Mys­tery ship­wreck slowly gives up clues

The Korea Times - - FEATURE - By Matt So­ergel

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — In the late 1700s, this al­ready old city was a re­mote out­post, an iso­lated fron­tier town stuck a good bit south of the mid­dle of nowhere. So when a mer­chant ship ap­peared on the hori­zon, it must have been a wel­come site for the city’s in­hab­i­tants — though they prob­a­bly learned not to get too ex­cited un­til it ac­tu­ally made it into town.

A fair num­ber of in­com­ing ships got stuck on the sand­bars out­side St. Augustine’s no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult in­let, where they were bro­ken up by waves and their cargo sent to the bot­tom.

That was the fate of a mys­te­ri­ous mer­chant ves­sel that for more than two cen­turies was hid­den un­der the sand, all its valu­able goods made use­less, so close and yet far from the peo­ple who needed them. Such wrecks hap­pened so of­ten, ac­counts from the time say, that it got al­most rou­tine for those liv­ing ashore.

But what do you think the St. Au­gus­tini­ans would have given for some of the peaches that were on board that ship? Marine ar­chae­ol­o­gists ex­plor­ing the wreck have found, among the cargo, a num­ber of peach pits, re­mark­ably well pre­served — a clue that gives them at least some idea about the ship’s his­tory.

Peaches: That prob­a­bly means it orig­i­nated in, or at least stopped at, Charleston or Sa­van­nah to pick up some of that re­gion’s sweet fruit be­fore mak­ing its fate­ful trip to St. Augustine.

Be­yond that, there’s still a lot to learn about the An­niver­sary Wreck, so named be­cause a crew from the St. Augustine Light­house Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mar­itime Pro­gram (LAMP) found it in 2015, the 450th an­niver­sary of the city’s found­ing.

Divers, some­times work­ing in pitch-black con­di­tions, have been bring­ing up small amounts of cargo since then, which has been painstak­ingly cleaned and then pre­served in LAMP’s lab.

The find­ings have given up a cou­ple of solid clues about the mys­tery ship.

One comes from a small piece of a Wedg­wood plate, a cer­tain style made in Eng­land be­gin­ning in 1765, mak­ing it the old­est mer­chant ship­wreck found in this part of Florida, said Chuck Meide, LAMP’s di­rec­tor of mar­itime re­search.

An­other clue comes from the na­ture of the cargo it­self: big piles of the same items, found to­gether, as if stacked un­der the ocean floor.

Caul­drons, bar­rels of iron hard­ware, brass tacks, pewter plates, cut stone blocks, bricks and tiles, shoe buck­les, pad­locks, door­knobs, cloth­ing irons and pot­tery.

From that it’s clear the ship was a mer­chant ves­sel. “It’s just the sheer bulk, and ev­ery­thing is clumped to­gether,” said Starr Cox, LAMP’s di­rec­tor of arche­o­log­i­cal preser­va­tion. “This is like stuff you would buy in bulk.”

Meide said the An­niver­sary Wreck gives a tan­gi­ble look at what life was like in the late 18th cen­tury for those in the re­mote coastal city, where much of what they needed could only be brought by sea from far away.

“It gives us a great in­sight into con­sumer be­hav­ior here in St. Augustine — what it was like to be some­one liv­ing in St. Augustine at this time pe­riod, through what they bought,” he said. “In the fu­ture, some­one will prob­a­bly want to look through Ama­zon records and see what peo­ple were buy­ing. This is kind of like that. This is like find­ing a Wal­mart truck wrecked and pre­served, hun­dreds of years in the fu­ture. This is the nitty-gritty. This is the stuff we know was com­ing into St. Augustine. This, pre­sum­ably, was the stuff peo­ple asked for and wanted, and that mer­chants knew they could sell.”

Meide and Cox said it’s likely the ship was Bri­tish, though they can’t yet say for cer­tain. Much of its cargo seems to be Bri­tish, prob­a­bly from no later than 1800, and the Bri­tish con­trolled St. Augustine for two decades, be­gin­ning in 1763, un­til it was given by treaty back to Spain.

The mys­tery ship could have come from that later Span­ish pe­riod, though, per­haps cap­tained by an en­ter­pris­ing English­man look­ing to do busi­ness with the Span­ish.

Other wrecks have been found clus­tered at the old har­bor en­trance, south of St. Augustine’s present-day in­let, where ships had to pick their way through a se­ries of treach­er­ous shoals. The An­niver­sary Wreck was dis­cov­ered about a mile north of that by a LAMP re­search ves­sel that de­tected the metal in its cargo, sev­eral feet un­der the sand.

“It’s kind of in the wrong place,” Meide said. “We don’t know if the cap­tain didn’t know what he was do­ing, or if had lost con­trol of the ship as he was about to en­ter St. Augustine, if there was a storm that broke an an­chor line, or if a fire had bro­ken out.”

The An­niver­sary Wreck is the lat­est project for LAMP’s team of ar­chae­ol­o­gists, who from 2009 to 2015 ex­ca­vated the re­mains of an­other ship they named Storm Wreck.

Storm Wreck dated defini­tively from 1783, the end of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War, and was car­ry­ing des­per­ate Bri­tish Loy­al­ists from South Carolina, try­ing to es­cape from the Amer­i­can colonists. As many as 16 ships car­ry­ing Loy­al­ists ran aground on sand­bars off St. Augustine, though it’s likely res­cuers were able to save many of those aboard.

(Florida Times-Union/Tri­bune News)

Florida Times-Union-Tri­bune News Ser­vice

Starr Cox, di­rec­tor of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal con­ser­va­tion at the St. Augustine Light­house Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mar­itime Progam, holds a chunk of en­crusted ar­ti­facts from the An­niver­sary Wreck. X-rays re­veal the chunk con­tains a pad­lock, a keg key, tacks and other items.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Korea, Republic

© PressReader. All rights reserved.