(Under the direction of Professor Gordon P. Watts, Jr.) Department of History, November 2000.
The purpose of this thesis is an historical and archaeological investigation of the Spanish Plate fleet vessel El Salvador. The packetboat was one of four vessels of the 1750 Fleet that was lost in a hurricane which struck the mid-Atlantic region of North America in August 1750. Historical accounts indicate that El Salvador was lost in the vicinity of Topsail Inlet, North Carolina. Because the surviving remains were buried by shifting sands in a matter of days salvage operations were negligible and the vessel was quickly forgotten. Over time the exact position of the wreck has become clouded. Historical records provide little information beyond "lost in the vicinity of Topsail Inlet." Historical accounts and geographical coincidence suggest two possible locations for El Salvador: Modern New Topsail Inlet and Beaufort Inlet, also known as Topsail during that period. Research and material recovered near New Topsail Inlet in the twentieth century have led the focus of this investigation to that inlet.
Due to the conditions of its wrecking, El Salvador may represent one of the few instances in which virtually the entire archaeological record of a Spanish Plate Fleet vessel survives intact. As such, it may provide important clues to eighteenth century ship construction and shipboard life. Prior to initiation of field work a rigorous methodology was developed to guide research in recovering that information.
The methodology employed included developing criteria, based on comparative studies of period shipwrecks and archaeological assemblages, useful in identifying wreck sites in the archaeological record. A magnetometer and side scan sonar survey was then conducted in a six-mile-square area centered in the inlet. That survey identified two groups of anomalies which may represent shipwreck material. Diver investigation of those sites located the remains of a late nineteenth to early twentieth century sailing vessel. Though El Salvador was not located additional research is planned for the future, first concentrating on survey blocks north and south of the current one and should that prove negative considerations will be given to shifting efforts to potential but unlicensed areas in the vicinity of Beaufort Inlet.