The Ship that Nearly Sank America

On September 3, 1857, the SS Central America left the port of Colón, Panama, en route to New York City. It never arrived. What happened to it? And how did this ship’s failure to reach its destination nearly ruin the United States of America?

The Lost Treasure of the SS Central America?

The SS Central America was a side-wheel steamship that sailed routes between Central America and the east coast of the United States. In 1857, fifteen tons of gold were prospected in California and shipped to Panama via the SS Sonora. Since the Panama Canal was not yet in existence, the enormous gold shipment was transported by train across the country and reloaded onto the Central America.

As the Central America sailed towards New York City, it initially encountered few difficulties. But all that changed on September 9. While sailing off the coast of North Carolina, the steamship found itself engulfed by a Category 2 hurricane. The crew, under the direction of Captain William Lewis Herndon, fought mightily to stave off disaster. But eventually, the hull cracked, sending the gold and over four hundred people to the bottom of the ocean.

The SS Central America and the Panic of 1857?

According to historian Bray Hammond, the ship’s gold represented more than 20% of Wall Street’s gold reserves at the time. As such, the news of the shipwreck caused major financial ramifications throughout the United States.

Early in 1857, agriculture and other industries began drawing against their bank deposits, putting increased pressure on banking gold reserves. The New York Office of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company failed. Other New York banks followed suit as they found themselves unable to pay employees or creditors. A delay in gold shipments from California only added to the bleak situation. And when the SS Central America sank, it ended the last hope of New York bankers to stave off a major financial crash. The Panic of 1857, as it is known today, was perhaps the worst economic depression of the 1800’s. Some historians even consider it a major factor behind the Civil War.

Salvaging the SS Central America?

On September 11, 1987, one hundred and thirty years after the sinking of the SS Central America, the Columbus-America Discovery Group located the wreck in 8,000 feet of water using an ROV. Led by engineer Tommy Thompson, the Group excavated gold in the amount of $100-$150 million dollars. This haul included an eighty-pound ingot, which at that time was determined to be the most expensive piece of currency in the entire world.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The sinking of the SS Central America was one of the greatest maritime disasters in history. It caused over four hundred deaths and caught off all hope of quickly ending the Panic of 1857. The Panic, in turn, helped bring the country one step closer to a full-blown Civil War. The Central America is not widely known today. But in my opinion, it deserves to be recognized as one of the most significant shipwrecks in American history.

The Lost Fleet of Captain Morgan?

Captain Henry Morgan was one of the most successful privateers of all time. In 1671, while conducting a shocking raid on Panama City, he lost five ships to the raging waters of the Caribbean.  Now, divers believe that they have located this lost fleet. Just who was Captain Morgan? And how did his raid single-handedly change the world?

Who was Captain Henry Morgan?

Henry Morgan was born in Wales in 1635. While early accounts of his life are conflicting, we do know that he was commanding his own ship by the age of 30. Soon after, he took on the role of privateer, or a government-sanctioned pirate, similar to the infamous Captain Kidd. Outfitted with letters of marque from Britain, he began a series of daring raids that rocked Spain’s tenuous grip on the New World.

Captain Henry Morgan invades Panama?

In late 1670, Captain Henry Morgan assembled a mighty fleet of thirty-six ships and some 2,000 men and turned his sights towards Panama City. At that time, Panama City was the richest city in the Americas, thanks to seemingly endless loads of Inca gold appropriated by the Spanish conquistadors. It was also considered invincible, thanks to heavy fortifications facing the Pacific Ocean and miles of thick jungle separating it from the Caribbean Sea. Undeterred, Henry Morgan sailed to the Chagres River and captured Castillo de San Lorenzo. In the process, he lost five vessels, including his flagship, which underwater archaeologists believe they have now located.

Afterwards, Captain Morgan divided his 1,400 remaining men and marched through the Panama Isthmus. He caught the Spanish defenders by surprise, outflanked their counterattack, and seized the city. He spent several weeks in Panama and eventually left with 175 mules loaded with gold, silver, and jewelry. The haul was relatively light due to the fact that a few treasure-laden Spanish vessels managed to flee the harbor. However, since Henry Morgan paid his men just ten pounds apiece for their help in the raid, many researchers speculate that he took the rest of the treasure for himself and hid it before returning to Jamaica.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

According to Stephan Talty’s excellent book, Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan’s Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws’ Bloody Reign, Captain Henry Morgan’s raid on Panama City led to more than a possible lost treasure. It also changed the course of history, helping to bring about the end of the Spanish Empire and the “Old World”, which had been driven by religion, laws, and birthrights. The British Empire and a “New World”, driven by money, free trade, and democracy, would rise in its wake. In that respect, Captain Morgan remains one of the least known, yet most influential people in modern history.

“Morgan had helped, in his own way, point a path toward the future. Some historians have even argued that without Morgan the Spanish would have been able to settle and defend Florida more vigorously and even extend their control along the Gulf Coast, creating an impregnable empire stretching to Texas. Without him, who knows what the map of the Caribbean and even of the United States might look like. He battled a divine empire on behalf of men interested in trade and gold and rational society (but certainly not freedom for every member, as the pirates had insisted on). The next great world empire, the British, would be a mercantile, not a religious, one. The world had turned Morgan’s way, and he’d nudged it along.” ~ Stephan Talty, Empire of Blue Water

The Lost Treasure of Charles Dickens’s Shipwreck

On October 25, 1859, the Royal Charter crashed into rocks off the coast of Wales during a horrendous hurricane. With over 450 lives lost, it remains one of the biggest maritime disasters in history. Charles Dickens himself visited the site and wrote about it in his short-story collection, The Uncommercial Traveller. The other day, divers shocked the world when they announced the discovery of treasure while searching the shipwreck.  How much did they find? And is there more?

