Rare pistol found in 18th c. St. Augustine shipwreck

Archaeologists from the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) in St. Augustine, Florida, brought a couple dozen artifacts recovered from an unidentified shipwreck to the Flagler Hospital Imaging Center for CAT scans. The objects are heavily concreted — surrounded by a hard mass that grows around metallic objects rusting for long periods underwater — so archaeologists needed the scans to find out what was inside before beginning the long process of removing the concretions.

Concretion with pistol insideOne of them showed itself to be a rare gentleman’s pocket pistol also known as a Queen Anne’s pistol. That style of weapon was popular from the late 17th century through the beginning of the 19th. It was a personal sidearm, not something that would have been military issue or part of the ship’s defenses. Archaeologists at this stage believe the barrel is brass, the handle wood with some silver inlay. The weapon does not appear to be loaded, but we won’t know for sure until LAMP restores the pistol which could take as long as a year and a half.

CAT scan of concretion with pistol insideArchaeologists think there’s a good chance they’ll also find the maker’s name engraved on the side of the gun, which will not only flush out the history of the weapon itself, but also help date the wreck and pinpoint its origin.

“In so many ways this is exciting,” Lighthouse Archaeological Director Chuck Meide said, noting it’s only the second colonial period shipwreck found in this area. The other, Industry, was found by LAMP in 1997.

The shipwreck may be the oldest found in the waters off the First Coast, dating back to some time in the second half of the 1700s. Four cauldrons found onboard date to the 1740-1780 period.

Once the artifacts are cleaned, more details will be apparent.

“That could narrow it down. We’re just seeing it in a very ghostlike way now,” Meide said.

Archaeologists will be checking a data base of shipwrecks off the First Coast, trying to match the ship they found with one of the 30 or so listed wrecks from the 1700s. They may get lucky and discover something with the ship’s name on it.

Other artifacts found clumped together under concretions were large amounts of bird shot, an iron spike and a metal disk that archaeologists hope is a coin because it would be of great help in narrowing down the wreck.