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Waves uncover infamous 1919 shipwreck tied to murder and mutiny off NC’s Surf City

A ship that ran aground after its crew mutinied a century ago has reemerged from the sands at Surf City, North Carolina.

The town posted photos and a warning on Facebook on Monday, showing the 10-inch rotting beams of the William H. Sumner that had come to the surface thanks to winds and waves.

“This afternoon, we see the remains of the William H. Sumner, which is about 150 yards north of the old Barnacle Bill’s Pier in Surf City,” said the town’s post. “Please remember, shipwrecks are protected by the state, so removing or damaging the remains is a violation of state law.”

The tough-to-identify pile of timbers is actually a 28-by-11 section of the 165-foot schooner’s deck, the Topsail Island News reported last year. The ship ran aground in the area back in September 1919, while sailing from Puerto Rico to New York City, according to the TopsailIslandblog.

“The story goes that the young 25 year old captain on his first voyage in command had sailed too close to the shore,” the blog says. “When the currents and winds left the schooner stranded near present day New Topsail Inlet ... the ship was pulverized on the shoals.”

However, stories of the ship’s final hours changed in the weeks that followed, as evidence emerged suggesting the young captain had been killed by his crew, according to a 2010 article in Wrightsville Beach Magazine.

Investigators theorized the ship’s rations ran low and the crew mutinied after the captain refused to put in for supplies, the magazine reported.

Seven crew members were later tried for the captain’s suspected murder, but the jury failed to reach a verdict in federal court, according to old news articles reproduced on

The hull is today one of North Carolina’s most famous shipwrecks, because it has vanished and reappeared for decades near the 700 bock of North Topsail Drive in Surf City, according to the New Bern Sun Journal.

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