I recently started research for a new chapter of my dissertation. It traces the development of wrecking–marine salvage–around the port of New York during the nineteenth century. I’ve been scouring newspapers and various archives ferreting out this hidden, yet essential (and surprisingly large) industry. The historical literature on the topic is scarce to say the least and filled with inaccuracies and twice-told tales, so I’ve had to cast a wide net to place the chapter in its historiographic context. More on all that in posts to come.
The chapter will be organized around one of the more successful wreckers working in the greater New York littoral, Captain Thomas A. Scott. Scott entered the salvage business in the early 1860s—a time when the increasing number, size, and value of shipwrecks had exacerbated the inefficiencies of the region’s ad hoc salvage industry. During the 1870s, he founded a wrecking firm in New London, Connecticut, becoming a key player in the industry’s consolidation and industrialization. He remained active in the field until his death in 1907 at the age of 77. F. Hopkinson Smith, noted author, painter, civil engineer, and long-time friend of Captain Scott, eulogized him as “one who was not afraid, and who spoke the truth.” By all accounts, Smith was not exaggerating.
I’ll be posting much about marine salvage and Capt. Scott in the weeks and months ahead. (It will be a welcome respite from the Odyssey “silver” news that’s been flooding in these days. )