A collection of blogs and musings from the people that work at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum - Florida's Finest Lightstation.

August 2011 Archives

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August 31, 2011

High School Students in Michigan Discover Shipwrecks with NOAA Archaeologists

Posted by: Chuck Meide in LAMPosts

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Tenth grader Yer Vang assists our friend and colleague Dr. Jim Delgado, a NOAA maritime archaeologist, on a project in the Great Lakes which let young people work with archaeologists on the search for sunken wrecks. Here in the nation's oldest port, LAMP archaeologists have been incorporating high school students into our underwater archaeology programs since 1999.

Congratulations to our friends and colleagues with NOAA's Marine Sanctuaries program, for a successful project using maritime archaeology to expand the horizons of regular kids. This same goal has been core to our mission at the First Light Maritime Society since the founding of LAMP in 1999, and in fact we pioneered what we believe to be the first program to team high school students with underwater archaeologists to work side by side on historic shipwreck sites. I thought I'd salute our colleagues who were so successful at a similar program, albeit one unique and exciting in its own right.

Working with the Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron, which boasts hundreds of well-preserved shipwrecks in its frigid depths, a group of high school kids participating in NOAA's Project Shiphunt recently discovered two shipwrecks over a century old.

This quote from student Tierrea Billings sums up why we get kids involved with archaeology:

"I'm so used to, you know, being in the class room and being in one place and just being here. But when, like, I got to go out there and experience all this different technology and things that I never even heard of, it made me realize that there's so much that the world has to offer..."

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August 28, 2011

Our Nation's Oldest Port Turns 446 Years Old! (Almost)

Posted by: Chuck Meide in LAMPosts

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St. Augustine was sighted and named by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés exactly 446 years ago today, 28 August 2011.

Today's date marks the day 446 years ago that Menéndez first sighted, and named, St. Augustine, though he didn't make landfall until a week later, on September 7. So an early Happy Birthday to St. Augustine, the Ancient City and Oldest Port!

UPDATE: There have been some questions from our readers regarding the exact day that St. Augustine was founded. Many sources list it as September 8, including the webpage of the City of St. Augustine. Here is a definitive timeline from the Florida Museum of Natural History, which under Dr. Kathleen Deagan has conducted archaeological excavations of Menéndez' first settlement and fortification, to help clear up some of the important date's in St. Augustine's first year of existence. You'll see that a lot of dramatic and pivotal historical events happened very quickly in those first few week's after Menéndez' landfall:

• August 28 - Sighted land of Florida on St. Augustine’s feast day

• September 7 - Captains Morales and Patiño disembark with 30 men to dig an entrenchment to protect people and supplies while the site of the fort is more carefully chosen

• September 8 - Menendez formally claims Florida, unloads two of his ships

• September 20 - Menendez and 500 soldiers march on Ft. Caroline, capture the fort and rename it San Mateo

• September 27(?) - Menendez returns in triumph to St. Augustine, with 200 men

• September 29 - Massacre of French at Matanzas

• October 11 - Second massacre at Matanzas

• November 1 - Menendez takes 250 men to Cape Canaveral, captures French survivors there. Before leaving, Menendez marks out the fort at St. Augustine, and establishes a work schedule for the soldiers to build it. Their tools were iron poles, mattocks and hatchets.

August 26, 2011

Early Spanish Fort Discovered by City Archaeologist!

Posted by: Chuck Meide in In the News, LAMPosts

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St. Augustine's City Archaeologist Carl Halbirt, on right, oversees a local volunteer during excavations of a newly discovered site believed to be one of the settlement's early wooden forts.

St. Augustine's City Archaeologist, Carl Halbirt is a great friend and colleague, and one of the most productive and knowledgeable archaeologists I've had the pleasure of working with. Congratulations to him on one of his greatest discoveries: the apparent remains of one of St. Augustine's early wooden forts, dating perhaps to the late 1500s. This story made a big splash when it hit the front page of the St. Augustine Record the other day, and rightly so. If this site does indeed prove to be what we think it is, it will be one of the most significant finds ever made in this most archaeologically significant of American cities.

St. Augustine City Archaeologist Carl Halbirt and his team believe they are on the verge of a major discovery connected to the city's colonial Spanish history.

Since January, Halbirt has been digging on a parcel in the back of the Spanish Quarter hoping that the site may be where once stood one of the nine Spanish wooden forts that preceded the Castillo de San Marcos, the 17th-century coquina fort that sits in majestic silence across the road.

"Although it's mostly conjecture at this point, this could be one of the most significant archaeological finds we've made in St. Augustine," Halbirt said. "To date, we've never found any physical evidence of any of the wooden forts that we know the Spanish built here before the Castillo."

