The wreck of a wooden vessel, believed to be the steamship Pentagoet, lies on top of Stellwagen Bank in over 100 feet of water. The Pentagoet was lost off Cape Cod during the Portland Gale in 1898 with 18 officers and crew. The vessel was 128.8 feet long, 23 feet wide, with a depth of hold of 16.7 feet and a gross tonnage of 332 tons. When it sank, the Pentagoet was carrying 150 tons of general freight, including merchandise for the upcoming Christmas holiday. Divers have nicknamed the wreck “toy wreck” or “Christmas wreck” after finding toys on the site; however, recent archaeological investigations yielded no evidence of a cargo.
The steamship Pentagoet (John M. Richardson,
Steamboat Lore of the Penobscot, 1941)
The Pentagoet began life as the wooden-hulled single screw steamship, Hero. The Hero measured 104.4 feet in length, 22.3 feet in breadth, and had a 9.7-foot depth of hold. The vessel’s propulsion system consisted of a single boiler providing steam to a vertical direct-acting steam engine with a 34-inch cylinder diameter and a 32-inch stroke. The steamer had a gross tonnage of 192 tons, two masts, a plumb bow, and a round stern. Built in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1864 for commercial purposes, the U. S. Government purchased the vessel from its owners S. and J. M. Flannagan in July 1864 for use as a coastal patrol boat off Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Renamed the U.S.S. Moccasin, the steamer operated as part of the U. S. Navy until August 1865. In September 1865, the U. S. Treasury Department purchased the steamer for the U. S. Revenue Service. The U. S. R. C. Moccasin was first stationed at Norfolk, Virginia and in 1866 moved to Wilmington, North Carolina. After Wilmington, the Moccasin was stationed in Rhode Island and South Carolina. In the spring of 1881, the Moccasin underwent extensive repairs and refitting at the New York Shipyard of Slater and Reid who lengthened the steamer to 128 feet. Fresh from its repairs, the steamer was rechristened the U. S. R. C. George M. Bibb and dispatched for Detroit, Michigan via the St. Lawrence Seaway. The steamship operated with the U. S. Revenue Service on Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario until 1890 when it was decommissioned. In October 1891 it was sold to G. H. Kimball of Cleveland, Ohio. Following Kimball’s purchase, the vessel underwent another round of shipyard repairs in Cleveland before being sent to the East Coast. Renamed Pentagoet and enrolled out of Belfast, Maine in 1892, the steamer went into service between New York, Massachusetts, and Maine. In 1898 it began running under the flag of the Manhattan Steamship Company.
The U. S. R. C. George M. Bibb on the Great Lakes (courtesy of C. Patrick Labadie)
On its last voyage, the Pentagoet left New York on Thursday, 24 November 1898 and headed for Rockland and then Bangor, Maine in command of Captain Orris R. Ingraham. It was last sighted off Truro, Massachusetts on Saturday afternoon, 26 November. The vessel was never seen again and is believed to have foundered during the high seas and strong winds that began that evening.
Newspaper headlines about the Pentagoet’s loss in
November 1898 (Boston Globe, 1 and 2 December 1898).
The shipwreck is mostly buried in sand up the turn of the bilge. The site’s most prominent features are an iron post projecting 10 feet above the seafloor at its northeast end and a large quantity of iron stud link anchor chain stretched across the site. The anchor chain is wrapped around the base of the iron post and runs though the center of the site and off into the sand. At the site’s southwest end, the chain is threaded through both of the vessel’s hawse pipes. Normally, hawse pipes would indicate the vessel’s bow; however, the splayed out anchor chain suggests that it was drug across the site by a trawl net thereby displacing the hawse pipes. Near to the iron post, archaeologists found a larger anchor mostly buried in the sediment. The proximity of the anchor to the site’s northeast end suggests that the iron post may be a stempost or sampson post.
An iron post (left) and hawse pipes (right) are at opposite ends of the shipwreck (NOAA/SBNMS and NURC-UConn).
Only a small amount of the vessel’s wooden hull is visible above the sand. Portions of the vessel’s keelson protrude from the sand along its center line while frame ends delineate the site’s outline.
Wooden hull remains incude framing and planking
(NOAA/SBNMS and NURC-UConn).
Small amounts of coal were spread widely across the site suggesting its use as a fuel rather than cargo. Before the sanctuary was designated, divers reportedly recovered pieces of a steam engine.
Coal pieces suggest the vessel was equipped with a steam engine
(NOAA/SBNMS and NURC-UConn).
Further archaeological investigation is necessary to conclusively determine whether the shipwreck is indeed the steamship Pentagoet.
Historical research for this section was provided by David Trubey, Deputy Director of the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources and C. Patrick Labadie, Historian at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve.