Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Captain Morgan's Cannons Found?
Diver Joe Lepore steadies a heavy 17th-century cannon as it's lifted by an airbag from the seafloor near the mouth of Panama's Chagres River (see map) in a recently released picture taken in 2010.
The newly recovered cannon is among six believed to have belonged to the fleet of 17th-century buccaneer Capt. Henry Morgan, whom later accounts painted as a bloodthirsty pirate.
In 1671 Captain Morgan's current flagship, Satisfaction, hit a rocky reef and sank as he sailed out of the mouth of the Chagres River en route to sacking the Panama Viejo, now called Panama City.
Three more of Captain Morgan's ships either slammed into the same reef or collided with each other and also went down. But the determined Welsh privateer reassembled what remained of his fleet and continued on to plunder the city. Privateers were private sailors under contract to states—in Captain Morgan's case, Britain.
In 2008 an international team of archaeologists found the ships—and their cannons—that sank on that disastrous day. In 2010 the scientists began bringing cannons and other artifacts to the surface, where they'll be treated to remove organic buildup and then displayed in Panama.
The project was a collaborative effort that included the government of Panama, the Waitt Institute for Discovery, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Texas State University, and the National Geographic Society. (The Waitt Institute sponsors the Waitt Grants Program for the Society, which also owns National Geographic News.)
"Clever" Captain Morgan
A 1680 engraving of Capt. Henry Morgan depicts his ships attacking a Spanish fleet in the background.
Captain Morgan combined successful careers as a privateer and politician. After plundering Spanish settlements in Central America and South America and attacking Spanish ships in the Caribbean Sea, he was knighted by Britain's King Charles in 1674 and appointed lieutenant governor of Jamaica. He also owned a large sugar plantation in Jamaica and apparently enjoyed his final years there.
"He was very clever and articulate, and had a sense of humor," said Waitt Institute Executive Director Dominique Rissolo, who worked on the underwater excavation of Morgan's ships.
The privateer was also known to enjoy "a good libation" and drank himself to death in 1688, Rissolo said.
Beneath the long mass of organic buildup (pictured in 2010) is a small cannon that was likely used on the deck of Captain Morgan's ship Satisfaction.
Artifacts are not transported in this manner—the cannon is in the back of a pickup truck only to demonstrate its small size, the archaeologists said.
The oval object in front of the cannon is one of Satisfaction's ballast stones, which were moved or removed to enhance stability in the water. The encrustations cemented the stone to the cannon during years underwater.
Thanks to National Geographic