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A photo of the Jno. Glidden ship as it sinks.
Wreck of the Jno. N. Glidden, St. Clair ship canal. Published by the Detroit Publishing Co. 1903. Prints and Photographs Division.

Lost at Sea: The Treasure Maps of the Library of Congress

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A picture of a skull and crossbones marks the location of a special collection in the Geography and Map Division. The collection consists of wreck charts published by U.S. federal government agencies, treasure maps made by famous cartographers during the 18th and 19th centuries, and treasure maps published by commercial companies during the mid -20th century. In this post I am focusing on a few shipwreck maps and charts that are held in the collection, beginning with a wreck chart of the Great Lakes.

The number of shipwrecks on the Great Lakes is estimated to be in the thousands; the exact number is unknown. The wreck chart below was published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Weather Bureau. The chart lists 111 locations of wrecks and casualties caused by wind, smoke, and stormy weather during 1894. The type of vessel, estimated cost of damage, and number of casualties are included with each listed wreck.

A chart showing wrecks along the coasts of the Great Lakes.
Wreck and Casualty Chart of the Great Lakes. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Weather Bureau. 1894. Geography and Map Division.

Strong currents, shallow sandbars and fog have led to numerous shipwrecks on Sable Island, southeast of Halifax. The locations of wrecks that occurred from 1800 to 1946 are shown on the map below.

A map showing wrecks along the coast of Sable Island.
Sable Island, the Atlantic graveyard, known wrecks since 1800. Jesse G. P. Cresine. 1946. Geography and Map Division.

This map of Charleston Harbor is categorized as both a Civil War map and a treasure map. Both Union and Confederate defenses are included on the map; the Union batteries are shown in black, and the Confederate batteries are shown in red. The water depth is indicated by shading. The locations of fourteen wrecks that occurred during the war are shown on the map.

A map that shows ship wrecks in the vicinity of Charleston Harbor during the Civil War.
General map of Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, showing rebel defences and obstructions. Eugene Willenbücher. 1865. Geography and Map Division.

The treasure maps featured below show the locations of only a few wreck sites; however, the maps include interesting notes about shipwrecks.

This 18th century map of Bermuda was made by the Welsh cartographer Emanuel Bowen. The locations of Flemish wrecks are shown at the bottom of the map. The map includes detailed notes about dangerous rocks, ships blown off course, and a “very rich Spanish ship lost near 100 years since.”

An 18th century map of Bermuda.
A new & accurate map of Bermudas or Sommer’s Islands, taken from an actual survey; wherein the errors of former charts are corrected. Emanuel Bowen. 1752. Geography and Map Division.
Text from the treasure map of Bermuda.
Detail from A new & accurate map of Bermudas or Sommer’s Islands…

The British cartographer Herman Moll made this map of the Caribbean region in 1715. Moll included a note on the map about Sir William Phips. Phips became a ship’s carpenter during the 1670s, a treasure hunter during the 1680s, and the first colonial governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692. The following note about William Phips is printed on the map north of Hispaniola:

“Here Sir William Phips took up a vast quantity of silver from a Spanish wreck in 1685.”

An 18th century map of the West Indies.
A map of the West-Indies or the islands of America in the North Sea; with ye adjacent countries; explaning [sic] what belongs to Spain, England, France, Holland &c. also ye trade winds, and ye several tracts made by ye galeons and flota from place to place. According to ye newest and most exact observations. Herman Moll. 1715. Geography and Map Division.
For generations treasure hunting has captivated people. In this post I have featured a few of the treasure maps that are held in the Library of Congress. A descriptive list of the maps held in this special collection may be viewed by clicking on the first item listed below.

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Comments (3)

  1. There are remarkable risks on our inland seas with an outrageous number of wrecks per year. Enjoyed the dramatic images on the Sable Island map with sketches of sinking ship, salty sailor and the type of vessel lost. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  2. Awesome maps my favorite 💋 Jeni pugh

  3. Love to treasure hunt safely 😜 happy times 💗 stay safe changeling treasure hunting maty hahaha Jeni pugh Love you guys

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