A storied steamer filled with treasure, pickles, and history is recovered off Georgia’s coast
The floor of the Atlantic ocean is littered with shipwrecks, but few approach the value, financial or historical, of the Republic . When it sank, it took with it $400,000 in gold coins, which could be worth as much as $150 million today. As of this writing, more than 1,700 coins have been pulled from the wreck by a marine salvage firm called Odyssey Marine Exploration.
The Republic was a side-wheel steamer built in Baltimore and launched in 1853 as the Tennessee . It was heading south in October 1865 when it sank more than 100 miles southeast of Savannah, Georgia. There it lay undisturbed until 1991, when Odyssey began searching for it, using computer models of ocean currents to predict possible locations. Last September, after 12 years spent combing 1,500 square miles with sonar, magnetometers, and underwater cameras, Odyssey finally located the Republic . In January it paid $1.6 million to the company that had insured the Republic , and now Odyssey owns the wreck and its cargo outright.
Besides the coins, Odyssey’s crew has also recovered some well-preserved artifacts. The ship’s bronze bell shows some erosion but still bears the letters SSEE from her days as the Tennessee . The team has also brought up jars of pickles, mustard, and pepper sauce as well as champagne bottles and patent medicine, offering historians a unique look at what passed from North to South during Reconstruction. Greg Stemm, the company’s director of operations, wondered: “It’s the beginning of Reconstruction. In this valuable space, why were they sending down pickles?”