U.S. Navy & Confederate Shipwreck Project
The Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research (BAR) is working in cooperation with the Naval Historical Center, Washington, DC, to document and protect sunken Navy and Confederate ships in Florida waters. Shipwrecks, and other historical sites in Florida's territorial waters, are historical resources in the public trust. Shipwrecks of the U.S. Navy (1776-present), and those associated with the Confederate States of America during the period of the American Civil War, (1861-1865), remain the property of the U.S. Navy, wherever those ships may lie. Wrecked U.S. Navy aircraft., whether sunken, or found on land, also remain the property of the U.S. Navy.
Phase Two began in May 1996, and will be on-going for an indefinite period. As of the summer of 1996, several Navy shipwrecks are being investigated as part of the BAR's Bay County Shipwreck Survey. Reconaissance dives were also made on the wrecks of USS Alligator and USS Narcissus, during Phase One.
Phase One of BAR's Florida Navy Legacy Shipwreck Project has thus far resulted in the accumulation of more than 300 individual shipwreck records. Each record is added to a computerized database, and a hardcopy portfolio is prepared, containing the primary and secondary sources which pertain to the site. Two of the earliest American military vessels in the inventory were American privateers captured by the Royal Navy during the American Revolution and which later sank while in Royal Navy service. Many naval, and other military craft have been sunk since that time through military action, foundering, grounding, fire and explosion, deliberate sinking to create artificial reefs, and other causes. Approximately one-third of the records accumulated thus far are blockade runners or vessels in the service of the Confederacy during the American Civil War. There have also been many ships sunk in the post-World War Two era. During the period 1969 to 1982, the Navy sank at least twenty-five decommissioned destroyers, destroyer escorts, and one cruiser off Florida's coasts as targets during air-sea practices or by explosives testing. Since the 1970s, a large number of vessels which were formerly in Naval service and later sold to private concerns, or transferred to other agencies, have been sunk to create artificial reefs in Florida waters. The Project also assembled extensive information on the history of U.S. Naval facilities in Florida, and other general military history.
One site of particular interest for the Project is USS Alligator, which wrecked near Islamorada in the Florida Keys in 1822. USS Alligator was the first of a number of ships assigned by the Navy to suppress piracy in the Florida Keys and the Caribbean after the U.S. acquired Florida from Spain in 1821. The site of USS Alligator now lies within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) which was established in 1990, and is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NHC, the State of Florida, NOAA, and other agencies, organizations, and individuals, are seeking to have the site of USS Alligator placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and to develop a management plan for the Alligator site which will afford it long-term protection. USS Alligator is one of five ships whose history is given in a separate section below.
The Project has also assembled historical information on other interesting sites such as USS Narcissus, a tug converted for naval service during the Civil War, which sank off Tampa, Florida in 1866, with the loss of all hands. At the time, this was one of the worst single disasters in U.S. Naval history.
Florida's Navy Legacy Shipwreck Project is revealing that Florida has a broad and exciting, sunken, naval and military heritage, which should be studied and preserved for future generations. The Project is showing the value of historical and archaeological research being applied to reach toward a common goal. There is exciting potential for all local, state, and federal governmental agencies, as well as non-profit institutions and individuals to cooperate and exchange information to achieve the long term responsible management of Navy and Confederate ships in Florida.