|Volumes of nineteenth-century shipping records stored in the National Archives in Washington D.C.
Historical research plays a key role in any maritime archaeology program. Studying the documentary record not only helps us locate undiscovered shipwrecks, but allows us to place our archaeological findings into a richer historical context which leads to a broader, more insightful, and more multi-dimensional understanding of the past. Historic maps from the 16th century onwards helps us see how the coastline has physically changed, and also the changing attitudes of how St. Augustinians perceived the maritime landscape around them. Letters and government reports provide us with insight into frontier life in colonial St. Augustine, and often detail the tribulations and final disposition of wrecked ships. Port records, newspapers and insurance papers also provide accounts of lost ships, as well as detailed records of maritime trade and changing consumer behavior. Engravings, paintings, and historic photographs add a visual dimension to these social activities. All of these types of archival records, when coupled with the physical evidence excavated by archaeologists from earth or sea, provide a remarkably enlightening view of the complex cultures whose transportation, communication, and exchange networks became increasingly global from the colonial period onwards.
|Dr. Turner at work in the National Archives.
Dr. Sam Turner, the Director of Archaeology at LAMP, is also an acclaimed historian and trained paleographer. Paleography, or the study of ancient script, is a necessary skill for any historian studying St. Augustine, as the transcription and translation of 16th-19th century Spanish manuscripts are vital to our understanding of the former colony. Dr. Turner’s dissertation research focused on inter-island Spanish Caribbean trade, some of which related to individuals involved in the early history of Florida such as Ponce de Leon. One of Dr. Turner’s current projects is the transcription of St. Augustine’s port records from the Second Spanish Period (1784-1821). These records promise to provide great insight into the complex trading relations of this period, when St. Augustine truly became a multicultural settlement characterized by the amalgamation of Spanish, English, Minorcan, American, African-American, and Seminole cultures. Another current project is the archival research into the history and loss of the Confederate privateer Jefferson Davis, the most successful privateer of the Civil War. This work is being carried out not only by Dr. Turner but by several volunteers working under his supervision, and new documentary discoveries are being made on a regular basis. It is hoped that this research will help narrow down the search area for a future remote sensing survey that may eventually lead to the discovery of the ship itself.
LAMP also maintains a cooperative agreement with Dr. John de Bry of the Center for Historical Archaeology. Dr. de Bry is an accomplished paleographer specializing in early French and Spanish manuscripts. One of our mutual goals is to continue the search for the lost French fleet of Jean Ribault, lost south of St. Augustine in 1565.
Please explore the following links to learn more about historical research at LAMP.
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