(updated August 25)
The steamboat Maple Leaf was sunk by a Confederate mine on April 1, 1864, in the St. Johns River. This ship was under contract to the U.S. Army, and had on board the camp equipment and baggage of the 112th and 169th Regiment of New York Volunteers and the 13th Indiana Regiment en route from Folly Island, South Carolina, to Jacksonville. The ship was considered a total loss, and never salvaged. In the 1980s, archaeological exploration and excavation of a portion of the wreck was undertaken resulting in the recovery of a significant collection of Civil War artifacts that are now preserved in the archaeological collections of the State of Florida and the U.S. Army. Some of the artifacts are on exhibit through loans administered by the Florida Division of Historical Resources; others are in storage at the U.S. Army Center for Military History and will remain there until a new museum is constructed. Because of the amazing state of preservation of this wreck, and of its contents consisting of the equipment of an entire army brigade, this site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior in October of 1994.
According to the National Park Service, which oversees the National Historic Landmark program, “National Historic Landmarks (NHLs) are historic places that possess exceptional value in commemorating or illustrating the history of the United States” (www.nps.gov/nhl/index.htm). This is the highest level of designation for historic sites afforded by the United States, and comes with the presumption of the highest level of protection from damage from actions of, or permitted, by the United States. It is one of only 45 National Historic Landmarks in Florida, and is the only Florida shipwreck or inundated archaeological site so designated. To protect this site, the State of Florida and National Park Service established a buffer zone around the actual wreck with the intent that anything proposed to happen within this zone that was subject to state or federal review would receive proper scrutiny.
Dr. Keith Holland, who was key in the discovery of the location of Maple Leaf in the 1980s and in the facilitation of its scientific study and the preservation of recovered collections, became aware of a series of communications cables that already have been placed or that are proposed to be placed within the Maple Leaf buffer zone. Because of his concern, he has taken action that has resulted in an inquiry by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, who are responsible for permitting construction in navigable waters including the vicinity of Maple Leaf. He is also facilitating a private archaeological assessment of the precise location of the previously placed cables relative to the actual wreck of Maple Leaf and, if they have crossed the actual wreck site, of the damage that may have resulted.
We are obviously very concerned that Maple Leaf shipwreck site may have been damaged as a result of laying these cables and await the results of the private archaeological assessment and the inquiry from the Advisory Council. Because we also know that this site is of importance to the general public, we desire to make available key information on the current events surrounding Maple Leaf:
- NEW! Letter from Olsen Associates to Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, August 25, 2016.
- NEW! Letter of response from Jacksonville U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, August 19, 2016.
- Letter from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to the Jacksonville District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, August 11, 2016
- Official Notification to Advisory Council on Historic Preservation from St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions, LLC, July 1, 2016
- Technical Proposal for A Remote Sensing Survey of the Maple Leaf Site, July 6, 2016
- Video “The Maple Leaf: A Civil War Shipwreck,” produced in conjunction with the Florida Humanities Council.
We also direct you to the website of the Mandarin Museum and Historical Society (www.mandarinmuseum.net/maple-leaf). The Mandarin Museum is within sight of the wreck site, and this website provides a good general overview of Maple Leaf and its excavation, and also contains links to other useful web resources related to Maple Leaf.
This blog will be updated as new information or results become available.
Dr. William B. Lees, RPA
Executive Director, Florida Public Archaeology Network