In 1838, the luxury steamship Pulaski sank off the coast of North Carolina while sailing from Charleston to Baltimore, taking half of the 200 souls on board with it to the bottom of the Atlantic.
Thanks to the very nature of the ship, those on board were some of the richest, most influential people in America, including Congressmen, bankers, and businessmen, and when it sank, a lot of their wealth sank with it.
In January of this year, divers from Blue Water Ventures International and the Endurance Exploration Group discovered what they believed to be the wreck of the Pulaski around 64 kilometers (40 miles) off the coast of North Carolina, and many of the exciting finds – including gold and silver coins, silverware, and gold jewelry – support this.
One of the most fascinating discoveries is a solid gold pocket watch that eerily stopped, frozen in time, at 11.05pm – 5 minutes after eye-witness accounts say the ship sank on June 14, 1838.
“We were shocked. It’s very unusual to see an artifact with that sort of impression of a historic moment when a ship sank,” said Max Spiegel of Certified Collectables Group, who is handling the preservation of Pulaski artifacts, reports the Charlotte Observer.
“Think about how fragile the watch’s hands are, yet they survived in that exact position. It’s one of the most exciting finds we’ve handled, and we’ve done a half dozen shipwrecks.”
Reportedly the ship only took between 45 minutes and an hour to go down. The extravagant nature of the Pulaski and the short time it took to sink drew obvious parallels with another famous tragic ship, and it is often referred to as the “Titanic of its time”.
The divers found the shipwreck 35 meters (115 feet) down, and 16 kilometers (10 miles) further out than it was thought to have sunk, as suggested by an article in the Wilmington Advertiser dated June 18, 1838. The wealth of coins dated to the time, plus the ship’s anchor and two items that have the name Pulaski engraved on them has confirmed the ship’s identity, although the ship’s bell, which is usually used to confirm a wreck’s identity, has yet to be found.
It also lines up with witness accounts from the survivors that say the ship went down at around 11pm that night, after the ship’s starboard boiler exploded.
So far, the riches found – which include 150 coins, gold necklaces, and ornate silver pots, as well as keys, thimbles, and a mysterious box that has yet to be opened – are thought to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars today.
Hopefully, continued excavation will shed more light on what happened that fateful night 180 years ago almost to the week.