By Keith V Holland
Contact Keith Holland

The idea
 Historical Research
St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions Inc. Formed
Salvage Rights and Agreements
What Have We Found?
Artifacts: Ownership or Possession
Public Benefit

The Idea
In 1975 I returned to Jacksonville, Florida. I had been in college for seven years and was now starting a practice of general dentistry with my father and brother. At that time, I had very few patients and a great deal of leisure time, so I decided to become a certified scuba diver. 

    One day while on vacation in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I went diving on my first wreck - the General Sherman. Forty feet from the water's surface, something caught my eye and I picked it up. It was an old brass spigot that was once used to drive into a barrel (perhaps full of  beer) and act as a faucet. I had found my first artifact from a shipwreck. I liked the feeling! I decided right then and there, before I surfaced, that I was going to find a shipwreck in the St. Johns River.

       When I was a boy I spent a lot of time sitting by the edge of the river. I noticed when old dock pilings were removed from the river, the part of the wooden piling above the river's bottom was rotten or destroyed. The portion of wood that had been below the river's bottom was solid and well preserved. Of course, the reason for this is the lack of oxygen within the mud. Decomposition requires the presence of oxygen. The muddy river bottom in the St. Johns River is steeped with tannic acids and debris from the decomposition of vegetation in lowlands. There us so much of this decomposed vegetation that has accumulated over thousands of years that oxygen is excluded from the sediment. It seemed logical that the St. Johns River bottom would be a perfect repository for organic material to be preserved; a repository where for tens of thousands of years, organic and inorganic material has fallen, sunk, and slowly accumulated. 

    The St. Johns River traverses the City of Jacksonville as it cuts through Northeast Florida for 200 miles. The river has also been a major artery for transportation for hundreds of years. This combination of preservation and maritime transportation seemed ideal for the location of a shipwrecked time capsule.

    My search began in the library. An inventory of all the known ships reported to have sunk in Northeast Florida was produced and the prioritized. The priority of muddy bottom, inland water, and lack of disturbance. At first the Maple Leaf was only one of many vessels. Quickly, though, it rose to the top of the list as others fell to the bottom because of the way in which they sank or the location where they sank. Shipwrecks that had been scuttled, burned, and/or salvaged moved to a lower priority. I also studied the history of the city learning of changes in the waterfront, river spoil areas, and landfills. Any ships wrecked in these areas moved down the list.

    By studying the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' reports to Congress, I learned what areas of the river had been altered, dredged, or changed in some way. Shipwrecks reported to have sunk in areas where the Army Corps had later dredged the river were placed below the Maple Leaf.  The river bottom near Mandarin Point has virtually remained untouched. It is also the area where the Maple Leaf and the General Hunter were reported to have sunk.

    Both the General Hunter and the Maple Leaf were sunk during the American Civil War. They were wrecked within 500 yards of each other, so they competed for priority until the General Hunter's file was received from the National Archives. The record showed that the General Hunter was raised by a wrecking firm soon after the Civil War. Now, the Maple Leaf was clearly first priority.

    All conditions surrounding the Maple Leaf's wreck site were impressive: muddy bottom, inland waterways (brackish to fresh water), and an area unchanged by dredging. I knew this was the site I wanted to dive on but just did not have that spark of enthusiasm to actually do it until the Maple Leaf file was found in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

    During the war of Northern Aggression, the Maple Leaf was chartered as an army transport. It seemed logical to expect that some historical records about the ship had been filed with the Department of Army Branch of the National Archives. A private researcher was hired to search for any documentation concerning the ship. Eventually, a Maple Leaf file was found in the Judicial Branch of the Archives.

    The file showed that in 1868 the owners sued the United States Government for loss of the vessel because it sank as a result of an act of war. This required that all of the documents recorded during her service be accumulated for the suit. After the suit was resolved, the documents were filed in the Judicial Record Group in the archives.

    The one-inch file was informative and was the major trigger for my determination to concentrate on this particular site. It reported that the entire cargo of the ship was lost. Even if there had been serious salvage attempts, only a small fraction of the cargo could have been recovered.

