19th Century Shipwreck Identified As Pre-Civil War Steamer Robert J. Walker

 @TreyeGreen t.green@ibtimes.com on August 31 2013 5:51 PM

A 19th century U.S. Coast Survey steamer that sank off the New Jersey coast in 1860 has been identified by researchers studying the location of the shipwreck, among other factors. The Robert J. Walker had previously been engaged in surveying the Gulf of Mexico Coast, and it sank after being struck by another ship, LiveScience reported.

Although the shipwreck was first found in the 1970s, the ship remained unidentified until recently. To identify it, researchers used the location of the wreck as well specific features attributed to the boat.

“Before this identification was made, the wreck was just an anonymous symbol on navigation charts,” Rear Adm. Gerd Glang, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Coast Survey, said in a statement. “Now, we can truly honor the 20 members of the crew and their final resting place. It will mark a profound sacrifice by the men who served during a remarkable time in our history.”

The Walker was commissioned in 1847 as one of the first iron-hulled steamers in the U.S. It was used to chart the coastlines of the nation as well as create nautical maps as part of the Coast Survey -- an organization created by President Thomas Jefferson. The ship was responsible for assisting with the charting efforts in the Florida Keys and the region around Mobile, Ala.

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The Walker sank June 21, 1860, when a commercial schooner crashed into it, killing 20 of its 66 crew members. The ship had just completed a survey of the Gulf of Mexico.

A commercial fisherman discovered the shipwreck in the 1970s, but nobody was able to confirm its identity at the time, as reported by Reuters. Recently, however, “A NOAA Maritime Heritage diving team, on a separate Hurricane Sandy-related mission in the area, was able to positively identify the Walker. Key clues were the size and layout of the iron-hulled wreck, and its unique engines, rectangular portholes, and the location of the ship,” NOAA said.

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