I attended the Society of NC Archivists conference in Morehead City, NC on Thursday, March 31 through Friday, April 1, 2011. It was very nice to pick up company and fellow archivist, Gwen Gosney Erickson from Guilford College, for the long drive there. Excellent mileage though, about 38.1 miles per gallon!
The opening plenary was "Recovering History in the Atlantic: Queen Anne's Revenge and the H.L. Hunley." Nautical Archaeology Curator of the North Carolina Maritime Museum David Moore gave a brief history of pirates, specifically Blackbeard. The most reliable source for pirate historians is the General History of Pyrates 1724 by Captain Charles Johnson. While the book has been reprinted several times, experts still turn to that source for the daily life and activities of pirates from Blackbeard's generation.
Moore explained the many challenges of recovering items from the sunken Queen Anne's Revenge, found not too far from where we were sitting at the Crystal Coast Civic Center in Morehead City, NC. One of the challenges is lack of visibility - the waters are too murky - so it is a lot of touch and feel or "blind archaeology" as he called it.
Although difficult, approximately 50 percent of the site has been recovered including a uterine syringe made of pewter, nested weights, and part of the toilet that Blackbeard probably used. A lot of these items will go on display at the NC Maritime Museum this June, which we learned about at the Thursday evening private reception at the museum.
Meanwhile, not too far south, and since this was the first joint meeting with archivists from South Carolina, Ralph Wilbanks shared the history of the Civil War Submarine H.L. Hunley.
Wilbanks is an underwater advisor for the National Underwater and Marine Agency. The Hunley was built in Mobile, Alabama and shipped to Charleston, SC. It was the first submarine to sink a warship, the Housatonic in February 1864.
Self-made millionaire and adventurer Clive Cussler was convinced the Hunley was beneath the waters off the coast of South Carolina. After looking in the 1980s, he found nothing but he didn't give up and found the tip of it on May 3, 1995. Five years later after many political battles and the construction of a custom conservation facility, recovery of the submarine began in May 2000. Recovery of the entire submarine and its contents was completed on August 5, 2000. A celebration off the coast of Charleston took place with 300 boats in the water and media everywhere.
The Hunley, still pretty intact, was taken back to the facility where the hard work began. Everything that went in the Hunley was still there, including a shoe with 26 bones in it. In fact, all 18 shoes (for the nine men in the boat) each had 26 bones in them. Other items found were a canteen, wallet and Union dog tag (Civil War was the first time they were used and this one was probably a souvenir).
Wilbanks estimates that approximately $20 million was spent on the recovery of the Hunley, a lot donated by wealthy individuals, including mystery writer Patricia Cornwell.
And since this is all about ships, here I am at the Sanitary Fish Market in Morehead City (too full of seafood to actually steer a ship):