Category Archives: Forgotten Wrecks

We’re Back! Shipwrecks, Coastal Landscapes, and “Watery Graves”

yAfter lying dormant for two years, Ships on the Shore is back!

I feel a little rusty coming out of the blocks but time has come to turn that dissertation I blabbered about for two years into a proper book. Ships on the Shore was central to successfully researching, writing, and defending my dissertation so I have high hopes that this blog and you dear reader will help me once again.

Ships on the Shore will document turning a concise dissertation into a publishable (fingers-crossed published) work of history. If you choose to follow us–and I hope you do–expect tales of shipwrecks past and present. Expect news of research finds big and small. Expect a little bit of grousing (if only because I have to work for a living now — long gone are those sweet fellowship-funded days). And expect–hopefully–a bit of celebrating as we complete the book and navigate the publishing process.

Please, please, please post comments or send me an email! Your thoughts, comments, insights, and suggestions are so much more helpful than I can express. If you like what you read, share Ships on the Shore with others. For those of you who sent a message since 2011 — I’ll be reaching out to you very soon. I’m truly looking forward to connecting.

But enough about me and you — let’s talk shipwreck.

The first wreck back had to be a good one and this 1835 shipwreck has it all — mystery, salvage, a snow storm, whale oil, and  “not a soul” escaping “a watery grave.”

xMelanchohly Wreck.–The schr. Herald at this port of Saturday, picked up, between Montaug and Point Judith, 5 casks of sperm oil, bearing the mark of the guager at Warren; the sloop Traveller also picked up one cask, and several other vessels, saw fragments of the wreck, a mattrass, and a part of the quarter deck of a vessel, between Watch Hill and Point Judith. About 1000 barrels of oil, of which this was supposed to be a part, was shipped last week at Warren, on board two sloops for New York. As they both left Newport on Tuesday last, it was impossible to judge which of them had been wrecked, until yesterday afternoon, when a gentleman arrived from Warren, and on inspecting the casks, unhesitatingly pronounced them the cargo of the sloop Eloisa, Capt. Smith, one of the above vessels. It is supposed she struck on Fisher’s Island Reef, during the snow storm on Wednesday night, and in all human probability, not a soul escaped a watery grave. -Providence Journal of Monday.”

Incidentally, it was wrecks like this that made New London, Connecticut a prime spot for salvage master T.A. Scott to set up shop in the 1870s. Scott was a remarkable character — for more start here.

~Article transcribed from the April 8, 1835 edition of the Barnstable Patriot is graciously made available by the lovely Sturgis Library located on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.





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Forgotten Wrecks: Schooner Sea Lion (1875)

Screenshot from 2013-03-04 09:24:41

Late winter/early spring was always a dangerous time for vessels as unsettled weather and frigid conditions contributed to dozens of shipwrecks. Today’s forgotten wreck brings us back to March 4, 1875, when the Boston Daily Journal printed:

Schooner Ashore

ROCKPORT, Mass, March 4. The schooner Sea Lion of Lockport, N.S. [Nova Scotia], Capt. McCanghev, from Clenfuagos for Portland, Me., loaded with molasses went ashore about 10:00 A.M. to-day, at Rockport. The crew were saved by the use of the mortar and life lines. If the storm abates the vessel and cargo may be saved.

The Sea Lion‘s wreck was one of a dozen wrecks reported in American newspapers on that days. Some involved loss of life, but the Sea Lion was representative of nineteenth century shipwrecks along the American coastline. Further particulars about the schooner surfaced over the next few days. According to the Boston Daily Journal of March 6th:

THE WRECK OF THE SCHOONER SEA LION. The schooner Sea Lion, from Cienfuegos for Portland, stranded on the beach at Rockport, Mass., reports having sighted land on the lee bow at 10 A.M. on Thursday during the storm, when an attempt was made to work her off shore, but it was soon made evident she would not go clear, and in order to save life and property, Captain McCanghey ran for the smoothest water and let go anchors, which failed to hold and the vessel was quickly driven ashore. All hands were rescued by means of the Massachusetts Humane Society’s Life Car. A line was thrown to the vessel by the mortar, by which a hawser was hauled to shore, and the life-car was transferred to the wreck and the mariners were pulled safely through the breakers to the land. From previous exposure the captain and crew suffered intensely from the cold and sleet. The captain’s hands were badly frost-bitten.

