That probably ranks as the most boring title I’ve ever come up with. But no matter how dry the Annual Reports of the Secretary of the Treasury on the State of the Finances may sound, they’re surprisingly useful sources for studying nineteenth-century shipwrecks. Take for example, the 1874 Annual Report, which includes forty-nine pages devoted to the 7,249 shipwrecks that occurred in American waters between 1863 and the end of the 1874 fiscal year. Congress was in the midst of expanding the nation’s life-saving capabilities and this report (the first large-scale, comprehensive, publicly available summation of shipwreck statistics) served as a baseline for measuring shipwrecks. Seventy-five tables dissect the type of shipwreck and vessel, location, extent of loss and casualties for each wreck. It is a goldmine of information. Annual shipwreck statistics would be included in the Annual Reports for the next two years when the Annual Report of the United States Life-Saving Service (go here to find the full run online) took over the task.
Peruse these Annual Reports a bit and shipwrecks will turn up everywhere: in reports on the nation’s lighthouses, on the early development of life-saving capabilities, and on the life-saving missions of Revenue Marine cutters. It is a spectacular source for the patient researcher.