We don’t know what it is, but it sure is something.

I am extremely interested in the ways in which modern science cannot tell us about our past.  Take, for example, a recent boat wreck rediscovery off the coast of Alabama.  The wreck has so far been identified as either the Rachel (wrecked in 1933) or the Monticello (wrecked during the Civil War).  Of course, further study may reveal more possibilities for identification.  The wreck was originally half-buried in sand off the coast and was then (or this is my understanding from the poor wording ofthe article, but that’s another story) thrown further on shore by recent storm systems.

Now, both boats were schooners that did wreck in that general area at about the appropriate time.  So the shape of the ships themselves would probably be somewhat similar.  Still, there are small things that would probably lead to the identification of one boat or the other.  One expert mentions steel cables, which the wreck may or may not have, as possible only for the later ship.  Also there should be some apparent burning on the Civil-War era boat, which supposedly was burning as it ran aground.  Still, Museum of Mobile marine archaeologist Shea McLean says “You can never be 100 percent certain unless you find the bell with ‘Monticello’ on it, but this definitely fits.” Ok.  How about reasonably sure?  How about even more than half sure?  Do I hear 55%?

I can understand some hesitation on the part of the experts to make faulty claims when they have not yet had a real opportunity to understand and investigate the wreckage, so I’m perfectly hapy to wait for some real results.  I also agree that the wreck should be moved and protected as quickly as possible, especially after one strom flung it right up on shore from being half-buried.  Still, the idea of another storm sending the wreck flying “through those houses there like a bowling ball” amuses me.  But I’ll leave the current shipwreck flying jargon in the hands of the experts.



  1. Ken De Angelo said,

    September 27, 2008 at 12:06 am

    Not USS Monticello the Schooner Rachel does fit, 132 ft keel 155 s to s.
    Online Library of Selected Images:
    — U.S. NAVY SHIPS —
    USS Monticello (1861-1865).
    Briefly named Star in May 1861
    USS Monticello, a 655-ton screw steam gunboat, was built at Mystic, Connecticut, in 1859 for civilian use. Chartered by the Navy in May 1861, she was named Star for a few weeks and then reverted to the name Monticello. She was purchased by the Navy in September 1861. Her Civil War record was a busy one, involving active employment in the blockade of the Confederacy’s Atlantic seacoast and the capture of several prizes. She took part in early wartime actions in the James River area of Virginia and in the August 1861 capture of Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina.
    In 1863-65, Monticello was commanded by the celebrated naval hero William B. Cushing, and members of her crew were involved in many of his exploits. She accidently rammed and sank the gunboat USS Peterhoff on 6 March 1864. In December 1864 and January 1865, she participated in the attacks on and capture of Fort Fisher, N.C. USS Monticello was decommissioned in July 1865 and sold the following November. She subsequently became the merchant steamer Monticello, and was so employed until she sank off Newfoundland in April 1872.

  2. sedgehammer said,

    September 28, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Hey Ken – the Monticello the article is talking about was not a US navy ship. It was a Confederate privateer, and a schooner, not a steamer. It looks like they have a third possibility, the Aurora, also under consideration now.

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