Author's Rendering of the Wreck of the Faithful Steward

Author’s Rendering of the Wreck of the Faithful Steward

On the stormy night of September 1st 1785 the Faithful Steward, having journeyed 53 days from Londonderry Ireland en route to Philadelphia, ran aground during an intense squall near Delaware’s Indian River Inlet. On board were 249 immigrants, Captain Connolly McCausland, a first and second mate, 10 crew members, and 400 barrels of half pennies and gold-rose guineas.

Having been blown off course, and surprised at the predicament the crew found themselves in, a sounding was taken. To their amazement, the ship was only in 4 fathoms of water, yet there was not the slightest hint of land within sight of the ship. To no avail, the crew attempted to free the 350 ton, 150 foot-long ship.

Coin Beach, Delaware Seashore Park

Coin Beach, Delaware Seashore Park

The following morning, at daylight, the ship was reckoned to be about 4 leagues south of Cape Henlopen near the Indian River, and about 100 yards from the Delaware shore. That evening the ill-fated ship broke into pieces. Long boats were launched to carry the passengers to shore, but drifted away before they could be manned. The passengers found themselves marooned aboard the ship, without the longboats to save them. Their only choice was to swim ashore, or use pieces of the broken ship as makeshift rafts.

By the morning of September 3rd at daybreak, 181 of the passengers had perished, including all but 7 women and children. Washed upon the shorelines were the bodies of the dead, whose bodies were later plundered of valuables by the inhabitants of the local town.

TheWreckoftheFaithfulSteward-3

Just North of the Indian River Inlet Bridge

Ever since the wreck, whenever a strong Northeaster passes through the vicinity, coins from those 400 barrels wash upon the shore. Earning the nickname “Coin Beach,” over the last 225 years thousands and thousands of coins have been discovered by beachcombers, treasure hunters, and children. Most coins discovered have been counterfeit British and Irish half pennies. Occasionally someone lucky will come along and find a golden guinea.

In the 1980s a local of Northern Virginia would make excursions to Delaware’s Coin Beach.

Bob King, Alexandria Virginia Numismatist and Detectorist

Bob King, Alexandria Virginia Numismatist and Detectorist

Armed only with the weather report, Bob King would drive the 2 hour trip and await the passage of storms.

Minutes after the storms would pass, Bob would comb along the beach, picking up his bounties off the storm-shifted sands.

Recently the two of us got together to discuss numismatics; Bob has been collecting coins and metal detecting artifacts for over a half-century. It was during this particular conversation that he told me about his adventures troving the tides at Coin Beach.

For years I’ve heard stories about the famous beach, but inevitably when the storytellers were pressed, it always ended-up that the story was secondhand. The finders were always someone’s uncle, someone’s next door neighbor, or the like.

Bob loaned me several of his Coin Beach finds to evaluate, photograph, and where possible, identify. There are 10 specimens, and the following is a census of those specimens†:

TheWreckoftheFaithfulSteward-4

Numismatic Specimens

Pictured below are the finds and diagnostics†. All have approximate diameters between 25.5 – 28mm. Though each specimen was weighed, their respective weights were irrelevant. All fell within tolerances of coppers, and beyond that, could not provide any additional insight as to whether each was a counterfeit, an evasion, or Regal:

Specimen 1 can be diagnosed by the outlines of letters L, I, and B starting at 11 o'clock on the obverse. The outline of the bust's eye socket and nose can be distinguished at around 2-3 o'clock. The reverse can be distinguished by the faint lettering of UNITED at 7 o'clock onward, as well as its center wreath and leaves. Given the right facing bust, and the specimen’s wreath configuration, the coin is a Draped Bust Large Cent. Draped Bust large cents were produced from 1796-1807.

Specimen 1 can be diagnosed by the outlines of letters L, I, and B starting at 11 o’clock on the obverse. The outline of the bust’s eye socket and nose can be distinguished at around 2-3 o’clock. The reverse can be distinguished by the faint lettering of UNITED at 7 o’clock onward, as well as its center wreath and leaves. Given the right facing bust, and the specimen’s wreath configuration, the coin is a Draped Bust Large Cent. Draped Bust large cents were produced from 1796-1807.†

Specimen 2 can be diagnosed by the outline of Britannia on the reverse. Though obverse details are corroded away, it is clear by specimen's diameter that it is an English half penny. Given the size of Britannia on the reverse, and by implication the date of the Faithful Steward wreck, it is pre-19th century. It is unclear whether the specimen is regal, evasion, or a contemporary counterfeit.

Specimen 2 can be diagnosed by the outline of Britannia on the reverse. Though obverse details are corroded away, it is clear by specimen’s diameter that it is an English half penny. Given the size of Britannia on the reverse, and by implication the date of the Faithful Steward wreck, it is pre-19th century. It is unclear whether the specimen is regal, evasion, or a contemporary counterfeit.

