Click here to Become a Fan
..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... .....
I. History of NABS & DIVERSe Orlando
The National Association of Black Scuba Divers (NABS) was founded in 1990 and has over 1,500 members nationwide and abroad in 51-affiliated sister clubs. The association was founded by Dr. Jose' Jones, a Marine Biologists, and Ric Powell, a former Navy Seal. Although the National Association was founded in 1990, some of the sister clubs, such as the Underwater Adventure Seekers in Washington, D.C., were founded as early as 1959. Black divers around the United States saw a need to unite these black dive clubs and thus the organization was founded. DIVERSe ORLANDO, founded in 1993 by Erik Denson and William Champ, has over 30 members in the Orlando area, over half of which are female. Our mission is to promote scuba diving, water skills and environmental awareness into the African American community. This is accomplished through youth and adult educational programs. The National Association has gained recent fame for its dedication of the Henrietta Marie Slave Ship that sunk 35 miles off the coast of Key West in 1701.
II. Discovery of the Henrietta Marie Merchant Slave Ship
Mel Fisher, the famous and controversial treasure seeker discovered the Henrietta Marie in 1972, while he was searching for the mother lode worth an estimated $200 million he found nearby in 1985, buried in the wreck of the Spanish Galleon Atocha. The shipwreck gravesite is located approximately 35 miles off the coast of Key West in 35 feet of water on New Ground Reef. Mel Fisher's divers didn't find the type of treasure they were looking for, but they recovered more than 7,000 historical artifacts including the ship's bell with the name of the ship on it, which made it easy to trace the ships history. Since its discovery, archeologists have led six major field sessions to excavate the site. Initial recovery operations were performed under the Florida Division of Archives, History and Records Management in 1972 and 1973. Recovery operations were resumed in the summer of 1983, and extensive on site archaeological data retrieval continued through 1984 & 1985. This was after increasing interest by historians and black interest groups. In 1991 the archaeological team of the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society carried out additional charting and excavation. Today, much of the hull remains on the living coral reef and will continue to rest in its ocean grave so as not to disturb the marine environment. In 1993, Mr. Fisher donated his claim to the Henrietta Marie site to the Society, and with that, all the artifacts that he had retrieved from it. The recovered artifacts are presently part of the Henrietta Marie traveling exhibition.
III. N.A.B.S. and the Henrietta Marie
The wreck of the Henrietta Marie was brought to the attention of NABS in 1991. Some of the artifacts recovered were displayed in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. at the NABS conference, Discovery '91. NABS officers arranged to have Corey Malcom, David Moore and others from the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society bring some of the artifacts to the conference. The exhibits and slide presentations were stunning. This exhibit had a profound effect on the NABS members. The leg shackles shown, especially the ones for a small child, struck at the heart of our members. This exhibit brought to life the pain and suffering that was endured during the slave trade. We can only imagine the inhumanity that took place. Seeing this exhibit for the first time made me go through a wide range of emotions. I could see tears forming in some of our members’ faces. After seeing this exhibit, NABS members new something had to be done to recognize those lives lost during this horrifying period in world history. Although slaves were not on the ship during the time of the wreck, it is still considered a "grave site" recognizing the lives lost during the voyage. The wreck occurred during the voyage back to the homeport of the Henrietta Marie. After a failed attempt because of bad weather, in May 1993, a dozen members of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers assembled to make history. They traveled 35 miles south of Key West to New Ground Reef to plunge 30 feet into their past. In visibility barely reaching 3 feet, these divers descended to the "grave sight" of the wooden shipwreck and lowered a 2,700 pound concrete monument facing East towards Africa to honor the courage, strength and our people's will to survive. Divers were quoted saying "There is a powerful presence down there." Mounted on the concrete monument was a bronze plaque honoring the slaves that had been imprisoned aboard the 80 foot long, 120-ton merchant-slaver. The plaque read: In Memory and Recognition of the Courage, Pain and Suffering of Enslaved African People. "Speak Her Name and Gently Touch the Souls of Our Ancestors." Because of this endeavor, NABS received national coverage and over 75 articles and several books have been written about the subject. NABS involvement with the Henrietta Marie project does not stop there. NABS is actively involved in educational programs and the national tour of the exhibit.
IV. History of the Henrietta Marie and the Middle Passage
The Henrietta Marie is a typical example of the numerous small merchant ships and West Indian traders active in the transatlantic trade during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. These ships set out on the so-called "triangular route" from the ports of London, Bristol or Liverpool, loaded with cargoes of brass and pewter metal wares, woolens, East India textiles, arms and ordnance, glass and coral beads, iron currency bars and spirits. Upon their arrival along the West African coast, these wares were used in an elaborate bartering scheme for enslaved Africans, elephant ivory, gold, pepper and other spices. They then set sail on the leg of the voyage known as the Middle Passage, from Africa to colonial Jamaica, Barbados, South Carolina, or Virginia. This voyage was brutal on both crew and the unwilling passengers.
During the slave trade, an estimated 9 to 15 million slaves were forced to undergo this terrifying journey leaving their homes, families, culture and way of life. Out of this number, some 3 to 5 million perished before they reached the Americas. More died when they reached the New World. Conditions on board this 60-foot ship were miserable. Hundreds of slaves were confined below in cargo holds chained together with little or no room to stand. Disease and hunger struck many of the slaves. Slaves captured or purchased in the African interior were often held in confinement for months before they finally arrived at the coast. Some of these people had been wounded in battle and others were exposed to smallpox, yellow fever, scurvy, dehydration and dysentery. Slaves that were too sick to complete the journey were thrown overboard to conserve food and water. Sharks followed these ships being guaranteed a meal. There were many rebellions at sea usually resulting in many deaths and severe punishment for the slaves. One must wonder how we as a people survived this tragedy.
The Henrietta Marie was a three-masted, square-stern vessel, with a keel length of 60 feet. Her first known voyage as a merchant-slaver was to West Africa and Barbados in 1697, where she unloaded 188 enslaved Africans. She was refitted in London in 1699, and once again set out on the triangular route in September captained by Thomas Chamberlain. She went first to West
Africa, where she traded metal wares, firearms, textiles and spirits for enslaved Africans and ivory. She stopped in Barbados and continued to Jamaica. In July of 1700, the Henrietta Marie embarked on the return leg of her journey. She made one additional voyage before meeting her demise on New Ground Reef near Key West, between the Fall of 1701 and Spring of 1702 during a severe storm.
The artifacts recovered from the shipwreck are invaluable. What makes the wreck of the Henrietta Marie so remarkable is that it is one of only three sunken slave ships found in America and the only one in the world where artifacts have been discovered and scientifically documented. Over 7,000 artifacts have been recovered from the shipwreck grave sight. These artifacts include the ship's bell, various size shackles, pewter, weapons, ceramics, glass, tools, navigational instruments, coins, ivory and trade beads. Artifacts from the Henrietta Marie are now part of a national traveling exhibit.