Steamer Nevada

914 Gross Tons 
160 feet Length, 32 feet Beam, 17 feet Deep 
Owner: Frances Alexander and Sons, New York, NY
Builder: Maxon, Fish and Company, Mystic Connecticut 

Stranded on Diamond Shoals, June 4th, 1868; Sunk June 6th, 1868 several miles to the Southwest

Depth 75 feet

The Wooden-Hulled Steamer Nevada was built in Mystic, Connecticut, USA, for the company of Wakeman, Gookin and Dickerson and launched on September 5th, 1864.  The Steamer Nevada had a large vertical single cylinder steam engine that turned a single screw propeller but she also carried the sail plan of a Brig.  She was immediately put into service hauling materials for the Federal Government in support of the Union Forces fighting the Civil War, for which she earned $411 per day for her owners.  This service continued until the end of the war and then the Nevada made regular runs between New York and Savannah, Georgia, carrying general cargo.  

The New York and Mexican Mail Steamship Line acquired the steamer in 1866 and operated her until she was sold to the company of Francis Alexander and Sons on April 24th, 1868.  No doubt that the new owners had great plans for the future of the Nevada and expected to make a good profit from operating her.   However, that was not to be as she left their service just six weeks later.

The Nevada left New York City on June 3rd, 1868, bound for Vera Cruz via Havana, Cuba, with a full load of general cargo and several passengers.  Her route from New York would of course take her South along the coast and eventually past Cape Hatteras.  On the next day, June 4th, she was sailing along in a thick fog when at midnight she suddenly grounded on the Diamond Shoals, just off the Cape Hatteras shore.  During the night the ship pounded hard on the shoal due to the heavy swell that was running and it became apparent to the crew that the ship was no longer the place to be.   The boats were lowered and the passengers landed on the nearby beach.  In an effort to kedge the ship free of the sandy shoal the crew ran out the anchors  and attempted to lighten the ship by tossing much of the cargo overboard.  The seas had not subsided and the crew soon discovered that the ship was leaking badly and now a great deal of water was in the hold, so they abandon their attempts and made for shore.  An article in the June 10th, 1868, Norfolk Journal and republished by the New York Times on June 12 reported that during the ordeal one of the seaman had lost their life by the upsetting of a boat, but all six passengers and the 19 other crewmembers survived the stranding.  (View the NY Times article here).

The Wrecking Steamer Resolute, commanded by Captain Stoddard, was immediately sent down from Norfolk, VA, to save the Nevada.  However, the rising seas  forced the abandoned Nevada across the shoals into deeper water the very next day.  She floated to the South for several miles, but with her bilges broken open she sunk to the bottom leaving only the tops of her masts showing.   This was the condition that the Wrecker Resolute and another Wrecking Steamer, the Winants, found the Nevada in when they located her due South of the Hatteras Lighthouse.  The wreck and her cargo were declared a total loss and this loss was recorded in the American Lloyd's of London wreck registry for the year of her sinking as valued at over $200,000 (in 1868 $).  An investigation into the disaster determined the shipwreck was caused by foggy weather, strong current, an error in the compass and the negligence of the master for not taking soundings.  The master of the Nevada, Captain W. Megill, had his master's license revoked "for want of due precaution" and the new owners of the Nevada lost the use of their just purchased vessel.  

View from the Starboard side of the Nevada, Dive Hatteras photoDiving the Shipwreck

The Nevada sits in the same position she was last seen in by those who came to try and salvage her in 1868 - on the bottom about 7 miles due south of the Cape Hatteras Light, just a few miles offshore of the Frisco area.  Her masts no longer protrude from the surface and in fact most of her wooden parts are long gone to the sea but the remains still sit upright on the sea floor.  A small ship when she went down, her decay has made her a difficult target for most boats to find due to her compact size and lack of large structure.  However, the wreck site is still well defined by one of her most unique features, a very tall single cylinder steam engine.  This single cylinder engine rises more than 20 feet from the bottom and is the most dominant feature of the wreck site.  It sits very close to what was the stern of the vessel, connected to the remnants of the fantail by a very short propeller shaft that is still directly connected to the steel/iron four bladed propeller.  


Twin boilers of the Nevada. Dive Hatteras photoJust forward of the engine lay two rather small square boilers that supplied the propulsion steam.  The outer casings have all but fallen away and the inner steam tubes are held tightly together by concretion.  Just forward of the boilers is a stack of railroad rails and other debris that creates a very small debris field which then vanishes into the sand.  The Nevada, being constructed mainly of wood, has for the most part disappeared leaving only the heavy machinery and some of her cargo behind.  There is no hint of the bow section or any of her other structures, masts or rigging.  

Diver at the propeller of the Nevada. Dive Hatteras photoThe entire wreck site can be swam in less than ten minutes and does not provide the relief and great visual drama of most of the other Hatteras area sites.  She also sits in an area known as the "bad bottom" since in this region just South of the shoals the sands are muddier than we find at other sites.  This often results in lower visibilities of 30 to 40 feet at this site and sometimes less than that.  Since the wreck is not particularly picturesque and the viz often not stellar, the Nevada has gained a reputation as a "diggin wreck" or one that you go to to search for artifacts.    The site has produced some very good finds over the years and in fact was originally often referred to as "The Urn Wreck" for the earthen wear urns that have been recovered from the muddy sands.  The urns are slightly smaller in size than a five gallon bucket and have a somewhat cylindrical shape with a fairly tight fitting lid.  Pieces of them are often found around the wreck site as well as many other small artifacts to include other ceramic items, brass lantern pieces, rifle and gun remnants and other general merchandise.    

The wreck's identity was believed to be the Nevada from researching the Lloyd's reports and matching the configuration of the machinery to vessels lost on Hatteras.  Some uninformed diver named the wreck site the "Unis" and that name was in general use for several years.  But the "Unis" identification was far from positive and not based upon facts.  The wreck was positively identified as the Nevada when local Hatteras diver Steve Lang discovered a small pewter spoon which had the name "Nevada" embossed in the handle.  This artifact along with the engine configuration made the identity of the wreck positively known. 

Diver at the top of the Nevada engine. DiveHatteras photo

The high value placed on this wreck at the time of her loss has led divers to believe there must have been cargo onboard far more valuable than common brass lantern parts and the other general merchandise they had been finding.  Several seasons ago a private dive boat spent most of the Summer at this site digging around for "treasure".  However, there is no great treasure of gold or silver at the Nevada just some interesting trinkets and a shipwreck history to be learned.  Forward of the ship's boilers and slightly off to the starboard side the remains of a small round boiler is located.  Nearby this small boiler are several large round disks which at first appear to be nothing of significance.  But after much examination and some thought, they will reveal themselves to be large train car wheels and the clue to why this wreck had such great value at the time of her loss.  The round boiler and wheels along with some large framing and two steam pistons belong to the remnants of a steam locomotive, which in the 1800's was a very expensive and valuable object indeed. 

The Nevada is not known as one of the better Hatteras area sites, but she is worth at least a dive to visit an old steamer wreck to view the unusual engine and other items of interest there.  Besides, you might get lucky, find some treasure, and prove me wrong. 

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