new mapping technologies, such as GPS, and didn’t do a lot of field research – though they did several walk-throughs.

One thing that is interesting, he said, for the entire Chelsea Creek area is that Revere, Chelsea and East Boston all played key parts in the pivotal confrontation.

“One of the great things here was that each community that wants to claim the battle actually hosted a key component of the battle,” said Mastone. “So, everyone can celebrate this as their own.”

He said they focused on three areas.

First, they looked at the Crooked Creek area of East Boston for the place where Colonials set up canons and fired down on the approaching ships. He said they believe that this part of the battle happened where the ball fields are just west of Orient Heights and next to Rt. 1A.

“You would think that huge hill at Orient Heights in what was Hog’s Island would have played pivotal role, but it’s really not even talked about or mentioned anywhere we looked,” he said. “We believe East Boston High School was more like where they had the canons.”

Secondly, he said they traced the path of British ships going down to Mill Creek, especially the Diana. When they got to Revere, he said that Colonials based at the old Newgate-Yeamans House in Revere began firing on the ships. It was probably that exchange that injured the Diana, as it ran aground in the Revere mud as the tide receded.

That brought them to the third location that they zeroed in upon – the base of Winnisimmet Street and Broadway in Chelsea.

He said the smaller boats towed the sinking Diana out of the Creek and to the foot of Broadway and Winnisimmet in Chelsea – where he believes the ship sank.

“If there are any remains of her left, they are down there,” he said. “The remains of ships up the Creek are not of this era. The vessels we found up there are from mid- to late 19th Century. They are a whole different pattern. The shipyard in Chelsea probably sits on top of where the vessel might be. It’s possible she was dredged out years ago, but there were railroad tracks there and they probably didn’t dredge that close to shore. We’d like to take a little closer look there at the boatyard. That will be the next step, but funding is tough and we don’t want to disrupt the businesses there.”

All in all, Mastone said he hopes that his new research will yield some new respect for what has been a largely hidden engagement in the American Revolution.

“This battle doesn’t get the recognition it should,” he said. “It has broad implications on how we fought the rest of the war. The American strategy in the war became to make sure the British didn’t get supplies. That’s what happened in this battle and it carried on.”

Mastone will speak and present his study on Monday, April 2nd, at 7 p.m. in the Orient Heights Yacht Club in East Boston. The event is free and there will be light refreshments served. For more information, call (617) 567-5072. Everyone from Chelsea, Revere and East Boston are encouraged to attend.

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