Steamship Pulaski (1838)

Blue Water Ventures International is currently working on the Pulaski site off the coast of North Carolina.  The Steamship Pulaski sank June 1838, at the time it was considered the worst shipwreck catastrophe in US History.


On the evening of June 14, 1838, the starboard boiler of the Steamship Pulaski exploded while approximately 40 miles off the coast of North Carolina.  The steamship was in route to Baltimore, Maryland with 37 crew and about 150 passengers.  The passengers included some of the wealthiest and privileged persons of the day.    There were only 59 survivors.  Contemporary news accounts of 1838 describe the Pulaski explosion as the “most painful catastrophe that has ever occurred upon the American coast”.

The Steamship Pulaski was built by the Savannah and Charleston Steam Packet Company and named after the American Revolutionary War hero Casmir Pulaski.  Regular steamship travel was in its infancy in the 1830’s and the SS Pulaski was outfitted with the highest standards of passenger comfort.   Wealthy passengers took the opportunity to escape the heat of the southern summer to enjoy northern resorts and cooler temperatures.

At 11PM, passengers were awakened by a massive explosion.  The engineer in charge had allowed the water to run low in the starboard boiler and then admitted fresh water into the heated boiler, causing irreparable and catastrophic results.  After the boiler explosion, the ship broke in two and sank within the hour.    Survivors of the explosion were left with two working rowboats and shipwreck material to cling to until passing vessels were able to stop and rescue those left at sea.  Stories of the survivors and their ordeal was detailed in many newspapers of the time.

As will happen, the events of June 14, 1838 slowly faded in memories, and the Steamship Pulaski was forgotten by many.  In 2017, Swordfish Partners filed an Admiralty Claim on the Unknown Abandoned and Sunken Steamship off the coast of North Carolina (8:17-cv-01043-SPF).  It was believed to be the resting site of the Steamship Pulaski, but evidence was required to prove the site was indeed the Pulaski.  Swordfish Partners parent company Endurance Exploration engaged and partnered with Blue Water Ventures International to manage and conduct excavation and recovery operations on the unknown shipwreck, located in 120 feet of water.  Onsite operations began in November 2017 and in early 2018, a small brass tag with the name “SB Pulaski” was recovered by Blue Water divers, confirming that the site was indeed the Steamship Pulaski.

To date many unique items have been recovered, including rare early American minted gold coins, a variety of pocket watches, engraved silverware sets, china and serving ware, and many other items passengers would have used while on board the ship.  Recovery operations are ongoing, and each dive to the site reveals just a little bit more of the Pulaski secrets.

Pictures from recovery efforts on the Steamship Pulaski: