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

March 2013 Archives

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March 29, 2013

Workboat Magazine Highlights the Storm Wreck

Posted by: Chuck Meide in In the News, LAMPosts

A few weeks back I had a great little phone interview with the writer Gary Boulard, who was really fun to talk with. He was on assignment for WorkBoat Magazine. He was calling because of a press release announcing the archival research that I had recently carried out in England. Now Garry's article has come out, and its a fun read . . . .

From WorkBoat Magazine:

In May 1782, the editors of the British-run Royal Gazette in Charleston, S.C., posted an almost idle boast.

“We insert with pleasure, what gives us every reason to believe,” the paper declared, “that neither American independence will be recognized, nor the friends of British Government in this country deserted, by the present Ministry of England.”

Just seven months later, with the Revolutionary War all but over, the British left Charleston.

“They evacuated Charleston, which was a huge port, and went in several different directions,” said Chuck Meide, the director of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. “One squadron went to England, one went to Halifax, one to Jamaica.”

But many of the vessels headed for St. Augustine, Fla. “We were getting swamped with people — our population exploded,” noted Meide. “We became the third or fourth largest city in all of the colonies.”

But on the way to St. Augustine, the vessels loaded with British loyalists confronted head-on a treacherous and well-known sandbar. At least 16 ships were wrecked as a result of the sandbar or for other reasons in December 1782.

One of those vessels was the Storm Wreck, currently being excavated offshore by archaeologists with the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program.

Read the entire article here!

Garry has expressed interest in a follow-up story, focusing on our research vessels and the equipment used during shipwreck excavations and artifact recovery. I'm looking forward to working with him again, and hope that this time we can meet in person and get him out on the deck of the Roper!

March 28, 2013

ACTION ALERT: Save Florida archaeology and stop the proposed Citizen Archaeology Permit program

Posted by: Chuck Meide in LAMPosts

The state of Florida is considering a Citizen Archaeology Permit program, similar to the Isolated Finds program it experimented with and abandoned a few years ago. The idea is that private citizens could collect isolated artifacts from public lands and report them to the state, an activity that is usually illegal unless conducted under a state permit by archaeologists. The problems are many: under the original policy the finds were rarely reported or reported with little useful detail, the policy lead to widespread looting of archaeological sites, and the policy prevented law enforcement officers from protecting archaeological sites from looting as it provided a "cover" for looters. This program would extensively impact archaeological sites on state lands.

To learn more, read the official statement put out by FPAN (Florida Public Archaeology Network) here.

If you'd like a little more background, you can read a recent blog post by Jeff Moates, Director of FPAN's West Central Region, here.

If you are a friend of Florida archaeology, YOU CAN HELP!! Please voice your opinion on this issue to Florida legislators, and tell them to oppose the implementation of the proposed Citizen Archaeology Permit program. State Senator Alan Hays has invited Floridians from across the state to express their views to him. You may contact him here, and you can see the letter I wrote him below. If you are from out of state, feel free to share your views with him and let him know that Florida's archaeological heritage is one of the reasons you like to visit Florida.

To find the state legislator for your area and share your thoughts, visit this page.

Click below to see the letter that I have sent my legislators.

Continue reading "ACTION ALERT: Save Florida archaeology and stop the proposed Citizen Archaeology Permit program" »

St. Augustine Diocese Documents Dating Between 1594 and 1763 Digitized by University of South Florida

Posted by: Chuck Meide in LAMPosts

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From the Gainesville Sun:

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Inside a Catholic convent deep in St. Augustine's historic district, stacks of centuries-old, sepia-toned papers offer clues to what life was like for early residents of the nation's oldest permanently occupied city.

These parish documents date back to 1594, and they record the births, deaths, marriages and baptisms of the people who lived in St. Augustine from that time through the mid-1700s. They're the earliest written documents from any region of the United States, according to J. Michael Francis, a history professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Francis and some of his graduate students in the Florida Studies department have spent the past several months digitizing the more than 6,000 fragile pages to ensure the contents last beyond the paper's deterioration.

"The documents shed light on aspects of Florida history that are very difficult to reconstruct," Francis said.

Dr. Francis is a colleague of ours who I first met at a First Light Maritime Society function in Washington, D.C. Like our own Dr. Sam Turner, Michael Francis is one of the few scholars fluent in 16th century Spanish script. It will be very exciting to see what stories are revealed in these 6,000 pages of forgotten St. Augustine history . . .

