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