From James D. Spirek:
We completed one week of survey for the remains of the USRC Gallatin during the first week of April. Partners included the USCG, Charleston County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol, City of Charleston Police Department, College of Charleston, Charleston County Public Library, and a USCG volunteer. We conducted magnetometer and side scan sonar operations of two prioritized search areas for the shipwreck. Last minute historical research indicated that the Blake’s Wharf in question, where Gallatin reportedly exploded and sank, was located on the Cooper River, and not on the Ashley River as indicated on the 1788 map of the city. To hedge our bets we undertook survey in both areas—on the Cooper River and the Ashley River. Post-processing of the magnetometer and sonar data indicated a number of anomalies. We prioritized three sonar targets that consisted of mounds or piles in the Cooper River survey area. These are also charted on the NOAA nautical charts. We sent divers down to investigate the acoustic anomalies that were lying in 18 + ft of water. Unfortunately, the divers did not locate the anomalies, although a natural river gravel bed was noted on one dive, and substantial pluff mud on the other. What was interesting about this area was the near sheer drop off from shallow water to approximately 40 ft. to deeper water. On the last day of the project, we had planned with a marine geology professor from the College of Charleston, for sub-bottom profiling (SBP) of the Cooper River survey area, but the forecast of inclement weather that morning scrubbed the survey. Instead we met at the base to discuss the SBP survey plan and in the near future the professor will undertake SBP operations of the prioritized area on the Cooper River. Therefore, at this time we did not locate the remains of Gallatin but made a good start in narrowing down potential targets and survey areas. I am currently post processing and analyzing the data we obtained this week and will plan additional future forays based on this work.
Since our survey work last week, I received the results of the research undertaken by a public historian at the Charleston County Public Library, to ascertain the location of Blake’s Wharf on the Cooper River, the most likely area where Gallatin exploded and sank. According to his research, which included a plat of Blake’s Wharf when it was offered for sale in 1818, the site of the wharf is now under the street of Middle Atlantic Wharf. This is closer to the Old Exchange Building, the wharf approximately 200+ ft. north of the building. The “head” of the wharf is now most likely under the western edge of Waterfront Park. Therefore depending on whether “yards” away or further, the remains of the Gallatin may lie under Waterfront Park. Or if we believe the diving bell constructed for salvage operations the following year was built for greater depth, then perhaps it is still in the river. The 1813 City Directory notes that vessels waiting to receive a berth at a wharf had to anchor approximately 50 fathoms (300 ft) from a wharf head, and if laden and waiting to depart the harbor had to anchor approximately 100 fathoms (600 ft) from the wharves. Perhaps betwixt the two distances lies the Gallatin—if the shorter distance this puts it within the marsh land just east and over the Waterfront Park river wall and if the further distance at the steep drop-off into the river. If the further distance, perhaps this suggests the need for deploying a diving bell to conduct the reported salvage activities on the shipwreck. Coincidentally, the three piles noted on the NOAA nautical charts and our prioritized targets are directly east of the presumed location of Blake’s Wharf.
Our current plans for additional archaeological investigations will occur as opportunity, time, and funds are available. As mentioned above the geology professor will conduct SBP operations off the now refined location of Blake’s Wharf in the immediate future. When other projects bring us to Charleston and during periods of inclement weather that preclude offshore operations, we will conduct additional survey work in the shallows and a little deeper into the river. Again, if in town conducting diving operations offshore and during inclement weather, we will dive on the three or so targets in this area to ascertain the nature of the sonar anomalies. As stated above, if the likelihood remains that the Gallatin is buried under the park, we will also conduct a land magnetometer survey using a Gradiometer and Ground Penetrating Radar, operated by the state archaeologist, who works with me at SCIAA. Additionally, we may also deploy a GPR and operator from a private archaeological contracting firm if they are willing. I have also tasked one of my staff to continue research of the Charleston newspapers to continue developing the historical milieu in which the revenue cutter Gallatin operated in Charleston and South Carolina during the War of 1812. Hopefully, all of these above activities will occur within the year. At that point we will prepare a report that documents our historical research and archaeological investigations as well as to provide recommendations for future archaeological investigations which will depend on the outcome of these ventures.
Again, thank you for your donation and appeal of donations on our behalf for this project. I hope that you may update the FGCH membership on your webpage about our findings and continue the appeal for donations to support the continued search for the remains of the USRC Gallatin. If you have comments, questions, suggestions, etc. about our recently completed or future investigations please contact me.
James D. Spirek
State Underwater Archaeologist
Maritime Research Division
South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology
University of South Carolina