Read the entire article here.

March 27, 2013

LAMP's Ponce de Leon Research Featured on Smithsonian.com

Posted by: Chuck Meide in In the News, LAMPosts

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We've been seeing a lot of Dr. Sam Turner's work in the news lately, because the 500 anniversary of Ponce de Leon's first landing in Florida is fast approaching (just a few more days now!) The latest national media organization to pick up this story is Smithsonian Magazine, whose webpage Smithsonian.com just featured Dr. Turner's research regarding Ponce de Leon's voyage of discovery:

And so, on March 27, 1513, the first sighting of Florida by Juan Ponce and his fleet. A continued northward voyage and a bout of bad weather later, Juan Ponce and his crew went ashore on April 3 somewhere north of present-day St. Augustine.

Though Juan Ponce was the first to “officially” discover Florida—the first with approval by the Spanish king for such a quest—says Turner, he was not, of course, the first to actually do so. Slave runners had been traveling around the Bahamas for years.

During the course of one of these slaving voyages by a mariner named Diego de Miruelo, a large land to the north had been accidentally discovered when his vessel was driven north in a storm. There he traded with those he encounters but took no captives. Shortly thereafter, slavers went directly to this new land in search of slaves. Thus the initial discovery in the north became common knowledge that ultimately led to Juan Ponce’s licensed voyage of discovery in 1513.

Click here to read the entire article!


500 Years Ago Today: Florida is Sighted by Ponce de Leon

Posted by: Chuck Meide in In the News, LAMPosts

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Dr. Sam Turner, LAMP's Director of Archaeology, has been writing a recurring series of articles for the St. Augustine Record regarding Ponce de Leon's voyage of discovery 500 years ago.

LAMP's own Dr. Sam Turner continues his column in the Record, which has been picked up elsewhere across the state, on Ponce de Leon's 1513 voyage of discovery. The most recent installment published Sunday highlight's de Leon's first sighting of the land he would name "La Florida."

From the St. Augustine Record:

On Easter Sunday, March 27, 1513, land described as an island in the Herrera account was sighted to the west. This was the first sighting of the Florida coast. This first sighting is where many writers on the subject of the discovery of Florida err in their interpretation of Herrera. This stems from a simplistic approach to the text. Because the land is described as an “island,” many historians assume that it must be one of the numerous Bahamas Islands known to the Spanish as the Lucayan Islands. It was not until some years after 1513 that the Spanish themselves realized that Florida was part of a greater land mass. This 16th century misunderstanding of geography continues to confuse scholars to this day.

As noted previously, the Lucayan Islands had been scoured and largely depopulated by Spanish slavers who had also made a number of incursions into Florida for the same purpose by 1513. It is very unlikely therefore for any of the Lucayan Islands to have been unknown and un-plundered of their inhabitants by Spanish slavers. The unidentified island sighted March 27 was the east coast of Florida.

Read the entire article here.

Read the first installment of Sam's series, 20 January 2013, here.

Read the second installment, 03 February 2013, here.

Read the third installment, 17 February 2013, here.

Read the fourth installment, 03 March 2013, here.

Read the fifth installment, 17 March 2013, here.

March 26, 2013

Pirates of the Original Panama Canal

Posted by: Chuck Meide in LAMPosts

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Divers from Texas State University raise a cannon believed to have belonged to the pirate Henry Morgan, off the coast of Panama.

A great article just came out in Archaeology Magazine on the search for Henry Morgan's shipwrecks off the coast of Panama. Fritz Hanselmann, the director of the project, is a friend and colleague of LAMP and a former lecturer at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. A number of cannons have already been found in the area, and there are five wrecks of Morgan's lost somewhere in the vicinity.

From Archaeology Magazine:


Since the first trans-isthmus railroad opened in 1855, the mouth of the Chagres River has been a backwater surrounded by a clotted jungle full of anteaters, toucans, and bellowing howler monkeys. On a promontory above, shaped like the prow of a massive ship, sit the ruins of El Castillo de San Lorenzo el Real de Chagre, or Fort San Lorenzo, which defended the important trade route between 1626 and 1741. It was sacked several times, including by Morgan’s men on their way to Panama City in 1671. Fritz Hanselmann, an underwater archaeologist at Texas State University, is looking for evidence of the privateer’s Panamanian raid—but not in the fort. He’s focused on a string of whitecaps in the sea 200 yards from it, treacherous Lajas Reef, which sank five of Morgan’s ships, including his flagship Satisfaction.

