Category Archives: Source of the Week

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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Source of the Week: Annual Reports of Secretary of Treasury


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.

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The Museum of Underwater Archaeology

Want to get lost in the science of shipwrecks for an afternoon or two? Curious about underwater archaeology? Check out the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, a site devoted to helping “underwater archaeologists and maritime historians present their research on shipwrecks and other sites to the public.” It’s where I go to find out what’s going on in the field and read field reports from around the world. Enjoy!

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Filed under Notes from the Field, Shipwreck culture, Source of the Week

Shipwreck Poem: DRIFT-WOOD

Here’s a wrecker-themed poem culled from archives. Published in Auburn, New York’s Cayuga Chief  on August 23, 1853, it has everything you could ask for in a shipwreck poem–fireside stories, Thor, ravens and Vikings, yes… Vikings!

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Filed under Dissertation Digest, Shipwreck culture, Shipwreck Kitsch, Source of the Week

Shipwreck Poem: ‘The Wreckers’

Here’s another shipwreck-themed poem pulled from the archives [for others see this and this]. Originally published in 1854, The Wreckers, by George S. Burleich, relies on the mid-century trope of the piratical wrecker–one who lured ships ashore, murdered survivors and plundered anything in sight–in a prohibitionist tract that derides the the ills of “liquid fire” and the “ruin and shame” attending “the Drunkard.”

By the 1850s the wrecker had become an established character in an American culture inundated with stories of shipwrecks. (The above depiction of “The Wrecker” appeared in the April 1859 edition of Harper’s Magazine.) Artists, authors and cultural commentators frequently used the wrecker as a metaphor to make a point about everything from the ills of alcohol to the questionable character of duly elected public officials. The Wreckers a fantastic example of the wrecker-metaphor in action.

The Wreckers 

By George S. Burleich


Hark to the roar of the surges!

Hark to the wild wind’s howl!

See the black cloud that the hurricane urges,

Bend like a maniac’s scowl!

Full on the sunken ice-ledges

Leaps the devoted barque,

And the loud waves, like a hundred sledges,

Smite to the doomed mark.

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Filed under Shipwreck culture, Shipwreck Kitsch, Source of the Week