Saturday, January 8, 2011

Pieces of boat that could date to Civil War discovered on Hilton Head

By Tom Barton, Island Packet

Coastal waters uncovered a potential piece of Civil-War-era history found last week by a visiting diplomat on a Hilton Head Island beach.

Sea Pines resident Sally Peterson was walking on the beach in Sea Pines with her brother, Peter Thomson, who was visiting for the holidays. Thomson is a Fiji diplomat and his country's permanent representative to the UN.

During their walk, Thomson discovered what appears to be the ribs of an old wooden boat protruding from thick mud, like bones in a partially uncovered grave, on a shell beach opposite the 18th tee at the Harbour Town Golf Links.

An 8-to-10-foot portion is exposed, including holes for the wooden pegs that held the boat together and what Peterson believes are ballast stones in the hull's remains.

The rest of the boat is buried in mud. "It must have been preserved because of that," Peterson speculated.

"It became obvious from looking at it that it was an old boat," she said. "It looked like something that was being unearthed by the water. It was obviously something special."

Pictures of the wreck were shown to a local boat builder, who said the boat dates from the late 1800s to early 1900s, Peterson said.

Peterson said Indian pottery sherds have been found along the beach, but she never expected to stumble across something as substantial as the remains of a boat.

"We're very interested to find out what it was about -- how big it is, how old it is and what it was used for," she said. "Finding out that information will be exciting. This was a wonderful find."

Peterson said an attempt to contact the S.C. Institute of Archeology and Anthropology at USC was unsuccessful because officials were on vacation. The institute serves as the state's cultural resource management agency.
State archeologist Jonathan Leader said he has not seen the boat or been contacted about it. Based on its description, it could date to the Civil War, he said.

"Finding something like this along the beach is not unusual. South Carolina was very active in coastal shipping, fishing and maritime travel," Leader said.