St. Augustine Beach pier
By Dan Scalan - Jacksonville
A corroded uniform button found in the mud off the St. Augustine Beach pier could be the “smoking gun” that leads to identifying a mystery shipwreck.
And the copper coin with a face of what could be Britain’s King George found by a Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program volunteer just adds to evidence that the wreck could be part of a British Revolutionary War fleet that fled Charleston in 1782.
The corroded button bears the number 74. That means it came off a 74th Regiment British Army uniform of Cambell’s Highlanders, assembled in Scotland in 1777 to fight rebels in North America.
When the British fled the American army’s advance into Charleston, half of the fleet headed into the St. Johns River in Jacksonville and the rest went to St. Augustine.
There, 16 of them wrecked on Dec. 31, including the escort ship Rattlesnake, said Chuck Meide, archaeology director at the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum program.
“This is a smoking gun,” Meide said. “This confirms the ship we are digging on was in the evacuation of Charleston.”
The Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program seeks and preserves the underwater history off the nation’s oldest city. Begun in 1996, it has targeted more than 50 possible wrecks.
One was the British sloop Industry, which sank in 1764 just south of the current lighthouse. Divers recovered numerous artifacts including a cannon and tools that never made it to St. Augustine’s then-British outpost.