    In June of 1984, the decision to dive on the site to determine if the Maple Leaf was still there was made. But where, exactly, was it? The river there is almost three quarters of a mile wide and the water is very dark. To help find its exact location, I took an 1800s river chart (acquired from the National Archives) and made a slide of the target area. It showed that a navigational hazard existed in 1883, which was suspected as the site of the Maple Leaf wreckage. A high altitude infrared photo of Mandarin Point  -  a photo taken in 1983 from 20,000 feet -  was purchased from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A slide of the photo was then made. Using two projectors, the images of the chart and the photo were superimposed onto each other. By adjusting the position of the two projectors and varying the image size of each projection, they were aligned so that the 1883 river chart image coincided with the 1983 photographic image. Modern landmarks now appeared on an old navigational river chart.

    Trigonometry was used to figure mathematical range values for the location of the wreck in the river channel relative to modern landmarks. With these values and landmarks, it was an easy matter to use a sextant and to move close to the site and place a marker buoy. An underwater, boat towed metal detector was used to search the general area. On the fourth day, a detection alarm signaled that it had located a metal deposit. At the same time, it snagged on an obstruction. One dive to the bottom confirmed that it was the wreckage of a ship. Huge iron portions of the wreck jutted out of the muddy bottom. Our metal detector was caught on an old shrimp net that had become entangled on the Maple Leaf remains years earlier.

    Probing into the mud bottom you could feel a flat platform that felt like wood. It was approximately 25 feet wide, 50 feet long and buried under five feet of muck. Outside the wreck the probe could be pushed to 25 feet and not still not touch a solid bottom. Surely, this was the Maple Leaf's deck, buried in the muddy river bottom.

    The excitement of having found the Maple Leaf sealed and untouched for more than century, also brought a real sense of depression.  Obviously, the ship being buried so far beyond my reach, I realized an awesome amount of time, effort, and money would have to go into this project before even one item could be recovered. Yet the possible discovery of an entire ship full of material was a challenge that could not be ignored. I would have to wait four years before tunneling into the mud, entering the hull and recovering the first item - all in total, absolute darkness.

Historical Research
    The side wheel steamer Maple Leaf was built in Kingston, Ontario, in 1851. She was a Great Lakes passenger and cargo ship for 11 years before being purchased by several American businessmen in Boston. They leased the ship to the United States Government during the Civil War. It was used as a troop transport for the U.S. Army Department of the South and sent from Hilton Head, South Carolina to a small town in the State of Florida - Palatka. During the return trip, the ship struck an explosive device in the St. Johns River and sank in 24 feet of water.

    After the war, the St. Johns River became a major artery for transportation into Central Florida. The position of the Maple Leaf in the channel made it a navigational nuisance. Large portions of her superstructure remained in the channel. In the late 1800s, the City of Jacksonville, Florida, undertook extensive improvement of the St. Johns Harbor and of its 200 miles of interior river channel. One objective was to clear the river of any navigational hazards.

    The Maple Leaf wreck was sufficiently cleared to no longer be an obstruction and she was forgotten. There were more important issues: tourism and state growth. In the years that followed, the population of Jacksonville and the entire State of Florida grew at an unprecedented rate. The sinking of the Maple Leaf was unimportant. It was only rarely mentioned in Florida's history books and was considered an insignificant event in state and local history.

    However, our research indicated clearly that the places of residence throughout the country of the people involved with the ship was impressive. The Maple Leaf's cargo was the military equipment and personal belongings of three Union regiments. They came from 28 towns and communities around Jamestown, New York, 21 around Albany, New York, and nine counties in and around Indianapolis, Indiana. One of the regiments, the 13th Indiana, had enlisted for a three-year term. They were within three months of their discharge when all their personal effects were lost on the Maple Leaf. Whatever else they accumulated as they traveled through the Southeastern United States during the war is entombed inside the ship.

    The Maple Leaf and the material on board the ship is in an excellent preservative environment. More important, those things are sealed in an intact hull and buried under so much sediment that the authenticity and antiquity of each and every item is undeniable. Every item within the hull was there on April 1, 1864, and has remained so ever since.