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August 18, 2011

The 150th Anniversary of the Loss of the Jefferson Davis

Posted by: Chuck Meide in LAMPosts

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This scene depicts the recapture of the Enchantress, which had been taken by Confederate raiders from the privateer Jefferson Davis, by the USS Albatross.

“The name of the privateer Jefferson Davis has become a word of terror to the Yankees.”
--Charleston Mercury, August 1861

Today marks the sinking of the infamous Confederate privateer Jefferson Davis, which struck the sandbar offshore St. Augustine Inlet on 18 August 1861. LAMP researchers have been searching for this shipwreck for years, and have made significant historical discoveries in the National Archives and elsewhere, though the location of her physical remains are still a mystery. With the help of Pepe Productions we have even produced a documentary on our hunt, "The Search for the Jefferson Davis." Yesterday's New York Times carried a tribute to the history of this Rebel raider, a great read for this, the anniversary of her loss off our nation's oldest port.

Not long after setting sail from Massachusetts, the Cuba-bound merchant schooner Enchantress spied a square-rigged brig approaching, painted black, with dark sails and black mastheads and yards. As the vessel drew near the merchantman, a voice ordered the Enchantress to heave to. Shortly, a boat containing an officer and six men rowed alongside. Upon climbing over the gangway, the officer confronted the merchantman’s captain, demanding immediate surrender of his vessel. Facing the muzzles of the raider’s cannon, and with only a single musket on board, the schooner’s captain had no alternative but to submit. It was piracy, plain and simple — but piracy condoned and supported by the Confederacy.

The Enchantress, captured on July 6, 1861, was the latest prize for the Rebel privateer Jefferson Davis. Known affectionately, even reverentially, by Southerners as the Jeff Davis, the ship’s adventures were followed closely on land. With the Union blockade tightening around Southern ports, the scrappy Jeff Davis seemed to offer hope that the Confederates could still change the balance of the Civil War at sea.


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August 17, 2011

St. Augustine Lighthouse Listed In Top Nine Best Lighthouse Climbs in the Country!!

Posted by: Chuck Meide in In the News

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The Fyddeye Guide to America's Maritime History has recently announced its list of the top nine best lighthouse climbs in America. Not that anyone here was surprised, but our St. Augustine Lighthouse was included in this list of the best of the best! The Fyddeye Guide is a comprehensive directory for tall ships, lighthouses, historic warships, maritime museums, and other attractions that preserve, protect, and interpret our nation's maritime history. Thanks to the Fyddeye editors for recognizing our beautiful lighthouse and our unparalleled visitor experience, itself a testament to the hard work of our dedicated Lighthouse team.

Follow this link to see what eight other lighthouses made the cut!

August 2, 2011

The Wealth of Knowledge

Posted by: Chuck Meide in In the News, LAMPosts

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LAMP used the research vessel Roper, on loan from the Institute of Maritime History, during its June field school, when a team of archaeologists, college students, and volunteers excavated an 18th century shipwreck and raised two cannons.

A few weeks ago, while on the research vessel Roper while conducting shipwreck survey offshore the Matanzas Inlet, I participated in a phone interview with a writer from St. Augustine Underground. She had wanted to write an article on archaeology and treasure hunting in St. Augustine. I immediately saw red flags when I first heard this, as the confusion between these two contradictory practices is a common misunderstanding among members of the public. Underwater archaeology is very different from treasure hunting. The former involves systematic scientific investigations of shipwrecks or other maritime sites to seek knowledge about the past, while the latter is concerned with salvaging shipwrecks in search of materials that can be sold for a profit. Careful recording, documentation, and forensic analyses--procedures which cost time and money and prevent archaeology from being a profitable venture in a commercial sense--ensure that as a site is literally destroyed through excavation, scientists can maximize the amount of knowledge gained which can be received in no other way. Over the last few decades treasure hunting in Florida has, alas, resulted in the loss of a vast amount of knowledge that could have been saved, if archaeology had been conducted.


“The objects to us aren’t as valuable as the context,” he said. “Treasure hunters typically don’t give a damn about this. They care about the shiny stuff.”

For archeologists, the sole purpose of finding artifacts is to learn more about the people who used them. They are strongly against the selling of any artifacts no matter if it’s gold coins or a chipped dinner plate. Archeologists are after information, not objects.

On the other hand, it’s common knowledge that treasure hunters are in the business to make a profit or simply grow their personal collection. And they are frowned upon by archeologists.

“Treasure hunters are typically not interested in information,” Meide said. “They’re interested in stuff.”

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