Monday, November 28

Wreckage of 207-year-old whaling ship found on seafloor of Gulf of Mexico

A whaling ship that sank nearly two centuries ago after it was damaged in a storm was recently found on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

The ship, called Industry, was hunting whales when a strong storm snapped its masts and opened its hull to the sea on May 26, 1836. Crewmembers on the ship were picked up at sea by another whaling ship and safely returned to Westport, Massachusetts, according to a news release by NOAA, citing an 1836 article.

Industry, a 64-foot long, two-masted wooden brig built in 1815, sank to the seafloor.

The wreckage wasn’t discovered until February when a team aboard the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer piloted a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, to search an area first spotted by an energy company in 2011 and briefly viewed by an autonomous vehicle in 2017, the news release states.

NOAA, which worked with other partners in the discovery, said that finding the wreckage gives a glimpse into a time when descendants of slaves and Native Americans served as an essential crew in one of the nation’s oldest industries.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

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NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said the discovery will help tell the “story of how people of color succeeded as captains and crew members in the nascent American whaling industry of the early 1800s.”

“The discovery reflects how African Americans and Native Americans prospered in the ocean economy despite facing discrimination and other injustices,” Spinrad said. “It is also an example of how important partnerships of federal agencies and local communities are to uncovering and documenting our nation’s maritime history.”

Researchers said lists of crews from other voyages showed that Black people and Native Americans were among those who worked as crewmembers and officers on the vessels. Industry was found to be connected to Paul Cuffe, a mariner and entrepreneur whose father was a freed slave and mother was a Wampanoag Indian, the news release states.

Cuffe began whaling as a teenager and went on to become a merchant, shipbuilder, and abolitionist. His son, William Cuffe, worked as a navigator on Industry. The elder Cuffe’s son-in-law, Pardon Cook, was an officer on the vessel and is believed to have made the most whaling voyages of any Black person in American history, according to the release.

“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 J. Cruz, a New Bedford-based independent historian and a descendant of the family of Paul Cuffe.

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