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Ballast Stones

Ballast stone thrown from the vessels of Amadas & Barlowe at Roanoke Island, 1584.Ballast stones, whose weight stabilized empty ships, have been found at various colonial landing sites along the North Carolina coast. Although there are no known records, residents and local historians believe that these stones, found in coastal counties along the shore and under water, were used as ballast in early sailing vessels. In the colonies, the market for manufactured goods from abroad was limited, but local produce such as lumber, naval stores, grain, and tobacco was exported from North Carolina. On the westbound voyage, ships needed weight to lower them in the water to keep them from capsizing; large stones filled the ships' hold, but after they arrived this ballast was thrown overboard to be replaced by products from the colony.

Jettisoned stones began to clog the harbors so badly that in 1769 North Carolina political leader Richard Caswell presented a bill in the colonial Assembly to appoint a ballast master who would regulate this activity in the vicinity of Ocracoke Inlet. The problem persisted, however, and in 1784 the General Assembly passed an act that prohibited ballast stones from being thrown into the channel of the Cape Fear River. Thereafter, before docking, ships were required to dispose of their ballast prior to reaching the low watermark. Stones left in shallower water undoubtedly provided the cobblestones still seen in some of the streets along the river in Wilmington.


Walter Clark, ed., State Records of North Carolina, vol. 24 (1905).

C. Christopher Crittenden, The Commerce of North Carolina, 1763-1789 (1936).

Additional Resources:

Burdette, Kemp Magnus Wilkes and Smith, Michael S. "The Mineralogy, Petrology, and Provenance of Ballast Stones From The Cape Fear, North Carolina: 1725 - 1825." In review Journal of Historical Archaeology.

Burdette, Kemp M. and Smith, Michael S. (2003). "The introduction and use of ballast stones in the Cape Fear Region: An underutilized tool for archaeologist and historians." Honor's thesis, University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Miller, J. William. "Ballast Stone Studies From North Carolina Shipwreck 003bui, The Queen Anne’s Revenge: Mössbauer Spectroscopy" Southeastern Geology 40, No. 1. February 2001, p. 59-64

Callahan, John E. "Ballast Stone Studies From North Carolina Shipwreck 0003 Bui, The Queen Anne’s Revenge: Hand Specimen, X-Ray, Petrographic, Chemical, Paramagnetic and 40K - 40Ar Age Results." Southeastern Geology 40, No. 1, February 2001, p. 49-57.

Image Credits:

Photograph of "Stone Fragment Accession #: H.1914.13.1" North Carolina Museum of History.




I found quite a few different shapes of a light rock stretching along our coastline for more than 100 kms square , round, .rectanngle all round the same time but have never seen it again i live in Esperance Western Australia


I Love learning new facts every day. The simple but extreme wisdom is on display in this article.

thank you for sharing.


I found an object about 1-1/2 inch long, oxblood in color with black specks throughout. It is very smooth. A jeweler at Topsail Island, North Carolina told me it was a ballast stone. How can I get authenticated? Thank you.


Try contacting the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology. Their contact information is located here:

Mike Childs, NCpedia, N.C. Government & Heritage Library.

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