    So important did the Maple Leaf wreck site seem, and so confident were we that the cargo existed in excellent condition, that we began an extensive examination of what we wanted to accomplish and how we were going to do it. A strategy was needed. A plan must be in place before attempting to alter the site or remove even one item from within the hull. Obviously there were issues to be resolved. How would we acquire the right to excavate an historic shipwreck? Did the State of Florida care? Did the United States Government care? What were our legal rights?

    Ironically, as we move into the last decade of the Twentieth Century, the Maple Leaf wreck site, once a hazard in the St. Johns River, is now the most significant American Civil War wreck ever located. It contains the largest variety and quantity of cultural material from the Civil War known to exist.

St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions Inc. Formed
    When people learn about treasure ships in Florida, they generally think of gold, sterling silver bars and precious jewels. In the Maple Leaf's case, however, it is not so much the intrinsic value of the cargo that was important to me, but rather the fact that I had found it, recognized its potential and could be involved, even in command of recovering it.  As Robert Service stats in his poem The Spell of the Yukon: " ....There is gold, and it's haunting and haunting; It's luring me on as of old; Yet it isn't the gold that I'm wanting  so much as just finding the gold". So it was also true of the Maple Leaf shipwreck site for me. I was becoming a "treasure hunter". As I was lured toward these activities, reading and studying about them, I learned that there were many people who resented even despised treasure hunters. There values were different from mine.

    This apparent contrast in individual values is important to understand as one studies the struggle we went through in the early growth and development of our volunteers and corporate structure. The Maple Leaf site is of such magnitude that an organized and methodical approach was necessary. Initially, a corporate structure was needed. In 1984 St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions, Inc. (SJAEI), was formed. Its purpose was the research, investigation, and excavation of the Maple Leaf wreck site. SJAEI was formed at a time when commercial treasure hunting and the controversies of owning and selling artifacts were making national news.

    There are two extreme opposite points of view regarding the recovery of underwater historical material. One point of view is that of the underwater archaeologist, who adheres to the belief that non-professionals should never be allowed to remove any historical artifacts, much less sell them. The other point of view stems from the activities of the commercial treasure hunter who, although he might care about the historical value of an artifact, is more concerned about converting the item into a monetary profit. Which were we going to be? Where did we fit into this controversy about recovering underwater historical relics? Each point of view was studied as we struggled with who we were in relation to this controversy and what we wanted to be in relation to the Maple Leaf shipwreck. It was decided that we did not entirely agree with either side, although both sides had valid points.

    The underwater archaeologist upholds the principle that only a trained professional can properly recover relics. These relics are a non-renewable historical resource and should never be sold. Rather, they should be conserved and kept for the benefit the public. The professional treasure hunter also recovers non-renewable historical resources. By selling them to the public, he makes underwater history more accessible, which benefits the public. Although they have opposite points of view, both proclaim public benefit.

    Our group consisted of neither trained archaeologists nor trained treasure salvors. We were a composite group of professionals and businessmen from within the private sector. We were not obligated to the professional archaeologist's ethical standards, nor were we obligated to the treasure hunter's need to make a profit. We decided we would place ourselves in a neutral position while, at the same time, actively proceeding with the development of the Maple Leaf Project, which would benefit the public.

    Therefore, corporate decisions as related to the growth of the Maple Leaf Project would be based on public benefit alone. They would not be based on the ethical standards of the professional underwater archaeological world. Nor would they be based on the more profitable avenue which was open to the professionals in the treasure-hunting world. The sole criterion would be what was right for the Maple Leaf Project as it touched the benefit of the public. How to arrive at such a desired position was our challenge.

    We would attempt to create an atmosphere in which those two seemingly opposing points of view could work together in harmony - not in opposition. At that point, concern shifted away from how our corporate structure should be created relative to national controversy and toward what would best serve the Maple Leaf Project.

    The decision to be a private sector, for-profit company was based on the fact that to form a not-for-profit company cost much more than forming the for-profit one. Also, when SJAEI was formed there was no proof that any material still existed on the shipwreck or that the wreck was in fact the Maple Leaf There were also any number of obstacles that could have prevented us from ever finding out. In the event that the corporation needed to be dissolved, it would be far easier to dissolve the for-profit company than it would a tax exempt one.

