Figure 1: Project Location Map, Pensacola Florida
Discovery in October, 1992 of a small mound of ballast stones in shallow water during an underwater survey of Pensacola Bay has opened a forgotten chapter of Florida’s early maritime history. Initial testing of the site by its discoverers, the Pensacola Shipwreck Survey team, revealed the remains of a wooden sailing ship, and produced samples of ceramics that appeared to be older than those from other sites recorded in the bay. The state team, composed of James Spirek, Della Scott-Ireton, and Charles Hughson, and led by Dr. Roger Smith, interrupted its survey operations to investigate the site during the winter months of 1992-93. The source of the magnetic signal that led to the site’s discovery turned out to be a large anchor, buried fluke-down at the shoreward edge of the ballast mound. The ship’s hull architecture was found preserved beneath a mantle of shell and stones in the center of the mound. The anchor and the vessel’s internal features appeared strikingly similar to those of 16th-century shipwrecks recorded in Europe and the New World. Field specimens of organic materials, such as rope, leather, and plant remains gathered during initial testing, revealed that the shipwreck and its contents were in an unusual state of preservation. A growing collection of clues suggested that the ship had been Spanish, and that it grounded violently on a sand bar near Emanuel Point sometime in the 16th century. Lying undisturbed for centuries, accumulating generations of shellfish whose remains sealed the site, the shipwreck represented an unprecedented find.
Early in 1993, Smith and Bureau Chief Dr. James Miller briefed Division Director George Percy on the importance of the site. Percy expressed his strong support for a state-sponsored program to investigate, develop, and interpret the Emanuel Point Ship, and to invite the participation of the Historic Pensacola Preservation Board and the University of West Florida in the project. The Secretary of State was briefed on the new discovery, as were members of the West Florida legislative delegation. Smith prepared a five-year plan and preliminary budget that included the continued investigation of the shipwreck, the conservation and display of its recovered remains in a public exhibit, and the gradual development of a university program in marine archaeology.
The site’s discovery represented an opportunity for Florida to attempt a new strategy for the development and management of a shipwreck for research and for public benefit, in a cooperative partnership between the public and private sectors. The Historic Pensacola Preservation Board with its direct support organization, Historic Pensacola, Inc., is situated in the city’s waterfront historic district, manages three state museums as well as a number of historic buildings and exhibits, and has established a strong local community support network. Given its public mission and central role in historic preservation, the Board, under the direction of John Daniels, agreed to become an active partner in the project. Plans were made to establish a conservation laboratory in the historic district to treat waterlogged materials from the shipwreck and to prepare a major public exhibit of the conserved artifacts for Pensacola’s citizens and visitors.
The University of West Florida agreed to become an academic partner in the multi-year project, not only for the shipwreck’s obvious research potential for students, but due to the University’s record of public-oriented archaeology in the Pensacola community. This arrangement also was seen as a way in which the university could increase its academic capabilities in marine as well as terrestrial archaeology. Together with Dr. Judy Bense, director of the University’s Archaeology Institute, a plan was developed to offer students from UWF and other universities opportunities to enroll in formal courses and underwater fieldwork focused on the Emanuel Point Ship.
Public impact of the shipwreck discovery on Pensacola was immediately demonstrated by expressions of intense interest, support, and involvement. In a region of Florida noted for its participation in historical preservation and archaeological research, the project soon became a favorite topic of media coverage and public attention. As investigations at the site progressed, wire service, print media, and television satellite transmitted research results beyond Pensacola to a wider world. In response to continuous requests, public lectures by project staff to regional historical and archaeological societies, civic and business groups, and to local schools, created an enthusiastic network of volunteers and sponsors for the project.
The joint project began in May, 1993 with a field school of eleven graduate and undergraduate students from several universities under the supervision of Dr. Smith and his staff. Based from project headquarters in the historic district, the six-week field school began systematic test excavations at the site, uncovering the ship’s central mast step architecture and portions of the galley. Visiting archaeologists familiar with other early Spanish shipwrecks were invited to examine the site, to lecture to students, and to give presentations to the Pensacola public in a series of summer lectures. After the field school was completed, excavation continued at the site until October, when test units were backfilled and the site sealed for the winter. Field specimens were cataloged and underwent preliminary cleaning, analysis, and conservation.
At the conclusion of the first season of excavations, several facts concerning the Emanuel Point Ship (8Es1980) became apparent: (1) it is the earliest shipwreck thus far encountered in Florida; (2) it may be associated with one of the first European attempts to colonize what is now the United States—the 1559 expedition of Tristán de Luna; (3) careful study of the site and its contents would expand the early colonial story of Florida and its association with Spanish-America; (4) the Division of Historical Resources, while committed to the long-range development of the site for the public benefit, would require the assistance of a major university to conduct research; (5) the people of Pensacola possess a special appreciation for their history and for their archaeology, as evidenced by their enthusiasm and support for the project; (6) the shipwreck site and its contents should be developed into a major historical attraction for both tourists and scholars; and (7) additional funding would be needed to continue investigation and interpretation of the shipwreck (Smith 1995).