Specimen 3 can be diagnosed by the obverse clockwise letters 'G E O R G' starting at 7 o'clock. The reverse can be diagnosed as Irish by the appearance of harp strings. The rightmost date can be distinguished by the appearance of the top loop of an 8 and the top stem of a 1. Given the specimen's diameter, it is a George II or III Irish half penny. It is plausible that it is a George III half penny, given that regal Irish half pennies were struck in 1781. That said, it is unclear definitively whether the specimen is regal, evasion, or a contemporary counterfeit.

Specimen 3 can be diagnosed by the obverse clockwise letters ‘G E O R G’ starting at 7 o’clock. The reverse can be diagnosed as Irish by the appearance of harp strings. The rightmost date can be distinguished by the appearance of the top loop of an 8 and the top stem of a 1. Given the specimen’s diameter, it is a George II or III Irish half penny. It is plausible that it is a George III half penny, given that regal Irish half pennies were struck in 1781. That said, it is unclear definitively whether the specimen is regal, evasion, or a contemporary counterfeit.

Specimen 4 can be diagnosed by the reverse's harp and strings. The rightmost date can be distinguished by the appearance of an 8 and 2 to the right of the harp’s bottom. Given the specimen's diameter, it is a George II or III Irish half penny. It is plausible that it is a George III half penny, given that regal Irish half pennies were struck in 1782. That said, it is unclear definitively whether the specimen is regal, evasion, or a contemporary counterfeit.

Specimen 4 can be diagnosed by the reverse’s harp and strings. The rightmost date can be distinguished by the appearance of an 8 and 2 to the right of the harp’s bottom. Given the specimen’s diameter, it is a George II or III Irish half penny. It is plausible that it is a George III half penny, given that regal Irish half pennies were struck in 1782. That said, it is unclear definitively whether the specimen is regal, evasion, or a contemporary counterfeit.

Based on its corrosion and wear, Specimen 5 cannot be diagnosed. Given its diameter, however, and the preponderance of half pennies found, it is most probably a half penny.

Based on its corrosion and wear, Specimen 5 cannot be diagnosed. Given its diameter, however, and the preponderance of half pennies found, it is most probably a half penny.

Specimen 6 can be diagnosed by the faint outline of Britannia on its reverse. Because the reverse depicts Britannia, the specimen is an English half penny. No other discernible diagnostics are apparent. Given the size of Britannia, the specimen is pre-19th century. That said, it is unclear definitively whether the specimen is regal, evasion, or a contemporary counterfeit.

Specimen 6 can be diagnosed by the faint outline of Britannia on its reverse. Because the reverse depicts Britannia, the specimen is an English half penny. No other discernible diagnostics are apparent. Given the size of Britannia, the specimen is pre-19th century. That said, it is unclear definitively whether the specimen is regal, evasion, or a contemporary counterfeit.

Specimen 7 is by far the most intact specimen. 'GEORGIVS III' is readily identifiable on the obverse, and the Irish harp is easily spotted on the reverse. Moreover, the date on the specimen can be identified as 1781. It is plausible that it is regal, given that regal Irish half pennies were struck in 1781. That said, it is unclear definitively if the specimen is regal or a contemporary counterfeit.

Specimen 7 is by far the most intact specimen. ‘GEORGIVS III’ is readily identifiable on the obverse, and the Irish harp is easily spotted on the reverse. Moreover, the date on the specimen can be identified as 1781. It is plausible that it is regal, given that regal Irish half pennies were struck in 1781. That said, it is unclear definitively if the specimen is regal or a contemporary counterfeit.

Specimen 8 is another copper that although has endured quite a bit of corrosion, is identifiable as a George III Irish half penny. The 'III' is visible on the obverse at 2 o'clock, and the Irish harp is readily apparent on the reverse. The bottom of the specimen appears to have a 7 directly after the bottom center-line of the harp. Thus, it would have the date 177?.

Specimen 8 is another copper that although has endured quite a bit of corrosion, is identifiable as a George III Irish half penny. The ‘III’ is visible on the obverse at 2 o’clock, and the Irish harp is readily apparent on the reverse. The bottom of the specimen appears to have a 7 directly after the bottom center-line of the harp. Thus, it would have the date 177?.

Based on its corrosion and wear, Specimen 9 cannot be diagnosed. Given its diameter, however, and the preponderance of half pennies found, it is most probably a half penny.

Based on its corrosion and wear, Specimen 9 cannot be diagnosed. Given its diameter, however, and the preponderance of half pennies found, it is most probably a half penny.

Specimen 10 can be identified by the faint outline of Britannia on its reverse. Its date at the bottom of the reverse faintly reads 177?. Given its diameter, it is a George III half penny.

Specimen 10 can be identified by the faint outline of Britannia on its reverse. Its date at the bottom of the reverse faintly reads 177?. Given its diameter, it is a George III half penny.

