Excavation of the Storm Wreck

The Storm Wreck is a colonial-era shipwreck discovered by LAMP archaeologists in the summer of 2009. After identifying a promising magnetic target during a remote sensing survey, divers used a hydraulic or water-jet probe to explore beneath the sand. Working in black water, divers soon encountered a wooden plank, several ballast stones and iron concretions, and a large, cast-iron cooking cauldron. This was a strong indication that the site was that of a historic shipwreck, and it was reported to the State of Florida as the Storm Wreck, site number 8SJ5459. 

 
The complete ship’s bell recovered from the Storm Wreck, with its wooden headstock and iron clapper intact.

Excavation began on this site the following summer, in June 2010, in conjunction with the LAMP Field School. A team of LAMP archaeologists, students, interns, and volunteers has conducted excavations each summer since then. Divers established a grid system over the site, which consists of a buried scatter of wreckage, and use hand-held dredges to remove sand from individual one meter by one meter units. A wide array of artifacts dating to the second half of the 1700s has been discovered in this manner, including iron and copper cauldrons, pewter spoons and plates, knives, an iron tea kettle, a wine glass base, ceramic sherds, clothing irons, shoe and belt buckles, various styles of buttons, a pair of navigational dividers and a sight from an octant, various ship’s fasteners and fittings, a barrel of nails, a lead deck pump, bricks, cannon balls and lead shot, a type of 18th-century computer known as a sector rule, a flintlock pistol, three Brown Bess muskets (two of which were loaded), six cannons, and the intact ship’s bell.

 
A four-pounder cast-iron cannon, seen here, was raised from the Storm Wreck in June 2011, along with a smaller carronade dated 1780.

In the summer of 2011 two cannons were raised from the wreck. One of them proved to be a type known as a carronade, a new weapon invented during the American Revolution at the Carron Company in Scotland. It was dated 1780, and is believed to be the second-oldest carronade to have survived anywhere in the world. At that time the artifact collection suggested the shipwreck was British or possibly early American, and dated to sometime in or shortly after 1780. This was an interesting period in St. Augustine’s history, at the end of the Revolution when the city changed hands from British back to Spanish control. It was suspected by LAMP archaeologists that the Storm Wreck was that of a Loyalist refugee ship. Thousands of loyalists fled from Charleston and Savannah to St. Augustine towards the end of the war, as East Florida was still loyal to the British crown and the closest safe refuge. St. Augustine’s treacherous inlet claimed many of these refugee ships, including sixteen from the final fleet to evacuate Charleston in December 1782.

In 2012 the discovery of two military buttons, including one from the 71st Regiment of the British Army, proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the Storm Wreck was indeed one of the lost ships from the last fleet to evacuate Charleston. While its identity by name has not yet been established, this is clearly a historically significant shipwreck which promises to provide new insights into our understanding of this fascinating period of history. More than one thousand pages of historical documents related to the evacuation of Charleston, the 71st Regiment, and the December 1782 shipwreck event have been uncovered by LAMP researchers in Britain’s National Archives. Conservation of the recovered artifacts is currently underway, and they will be incorporated into a new museum exhibit to be called “Patriots and the Sea” at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. LAMP archaeologists continue to dive on this shipwreck each summer field season, in hopes of finding the clues that may finally identify its name.

Explore the links below to learn more about this shipwreck and the research that has been conducted to date:

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All text and images, unless otherwise noted, are copyright Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, Inc. We extend permission to scholars, students, and other interested members of the public to use images and to quote from text for non-commercial educational or research purposes, provided LAMP is acknowledged and credited. If there are any questions regarding the use of LAMP’s work, please inquire at LAMP@staugustinelighthouse.org. 

 

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