Story and Images by Michael Salvarezza and Christopher Weaver, (Eco-Photo Explorers)
In October 2022, a piece of wreckage from an old shipwreck washed ashore on Long Island’s Fire Island during Hurricane Ian. Shipwreck historians and local archaeologists studying the wreckage have determined that it dates back to the early 1800s, and that it could very well be a section of the long-lost wreck of the SS Savannah.
The SS Savannah was an American hybrid sailing ship/sidewheel steamer built in 1818. Originally laid down as a sailing packet, the vessel was converted to an auxiliary steamship with the intention of launching the world’s first transatlantic steamship service. On May 11, 1819, while in Georgia, President James Monroe took a ceremonial excursion on the ship in advance of her ground-breaking voyage. Shortly after, on May 24, 1819, the SS Savannah left port at Georgia’s Tybee Island and set out for Liverpool, England. She arrived on June 20, 1819 and became the first steamship to cross the Atlantic. While most of the voyage was performed under sail, roughly 11% of the travel time was accomplished under steam engine power.
Two years later, the SS Savannah was fleeing a Nor’easter when it ran aground trying to enter the Great South Bay on Long Island’s south shore through an inlet that closed in the 1850s. The ship was upright and intact so the captain was able to launch a boat and make it to shore. He was able to summon help from some fishermen and local residents and all passengers and cargo were safely removed over the next few days. Eventually, it settled into the sand and has been lost ever since.
Historians studying the wreckage have concluded that it is likely from the SS Savannah based on construction techniques and the materials used. The wreckage was moved to the grounds of the Fire Island Lighthouse to protect it from the damaging surf on the nearby beach. The intention is to preserve the piece and display it in an appropriate location in the near future.
This story appeared in the
May/Jun 2023 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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