Divers find proof that shipwreck off NC coast is steamship that sank in 1838

(Blue Water Ventures International video via WTVD)

Divers have found proof that a shipwreck off the North Carolina coast is a steamship that sank in 1838.

A candlestick recovered from the wreck site bears the name of the ship - "SB Pulaski," for Steam Boat Pulaski - on its bottom, Keith Webb of recovery firm Blue Water Ventures International told The Charlotte Observer on Wednesday.

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"This is a game changer. I have believed for so long we were in the right spot, and there's nothing like the feeling of having something like this confirmed," Webb said.

Dr. Joseph Schwarzer, director of the North Carolina Maritime Museums, was among the historians waiting for Webb to prove he was in the right spot. Schwarzer was hoping for the ship's bell, but he says a candlestick with the ship's name is just as good.

"That really is a smoking gun," Schwarzer said. "It's like finding proof of something which was not just history, but almost legendary. This is empirical evidence. The wreck is no longer folklore, on the pages of a book. There is an actually object that proves it is out there."

The wreck is 40 miles (65 kilometers) off the coast, more than 10 miles (15 kilometers) farther out to sea than historians originally believed the Pulaski went down.

A 1919 account in "The Georgia Historical Quarterly" said a boiler explosion caused the ship to split in half. The Pulaski had sailed from Savannah, Georgia, on June 13, 1838, and reached Charleston, South Carolina, that same day, according to the quarterly entry written by an unidentified man described as a survivor. The ship was bound for Baltimore when it sank, killing about half of the 200 people aboard.

Schwarzer says historians want to know whether the boiler really caused the Pulaski to sink or whether there was another reason.

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