Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Gold Rush Wreck Volume 54 Number 6, November/December 2001
by A.G. Pastron

[image] Archaeologists expose the remains of a nineteenth-century ship in San Francisco's financial district. (Courtesy Archeo-Tec) [LARGER IMAGE]

The hulk of the sailing ship General Harrison--a long-forgotten but spectacular remnant of California's mid-nineteenth-century Gold Rush--was recently encountered in waterfront landfill in the heart of San Francisco's modern financial district during foundation work for a new hotel. The still-solid oak hull is a vivid reminder of the city's dramatic birth some 150 years ago.

Built in Newbury, Massachusetts in 1840, the triple-masted General Harrison was converted into a floating warehouse in 1850 and consumed to the water line in the great San Francisco fire of 1851. The ship's charred hulk was partially salvaged, buried in waterfront landfill, and forgotten.

Excavation revealed that when the ship was buried, it was holding numerous cases of imported red wine; bolts of cloth; supplies of tacks, nails, and other hardware; wheat; and a large quantity of Italian glass trade beads. Nearly a dozen of the wine bottles were found intact, still corked and sealed, filled with what was probably Bordeaux or Burgundy, possibly the last bottles from the vintage of 1849.

During the next year, an intensive program of historical and laboratory research by the contract firm Archeo-Tec, which excavated the ship, will complete the final voyage of the General Harrison and allow this once proud vessel to add her tale to the annals of the California Gold Rush.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America