    The public benefit began with a speech at the Jacksonville Historical Society's quarterly meeting on February 20, 1985. More than 100 hours were spent producing a two-projector slide show designed to educate local citizens about this historically significant shipwreck. Then, anyone who was interested, in any capacity, was invited to join the project. A public volunteer army needed to be created, in which individuals could participate as actively or passively as they wanted. We recognized that the professional historical and archaeological community was also needed, so they too were invited and encouraged to participate.

    Over the years this philosophy of sharing the excitement of recovering history has produced a volunteer army that knows no geographical boundaries. It now consists of more than 50 active volunteers who appreciate the significance of the Maple Leaf and have profited from the experience. They do not measure that profit in terms of money received but rather in terms of enjoyment experienced and intangible rewards attained.

    St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions, Inc. had a structure. It had a purpose - the Maple Leaf Project. It had an audience - the public. And it had the participation of individuals and public and professional groups. All that was needed now was the right to proceed. We turned first to the State of Florida.

Salvage Rights and Agreements
    The privilege to salvage historical ship wrecks requires approval of various governmental agencies. Chapter 267, Florida Statutes, clearly states that, in Florida, all antiquities within state-owned lands are public property. There are procedures to follow should someone decide to acquire artifacts; one is to apply for an exploration contract with the Florida Department of State's Division of Historical Research.

    In August 1984, SJAEI filed an application for exploring the Maple Leaf site, thus declaring our interest in researching the wreck site. Immediately several questions surfaced. Was the Maple Leaf an army transport, ever really abandoned? Chapter 267 states that all abandoned property of historical importance falls under the authority and guidelines of the state. The federal government does not, as a rule, abandon property. However, since it was only leased by the United States, was it really government property? If the ship was not owned by the federal government, then what about the military supplies? What about the personal belongings of the soldiers? Did the State of Florida even have the authority to enter into a salvage contract?

    These issues had to be resolved. After inquiring with several federal agencies, it was learned that no formal procedure existed by which an organization, interested in the recovery of historical underwater shipwrecks, could apply for federal excavation permits. The State of Florida had a formal process but the federal government did not. Florida's authority for granting recovery contracts was based on abandoned property. But was the Maple Leaf ever abandoned? No one knew.

    Frustrated, we decided to file a suit in Admiralty Court with the Judicial Branch of the United States Government to declare our interest in the wreck site. Since no agency within the Executive Branch of the United States could give us the legal authority to proceed, then maybe a federal judge could.

    The purpose of the admiralty suit was not to prove that we owned the ship and its contents, but to determine who did. Filing the suit forced three abstract elements into reality. One was to start a formal process. Once the Admiralty instrument was filed with the U.S. Attorney General's Office, a definite time period was set for the Executive Branch of the federal government to respond. If no agency came forward to deny that the Maple Leaf was abandoned, then it could be declared abandoned by the Judicial Branch.

    The second element was that now, clearly, the Attorney General's Office (not SJAEI or the State of Florida) was charged with the responsibility of discovering whether or not an agency did want to contest the abandonment claim. Any agency that did would then be the client of the Attorney General's Office. Together they would have to contest our claim in a court of law that the Maple Leaf was abandoned. The point of this second element was to find out who the interested parties might be, if any.

    The third and most important factor was that now an impartial third party would make the decision as to whether or not SJAEI had the right to work on the Maple Leaf wreck site. It would not be the State of Florida, wherein Chapter 267, Florida Statutes, claimed all historic and abandoned property within its state boundaries. It would not be an agency within the Executive Branch of the federal government, claiming that as a matter of policy the United States never abandons property. And it would not be SJAEI, which claimed that the ship was abandoned in open waters and therefore it had the right to excavate the site. This was a matter of law, which an impartial federal judge would decide, based on the evidence and the facts.

    Even though our purpose for filing an admiralty claim was not to gain ownership of the wreck site, we were prepared to prove that the federal government had abandoned the Maple Leaf. The government had advertised the ship for sale in 1870 and no one bought it. On June 14, 1880, Congress passed an act stating that whenever navigation of any river is obstructed by a shipwreck, the vessel should be removed. It appropriated public funds and unsuccessfully tried to remove the Maple Leaf on two different occasions. Then any reference to her was systematically removed from all navigational charts. The question was not if the United States wanted to abandon an historic shipwreck site. The issue was that the government had not only abandoned the Maple Leaf it had also attempted to destroy it.

