Builder Mark Batson received a shock when clearing a building site for a custom home on North Carolina’s southern coast early last year.

BUILDER's Jennifer Goodman shares that Batson and his excavation crew found the remnants of a shipwrecked boat buried in the sand dunes under layers of sand, shells, and sediment. He halted the site work until the jumble of wrought iron and 60-foot-long timbers could be identified.

Batson brought in Nathan Henry, lead conservator of the North Carolina Underwater Archeology Division, who identified the findings as the wreck of The John S. Lee, an 1870s lumber steamer that disappeared along the North Carolina coast 140 years ago. It sailed out of the Cape Fear River in April 1877 bound for Venezuela, two days before a storm lashed the Carolina coast, Henry says. The boat and its crew were never seen again.

Henry determined that the timbers were probably part of the ship’s keelson, a girder that ran central within the length of the ship. He said he knew of only seven wrecks reported near the site and quickly deduced which one it was by the look of the fragments.

“Heavy keelsons and ceiling timbers fastened with numerous iron drift bolts were a hallmark of the late 19th century schooners and their remains are numerous on the Outer Banks, so much so that identifying individual vessels can be challenging,” he wrote in his report. “Not so much at Cape Fear where the relatively small number of wrecks makes the process considerably easier.”

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