Analysis of the Pass Cavallo shipwreck assemblage, Matagorda Bay, Texas



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Texas A&M University


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 Rene-Robert 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 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 suggest 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.