    How could it be possible that, after a century and a quarter, the government still owned the ship and was its sole protector? According to government records, this nationally significant, historic shipwreck was removed twice.  How could the Maple Leaf even be there? Clearly, it would be in the best interest of all the parties and of the Maple Leaf Project if the suit never went to trial. If it did and SJAEI lost, then SJAEI would lose the right to do something constructive with the Maple Leaf wreck site, and the public would lose the opportunity to learn what might be contained within this American Civil War time capsule. If, on the other hand, SJAEI won, the United States would lose the first Admiralty complaint based on abandonment of a historic military ship in inland waters - an unprecedented decision.

    Two departments came forward - the Government Services Administration (GSA) and the Department of the Army. Both agencies denied that we owned the shipwreck site and affirmed that the GSA never abandons property. The interested parties were identified and a forum for discussion created. The case was finally resolved, out of court, in the best interest of not only the State of Florida and of SJAEI, but of all the citizens of the United States.

    It was agreed not to force the issue of abandonment but rather to work out a compromise settlement whereby SJAEI could proceed with its investigation and excavation. SJAEI would receive 80 percent of all material items recovered. The United States would receive 20 percent. The State of Florida would lend their expertise in underwater archaeology and conservation and receive half of the United States' 20 percent share. (SJAEI has not exercised its right to own any artifacts, but has insisted on keeping all of the material together in public trust.)

    Once the compromise settlement was signed, the GSA and the Department of the Army assigned the Center of Military History ( CMH ) branch of the Department of the Army to supervise and advise SJAEI on the Maple Leaf Project. The CMH has been a powerful resource, benefiting the Project in many different areas.

    Slowly the Maple Leaf Project was developing an organizational structure that consisted of both public and private sector cooperation and trust. Carefully, public officials with the State of Florida and the federal government were voluntarily supporting and adding to the efforts of a private sector group, each recognizing the national significance of the ship wreck site and the genuine concern of the members of St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions, Inc.

    One should not overlook the importance of the compromise settlement and its impact on the project. Two public bureaucratic agencies and a private sector group set aside their individual fears and prejudices and agreeably made concessions to each other, in order for the Maple Leaf Project to continue. As the State of Florida's Division of Archaeological Research and the Department of the Army's Center of Military History showed signs of being responsive governmental agencies, the project's momentum increased. As the project grew, our trust continued to grow and our fears diminished. We knew we were making the right decisions regarding a nationally historic shipwreck site, and that its ultimate historic and educational potential was limited only by our trust in each other and our ability to be flexible in our decisions. What began as a potential legal battle between varying points of view became a powerful unified force, focused and working in harmony with each other. It was time now to direct our full attention to the Maple Leaf.

What Have We Found?
    Something large was in the bottom of the St. Johns River off Mandarin Point. We knew that it was under twenty feet of water and five feet of mud. What was it? Was it an American Civil War shipwreck site? Was it the Maple Leaf? If it was the Maple Leaf was there still material on board'? Would it be preserved after being in a marine environment for such an extensive period of time? Without proof there was skepticism. It was, after all, hard to believe. If the Maple Leaf was so important, why had so few heard of her? How could so much fragile material survive so long underwater?

    In order to find out, it was initially decided to drill several two-inch holes through five feet of muck and the deck of the ship and remove a sample core of material. The core borings would yield information about what type of cultural artifacts were under the deck, what condition the material was in, what preservation demands would be required once the material was recovered, and the age of the vessel, and could be accomplished at a reasonable cost.

    On the other hand, if the preservation qualities of the anaerobic mud were so good, if the historical documentation was so convincing that this was indeed the location of the Maple Leaf and if there was no record that any of the cargo on board had been unloaded, why deliberately cause the destruction of even one item by drilling a two-inch hole through the deck? What if the drill should go through a "pigeonhole" desk with documents still in it? Would it be worth the possible destruction of an artifact to prove to skeptics that this was the Maple Leaf and that her cargo did in fact exist? There was only one way to find out. Someone was going to have to go into the ship.

