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Divers find 1903 shipwreck near Block Island

MYSTIC, Conn.—A group of divers says it has found the wreckage of a schooner that collided with a steamship and sank in 1903 near Block Island, R.I.

Mark Munro of Griswold, Conn., said his Sound Underwater Survey group and the Baccala Wreck Divers began looking for the remains of the Jennie R. Dubois in 2002, searching a few times a year in an area that eventually stretched to 17 square miles.

The group positively identified the shipwreck in September 2007, but kept it a secret until Monday so more research could be done and others interested in the ship couldn’t claim the find, Munro said.

It was discovered about six miles southeast of Block Island in federal waters, he said.

“We were pretty elated,” Munro said Tuesday. “It was one of those projects that you were starting to wonder if you were really going to solve the mystery of what happened.”

The 2,227-ton, five-masted schooner, which was launched only 19 months before the collision, was named after the wife of a Rhode Island Supreme Court justice who owned stock in the company that built the ship, Holmes Shipbuilding Co. of Mystic.

Munro said the vessel, which cost $100,000 to build, was the largest ever built on Connecticut’s Mystic River. Jennie Dubois christened her namesake ship with a bottle of wine on Feb. 11, 1902, in a ceremony that attracted 6,000 people, Munro said.

The Jennie R. Dubois went down on Sept. 5, 1903, after colliding with the steamship Schoenfels in dense fog about seven miles southeast of Block Island. All 11 men aboard were rescued, Munro said.

A lot of people had looked for the wreckage over the years. Munro said it was difficult to find because the Army Corps of Engineers blasted the wreckage with dynamite in 1903 so it wouldn’t be a hazard to other ships.

“They were looking for something that would look like a schooner,” Munro said. “In this case, it was not what you would typically see at the bottom. It was spread out.”

Munro and his fellow divers were able to identify the shipwreck by its anchors, size and location, he said. They researched local newspapers, examined the national archives in Washington, looked at Mystic Seaport records and talked with Block Island residents.

Members of Sound Underwater Survey and the Baccala Wreck Divers plan to present their findings at the Mystic Yachting Center on Feb. 11, the 107th anniversary of the Jennie R. Dubois’ launch.

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