Our History 

View of the St. Augustine Lighthouse with Salt Run and the St. Augustine Inlet .

The St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum has funded maritime archaeology in St. Johns County, Florida, since 1997. In 1999, the Lighthouse formalized its maritime archaeology program, creating the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, or LAMP. LAMP is one of the few research units in the nation employing full-time professional marine archaeologists and an archaeological conservator that is not guided by a university or governmental entity. This unique organization has produced a body of research contributing both to the museum's interpretive potential, and more importantly to an under-represented portion of St. Augustine's history.

The contribution of maritime commerce and its impact on St. Augustine's development is not easy to grasp in our modern society. However, maritime technology was the foundation for St. Augustine and the nation's development. Historic systems of maritime commerce can be compared to today's interstates where eighteen wheelers and delivery trucks route the goods that support our lives. St. Augustine's colonists looked seaward for their connection with the greater economic, ideological, social and political world. The city's historical infrastructure was dominated by access to ships and the waterways that connected these ships to land. LAMP's research seeks to identify the physical remains of the region's past reliance on the seas, and through these remains help further our understanding of early life and socioeconomic development in St. Augustine and the surrounding First Coast region.

LAMP diver inspects a cannon from the British ship Industry, wrecked in 1764.

The first organization to conduct a systematic maritime archaeological survey in St. Augustine waters was Southern Oceans Archaeological Research, Inc (SOAR). With financial support from the State of Florida and in partnership with the Lighthouse, researchers from SOAR, focused on the offshore shipwrecks surrounding St. Augustine's inlet between 1995 and 1997 (Franklin and Morris 1996). Historical documents spanning four centuries of Spanish, British, and American occupation helped establish the changing inlet's locations over time, and referenced as many as 170 ship losses in the area. Archaeologists then conducted remote sensing magnetometer operations around the inlet's various historic locations. The original survey was directed by SOAR archaeologists Marianne Franklin and John W. "Billy Ray" Morris. Billy Ray would go on to found LAMP in 1999 and serve as its first Director. This initial work resulted in over 55 potential shipwreck targets; though many of these proved too deeply buried for divers to access, a number of historic shipwrecks were identified.                                      

LAMP archaeologist diving on the site of a late 19th century centerboard schooner. 

The most significant of these early discoveries proved to be Industry, a British supply ship lost May 6, 1764 attempting to supply the newly established British garrison. This wreck remains the oldest yet located in St. Augustine's waters and is an invaluable piece of St. Augustine's archaeological record (see Morris et al. 1998). Artifacts from the wrecksite were amazingly preserved offering an unprecedented glimpse into the needs of British soldiers posted to establish dominance in the Florida frontier.

 Documenting the remains of a plantation wharf on the banks of the Tolomato River.

Archaeologists also located two significant 19th century wrecks: a wooden-hulled steamship, and a centerboard schooner carrying construction supplies. The identities of both wrecks remain unknown, but the documentation of their remains contributes to the story of the economic and technical progression of St. Augustine at the dawn of modernity. Just as the city's historical architecture reflects dominant technologies, available resources and perceived dreams of their time, the shipwrecks offer similar insights. Could the wooden barrels of cement that dominate the Centerboard Schooner site, for example, have been meant for industrialist entrepreneur Henry Flagler's extensive construction endeavors in St. Augustine during the Gilded Age? The vessel's architecture speaks of significant changes in sailing ship technology in response to the economic supremacy of steam engines while its cargo speaks for the modern vision of an ancient city at the turn of the twentieth century.

LAMP archaeologists broadened their research scope in 2001 to assess all underwater sites within the county. A multi-year project, the St. Johns County Submerged Cultural Resources Inventory and Management Plan, has produced information on what types of sites can be expected in the various inundated environments of the region. Sites representing St. Augustine's Spanish, British, and Early American origins have been located. Shipwrecks are not the only maritime sites of interest to archaeologists. Other site types identified along St. Johns County's maritime landscape include British plantation landings, community boatyard foundations, ferry and steamboat landings, ballast dump sites, colonial wharves, and inundated terrestrial sites like homesteads that have eroded into the rivers. This growing database is beginning to offer a clear view of the historic development of our nation's oldest city from the vantage point of the water. These sites are remnants of the nexus points of transport for the region--the locations where people arrived, and where goods and materials were transferred. Much like reconstructing the city's development through the foundations left beneath the soil, a picture of the regional, historical infrastructure emerges.

Perhaps the most significant site located along St. Johns County's inland waters is the Tolomato Anchorage site (see Morris, Moore, and Eslinger 2005). This site literally bridges the gap between sea and land encompassing terrestrial infrastructure, regional boat building, and colonial use of the natural environment.

Diving operations from LAMP's 2007-2008 research vessel, RV Island Fever.

In the latter half of 2005, LAMP underwent a significant change. LAMP's founder and Director, Billy Ray Morris, left the program to pursue research elsewhere. LAMP then went through a complete staff overhaul and extended period of re-organization. In October 2005, the new LAMP Director Chuck Meide was hired, and he started full-time in March 2006. Chuck is an experienced maritime archaeologist originally from Atlantic Beach in neighboring Duval County. His first task was to hire another staff archaeologist. Chuck approached longtime friend and respected scholar Dr. Sam Turner, of Frederick, Maryland, who started in March of 2006 as LAMP's new Director of Archaeology. These two archaeologists had previously worked on three shipwreck excavations together, and have been busy re-shaping the program to their vision as LAMP entered an exciting new area. LAMP 2.0 was born!

