Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society & Historical Museum, Key West FL
Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society


1622 Fleet
1622 FLEET

Henrietta Marie

St. John's Wreck

Turtle Harbor

Key West and the Florida Keys


The Last Slave Ships



Mel Fisher Maritime Museum

The Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society is a
501 (c)(3) accredited,
not-for-profit organization existing for the purpose of accumulating and disseminating information; providing educational services to the public on maritime and colonial activity in the New World and preserving maritime culture resources.

The Henrietta Marie an English merchant slave ship

Click here to download the Henrietta Marie traveling exhibit prospectus.

Henrietta Marie Navigation

In the summer of 1700, the English merchant-slaver Henrietta Marie sank in unknown circumstances thirty-five miles west of Key West, Florida. Shortly before this mishap, she had sold a shipment of 190 captive Africans in Jamaica.

The shipwreck was first found by Mel Fisher’s divers in 1972 but only partially excavated. Their brief work revealed that it was later than the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha, which they were searching for, as well as being English. Known as the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society and Museum in Key West, Florida  Henrietta Marie Shackles"English Wreck" for the next ten years, it was not until July of 1983 that divers returned to the site. Archaeologist David Moore went out to study the wreck with Henry Taylor, a salvor who had made an arrangement with Mel to work at the site. They knew that what lay below was not a treasure vessel, but suspected it would be able to make an important contribution to history.

The ship was much more important than they hoped. On most ships of the period, one or two sets of iron shackles were carried to punish sailors who might misbehave; the large number found on this site was unusual. Then came an enormous breakthrough - a diver discovered the ship’s bell. The cast bronze bell was heavily encrusted with concreted sand, sediment andMel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society and Museum in Key West, Florida Henrietta Marie Pottery coral. When the crew gently chipped this covering away, something remarkable was revealed -- the means to identify the long-lost ship beyond a shadow of a doubt. "THE HENRIETTA MARIE 1699" was etched in block letters on the bell. The identification brought a startling immediacy to the excavation. Once records of Jamaican shipping returns confirmed the vessel’s status as a slaver, the wreck’s significance was apparent - the Henrietta Marie was the earliest slave shipwreck identified by name.

The identification allowed researchers to use historical records to begin reconstructing a little-known passage in American history. Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society and Museum in Key West, Florida Henrietta Marie Picture FrameEarly in the research process, records were uncovered showing that the Henrietta Marie had been a London-based vessel, registered as 120 tons burden. Sturdy and fast, she traveled the infamous triangular trade route favored by the slavers - from England to the Guinea coast, to the Americas, then home again.

Accounts relating to the Henrietta Marie’s voyages were uncovered, as were the names of her investors, captains, and wills of some of her crew members. Artifacts found at the site proved particularly helpful in creating a picture of shipboard life and the practices of the slave trade.

Several years ago, Mel Fisher donated the artifacts from the wreck to theMel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society and Museum in Key West, Florida Henrietta Marie Pewter not-for-profit Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society. Under the Society, research has continued both with the collection of recovered items, and in the field.

Today, the Henrietta Marie is believed to be the world’s largest source of tangible objects from the early years of the slave trade. As such it Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society and Museum in Key West, Florida Henrietta Marie Beadshas proved to be a "gold mine" of information about a pivotal period in African, European and American history. Artifacts from any aspect of the maritime slave trade are extremely rare. Among the objects found at the site of the Henrietta Marie are over eighty sets of shackles, two cast-iron cannon, Venetian glass trade beads, stock iron trade bars, ivory "elephant’s teeth," and a large collection ofMel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society and Museum in Key West, Florida Henrietta Marie Silver Spoons English made pewter tankards, basins, spoons and bottles. The partial remains of the ship’s hull have allowed for a reconstruction of the vessel. An equally valuable "treasure" is less tangible: the wealth of information researchers have been able to uncover about the complex maritime slave trade and the roots of racial inequality that still exist today.

In May of 1993, the National Association of Black SCUBA Divers placed a memorial plaque on the site of the Henrietta Marie. The simple bronze marker, which faces the African shore thousands of miles away, bears 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."

Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society and Museum in Key West, Florida Henrietta Marie Slave QuartersTwo years later, in May of 1995, the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society unveiled "A Slave Ship Speaks: The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie." The first major museum exhibition in this country devoted to the transatlantic slave trade, it was prepared and mounted with the assistance of the nation’s leading scholars of African-American history. The critically acclaimed exhibition uses the vessel as a focal point to examine the slave trade, the conditions that spawned it, and its still-evident effect on society. It is currently on a tour of museums across the United States, sponsored by the General Motors corporation.

Dr. Colin Palmer, author of Human Cargoes and a professor of history at the University of North Carolina, is just one of the scholars whose work contributed to the creation of the Henrietta Marie exhibition. He believes that an understanding of the slave trade - such as the exhibit might inspire - is vital if race relations are to progress beyond their current uneasy state. "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."

Monday through Friday
8:30 - 5:00
Weekends & Holidays
9:30 - 5:00

Accredited by the American Association of MuseumsMEL FISHER MARITIME MUSEUM
200 Greene Street
Key West, Florida 33040

Get Our Newsletter

Join us on Facebook
Join us on Facebook!

Mel Fisher Maritime Museum Home Page | Archaeology & Research Department | Conservation Laboratory | Education Programs | Contact Information
Historical Museum Exhibits | Become a Member | Museum Gift Shopping | Museum Information | The Schimmel Archives | Adopt an Artifact

Created by Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society & Historical Museum. © Copyright 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Henrietta Marie Research