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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Button found on St. Augustine Shipwreck

A corroded uniform button found in the mud off the St. Augustine Beach pier could be the “smoking gun” that leads to identifying a mystery shipwreck.

And the copper coin with a face of what could be Britain’s King George found by a Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program volunteer just adds to evidence that the wreck could be part of a British Revolutionary War fleet that fled Charleston in 1782.

The corroded button bears the number 74. That means it came off a 74th Regiment British Army uniform of Cambell’s Highlanders, assembled in Scotland in 1777 to fight rebels in North America. When the British fled the American army’s advance into Charleston, half the fleet headed into the St. Johns River in Jacksonville and the rest went to St. Augustine.

There, 16 of them wrecked on Dec. 31, including the escort ship Rattlesnake, said Chuck Meide, archaeology director at the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum program.

“This is a smoking gun,” Meide said. “This confirms the ship we are digging on was in the evacuation of Charleston.”

The Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program seeks and preserves the underwater history off the nation’s oldest city. Begun in 1996, it has targeted more than 50 possible wrecks. One was the British sloop Industry, which sank in 1764 just south of the current lighthouse. Divers recovered numerous artifacts including a cannon and tools that never made it to St. Augustine’s British outpost.

The current site under investigation was targeted in 2009 and has yielded cauldrons, a bell, a flintlock pistol, two British cannons and a musket with what looks like a bayonet on top. Working on a meter-square part of the site on Tuesday, divers using a suction device pulled up the latest items in mud.
Volunteer Karen Paradiso was sorting through it when Meide jokingly told her that she “might make a great discovery.”

“Here she is holding up this coin, and she said ‘I don’t think it’s a quarter,’ ” Meide said. “It’s pretty neat.”
Neater still was what volunteer Kyle Lent came across later — two pewter buttons, one with the number 74 at its center. Now researchers will clean the buttons, the coin and two other coins concreted together to see if there are dates or other information on them. The search also is on for the names of those lost ships to see if they can tie in a cargo manifest with the artifacts found so far.

For more information on the program and its archaeology workshops, visit www.staugustinelighthouse.org or visit the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum at 81 Lighthouse Ave.

Source: Jacksonville.com


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