Sometime after the 1980s the area where the wreck of the Faithful Steward sank was dredged. Subsequent reports indicate that specimens are found less frequently now.

Aaron Packard [End Mark]

Notes and Sources

† It can only be assumed, based on the date of the wreck of the Faithful Steward, that the large cent found did not originate from the ship.

  1. Bob King, Detectorist & Numismatist, Alexandria Virginia
  2. The Numismatist, Volume 104, ©1991
  3. The Daily Universal Register of London, Tuesday, November 22, 1785
  4. The Daily Universal Register of London, Thursday, November 24, 1785
  5. In Search of the Faithful Steward, Bob Elmwood
  6. Ship Faithful Steward, Londderry to Rhode island, Irish Emigration Database
  7. Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins, Q. David Bowers, Whitman Publishing, ©2008
  8. A Journey Through the Monkalokian Rain Forests In Search of the Spiney Fubbaduck, Malachy Greensword, ©1993
  9. Coins of England and the United Kingdom 43rd Edition, Spink, ©2007
  10. The Forgotten Coins of the North American Colonies, William T. Anton JR, Bruce P. Kesse, Woodcliff, ©1990
  11. Coins of Scotland, Ireland and the Islands, Spink, ©2002
  12. The Library of Congress Digital Archives

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The author has over 30 years experience in North American numismatics. He is the author of numerous articles about exonumia, including those about tokens, scrip, and the public who used them. He is a member of the ANA, VNA, ACC, C4, CWTS, TAMS, MD-TAMS, AVA, NSCA, and NumisSociety.

8 Responses to “The Faithful Steward Wreck & Delaware’s Coin Beach” Subscribe

  1. Ernie Dimler October 22, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    An encrusted object was just found Oct 21 2013 by Ernie from Pasadena MD.

    I was detecting with my wife and son Andy. We took the encrusted object to the wonderful Discoversea Shipwreck Museum to show to Dale Clifton.

    He took the encrustation back to his lab, cleaned it with a solution, and gave it his special touch.

    Out popped a Steward coin, button, and lapel pin! Three total pieces, all from the Faithful Steward.

    WOW! What a find!

    Last year I also found a 1699 coin in Ocean City, believed to be a William III if my memory is correct. Dale Clifton, at the Discoversea Shipwreck Museum is a big inspiration, and I am grateful for his help.

    Dale… We love your Museum on Fenwick Island.

    • Aaron Packard October 22, 2013 at 7:52 pm #

      Thanks for the story Ernie. It’s always terrific to hear that folks continue to find specimens from the ship!

  2. Charles Thomas Cooke IV February 5, 2014 at 9:19 am #

    Edward Cooke, (brother of Colonel William Cooke, 12th. Regiment Continental Line out of Northumberland Co., Pa.) was aboard that ship, the “Faithful” Steward along with his wife, and their 10 children. They were all lost. Edward had another brother in this country; he was Colonel Jacob Cooke out of Lancaster County.

    • Aaron Packard February 5, 2014 at 11:06 pm #

      Hi Charles –

      Thanks for information. Based on your name, it sounds like you’re a direct ancestor. Awesome!

      Aaron

  3. Billy Ray McElhaney March 29, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

    To whom it may concern
    I am a direct decendant of one of the surviving passengers of the Faithful Steward, John M’Illheney(McIllheney) changed to McElhaney by John’s son William who’s had a son named John, who had a son named Clarence Albert, who had a son named Earl, who was my father, My name is Billy Ray McElhaney. I have two sons William Lance and Leslie Bryce. I have a brother named James Howard and he has two sons James Jr. and Jonathon. Phone 931-651-1288 e-mail bdmcelhaney@charter.net

  4. Vera June 15, 2014 at 1:03 am #

    I also had Elliott & Lee relatives on that ship… some did survive… an Uncle later moved to Ohio.

  5. Bradley S. Miller August 1, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

    On July 15th 2014 my wife and I visited coin beach to play with my 40 year old Bounty Hunter detector.

    Entering the beach from the Savage ditch crossing, I proceeded north for about one hundred yards and then returned back to my wife at the starting point.

    After 1 hour of nothing I turned south towards the inlet. My first sound was a bottle cap. 20 feet more, a flip top lid. At least I knew the old relic was still working. Just 5 more steps and I had a constant beep.

    Digging down only 8 inches I found my treasure. A small piece of copper plating with the number 10 stamped onto it. We went to see Dale Clifton who identified my find as a piece of copper sheeting from the hull of the Faith Steward!

    My vacation was complete after Dale confirmed my find. Then he opened his vault to show us 2 gold ingots that were valued at 1/2 million dollars.

    Coin beach still produces treasures.

    Good Luck!

    • Aaron Packard August 2, 2014 at 12:40 am #

      Terrific story Bradley! Congrats on your find! Thanks for sharing. Much appreciated!

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