There's a reason why the nautical studies center at Hatteras Island, North Carolina is called the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. North Carolina's beaches have been quite literally strewn with ships from near and far, wrecked and thrown onto the sand throughout years of hurricanes and Nor'easters. Some of them are surprisingly old. Finding one even relatively intact is unusual at best, but that is what beachcomber Ray Midgett did last spring.
This article from CNN.com documents the ship and how it was found by Midgett, a former government employee who says "...relic hunting is in my blood." Not only that, but Midgett is a tenacious sort. He followed up with local government officials, including North Carolina state Senator Marc Basnight, until the ship was salvaged. Through a joint effort of the Wildlife Resources Commission, the Underwater Archaeology Branch and the Corolla Fire Department along with local volunteers, the ship was freed from her sandy grave and towed up to a nearby lighthouse. It will be moved from Corolla Beach to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum later this summer.
Many ships, most famously perhaps HMS Somerset, a mid-1700's man-of-war that lies in the sand in Cape Cod, stay hidden under Atlantic coast sand and surf until they are revealed by weather. In the case of Somerset, moving her was determined to be unsound and so archaeologists study the ship when she is visible. The opposite was the case with Midgett's discovery. Once her relative age was determined, experts knew she had to be moved.
Originally those experts imagined the wreck on Corolla Beach might be what was left of HMS Swift, wrecked off the Outer Banks in the late 18th century and then looted and disabled somewhere in the area of the beach. Further research showed that the Corolla Beach ship was in fact a merchant dating from 1650 to 1700. More careful study will be needed but, if the on site dating is correct, that will make Ray Midgett's find the oldest shipwreck yet discovered along coastal North Carolina. Older even than the circa 1719 wreck found near Beaufort N.C. in 1997 and suspected to be none other than Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge.
Midgett and beachcombing colleagues salvaged a number of coins and artifacts, including spoons dating to the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles I, nearby that may have come from the wreck. These will be analyzed by archaeologists but will then be returned to the relic hunters who are entitled to keep their finds.
Were I Mr. Midgett, I'd wish I had a garage big enough for the wreck itself. Imagine having your morning coffee with that kind of seafaring history every day? Priceless. Well done, sir. Keep up the good work out there on the beach.
Picture at the header by Ray Midgett of his find on Corolla Beach, N.C.