Long-Lost Revolutionary War Shipwreck May Have Been Found
A replica of James Cook's HMS Endeavour moored at the Australian National Maritime Museum.
Credit: David Steele | Shutterstock.com

The wreck of a famous research vessel turned Revolutionary War troopship may soon be discovered.

The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) will announce its progress in the hunt for a ship dubbed "Lord Sandwich" on Wednesday (May 4). This ship is better known by its previous name: the HMS Endeavour, the British Royal Navy vessel that James Cook took to explore Australia and New Zealand between 1768 and 1771.

After Endeavour's retirement as a navy vessel, the ship was sold for civilian use and renamed. During the American Revolution, the ship was used to transport troops and then was scuttled by the British Navy in Rhode Island's Newport Harbor, RIMAP has found. Along with 12 other ships, Cook's vessel became part of a blockade meant to keep French ships out of the bay. [In Photos: The HMS Victory Shipwreck Site]

With a grant from the Australian National Maritime Museum, RIMAP has uncovered documents in London describing which ships were sunk, and where. They've learned that the Lord Sandwich/Endeavour sits in a group of five wrecked ships in Newport Harbor, four of which the archaeological agency has already mapped.

The group plans to map the fifth site, as well as to work to identify each of the ships, according to a statement from RIMAP. To do so, the group needs to first construct a facility to house, examine and conserve any artifacts that can be brought up to the surface.

It was RIMAP that did the archival work to confirm that the Lord Sandwich was actually the Endeavour in the first place. The ship (the namesake of a now-retired space shuttle) was originally named the Earl of Pembrokebefore it was purchased from private hands for the Cook expedition, according to the Captain Cook Society. The vessel weighed 368 tons (334 metric tons) and was 105 feet (32 meters) long.

The Endeavor nearly didn't survive its ambitious southern voyage. The ship and its crew sailed from Plymouth to Tahiti and then island-hopped all the way to New Zealand. It was the first ship to land on Australia's east coast, but foundered on the Great Barrier Reef in June 1770, forcing Cook and the crew to throw more than 40 tons of equipment, including guns, overboard. The crew was able to get the leaky ship off the reef and then had to beach it for weeks of jerry-rigged repairs, according to historians. It wasn't until four months later, in October, that the ship reached the Dutch East Indies for full repair work.

Though the Endeavour's final resting place has yet to be confirmed, some pieces of the ship have been discovered: The guns and ballast tossed overboard in the Great Barrier Reef were found in 1969.

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