The Royal Charter Disaster

In late 1859, a steam clipper by the name of Royal Charter set sail from Melbourne, Australia to Liverpool, England in what should’ve been a sixty day journey. Historians estimate that it carried 371 passengers, 112 crew members, and other employees. As the ship rounded Anglesey, a force 12 hurricane struck the area.

Powerful wind slammed into the ship. Massive waves crested against its side. The crew attempted to anchor but the chains snapped. As the gusts drove the Royal Charter towards shore, the crew cut the masts and revved the steam engines. But it was to no avail. After crashing into rocks, gigantic waves, driven by one hundred mile winds, battered the Royal Charter into pieces. Twenty-one passengers and eighteen crew members, all men, survived. The rest, an estimated 459 people, perished in the destruction.

Charles Dickens & The Royal Charter

At the height of his fame, the author Charles Dickens visited the site and reported on the tragedy. His words, initially published in his magazine All the Year Round, helped memorialize the horrible disaster.

So tremendous had the force of the sea been when it broke the ship, that it had beaten one great ingot of gold, deep into a strong and heavy piece of her solid iron-work: in which also several loose sovereigns that the ingot had swept in before it, had been found, as firmly embedded as though the iron had been liquid when they were forced there. – Charles Dickens

Lost Treasure on the Royal Charter?

Recently, a team of divers led by Vincent Thurkettle announced the discovery of over two hundred artifacts as well as substantial amounts of gold dust, nuggets, and coins. It turns out that some of the passengers who sailed on the Royal Charter‘s last voyage were gold miners. At the time of the storm, they carried over 79,000 ounces of gold. Today, this treasure is estimated to be worth about $125 million dollars.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The Royal Charter‘s story is a sad one. Ordinary people as well as miners who’d struck it rich were on the verge of returning home after a long, two-month voyage. But with just a few hours to go, a vicious, merciless storm ended most of their lives and forever changed those of the survivors. However, it wasn’t all for naught. The destruction of the clipper led to the first gail warning system, improved weather forecasting, and the development of other safety measures.

Today, the remains of the Royal Charter lay under ten to fifteen feet of water, a solemn reminder of nature’s fury. It is believed that about twenty percent of the ship’s gold remains with the wreck. If so, then close to twenty-five million dollars of treasure, buried under a thin layer of sand, still waits to be recovered.

Lost Secrets of the Ancient Physicians?

In 1974, divers discovered a 2,000 year old trading vessel near the port of Piombino in Tuscany, Italy. Fifteen years later, a medical kit was located amongst the wreckage. And just last week, DNA sequencing allowed scientists to analyze the kit’s contents and, in effect, crack open some of the ancient secrets of the ancient physicians. So, what did they find?

Ancient Secrets of Ancient Physicians

The trading vessel in question sank sometime around 130 BC in sixty feet of water. It measured about fifty feet long and was used to transport large jars of wine, glassware, ceramics, and oil lamps. However, to modern archaeologists, its most significant holding isn’t the cargo but rather, a simple wooden chest.

The chest held a variety of medical supplies, including spatulas, suction cups, a mortar and pestle, as well as one hundred and thirty-six tin-lined, sealed wooden vials. Ancient pills were found inside these vials.

The pills contained ground-up plants and herbs such as celery, onions, carrots, cabbage, alfalfa, and chestnuts. Separate extracts of parsley, nasturtium, radish, yarrow, and hibiscus were also discovered. Researchers believe that the pills were either taken orally or dissolved and rubbed on cuts and infections. Interestingly enough, the various ingredients match those recorded in ancient Greek and Roman texts.

The plants and vegetables were probably crushed with a mortar and pestle – we could still see the fibres in the tablets. They also contained clay, which even today is used to treat gastrointestinal problems. – Dr. Alain Touwaide, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

The pills represent the “oldest known archaeological remains of ancient pharmaceuticals.” And as stated by Dr. Touwaide, they were most likely used to treat gastrointestinal disorders such as dysentery and diarrhea.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The DNA analysis of this lost medical kit represents a significant breakthrough. It has already shed much light on the ailments facing ancient sailors as well as the treatments devised to deal with those ailments. We have only touched the tip of the iceberg of ancient medical knowledge. But as the kit and other discoveries like it yield new information, we will continue to unearth lost secrets…the lost secrets of the ancient physicians.

The Lost Treasure of the Atocha

A few days ago, Mel Fisher’s Treasure announced the discovery of a $500,000 emerald ring, two silver spoons, and other artifacts.  It is the latest haul from the 1622 shipwreck of the Spanish Galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha.  And it could lead to one of the greatest lost treasures of all time.

The Lost Atocha?

The Atocha is one of a fleet of Spanish Galleons that sank off the Florida Keys during a hurricane in 1622.  It lay untouched for over three centuries.  Then, on July 20, 1985, Mel Fisher discovered the wreck and in the process, uncovered one of the largest treasures of all time.  All told, the “Atocha Motherlode” was estimated at $450 million (in 1985!).  And amazingly, that’s only half of it.

A whole other treasure still lies out there, waiting to be discovered.  You see, the Atocha broke apart during the hurricane, causing the stern castle to separate from the rest of the ship.  Centuries of currents and storms drove them even further apart.  According to Sean Fisher, the ship’s manifest indicates that the stern castle could contain at least “100,000 coins, 400 silver bars, and personal jewelry.”  And that doesn’t include any treasures that were deliberately left off the manifest by clergy and nobility who wanted to avoid taxes.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Mel Fisher, who searched for the Atocha for sixteen years, was well-known for his motto, “Today’s the Day.”  If Sean Fisher and his fellow divers have anything to say about it, “Today” could soon turn out to be a lifetime instead.

HT: Thanks to the Guerrilla Dad for providing the idea behind this article!