The Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe: The Longest Dugout Recorded in Florida

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This past Saturday we had the privilege of visiting the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture , as they were host to a wonderful lecture on local history. While there we finally got to see the infamous Apalachicola

The 50 foot long Apalachicola Traders' Canoe is made of a single cypress log and is the longest dugout on record in Florida.

The 50 foot long Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe is made of a single cypress log and is the longest dugout on record in Florida. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Master Site File)

Traders’ Canoe. I have heard mention of it before and I have always been curious to see it. You are probably wondering why I would be so excited about a dugout canoe, right? What if I told you that it was the longest dugout canoe ever recovered, in one piece, in the state of Florida? It is over 50 feet long! 50 feet, 4 inches to be exact! Imagine trying to paddle such a beast upstream! This dugout was initially found in 2006 by two gentleman that were out bass fishing on the Apalachicola River. While they were loading their boat onto a trailer they noticed what appeared to be a board sticking out of the water. When their trailer struck it the object floated higher out of the water and they knew immediately they had come across an old dugout canoe. They attempted to pull it out of the water to load it onto their trailer, but soon realized it was too long. One of the gentleman operated a nearby sawmill, and so was able to arrange for a logging truck to transport it  to the sawmill for safe keeping. They then reported the find to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They recognized the potential significance of their find and wanted to do the right thing by reporting it to the proper authorities. The dugout quickly became a local celebrity, receiving numerous visitors wanting to witness this behemoth firsthand. A few days after the initial discovery archaeologists from the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research were able to visit the dugout and work with other state officials and the individuals who discovered the dugout to come up with a plan to make sure that it was properly cared for and preserved.

Archaeologists generally discourage people from removing dugouts or other wooden artifacts from water or muck. These objects are usually quite saturated and have been that way for a long time. The state usually receives calls about dugouts becoming exposed during drought events, when water levels drop and they are found sticking out of the mud.  Once they are removed they start to dry out quickly and can degrade into a pile of nothing more than saw dust quite rapidly. It takes a trained conservator to ensure that the wooden object is dried carefully and in a controlled manner so that damage is kept to a minimum. Additionally, in some cases various conservation treatments are applied to ensure that the cellular structure of the object remains stable for years to come. These treatments can be very lengthy and sometimes expensive, and until the object can be treated properly, it is best preserved in place. If you are ever in a situation where you  find a dugout canoe or any other archaeological remains, you may call the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research to report it. You can also contact your local FPAN office, as all of us work closely with the folks at the Bureau of Archaeological Research.

After the the Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe was properly conserved, archaeologists could see tool marks on the boat which indicated that it was made using metal tools, but with techniques commonly used by Native Americans. The fact that metal tools were used, along with the shape of the canoe, suggest that it was manufactured sometime between 1750 and 1850. Dugout canoes had long since been used by Native Americans but the technology was adapted and modified to meet the needs of Florida’s many early European settlers. It is possible that it was made by Native American craftsmen under the direction of Americans, the British or  the Spanish.

The Apalachicola Traders' Canoe is currently on display at the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture. (Photo courtesy of the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture)

The Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe is currently on display at the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture. (Photo courtesy of the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture)

Hundreds of dugout canoes have been recovered from Florida’s lakes and rivers. Some of you may remember the dugout that was recovered from Lake Munson a few years ago. During the 2000 drought event, hundreds of dugouts and dugout fragments were recorded in Newnan Lake near Gainesville. Forty  wood samples were taken from the Newnan canoes and were found to be between 3,200 and 5,000 years old. Most dugout canoes measure between 18 and 20 feet. The traders’ canoe is more than twice that length! The traders’ canoe was also manufactured from a single cypress log. The majority of dugouts that have been recorded in Florida have been carved from pine logs, although cypress dugouts are not unheard of in Florida. It is quite possible that Florida has the largest concentration of dugout canoes in the Americans, possibly the world. Our state’s unique aquatic environment, complete with anaerobic muck river and lake bottoms, lends itself to the preservation of these delicate artifacts. In an anaerobic environment, few bacteria can survive and thus, they cannot contribute to the deterioration of organic material. In other words, there are less bacteria nibbling on the wooden artifacts and so objects that might otherwise degrade are preserved and provide archaeologists and the public a unique glimpse of our past.

If you want to check out the Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe for yourself, and I encourage you to do so, it is on display at the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture! Their hours of operation are Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 12 noon to 5 PM.  It is located on the corner of Avenue E and Water Street in one of the beautifully restored cotton warehouses on the Apalachicola River.  You can make a day trip out of it and continue your forays into the local maritime culture by visiting the Apalachicola Maritime Museum as well!