Uncovering a Shipwreck

Our recent nor’easter uncovered a skeletal shipwreck on Short Sands Beach in my hometown of York, Maine, and I dispatched my parents to take pictures almost as soon as the skies cleared, knowing that our mercurial weather could result in its resubmergence at any time. This particular shipwreck has actually appeared several times over the last fifty years or so, but this time it attracted a lot of attention, both locally and nationally. Many of the stories referred to it as the remains of a “revolutionary era” ship, but the most recent report, based on empirical mapping and sampling by an archaeologist for the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and past research, indicates that the ship might have been a pre-revolutionary “pinky” sloop named the Industry, which ran aground in York with a southbound cargo of lumber in October or November of 1769. The source for this information is a retired York police officer named Barry Higgins, who became curious about the shipwreck after its appearance in the 1980s. And where did Mr. Higgins go to research this wreck? Why the Phillips Library of course, which was/is not only the major repository of local and family history in our city and region, but also of maritime history. At that time, it was open and accessible, and Mr. Higgins found the reference to the Industry in the journal of York notary public Daniel Moulton: for which we can all see a description in the digitized catalog, but not much more than that.

Shipwreck long beach

Shipwreck SS2

Shipwreck SS4

Shipwreck SS3The Short Sands Shipwreck last week.

First impressions are of the remains of a relatively small ship, yet the national reports immediately went naval: the Washington Post consulted with a Naval History and Heritage Command official who consulted a database of 2,500 shipwrecks but was unable to find any records indicating it was an American sloop. But Mr. Higgins knew just where to go thirty years ago, to Salem’s Phillips Library, a well-known repository of maritime history. All of these records are now removed from their natural foundation, en route to Rowley (or perhaps already there in their boxes), and hopefully the state of Maine will have enough sway to gain access so that the identity of this slippery sloop can be verified, again and once and for all.

Shipwreck gone2

Shipwreck gone The Short Sands Shipwreck yesterday–gone but not forgotten.

SHipwreck last

3 responses to “Uncovering a Shipwreck

  • Peg Harrington

    Thanks for dogging this issue, and for the tie in to our maritime history. I have had a thought, perhaps a fantasy, that the collections of the Library might possible be moved to that magnificent red brick (empty) courthouse on the corner of Washington and Bridge St.? Surely, the building needs restoration, but what an opportunity to save it, and to make the Phillips collections accessible to researchers and visitors alike!

    • daseger

      That would a dream, Peg! Several people have mentioned that–perhaps a long-term goal: a real Salem History museum & historical society in that gorgeous building!

  • Cecilia Mary Gunther

    Great shots Mum and Dad! How interesting that it keeps re-emerging like that – a ghost And (being the daughter of a boat builder) I love a good wreck – those wonderful bones. I hear you about the records too – let’s hope they are very well catalogued with origins so you do get them all back when you can. I know it looks like a long shot at the moment but things change fast in this country. You never know. c

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