N.C. shipwreck speculated to be ghost of 1609
A shipwreck exposed on the beach by winter storms could date to a time of commerce between England and Jamestown in the early 1600s.
Possibly the oldest known wreck on the North Carolina coast, the timbers and construction of the ship are very similar to the Sea Venture, the 1609 flagship of seven vessels that carr ied people and supplies to Jamestown, said Bradley A. Rodgers, a professor of archaeology and conservation in the maritime studies program at East Carolina University.
Remains of the Sea Venture rest off the Bermuda coast after it ran aground there in 1609 during a storm.
The wreck at Corolla grabbed attention after it was exposed following November nor’easters. On April 6, crews from the Wildlife Resources Commission, the Corolla fire department and residents hoisted it from the sand and dragged it on a sled to the lot near the Currituck Beach Lighthouse.
North Carolina underwater archaeologists and maritime history experts as well as students from ECU have since documented, sampled and measured the 12-ton wreck.
Plans are to transport it 90 miles down N.C. 12 to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Maritime Museum in Hatteras for display.
“It has a very unusual design,” Rodgers said. “We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw that thing.”
Now, an ECU graduate student will take on the historical research as part of his thesis, Rodgers said. D etails might be found in the United Kingdom’s Public Record Office, Rodgers said.
“It’s going to be a detective story now,” Rodgers said. “He’s going to have to follow every lead he can.”
The ship is relatively large and probably carried valuable cargo.
“It may not be that hard to find something on this,” Rodgers said. “It would have been a tough loss for whatever company sponsored it.”
If found, records would show the name of the sponsoring company, names of officers, cargo, destination and possibly where and how it wrecked, Rodgers said.
Two months ago, researchers believed this wreck could be the HMS Swift, a British ship about 70 feet long and 16 feet wide that ran aground off Point Comfort in the Chesapeake Bay in 1698. Currents might have carried the ship southward.
A a closer look showed this ship was much larger, possibly 80 to 110 feet long and 30 to 35 feet wide, Rodgers said. Timbers were made from trees cultivated to bend for use in a shipbuilding style known as compass framing. The timbers, curved upward to form the ship’s sides.
After 1650, builders used compound framing, connecting shorter sections of straight beams to form the curve of the ship.
The shipwreck is made entirely of wood without iron fasteners, another indicator of earlier origins. Tests on the timbers show the outer frame is made from oak. Other timbers appear to be made of an older wood such as chestnut, Rodgers said.
Residents Roger Harris and Ray Midgett found coins from the early 1600s encrusted on the timbers. Three fleur-de-lis symbols are visible on one side, but the bust of King Louis XIII on the other side is worn away. Midgett found a coin stamped 1603.
In his Manteo office Wednesday, Harris placed a ruler next to the penny-size, copper-colored coin for a measurement. “If you put it on a metric scale, it’s right at 19-1/2 millimeters,” he said.
According to his research, that is exactly the size this coin is supposed to be. Harris and Midgett found the coins stuck to the exterior of a concretion, a mass of encrusted materials about the size of a basketball.
Harris also found other items near the wreck, including a small metal wax seal stamp with the initials “T.M.,” a skeleton key and a star-shaped rowel of a horseback rider’s spur.
X-rays showed the concretion also held small cannon grape shot and straight pins, said Nathan Henry, a state underwater archaeologist. The rest of the ship’s story will have to come from research by the ECU team, he said.