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The 1700s Brown’s Ferry boat, oldest American built vessel yet discovered

Posted By ShoutCarolina,Date: 01.13.2011

When the Brown’s Ferry Vessel was discovered on the bottom of Black River in 1976 it was considered the most important nautical discovery in the United States.

Built in the 1700s, the wooden merchant boat is the oldest American-built vessel, Early colonial ferry sailed from Black River to Charleston about 50 years older than the Revolutionary War gundalow Philadelphia.

The 50 foot vessel was flat bottomed, had no keel and could carry a freight load of up to 30 tons.

Hull damage from teredo worms suggests the river vessel also operated along the Carolina coast.

The small cargo boat carried commodities produced on local plantations on all the rivers in Georgetown County, and to Charleston, at the time the richest city in the colonies. When she sank in the Black River the boat was carrying a load of bricks…

The museum features a model of the Brown’s Ferry Vessel built by J. Richard Steffy of the Institute of Nautical Archeology at Texas A&M to assist with the reconstruction of the original hull. The model is scaled 1:10 and is complete even to the axe marks.

J. Richard Steffy 1700s American wooden ship model

In 1990, preservation of the Brown’s Ferry vessel was completed at the University of South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology in Columbia. Rice Museum roof was removed to install the 18 century vessel

The boat traveled back to Georgetown County to its new home, the Kaminski Hardware Building located inside the Rice Museum.

Once the rood was removed from the building, the boat was lowered onto the 3rd floor with a crane.

Experts used 3,000 stainless steel pins to reattach portions of the boat that have dismantled during recovery.

The most important artifact recovered from Brown’s Ferry Vessel is the Davis Quadrant, the first example of its kind found in the United States. The Quadrant is in remarkable condition with visible calibration marks despite spending almost 250 years in the Black River!

Designed by John Davis of England in 1595, the instrument measured angles for surveying, astronomy and navigation. 16th century navigational tool discovered in South Carolina
Sailors could determine their latitude by finding the angle of the sun above the horizon without having to stare directly into it.

The device consisted of a rod with two circular arcs. The top arc measured angles from 0 to 60 degrees, while the bottom one did 0 to 30 degrees. Both arcs have the same center, and each has a movable sight. Since it could measure an arc of only 90 degrees it was replaced by the sextant, which could measure 180 degrees.

Archaeologists found it usual to discover a Davis Quadrant on this small freighter. Only seafaring vessels required such navigational tools. This may be further evidence that Brown’s Ferry Vessel ventured all the way to Charleston.

Here is the Brown’s Ferry Vessel anchor…only 300 years old…

Colonial built ships artifacts at Rice Museum in Georgetown

Other recovered artifacts include bottles, ropes, weights, pins, tobacco pipes, spoons, plates, buckles, and pins. They all paint a lively picture of early colonial life along the South Carolina coast.

Pre Revolutionary War artifacts discovered on sunken ship

Visit the Rice Museum downtown Georgetown to admire this American maritime treasure, learn about the 18th century “Carolina Gold”, the world’s largest rice industry and about legendary African-American figures, Ms. Ruby and Joseph Hayne Rainey.

Old Market Kaminski Hardware Building

The Rice Museum is located at the Town Clock and is open Monday to Saturday 10AM to 4:30PM. Admission is $7 adults, $5 seniors, $3 students (6-21) and free for kids under 6.


Step back in time in beautiful Georgetown, the 3rd oldest city in South Carolina!

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    4 Responses to “The 1700s Brown’s Ferry boat, oldest American built vessel yet discovered”

    1. Fun things to do with kids around Myrtle Beach for under $10 « Shout About South Carolina Travel, Family Attractions and Free Things to Do Says:

      [...] Admire the Brown’s Ferry Vessel, the oldest American-built wooden boat, located inside the Rice Museum in Georgetown (~40 minutes [...]

    2. Look Up and On! The amazing Mrs. Ruby Forsythe, most inspiring African-American teacher in South Carolina « Shout About South Carolina Travel, Family Attractions and Free Things to Do Says:

      [...] teacher, mentor and inspiration to thousands of children in the South Carolina Lowcountry. The Rice Museum in Georgetown features an impressive exhibit dedicated to prominent local African-American heroes. Museum [...]

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