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The Discovery And Investigation Of The America Flatboat Wreck

Flatboats were the most prolific type of vessel on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers during the early 1800s. Thousands of these boats descended the two rivers each year, carrying not only valuable cargo to New Orleans but also western-bound emigrants to newly opened territories. By the late 1800s, flatboats had completely disappeared, and no intact examples were known to exist.

Our knowledge of these historic vessels had been limited to illustrations, memoirs and traveler accounts. That changed in 2000 after local residents found a wreck on the Ohio River shoreline in Illinois. Archaeologist Mark J. Wagner and his colleagues from Southern Illinois University investigated extensively and established that the wreck was a pre-Civil War flatboat, which they named America, after a nearby town.

978-0-8093-3437-7-frontcover.jpgIn The Wreck of the America in Southern Illinois: A Flatboat on the Ohio River, Wagner provides a general history of flatboats and the various reasons they wrecked - such as poor workmanship and encounters with pirates, storms, rocks and floating trees. Wagner describes the remains of the America, how it was constructed, the artifacts found nearby and inside - including pewter spoons, utensils with bone handles, metal buttons, and an iron felling axe - and the probable cause of its sinking. Wagner concludes with a plea that the boat be removed from the riverbank and preserved before the Ohio washes it away.

"Of the thousands of flatboats used to carry families and goods downstream in the 1800s, not a single one survives today. Mark Wagner, having led a team to thoroughly document the remains of the first flatboat wreck ever recorded, has written the book that finally gives the flatboat its due," says Leslie C. Stewart-Abernathy, station archeologist at the Arkansas Archeological Survey.

"But it's not just the story of the America, because Dr. Wagner has incorporated the memoirs of actual flatboat builders and accounts of their numerous contemporaries on the rivers. This book will become the source for helping to record other flatboat wrecks that will certainly appear."

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Plus:

* Hear Wagner discussing his book on WKMS.

* You can find chapter-by-chapter PDFs here.

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Mark J. Wagner is the director of the Center for Archaeological Investigations at Southern Illinois University. He is a former president of the Illinois Archaeological Survey and the author of The Rhoads Site: A Historic Kickapoo Village on the Illinois Prairie, as well as numerous essays, technical reports and books.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on October 5, 2015


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