Historic Shipwreck Unearthed in St. Augustine: A Glimpse into the 19th Century

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In a remarkable discovery, construction crews in St. Augustine, Florida, unearthed a nearly intact 19th-century shipwreck, shedding light on a bygone era and offering a tangible connection to the region’s maritime history.

The Discovery

The shipwreck was found during a drainage improvement project on State Road A1A near the iconic Bridge of Lions. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), aware of the historic significance of the area, had preemptively contracted with the archaeology firm SEARCH, Inc. Their foresight proved invaluable when the ship, believed to date back to the mid-to-late 1800s, was found encapsulated in soil and mud, preserving it from decay.

Details of the Ship

The vessel is described as a small single-masted, shallow-draft sailing craft. Such boats were commonly used in the 19th century for extracting fish and shellfish from coastal waterways. The ship’s construction suggests it was a well-built vessel, possibly crafted by the very people who operated it. This discovery provides a rare glimpse into the everyday lives of people from that era, emphasizing the importance of maritime activities in their livelihoods.

Artifacts Unearthed

In addition to the ship itself, various artifacts were discovered that offer insights into the daily lives of its crew. These include the base of a kerosene lamp, two coconut shells fashioned into drinking cups, leather shoes, and 19th-century coins. Such items paint a vivid picture of the life onboard, from the tools they used to the personal belongings they cherished.

Significance of the Find

The discovery of this shipwreck in St. Augustine, the oldest permanent European settlement in the US, is particularly significant. The city, founded in 1565, predates other well-known settlements like Jamestown. This shipwreck adds another layer to the rich tapestry of St. Augustine’s history, emphasizing its maritime heritage.

James Delgado of SEARCH, Inc., who co-led the discovery, eloquently captured the sentiment, stating that the shipwreck serves as a “reminder of everyday people.” He emphasized the hard work and dedication of those who built and operated such vessels, drawing parallels to the challenges and aspirations of people today.

Preservation and Future Plans

Given the shipwreck’s historical importance, efforts are underway to ensure its preservation. The FDOT’s Cultural Resources component of the Environmental Management Office is overseeing the work related to the vessel. As the wood begins to dry, it becomes susceptible to decay, so immediate steps are being taken to stabilize the ship and determine the best methods for its long-term preservation.


The discovery of this 19th-century shipwreck in St. Augustine serves as a poignant reminder of the region’s rich maritime history. As researchers continue to study the vessel and its artifacts, it will undoubtedly offer deeper insights into the lives of those who sailed its waters in the 1800s, bridging the past with the present and ensuring that their stories continue to be told.

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