Many mysterious shipwrecks rest on the bottom of the ocean along the eastern seaboard, but one off the coast of New Jersey has finally been identified. It’s a 153-year-old steamer that is shining a light on a fascinating time in U.S. history.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently identified the shipwrecked steamer as the Robert J. Walker, a survey ship originally responsible for helping to chart the U.S. coast line, according to cDiver.net. The shipwreck site is 85 feet underwater and is frequented by divers.
How Did the Steamer Sink?
The side-wheel steamer sunk on the morning of June 21, 1860, after it was struck by a commercial schooner, the article explained. Twenty sailors drowned in the sinking, the deadliest single incident in the history of the U.S. Coast Survey and NOAA, the agency that succeeded from it.
What Was the Ship’s Purpose?
The Walker was built in 1847 and was originally intended to be a vessel of the U.S. Revenue Service, an organization that later evolved into the U.S. Coast Guard. However, the Walker ended up in the service of the Coast Survey, which was founded by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 to produce the nation’s nautical charts after surveying the coast, the article noted.
This extensive surveying effort picked up steam in a big way as the Civil War approached — after all, the Union needed accurate surveys of harbors that would be strategically vital to the war effort on both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.
Contribution of the NOAA Maritime Heritage Diving Team
In the heat of the Civil War, the Reconstruction that followed and the decades after, the Walker passed out of the memory of most people until it was re-discovered by commercial fisherman in the 1970s. While the shipwreck site was listed on navigation charts, it wasn’t until this year that the shipwreck was fully identified.
The discovery of the steamer’s identity was the result of a private-public collaboration including New Jersey wreck divers, an East Carolina University maritime archaeology student and a retired NOAA Corps captain. A NOAA ship that was dispatched to the area to conduct post-Hurricane Sandy surveys helped locate the shipwreck using sophisticated sonar while the NOAA Maritime heritage diving team, also in the area for a mission pertaining to Hurricane Sandy, made the final identification.
The biggest clues in the identification of the shipwreck were the iron hull, unique engines, rectangular portholes, and location, the article revealed.
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(Photo via www.NauticalCharts.noaa.gov)
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