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Shipwreck debris found on Fire Island may be from historic ship that disappeared in 1821



A piece of debris recently found along the coast of Fire Island in New York may be a part of a historically significant vessel that was lost in the area in 1821.

The SS Savannah was the first hybrid steam-sail ship in the United States. Built in 1818, it first set sail on May 22, 1819, becoming the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. National Maritime Day is still celebrated on that date. The innovation of a hybrid steam-powered sailboat was an important advancement in maritime technology. The ship wrecked off the coast of Fire Island in 1821 and the crew abandoned the vessel.

The hunk of wooden debris pulled out of the water measures about 13 by 13 feet, and features elements of architecture consistent with shipbuilding in and around 1820. Thick wooden pegs called trenails were a common feature of shipbuilding at the time, measuring about 1 to 1.5 inches. The debris contains these trenails as well as iron rods that were used to hold the planks of ships together. 

The National Parks Service has confirmed the SS Savannah is the most likely source of the debris. Ira Breskin, a senior lecturer at SUNY, told The Associated Press, “It’s plausible, and it’s important, and it’s living history if the scientists confirm that it is what we think it is.” The National Parks Service says the debris could be an important piece of research history. “Interpretation of the wreckage may potentially explore such topics as seafaring and navigation, the role of the United States Life Saving Service in the rescue and salvage of wrecked ships, goods, crews, and passengers, and the environmental changes that cause such wrecks to be buried and later exposed,” the NPS said.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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