Thursday, October 19, 2017

Coast Survey, 1806

In 1806 US Representative Samuel W. Dana (Conn.), introduced a resolution instructing the House of Representatives’ Committee of Commerce and Manufactures to “inquire into the expediency of making provision for a survey of the coasts of the United States, designating the several islands, with the shoals and roads, or places of anchorage, within twenty leagues of any part of the shores of the United States.”

In the debate that ensued, Mr. Dana made this report:

"In 1802, an act was passed, authorizing a survey of Long Island Sound. In pursuance of that act, the Secretary of the Treasury caused a survey to be taken by two men, who appear to have been, what the act intended, intelligent and proper persons. And there has since been published a chart of the Sound, handsomely executed, on a large scale, which must, I presume, be regarded as convenient and valuable by those concerned in that branch of navigation.

"At the last session of Congress, an act was passed for another survey. It made provision for surveying the coast of North Carolina between Cape Hatteras and Cape Fear, with the shoals lying off or between those capes. I understand that measures have been taken for executing this act, but that the vessel employed in the service, and all the papers respecting the survey which had been made, had been lost near Ocracoke Inlet, in one of the desolating storms experienced on the coast in the course of the present year."

Dana must have been referring to the great storm of October, 1806. Among a number of vessels sunk, wrecked, or dismasted at Ocracoke was the Governor Williams. The following account was reported in The Wilmington Gazette, October 14, 1806:

"I have now to add, to the tale of destruction, the total loss of the immensely valuable, philosophical and mathematical instruments of Col Tatham, he yesterday put them on board the Governor Williams, for the purpose of having them conveyed to Newbern, and they are now buried with her in two fathom water...."

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter highlights several noteworthy staircases in historic island homes. To read the newsletter, and see photos, click here:


  1. Anonymous9:04 AM

    So many chilling images from the past of tall ships run aground are seen after a simple internet query. I however was unable to locate a listing of shipwrecks which mention the Gov Williams. Now a days one most often reads about raggedy unseaworthy "vessels" overbooked with dehydrated passengers jumping ship upon landfall to seek asylum in another nation. Victims of lies, escaping a life of misery and thus willing to gamble their life savings on an uncertain future. But I did read the 1996 discovery of the Queen Anne's Revenge had a syringe on board- for a specific purpose. Ouch!

    1. The story of the Governor Williams is told in Sonny Williamson's book, "Shipwrecks of Ocracoke Island," pp. 20-21 (The October 1806 Storm), and in David Stick's book, "The Outer Banks of North Carolina," p. 81.

    2. Anonymous9:01 AM

      I am a bit confused. If one reads this blog entry one may think everything went down with the ship. However after an internet query "survey of Cape Hatteras and Cape Fear 1806" results list two books on the topic. One published by a university of Georgia professor. Mere snippets of the book are available as a preview. At first this reader was curious as to the location of the shipwreck then this reader wanted to know if a survey existed at all. Perhaps it is read into a congressional report because it begs the question as to the location of the source material from 1806 for a book published in 1972. Thank you for this exercise in Fact Finding 101-- a class that made an impression on me to this day.

    3. I am not familiar with the books you located. My information comes from The Wilmington Gazette, October 14, 1806.


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