    So, we changed our minds. Instead of a two-inch core boring, a six-foot core sample would be taken. First, a special dive vessel with diver communications and support must be acquired. A dive team trained to work in this unusual environment of mud and darkness would have to be assembled. A venturi dredge system, a barge, and an artifact recovery system needed to be created. The sample would be deliberately and delicately removed. Everyone felt there would be material inside. What kind of material and in what condition, no one knew.

    In 1988, after six years of research, legal hearings, and permitting difficulties; after years of organizing, designing and building a diving company, divers finally entered the intact hull. The core sample was removed. Only a few items were recovered, not for lack of material but because only a few items were needed to answer the questions about what was there and what kind of treatment would be required to preserve the items once they had been recovered. After studying those items and building a conservatory, a major excavation was planned. Everyone fully expected to find a vast quantity and variety of material, but no one comprehended the full extent of the preservation requirements.

    At the same time the decision was made to conduct a major excavation in 1989, a public exhibit was also being planned with the Museum of Science and History, in downtown Jacksonville. The excavation would help answer some key questions concerning the future corporate goals of SJAEI and the direction of the Maple Leaf Project. The display would educate the community about the significance of the site and promote continued public support. It would provide a purpose for excavating other than just to recover more material. It would also give SJAEI the opportunity to assimilate the information acquired in the recovery and to conserve those items.

    In 1989, ten days were spent in the field and nearly 3000 individual objects were recovered. Immediately, those things that had been a possibility became a reality. The material was fragile and required treatment and continuous supervision. The knowledge gained as a result of the excavation of artifacts answered many questions:

The Maple Leaf is still fully loaded with cargo.
The cost of the recovery in terms of labor, vessels, field equipment, and insurance is extremely high.
The conservation of the material is time consuming and expensive.
The working environment is difficult and dangerous.
The Maple Leaf wreck site is of such significance and magnitude that it would be impractical, if not impossible, to divide the artifacts      equitably among the parties in the Admiralty suit, the Federal and State Governments, and SJAEI.

Artifacts: Ownership or Possession
    According to the Admiralty Court settlement, SJAEI, the United States and the State of Florida have the legal right to own material. Now that some of the material has been recovered and conserved, the actual distribution of the artifacts in a fair and equitable fashion presents a real dilemma.

    How can a complete U.S. Sanitary Commission box and its contents be divided? How will Surgeon Asa Snow's personal trunk and its contents be separated from each other? How will the personal baggage and military equipment of Surgeon Washburn, Lieutenant Potter, and William Hoyt be divided? Would the United States only be entitled to the unusual and rare items a soldier carried with him? Would they not also be interested in the sea shells, carved wooden tokens, door hinges, ordinary china plates, and other material that same soldier owned? Or, would the division be by trunks, barrels, desks, and crates belonging to the same person?

    The reason for dividing the material stems purely from forcing the ownership issue. The corporate ownership of the artifacts would probably result in a further division of the material, through either trade or sale. Is the division of the artifacts worth forcing the question of ownership? Does SJAEI want to defend its legal right to own artifacts? Or should it declare its intention not to own them? Obviously, these decisions were far more complicated than the typical treasure hunter's decision of how to distribute 5000 gold or silver coins that are all alike, or material items no longer associated with the person who owned them when the ship sank. The division of the ownership of the material, as based on the court settlement, and its subsequent impact on the Maple Leaf Project would have to be reevaluated.

    If  SJAEI were to force the division of material and then sell the artifacts to private collectors, professional archaeologists and historians would definitely avoid being involved with the project - their ethical standards demand it. The Maple Leaf wreck site is so significant that it desperately needs their help. What SJAEI would gain corporately by forcing the ownership issue and marketing those items within the private sector would be minor compared to the reduced historical value of the artifacts if they were to be separated from each other, and if by doing so the professionals resisted supporting the project. And SJAEI would then be required to begin a huge retail effort to market the material - not something I was interested in doing.

    On the other hand, if SJAEI voluntarily relinquished its legal right to ownership, then the division of material might not be forced and the collection might possibly remain held in public trust. Historical archaeologists and historians might be more receptive to participating, which would benefit the project. In December 1989, SJAEI announced to both the Center of Military History and the Florida Division of Historical Research that it chose not to exercise its right of ownership, but that we wanted to keep the collection together.

