Log in links for this page

French Van Gilder

Find information on this shipwreck and dive site managed by the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources (BUAR).

BUAR classifies certain shipwrecks and other underwater archaeological resources as "Exempted Sites" for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to): commonly known location, previous salvage, recreational value, educational value, or lack of significant archaeological or historical value. Recreational diving activities on these sites, including casual artifact collection, do not require a BUAR permit. However, any major disruption of the site is prohibited. The intent of creating an exempted shipwreck site is to preserve such sites for the continued enjoyment of the recreational diving community, who is encouraged to protect these sites for the continued enjoyment of all.

Note: All dives are conducted at your own risk. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts accepts no responsibility for loss of any kind, including personal injury or property damage. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts assumes no liability for inaccuracies in dive information contained in these pages including site locations and dive conditions.

Vessel Details

Description: tern schooner, wood, 3-masted.
Dimensions: length 120.6 ft., width 29.6 ft., depth 10 ft.
Tonnage: gross 239, other.
Propulsion: sail.
Cargo: paving stones.

The Shipwreck

Date Sunk: March 29, 1885.
Cause: stranded.
Location: Tuckernuck Shoal, Nantucket Sound.
Coordinates: latitude 41° 24.1' N; longitude 70° 13' W.

From Somerset, Massachusetts, with a load of paving stones bound for Philadelphia, the tern schooner French Van Gilder struck on Tuckernuck Shoal on the evening of March 29, 1885 and bilged. Its crew was safely landed on Nantucket with no loss of life.

Dive Site Conditions

This should make for an interesting dive site, if the ever-shifting sand and gravel banks of the region have not completely buried it. Four wrecks reportedly occupy this site. The first of which is the French Van Gilder, whose cargo of paving stones established the back breaking reef that claimed the second wreck, Alice M. Lawrence, a six-masted schooner without cargo, in 1914. Three years later, the Canadian coal schooner Unique laid its bones atop the pile and the last was, appropriately, a small salvage vessel.

Historical Background

Constructed: in 1879 at Dennisville, New Jersey. Construction details: Built of oak and pine; iron fastenings.
Crew: Master: Churchill.
Owners: P. M. Wheaton.
Official number: 127377. Country: U.S.A.


On April 22, 1885, the steam tug C. M. Winch Rich at Vinalhaven, reported that approximately 30,000 paving blocks had been recovered from the schooner, loaded onto the lighter Oak and discharged at Edgartown.


New England Shipwrecks, Luther; 1967
New York Maritime Register; April 1 & 29, 1885
The Record, "American Lloyds;" American Bureau of Shipping; 1885

Help Us Improve Mass.gov with your feedback