On the dark night of September 1st 1785 the Faithful Steward, having journeyed 53 days from Londonberry Ireland enroute to Philadelphia, ran aground during an intense storm near Delaware's Indian River Inlet. On board were 249 immigrants, Captain Connolly McCausland, a first and second Mate, 10 crew members, and 400 barrels of half pennies and gold-rose guineas.
Having been blown off course, and surprised at the predicament the crew found themselves in, a sounding was taken. To their amazement, the ship was only in 4 fathoms of water, yet there was not the slightest hint of land within sight of the ship. To no avail, the crew attempted to free the 350 ton, 150 foot-long ship.
The following morning, at daylight, the ship was reckoned to be about 4 leagues south of Cape Henlopen, in proximity to the Indian River, and about 100 yards from the Delaware shore. That evening the ill-fated ship broke into pieces. Long boats had been launched to ferry the passengers to shore, but drifted away before they could be manned.
The passengers found themselves stranded aboard the ship, without the longboats to save them. Their only choice was to swim ashore, or use pieces of the broken ship as makeshift rafts.
By the morning of September 3rd at daybreak, 181 of the passengers had perished, including all but 7 women and children. Washed upon the shorelines were the bodies of the dead, whose bodies were later plundered of their valuables by the inhabitants of the local town.
Ever since the wreck, whenever a strong Northeaster passes through the vicinity, coins from those 400 barrels wash upon the shore. Over the last 225 years, literally thousands upon thousands of coins have been discovered by beachcombers, treasure hunters, and children alike.
Most coins discovered have been counterfeit British and Irish half pennies. Occasionally someone lucky will come along and find a golden guinea. In the 1980s a local of Northern Virginia would make excursions to Delaware's Coin Beach. Armed only with the weather report, Bob King would drive the 2 hour trip and await the passage of storms. Minutes after the storms would pass, Bob would comb along the beach, picking up his bounties off the storm-shifted sands.
Recently the two of us got together to discuss numismatics; Bob has been collecting and metal detecting coins for over a half-century. It was during this particular conversation that he told me about his adventures troving the tides at Coin Beach. For years I've heard stories about the famous beach, but inevitably when the storytellers were pressed, it always ended-up being that that the story wasn't firsthand. The finders often ended-up being someone uncle, someone next door neighbor, or someone's college-roommate's brother.
Bob loaned me several of his Coin Beach finds to evaluate, photograph, and where possible, identify. There are 10 specimens, and the following is a census of those specimens†
And pictured below are Bob's finds†
Specimen 1 can be diagnosed with the outlines of the letters L, I, and B starting at 11 o'clock on the obverse. The outline of the bust's eye socket and nose can be distinguished to at around 2-3 o'clock. The reverse can be distinguished by the faint lettering of UNITED at 7 o'clock onward, as well as the wreath leaves. Given that the bust is facing right and the specimen's wreath configuration, the coin is a Draped Bust Large Cent.
Specimen 2 can be diagnosed by the outline of Britannia on the reverse. Though obverse details have long since been corroded away, it is clear by specimen's diameter that it is an English half penny. Given the size of Brittania on the reverse, it is pre-19th century.
Specimen 3 can be diagnosed by the obverse letters 'G E OR G ' starting at 7 o'clock. The reverse can be diagnosed by the appearance of harp strings. The rightmost date can be distinguished by the appearance of the top loop of an 8 and the top stem of a 1. Given the specimen's diameter, it is a George II or III Irish half penny. Most probably it is a George III half penny, given that Regal Irish half pennies were struck in 1781.
Specimen 4 can be diagnosed by the reverse's harp and strings. The rightmost date can be distinguished by the appearance of an 8 and 2 to the right. Given the specimen's diameter, it is a George II or III Irish half penny. Most probably it is a George III half penny, given that Regal Irish half pennies were struck in 1782.
Specimen 5 is undiagnosable.
Specimen 6 can be diagnosed by the faint outline of Britannia. The obverse appears, but not definitely, as a right bust. The specimen is an English half penny. No other discernible diagnostics are apparent. Given the size of Britannia, the specimen is pre-19th century.
Specimen 7 is by far the most intact specimen. 'GEORGIVS III' is readily identifiable on the obverse, and the Irish harp is easily spotted on the reverse. Moreover, the date on the specimen can be identified as 1781.
Specimen 8 is another specimen that although has endured quite a bit of corrosion, is identifiable. It is a George III Irish half penny. The 'III' is visible on the obverse at 2 o'clock, and the Irish harp is readily apparent on the reverse. The bottom of the specimen appears to have a 7 directly after the bottom center-line of the harp. Thus, it would have the date 177?.
Specimen 9 is undiagnosable.
Specimen 10 can be identified by the faint ouline of Britannia on its reverse. Its date at the bottom of the reverse faintly reads 177?. Therefore it is a George III half penny.[/COLOR]
Sometime after the 1980s the area where the wreck of the Faithful Steward sits was dredged. Subsequent reports indicate that specimens are found quite less frequently now.
† It can only be assumed, based upon the date of the wreck of the Faithful Steward, that the large cent found did not originate from the ship.
1. Bob King, Collector & Numismatist, Alexandria Virginia
2. The Numismatist, Volume 104, 1991
3. The Daily Universal Register of London, Tuesday, November 22, 1785
4. The Daily Universal Register of London, Thursday, November 24, 1785
5. In Search of the Faithful Steward, Bob Elmwood
6. Ship Faithful Steward, Londderry to Rhode island, Irish Emigration Database