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Analysis of the Pass Cavallo Shipwreck Assemblage, Matagorda Bay, Texas

Amy Anne Borgens
Thesis: May 2004
Chair: Hamilton
Nautical Archaeology Program



ABSTRACT

A survey conducted in February of 1998 located an anomaly originally believed to be
the remains of L'Aimable. L'Aimable was one of four ships utilized by ReneRobert
Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, for his voyage to colonize the Gulf Coast in 1684. The
anomaly, a wrecked vessel with a heavy iron signature, was located outside the
entrance to the historic pass into Matagorda Bay, Texas. Artifacts were extracted from
the wreck site to aid in the identification of the vessel, which was subsequently
determined to be more recent in origin. A preliminary examination of the artifacts
indicates that the shipwreck dates to the first half of the 19th century.

The survey recovered over two hundred artifacts. The assemblage of artifacts includes
over 80 lead shot, over 40 examples of brass firearm furniture, over 15 firearm
fragments, several pieces of copper sheathing, and iron bar stock. Almost two-thirds of
the material is associated with small arms. The majority of the identifiable firearms are
military arms of three patterns: the British Short Land Pattern, the British India
Pattern, and the Model 1757 Spanish musket.

Historical research has determined that these arms were circulating in Texas, New
Orleans, and Mexico, as early as 1815. The British pattern arms were both purchased
for the Mexican army in the 1820s and used by the British Infantry in the Battle of New
Orleans in 1815. The 1757 Spanish musket was used chiefly by Spanish expeditionary
forces in North America in the late 18th century.

Evidence garnered from the artifacts suggests that the firearms were shipboard cargo
onboard a small, wood-hulled sailing vessel that wrecked between the years 1815 and
1845. Archival and historical research isolated nine wreck candidates for this period.
Historical research and artifact analysis suggest the Hannah Elizabeth as the primary
candidate for this wreck site. The Hannah Elizabeth was a small merchant schooner
from New Orleans laden with a munitions cargo for Texas troops stationed at Goliad.
The vessel wrecked at the entrance of the historic Pass Cavallo while evading capture
from a Mexican brig-of-war in November of 1835.

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