Initially, the Shipwreck Survey was partially supported by a grant of federal NOAA funds administered by the Florida Coastal Management Program of the Department of Community Affairs. With the discovery of the Emanuel Point Ship, increased state support was made available by the Division, an Historic Preservation Grant was awarded to Historic Pensacola, Inc., and a legislative appropriation of funds collected by the Florida Department of Commerce from sales of Quincentennial automobile license plates was made to the project for fiscal year 1994-1995. Meanwhile, support from Pensacola’s private sector grew in direct proportion to the project’s public exposure. To date, over 25 local businesses have become corporate sponsors of the research, providing cash, goods, and in-kind services.
This increased support for the investigation of the Emanuel Point Ship allowed project staff additions of conservator John Bratten and Gigi Bertsch Naggatz, and the establishment in 1994 of a conservation laboratory, dedicated to the shipwreck. Under the auspices of the Historic Pensacola Preservation Board, the laboratory is housed in the T. T. Wentworth State Museum, situated near the project headquarters. Equipped to stabilize and treat waterlogged objects, the laboratory represents, aside from a facility for research and analysis, a staging point between the shipwreck site and the public display of recovered artifacts at the museum.
At the same time, a graduate student internship program was inaugurated to provide field and laboratory opportunities for promising students from universities nationwide. The program was jointly sponsored by the Bureau of Archaeological Research and Pensacola’s Fiesta of Five Flags Association, and involved a total of six graduate interns from various universities, each of whom worked on the project for a period of twelve weeks in return for a modest stipend. Two interns chose to write Master’s theses on the archaeology of the Emanuel Point Ship; the first thesis was completed early in 1995 (C. Smith 1995). In addition to its intern sponsorship, Fiesta of Five Flags continued to host a second summer lectures series, which allowed outside archaeologists to visit the project, to work with staff and students, and to share their professional perspectives with the public at large.
To address its partnership role in the project, the University of West Florida established an Archaeology Steering Committee, which was charged with seeking public and private funding to enhance the university’s current archaeology program, to expand it to include marine capabilities, and to support continuing investigation of the shipwreck. Appointed by President Morris Marx, committee members included prominent local business leaders and community patrons, and university administrators and foundation officers. Aside from soliciting local support through the university foundation, a plan to seek additional legislative appropriations with the help of local delegates was announced. Between January, 1994 and May, 1995 the committee met on numerous occasions. One productive offshoot of the committee was the decision by a few of its members to create the Pensacola Maritime Preservation Society, an independent, non-profit entity with the intention of raising funds for the shipwreck, and eventually for a maritime museum.
Meanwhile, excavations at the shipwreck site continued to produce unique discoveries. The stern section of the ship was opened up to reveal the articulated structure of a seagoing vessel that appears to be much larger than initially anticipated. Sediments in and around the hull produced a variety of plant remains and animal bones, including rats and mice. Ammunition, crudely fashioned from stone, lead, and iron, demonstrated that the ship had been substantially armed with various types of cannon. Investigation of the stern, complete with its rudder, provided clues to the original size and shape of the vessel. The discovery of curiously molded and painted Aztec ceramics, identified with the help of Mexican archaeologists, represented a unique thread in the growing evidence that suggests the Emanuel Point Ship was part of the fleet of Tristán de Luna, which arrived in Pensacola from Mexico in 1559.
Culmination of the second phase of investigations was accompanied by the discovery of a breast plate of Spanish armor, buried in sediments next to the ship’s rudder. Unique in the archaeological record of colonial Spanish sites, this fragile artifact, as well as the thousands of other individual objects and specimens recovered over two campaigns at the shipwreck, will require expert treatment and analysis. As the end of the fiscal year approached, with no additional concrete funding in place for the next season, field activities were discontinued. In June, 1995 the site was backfilled, excavation apparatus was dismantled, the headquarters packed up, and the field crew let go.
Fortunately, with the help of the Historic Pensacola Preservation Board and the Pensacola Maritime Preservation Society, funding was obtained to continue treatment and analysis of the shipwreck collection in the laboratory for an additional year, in preparation for a major public display of artifacts. In addition, the City of Pensacola has agreed to sponsor an archival research effort to collect copies of documentation concerning the Luna expedition from several archives in this country and abroad. Together with the archaeological record of finds presented in this report, the documents should help to illuminate a forgotten chapter in the early colonial history of Florida and the United States.