    If you're interested in the controversy related to treasure hunting (on land or underwater ), then you must not read about this decision and let it pass unnoticed.  We had the legal right to eighty percent of the material recovered - at great expense, volunteer labor and years of personal sacrifice.  SJAEI had been labeled by skeptics as another treasure hunting commercial salvage group. The State of Florida and the Department of Army were entitled to artifacts in order to protect the public's interest - against and in "protest of" this private sector commercial salvage company's efforts. But when SJAEI stunningly withdrew from the selection of artifacts, and declared it did not want to be involved with owning any of the recovered material, the State of Florida and the Department of Army were left, in effect, as the "hunters".

    How much of  SJAEI's eighty percent would the State of Florida want? How many artifacts did the Department of Army feel it was now entitled to own? Again, but this time SJAEI would not be involved, how would the items be selected between State and Federal authorities? Was it in the public's best interest for these two governmental agencies, who proclaim to be protecting the public's best interest, to continue forcing the ownership issue? Would they not resemble a "treasure hunter" by splitting the collection just so both agencies could own artifacts? Would the Division of Historical Resources from the  State of Florida or, maybe the Center of Military History on behalf of the United States Department of Army also voluntarily withdraw their interest so that the collection would remain together with the remaining party? Or would they both insist on "their fair" share?

    Ultimately, both agencies realized the collection could remain intact, regardless of ownership. Those items not currently in an exhibit are available to the public for examination and study.  The collection is curated by the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research. Most of the items are on display at the Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville.  And of course, the Maple Leaf is still here in the St. Johns River,.   

Public Benefit
Underwater historical sites afford limited access to the majority of the public. The Maple Leaf, buried in five feet of mud, provides no public access. While the wreck site is undeniably of historical significance, what is more important to the public is being able to access the ship and its contents, which can be made possible through museum exhibits, publications, and electronic media. The purpose of preserving the materials and collecting the historical information is to make them available to the public. As the information and the material becomes more and more available, public awareness of the Maple Leafs existence and significance will increase.

    In 1990 a Special Category Grant was awarded to the Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville, by the Florida Legislature, to assist in the preservation of the Maple Leaf wreck site. Using this additional public money, more material, information, publications and displays will be acquired, for the sole benefit of the public.

    The value of the material within the Maple Leaf is significant because of what we will learn from a social point of view about the American Civil War. We have studied and restudied the military aspects of the war, the new weapons that were invented, the innovative battle strategies, the state of medical care, and so forth. What the Maple Leaf offers us is an opportunity to study the material culture of the soldiers who fought that war, the kinds of things they carried with them and used, what they confiscated, and the kinds of games they played to pass the time during what had to have seemed an unending, horrible war.

    Most of these soldiers had left their communities for the first time, embarking on what they anticipated would be the greatest adventure of their lives, an adventure they thought would last only a few months. Instead, the war lasted more than four years and turned out to be the greatest cataclysmic event of their lives and of our country's history.

    Before entering the hull of the Maple Leaf, we expected to find primarily military items. What we recovered were primarily personal items, china, musical instruments, gaming pieces, pencils, pens, sea shells, doorknobs, hinges, screws, wallets, and, among the many other things, fragments of paper. The paper was not only legible, but clearly legible. All of this packed in boxes, trunks, and desks with names and regiments stenciled on them. In one box was found a pair of shoes. In one shoe was a small, hand-carved box. Inside was a small, gold-gilded cuff button. The shoe belonged to a soldier in the 112th New York Volunteers. The button was that of a Connecticut regiment. Perhaps this was a memento one soldier carried with him to remind him of a friend killed in war.

    These items are presently on public display at the Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville. They provide a rare opportunity to show the activities of a person's daily routine during a time when he was separated from his home, his family, his friends, and loved ones, and constantly faced with the prospect of his death. It is to these people and those small tangible traces of their life that remain entombed within the Maple Leaf that so many people have dedicated so much time, money and effort. 

The Maple Leaf. Copyright 1993 by St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions, Inc. Contact Keith Holland