The survivors are desirous of expressing their heartfelt gratitude to the citizens of Rockport, who rescued them, and also to the Humane Society for their wise and generous act in placing life-saving apparatus at dangerous points along the coast. The wreck lies on a gravelly beach among many single rocks, on of which has been forced through her port bilge, breaking off her keelson and floor timbers. It is doubtful her hull will be worth saving. The cargo of molasses has been discharged and landed on the beach for shipment to its destination, under direction of Captain Moses B. Tower.

I haven’t been able to find any record of the Sea Lion‘s eventual fate, a typical ending for most shipwrecked vessels.

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Forgotten Wrecks: Brig Chatham (1840)


Shipwrecks come in all shapes and sizes. Some result in the total loss of a vessel while others are but a speed bump in an otherwise prosperous career. Today’s forgotten wreck was one of those mundane shipwrecks that became commonplace along the nineteenth-century American shoreline. But intrigue lurks everywhere. Notice the end of this wreck blurb, published in The Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics on February 8, 1840. Seems odd that they would throw the whiskey over first. Maybe a few drams warmed up the shipwrecked and salvors… maybe not.

Brig Chatham of this port [Portsmouth, NH] at N. York, from Wilmington, Del. with meal, flour &c. went ashore on West Bank, Tuesday afternoon where she was taken by ice. She was afterwards towed off and up to Staten Island, by a steamer,–having lost both anchors and chains, and had to stave several bbds. whiskey to lighten her.

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Remembering World War I Shipwrecks

From the BBC:

A project to raise the profile of forgotten World War I shipwrecks is in line for an award of £44,800 by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The Hampshire & Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology aims to discover and explore the wreck remains hidden off the county’s shores.

Approximately 250 wrecks dating to the conflict lie off the southern coast.

Julie Satchell, from the trust, said it wished to promote the war’s “overlooked” maritime contributions.

She added: “This project will enable us to address this through a volunteer-focused project that will collect and disseminate information about this fragile and unique aspect of our heritage”.

Stuart McLeod, head of HLF South East, said: “A significant proportion of The Great War’s maritime legacy currently lies hidden beneath the waters of South East England – undisturbed and relatively unknown.”

Following the HLF endorsement, the project still has two years to submit its full proposal.


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Forgotten Wreck: Franklin (1825)

The New York Spectator published this relatively innocuous article on May 3, 1825.

Shipwreck.–We mentioned on Saturday, that a large ship was seen ashore near Barnegat. This vessel proves to be the packet ship Franklin, Capt. Munro, which left here on Wednesday, for Charleston. She went ashore on Thursday morning, in the fog, eight miles north of Barnegat, and went to pieces. The passengers and crew were all saved. The cargo principally drifted to sea, and some strewed on the beach.

That same day, the Franklin‘s captain, J.S. Munroe, wrote the letter below. It travelled far. This version appeared in Charleston, South Carolina’s City Gazette and Commercial Daily Advertiser on May 11th. It’s the first serious allegation of “land piracy” on the Jersey Shore I’ve come across (not counting occasional charges of locals taking a few capfuls of coffee and such from a wreck).

Capt. Munro, of the packet ship Franklin, which was cast away last Thursday morning on Barnegat, has addressed the following letter to the editors of the Mercantile Advertiser:

Permit me through the medium of your paper, to express my indignation at the treatment I received when unfortunately cast ashore in the ship Franklin, on Island Beach, six miles north of Barnegat Inlet. I fondly hoped that the unpleasant situation in which my crew and self were placed, would elicit feelings from the inhabitants entirely different from what we received–I thought we were cast upon an hospitable shore, where we should find civilized beings; but I regret to say that not more than 20 out of 200 or more, who assembled on the beach, but what plundered as of every thing they could get hold of, although every precaution in our power was used to guard against it. It is impossible for me to say what amount of property they embezzled–I have no doubt that valuable goods were frequently buried in the sand, in order to be removed at night. A new maintopsail, which with much difficulty we got on the beach, was taken from us. In time is is impossible to enumerate the many instances of a similiar nature. In the offing, there were several vessels picking up valuable goods, names of which I have in my possession, but presuming they will deliver the goods to the agents of the ship, I forbear at present to name them. I feel under great obligations to Mr. Wm. Platt, for his attention while there.–I conceive if 10,000 are required to protect our commerce in the W. Indies, an equal number are necessary on Island Beach.

~J. S. Munro.

New York, May 3, 1825

Despite Munro’s favorable opinion of William Platt, the Platt family was bad news. William Platt (possibly the same mentioned by Munro) and his son would later be hunted down in the New Jersey Pinelands by federal agents for their illegal plundering of shipwrecks in the 1830s. But more on that in another post…

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