A sunken ship that wrecked nearly 140 years ago was unearthed last year during a site excavation by New Iberia architect Paul Allain.
The vessel was buried below 4 feet of mud under the bed of Bayou Teche.
Maria Tio with the Louisiana Division of Archaeology said that since the ship’s discovery in late 2005, only a preliminary report had been completed by the private archaeology company hired to research the findings.
“Coastal Environments Inc., the company that conducted the archaeological investigation, believes that the ship was a sidewheel steamboat named the Teche,” Tio said.
The draft report provided to the archaeology division by Coastal Environments Inc. concluded that the vessel measures approximately 95 feet long and 20 feet wide and was originally named the Tom Sugg. It is said to have been used by the confederates during the Civil War, captured by Union forces in 1863 and then used by the U.S. Navy under the name USS Tensas.
In 1865 records show that the USS Tensas was sold to Captain Trinidad of New Iberia by auction who later renamed the boat the Teche. Other owners of the Teche include Alfred Duperior of St. Martin Parish in 1866 followed by the Attakapas Mail Transportation Company in 1867.
“Since the remains of the ship lie across both state property and private land, Mr. Allain owns that portion of the wreck on his property,” Tio said. The state owns the rest.
If any artifacts recovered from the land owned by the state, Tio said, will be curated at the Division of Archaeology Curation Facility located in downtown Baton Rouge.
“We will be happy to loan those items to the New Iberia museum, and may be able to create additional museum exhibits from recovered artifacts,” she said.
David Kelley, director of the archaeology department at Coastal Environments Inc. said that they are awaiting comments that will be sent back on the draft report submitted to the division of archaeology. Kelley said that the bulk of the report is final with the exception of minor revisions that will need to be made.
“Our research suggests that enough of the wreck is intact which makes it eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places,” said Kelley. “With the exception of a few pieces that were pulled up before they knew what it was, it will remain intact beneath the water.”
Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Clean Vessel Grant Program Administrator David Lavergne said the discovery began when Allain contacted his department for help in constructing a pumpout station behind his bayou side business. A pumpout station is used for recreational boaters to properly dispose of sewage aboard their vessels.
Lavergne said that Allain applied for a grant funded by the Clean Vessel Act of 1992 through Wildlife and Fisheries that would pay 75 percent of the estimated $160,000 project. The Clean Vessel Grant Program was formed to prevent water contamination and the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera and hepatitis.
“There are several types of pumpout stations and they are usually built as permanent structures,” said Lavergne. “The type that we were going to build for Mr. Allain will now have to be different because of what has been uncovered.”
Bo Boehringer, also of Wildlife and Fisheries, said that the department contributed money to help find out exactly what the mystery item was that had been discovered beneath the bayou. Boehringer said that the department hired Coastal Environments to perform a study before they continued with the project and the result of that study would determine if they should continue.
“We were assisting Paul and through Paul the community by contributing to the research,” said Boehringer. “No one wants to disturb a historically significant find.”