Monday, December 06, 2004


Excavation of SS Republic leads to treasure trove


MDJ online
December 6, 2004

The wreck of the SS Republic off the coast of Georgia is a virtual gold and silver mine.The sidewheel steamer, once a Confederate and then Union warship, sank about 100 miles from the Georgia shore in October 1865.The Republic had sailed from New York bound for New Orleans, reportedly carrying $400,000 in specie at 1865 face value.

It was a prize worth pursuing, but not until 2003 did treasure-hunting Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. locate the shipwreck lying 1,700 feet deep in the Gulf Stream. The company won title and ownership of the wreck, its cargo, the gold, silver and other treasure.

Last week, Odyssey announced it had completed inspecting and excavating in the main area of the wreck.More than 51,000 gold and silver coins have been recovered, including $20 Double Eagles, $10 Eagles, silver half dollars and quarter dollars, most of them minted between the 1840s and 1865. Estimated retail value should exceed $75 million, according to Odyssey. In addition, more than 13,000 artifacts, including 6,300 bottles, have been recovered.

The coins recovered so far represent only about 25 percent of the total gold and silver that research indicates the Republic was carrying, according to Odyssey.

Now the focus shifts to the debris trail created when the ship broke apart in sinking to the ocean floor. Greg Stemm, co-founder of Odyssey, said in a statement last week that searchers had not found the purser's safe or any other safe.

"It leads us to theorize that it may have fallen off when the main deck cabins, which we believe housed the purser's office, were detached from the main deck," he said. "We hope that we can follow the debris field to the spot where all the artifacts from those main deck cabins should be lying." He said some "interesting artifacts" have already been found in the debris field, adding: "Now we plan on following them like a trail of bread crumbs."

This improbable saga began in 1853 when the ship was launched as the SS Tennessee, 210 feet long by 34 feet wide, driven by one huge piston that powered two 28-foot iron sidewheels. The ship could carry 100 passengers and 5,000 barrels of cargo.

After her early days shuttling between Baltimore and Charleston, the Tennessee made a successful transatlantic voyage, then was sold twice, first outfitted to haul California Gold Rush miners and then engaged in taking soldiers of fortune to fight in Nicaragua.

When the Civil War started, the Confederate Navy impounded the Tennessee and used her as a blockade runner. She was captured by the Yankees, then after being damaged in a gale, was sold to a New York shipper that renamed her the SS Republic.

On the last, fateful voyage from New York, the Republic stalled without power in a hurricane and went down on the afternoon of October 25, 1865, taking her treasure to the bottom of the Atlantic.

But only for 139 years.

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