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Reported by April Taylor
Archaeologists with the United States marines have identified wreckage that they believe to be from a Confederate ship named, “The Planter.” What makes the find of unique significance is that the ship was used in a slave escape. Robert Smalls seized the ship during the Civil War in 1862 and guided it into Union territory, freeing 15 slaves in the process — including seven crewmen, five women, and three children. He turned control of the ship over to the Union. The vessel was used then as a gunboat for the Union Navy, and in 1863, Smalls was named captain of the ship and served in that capacity until 1866. He was the first black man to command a United States vessel.
As compensation for seizing the ship from the Confederacy and bringing it under Union control, the United States Senate and the House of Representatives voted in May 1862 to award Smalls and his crew with half of the value of the ship and the cargo it was carrying. Smalls received $1,500 as his share of the prize. Reports are that Smalls and the crew were never paid what they were promised for the cargo the ship carried.
The ship wrecked during a storm in 1876, and even though the majority of the ship’s heavy equipment was salvaged, the exact location of the vessel was lost over time. The wreckage was discovered near Cape Romain, close to the Charleston Harbor. It was found sitting in around 15 feet of sand and water. Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association made the official announcement of the ship’s discovery. Although museums have expressed interest in the ship’s artifacts, whether or not the Planter will be excavated remains unclear due to the expense of such an undertaking and the fact that the excavation would disturb the nesting grounds of loggerhead sea turtles in the area.