Henrietta Marie

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Fate: Captured by English in War of the Grand Alliance.
Port of registry: London
Fate: Sank in 1700;[1] discovered by divers in 1972
General characteristics
Class and type: Slave ship
Tons burthen: 120 (bm)
Length: 60 to 80 feet

The Henrietta Marie was a slave ship that carried captive Africans to the West Indies, where they were sold as slaves. The ship wrecked at the southern tip of Florida on its way home to England, and is one of only a few wrecks of slave ships that have been identified.


Henrietta Marie was 60 to 80 feet (18 to 24 meters) in length with a burthen of 120 tons, and carried a crew of about eighteen men. It was probably built in France sometime in the 17th century. The ship came into English possession late in the 17th century, possibly as a war prize during the War of the Grand Alliance. It was put to use in the Atlantic slave trade, making at least two voyages carrying Africans to slavery in the West Indies. On its first voyage, in 1697–1698, the ship carried more than 200 people from Africa that were sold as slaves in Port Royal, Jamaica.[2]

In 1699, Henrietta Marie sailed from England on the first leg of the triangular trade route with a load of trade goods, including iron and copper bars, pewter utensils, glass beads, cloth and brandy. The ship sailed under license from the Royal African Company (which held a monopoly on English trade with Africa), in exchange for ten percent of the profits of the voyage. It is known to have traded for African captives at New Calabar on the Guinea Coast. The ship then sailed on the second leg of its voyage, from Africa to the West Indies, and in May 1700 landed 191 Africans for sale in Port Royal, Jamaica. Henrietta Marie then loaded a cargo of sugar, cotton, dyewoods, indigo, and ginger to take back to England on the third leg of the triangular route. After leaving Port Royal on 18 May 1700, the ship headed for the Yucatán Channel to pass around the western end of Cuba to avoid the pirates infesting the passage between Cuba and Hispaniola) and to catch the Gulf Stream, the preferred route for all ships leaving the Caribbean to return to Europe. A month later,[3] Henrietta Marie wrecked on New Ground Reef near the Marquesas Keys, approximately 35 miles west of Key West. There were no survivors, and the fate of the ship remained unknown for almost three centuries.[4]

Discovery and salvage[edit]

The wreck was found in 1972 during a magnetometer survey by a boat operated by a subsidiary of Mel Fisher's Treasure Salvors, Inc. (Fisher's company was searching for the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and other ships of the 1622 Spanish treasure fleet that had wrecked along the Florida Keys in a hurricane.) Two anchors and a cannon were found on the first visit. The wreck was visited again in 1973. Some artifacts were collected from the wreck, including bilboes, iron shackles that were used to restrain slaves. When they realized that the wreck was likely a slave ship, not a treasure ship, the company reburied the artifacts and pieces of the ship's hull that they had exposed and left the site. In 1983 through 1985 Henry Taylor, sub-contracting with Mel Fisher's company, excavated the wreck (known as the English wreck) with the assistance of archaeologist David Moore. The wreck was identified when a bronze ship's bell carrying the inscription The Henrietta Marie 1699 was found at the wreck site. Survey and excavation of the wreck site has continued at intervals.[5]

The Henrietta Marie wreck has yielded more than 7000 objects (and more than 30,000 glass beads), the largest collection of artifacts known from a slave ship. They have contributed greatly to our understanding of slave ships and the slave trade. Parts making up more than 80 bilboes have been found at the wreck site. As bilboes were typically used to shackle pairs of slaves together, the ones found at the wreck site could have restrained more than 160 slaves. Other items found at the wreck site include trade goods apparently left over from trading for captives in Africa, goods acquired in Africa in addition to captives (including an elephant tusk), and gear belonging to the ship and crew. Part of the hull of the ship, including much of the keel and part of the stern post, have survived, and have been measured and reburied at the site.[6]

Two copper cauldrons found at the wreck site shed light on the diet of the crew and slaves on a voyage. Malcom argues that the cauldrons were used to prepare separate meals for the crew and the slaves. One cauldron had a single chamber one-half cubic yard in capacity. This vessel was probably used to prepare a sort of mush or gruel for the slaves. As there were no slaves on the ship at the time it wrecked, the cauldron had been used to store chain. The second cauldron was smaller and had two chambers. One chamber had a capacity of one cubic foot, and the second a capacity of one-half cubic foot. This vessel could have been used to cook a two-course meal for the crew.[7]


In May 1993, the National Association of Black Scuba Divers placed a memorial plaque on the site of the Henrietta Marie. The plaque faces the African shore thousands of miles away, and has the name of the slave ship and reads, “In memory and recognition of the courage, pain and suffering of enslaved African people. Speak her name and gently touch the souls of our ancestors." Dr. Colin Palmer stated, "the story ends in 1700 for this particular ship, but the story of what the ship represented continues today," he says. "The importance of the Henrietta Marie is that she is an essential part of recovering the black experience – symbolically, metaphorically and in reality".[8]

A 1995 documentary, Slave Ship: The Testimony of the Henrietta Marie, was narrated by Cornel West.[9]

The vessel was also featured on the History Channel's Deep Sea Detectives.[10]

An exhibition, "A Slave Ship Speaks: the Wreck of the Henrietta Marie", was created by the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society in 1995, and toured museums around the United States for more than a decade.[11]


  1. ^ Sullivan:28 states the ship started its last voyage from London no earlier than late in 1700 and sank in 1701 or later, based on a trademark on a pewter bottle found in the wreck that carries a maker's mark that was not licensed until November, 1700. All other sources cited in this article agree that the ship began its last voyage in 1699.
  2. ^ Malcom 2001
    Malcom (Trade goods)
  3. ^ Disasters at Sea: A Visual History of Infamous Shipwrecks by Liz Mechem
  4. ^ Cottman 2001:46–48
    Malcolm 2001
  5. ^ Cottman 1999
    Malcom 2001
    Malcom (Bilboes)
    Malcom (Hull)
  6. ^ Cottman 2001:46
    Malcom (Bilboes)
    Malcom (Trade goods)
    Malcom (Artifacts)
    Malcom (Hull)
  7. ^ Malcom (Cauldrons)
  8. ^ Malcom (Merchant ship)
  9. ^ IMDb – Slave Ship: The Testimony of the Henrietta Marie
  10. ^ "Deep Sea Detectives; Using 21st Century Technology to Solve Mysteries of the Past". 2003-08-26. 
  11. ^ Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum – The Henrietta Marie an English merchant slave ship
    Traveling Exhibit Archived 2010-11-26 at the Wayback Machine.


Further reading[edit]

External video
Booknotes interview with Michael Cottman on The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie, July 18, 1999, C-SPAN
  • Burnside, Madeleine H. and Rosemary Robotham (1997) Spirits of the Passage Simon & Schuster.
  • Cottman, Michael H. (1999) The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie: An African American's Spiritual Journey to Uncover a Sunken Slave Ship's Past. Harmony Books.
  • Steinberg, Jennifer. (2002) "Last Voyage of the Slave Ship Henrietta Marie". National Geographic Magazine. August, 2002.
  • Webster, Jane (December 2005). "Looking for the material culture of the Middle Passage". Journal for Maritime Research. Archived from the original on 2011-09-28. 

External links[edit]