Congratulations to Fritz for getting great media coverage for a first-class shipwreck project. Click here to read the whole article!

March 19, 2013

Research in the British Archives Makes the News, and Another Great Discovery!

Posted by: Chuck Meide in In the News, LAMPosts

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This letter, dated 9 January 1783, from East Florida's British Governor, Patrick Tonyn, to the British Commander in Chief Sir Guy Carleton in New York, reports the loss off St. Augustine of the Rattlesnake, along with two victualing ships and six private vessels.

As I've blogged earlier, I recently made a trip to England where I spent four days immersed in dusty old volumes and sheafs of parchment, searching for clues to the identity of our shipwreck here off the coast of St. Augustine. Our PR specialist Steve Higgans put word out on the trip in the form of a press release, and it attracted some attention both near and far.

From Jacksonville's newspaper, Florida Times-Union:

Chuck Meide let his fingers do the walking through Britain’s National Archives, and the trip shed new light on the ship that probably wrecked off St. Augustine toward the end of the Revolutionary War in 1782.

But while the recent document search gave a new clue to the mystery ship’s identity, the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum’s archaeology director also found another that says it shouldn’t have been anywhere near St. Augustine.

Continue reading "Research in the British Archives Makes the News, and Another Great Discovery!" »

March 14, 2013

Spring Break Scribing!

Posted by: Chuck Meide in LAMPosts

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One of our favorite students, Maggie Burkett, has returned to St. Augustine while on Spring Break from her undergraduate studies at Juniata Collage. Like most college students, she has decided to forgo beer and beaches on her Spring Break to come to LAMP to clean shipwreck artifacts in the laboratory! Ok, maybe she's not like most students. But we are glad to have her, even for a day, and her efforts have helped us move closer to the conservation of this iron cauldron recovered from the Storm Wreck, a British shipwreck lost off St. Augustine in December 1782.

Maggie hasn't been our only volunteer working on artifact cleaning for us this spring . . .

Continue reading "Spring Break Scribing!" »

March 11, 2013

The Ponce de Leon Controversy Continues . . .

Posted by: Dr. Sam Turner in In the News, LAMPosts

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Dr. Sam Turner, LAMP's Director of Archaeology, was recently interviewed by the Florida Today regarding Ponce de Leon's landing site.

The controversy continues . . . did Ponce de Leon land in North Florida, as his log indicates? Or did he land further south, near Melbourne, where an avocational historian has traced his route as best he could reconstruct it using a modern sailboat? It is a matter of local pride for those of us in North Florida . . . and those in Melbourne. A recent article in Florida Todayallowed both sides to weigh in, including LAMP's own Dr. Sam Turner, a Ponce de Leon scholar.

From Florida Today:

When unconventional historian Douglas Peck and his loyal crewmate, Hooker the tabby cat, attempted in 1990 to retrace Juan Ponce de León’s voyage of exploration, they ended up sailing near the Melbourne Beach shoreline — not St. Augustine.

Did the duo successfully upend centuries of academic history?

According to most schoolbooks, the Spanish conquistador sighted shore near the present-day city of St. Augustine, the oldest European settlement in North America.

Spirited debate continues on Ponce de León’s landing site. And Florida’s looming 500th anniversary has thrust this controversy into the spotlight, with the Space Coast taking center stage.

The article is substantial and worth a read, and there is a great little video to accompany it. Considering that the newspaper in question is based out of Melbourne, we had expected there might be a little home team bias. And there was a pretty important hole in Melbourne's argument that was not emphasized. The single primary piece of documentary evidence--the latitude recorded by Ponce de Leon the day before his landing--was not mentioned in the video at all. That latitude coordinate--30 degrees, 8 minutes--puts Ponce's landing somewhere in the Ponte Vedra area, north of St. Augustine (even with the understanding that 16th century instruments and astronomical tables don't have the accuracy of a modern GPS) . The alternative theory, based on a cruise taken in a marconi-rigged, modern sailboat, which certainly handles winds and seas very differently than a 16th century a square-rigged caravel, is based solely on a single voyage undertaken in the 20th century, not on a written fact in the historical record from the 16th century. You check it out and make your own decisions--we report, you decide!