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Discovery of 1800s whaling ship expected to offer insight into Black and Indigenous crew | History

Scientists have announced the discovery of a 207-year-old whaling ship that sunk in the Gulf of Mexico, revealing evidence about descendants of African enslaved people and Native Americans who served as essential crew members.

The 64-foot long, two-masted wooden ship was built in 1815 in Westport, Massachusetts, and was used to hunt whales from the Atlantic ocean, the Caribbean sea and the Gulf of Mexico, but sank during a storm on 26 May 1836, The New York Times reported.

Experts say the discovery of the ship gives new insight into the lives of Black and Indigenous mariners as well as their extensive contributions to the booming trade.

“Black and Native American history is American history, and this critical discovery serves as an important reminder of the vast contributions Black and Native Americans have made to our country,” said US deputy secretary of commerce Don Graves.

“This 19th-century whaling ship will help us learn about the lives of the Black and Native American mariners and their communities, as well as the immense challenges they faced on land and at sea.”

The shipwreck was first spotted by an energy company in 2011 and again in 2017 by an autonomous vehicle, but was never fully examined.

But on 25 February this year, scientists used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to explore the seafloor and better inspect the wreck.

Now, using research on the vessel’s history, combined with footage from the ROV, a group of scientists, led by James Delgado, senior vice-president of Search Inc, a US archeology firm, Scott Sorset, marine archeologist for the US bureau of ocean energy management, and Michael Brennan of Search, were able to identify the remains of the wreck as the ship named Industry.

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Industry, in addition to providing insight into the experiences of Black and Indigenous sailors, is also linked to several prominent Black mariners including Paul Cuffe, a shipbuilder, philanthropist and abolitionist who hired almost all Black and Indigenous crew members for his ships, as well as Pardon Cook, who made the most whaling voyages of any Black person in American history.

“The news of this discovery is exciting, as it allows us to explore the early relationships of the men who worked on these ships, which is a lesson for us today as we deal with diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.” said Carl Cruz, a New Bedford-based historian and a descendant of the family of Paul Cuffe.

After the sinking of Industry, mystery surrounded what happened to the crew. But new research by Robin Winters, a local librarian at the Westport free public library in Massachusetts, has cleared up the crew’s fate.

An 1836 article in the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror reported that the crew of Industry had been picked up at sea by another whaling ship and returned safely to Massachusetts.

“This was so fortunate for the men onboard,” said Delgado, who worked closely with Winters and several other local historians to confirm the identity of Industry. “If the Black crewmen had tried to go ashore, they would have been jailed under local laws. And if they could not pay for their keep while in prison, they would have been sold into slavery.”

“When we find a ship, in many ways it’s like suddenly a book is open,” Delgado told the New York Times. “And not every page might be there, but when they are, it’s like, ‘Wow.’”

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