In their first few months, LAMP's new staff has began rebuilding the program and its infrastructure. In May 2006 a new boat, a 1973 28' Bertram named Island Fever, was purchased, and was outfitted as a diving and survey research vessel. In June and July 2006 LAMP joined the College of William andMary and the Institute of Maritime History in sponsoring an overseas research project, a maritime archaeological survey of Achill Island off the west coast of Ireland. Regular diving operations in St. Augustine waters were reinitiated in August 2006. Shortly thereafter, state grant funding was secured for a major new project, a comprehensive program of research and education known as the First CoastMaritime Archaeology Project (FCMAP). This program expanded our research scope beyond the limits of St. Johns County throughout the entire "First Coast" region of northeast Florida, while still retaining a focus on our nation's oldest port city, St. Augustine. Excavations carried out under the state-funded phase of FCMAP, between 2007-2009, shed new light into a number of previously known shipwreck sites, and various surveys lead to the discovery of a number of new sites. Excavations were also carried out on land, adjacent to the aforementioned Tolomato Bar Anchorage Site in the Tolomato River. This area of the Guana Peninsula features wharf remains, agricultural landscape features, and a coquina stone building foundation associated with the British Governor Grant’s 18th century plantation, and subsequently a Minorcan farmstead. It was during the 2007-2009 FCMAP that Brendan Burke, Archaeologist and Logistical Coordinator, joined as LAMP’s third permanent staff member. The project also allowed us to build a network of volunteer divers and expand our high school underwater archaeology program, to more fully engage both local and visiting communities as we dive into our collective history.

It was also during this time that LAMP initiated the annual Field School in Maritime Archaeology, which is now a 4-week program run every summer incorporating undergraduate and graduate students from across the U.S. and overseas. The first field school, enacted for the first two weeks of July 2007, was co-sponsored with Flinders University in South Australia, and focused on the excavation of the Steamship and Ballast Pile wrecks, along with investigations of other local archaeological sites. In the ensuing years, Plymouth State University accredited LAMP's field school, under the direction of our beloved late colleague, Dr. David Switzer, whose final career working dive took place during the 2008 Field School.

 The research vessel Roper supporting diving operations on the Steamship/Ballast Pile Wrecks during the 2009 Field School

In 2009, LAMP saw two new research vessels join the fleet, and said good-bye to the old Island Fever. The Desmond Valdes is a 23-foot Grady White Gulfstream, ideally suited for survey or smaller-scale diving operations. It was generously gifted to LAMP by the Valdes family in honor of their loved one Desmond Valdes. In addition, in the summer of 2009 we had the use of the Institute of Maritime History's research vessel Roper. This 36-foot, steel-hulled former shrimp boat is an ideal working platform and can accommodate as many as 20 divers and a full suite of salvage and archaeological equipment. IMH has agreed to loan the Roper to LAMP every summer since then, and it has greatly aided in the expansion of our field research operations.


In 2010 Starr Cox joined LAMP as our Archaeological Conservator and fourth staff member. Her arrival coincided with the initiation of excavations at our newest
 LAMP archaeologists and students raised a large iron cauldron from the Storm Wreck in July 2010. This was the first identifiable artifact encountered on the day this shipwreck was discovered.
discovery, and current major research project, the excavation of the Storm Wreck, a late 18th century shipwreck discovered during a 2009 remote sensing survey. The Storm Wreck is the second-oldest shipwreck in Northeast Florida waters, and excavations carried out with our annual field school in the summers of 2010 and 2011 have produced a wide range of material culture, including cast iron and copper cookware, pewter tableware, domestic and personal items, hardware and ship’s fittings, a flintlock pistol, the ship’s bell, and six cannon. Two of these guns wereraised, including a carronade dated 1780 which is believed to be the second-oldest carronade to have survived anywhere in the world. Further excavations are planned for this site while research and conservation are ongoing in our laboratory. In addition, a major exhibit focused on this shipwreck is currently in the planning stage.

The assessment of our maritime landscape and lifeways, when integrated with the prodigious quantity of historical and terrestrial archaeological analyses of St. Augustine, offers additional avenues of inquiry for the future. To what degree were the people that left the rich archaeological deposits across the St. Augustine cityscape maritime societies? To what degree did maritime culture permeate the lives of St. Augustine's residents, and others of the First Coast? How was the region's development reflected by the ships used for trade, fishing, and war? The identification and synthesis of underwater sites in St. Johns county and beyond naturally leads to a new view of St. Augustine: a perspective from the water. The most clear view of the town, after all, is from the east looking west-a fact that we at the Lighthouse fully appreciate. As we open a new chapter in LAMP's history, and continue to build upon the established body of information from our previous research, LAMP and the Museum are becoming better equipped to offer this information to the public through educational programs, exhibits, and outreach. Please explore our website and visit the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum in person to view our shipwreck exhibits or take one of our special Behind-the-Scenes Tours to see the latest artifacts as they are cleaned and processed in our laboratory facilities. Come see another perspective of St. Augustine!


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 This essay was originally written by Robin Moore, St. Johns County Archaeologist and LAMP Research Associate. It was updated and expanded by Chuck Meide, LAMP Director, in September 2006, and again in February 2012.

All text and images, unless otherwise noted, are copyright Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, Inc. We extend permission to scholars, students, and other interested members of the public to use images and to quote from text for non-commercial educational or research purposes, provided LAMP is acknowledged and credited. If there are any questions regarding the use of LAMP’s work, please inquire at LAMP@staugustinelighthouse.org.

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