In Search of Captain Morgan

As a travel writer with a popular travel blog and some other national outlets, I get a lot of offers and calls to go on press trips. I very rarely accept them. I don’t like being on someone else’s schedule and I don’t like feeling obligated to do something in return for a free trip to some fancy hotel that I don’t need. However, sometimes I get a call that I can’t say no to. This was one of those times.

I was contacted by the public relations team for Captain Morgan. They briefed me on the project in Panama and that I could be a part of the excavation of what could be Captain Henry Morgan’s lost fleet. I didn’t need to hear any more. I was in.

17th Century buccaneer, Henry Morgan, was one of the most infamous and polarizing figures of his time. He accomplished great things in the Caribbean and has since become a popular culture icon through the Captain Morgan spiced rum commercials even though many people don’t realize that he was a real person.

Back in the 17th Century he lost 5 ships at the mouth of the Chagres River in Panama. These ships had been lost at sea for centuries. Back in September 2010, a team of leading underwater archaeologists discovered six iron cannons off the coast of Panama that belonged to Morgan. That discovery led the team to discover the underwater remains of a 17th Century wooden ship believed to be one of Morgan’s fleet. This summer, I was invited down to Panama along with a team of other journalists to witness and document what the team found as they began excavating the shipwreck.

As a student of history, a true lover of archaeology and excavation, not to mention a huge Indiana Jones fan (except for the most recent film), I couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement of the excavation. Being out on the dive boat and being a part of this historic find was extremely fascinating and rewarding.

I was able to witness the team pull out artifacts that had been lost at sea for centuries. These artifacts included a sword, coins, barrels and other unidentified things that the Chagres River had swallowed up so many years ago.

I also found myself in awe of the team of archaeologists, divers, cameramen and historians that were the true catalysts for making and bringing to life this historic find.

Frederick “Fritz” H. Hanselmann, underwater archaeologist and Research Faculty with the River Systems Institute and the Center for Archaeological Studies at Texas State University, has been leading the team working to locate, excavate and preserve the remains of Morgan’s lost fleet.

Fritz and his team do an amazing job in finding, preserving and explaining what they’ve done and found. They made it easy to understand and see what we were looking at. Fritz made us feel a part of the team and he is just an all around great guy.

I had never been a part of a dive excavation before and had actually never held a historic artifact at all, let alone one that had just been unearthed from the sea floor. So holding a 17th Century sword potentially used by Captain Morgan, was one of the more intensely cool things I have ever done. It was a really exhilarating experience that is hard to explain. It was like being a part of history on some small scale.

As Fritz says, “the cool thing about archaeology is that it brings history to life, you can actually touch it”. That is so true and for me, touching history was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

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  1. where did you or do you get the money to travel when it is not a sponsered trip?

  2. Wow Lee, your trips are so much cooler than mine!

  3. That picture of the submerged boat is incredible that after 400 years it is still in that good a shape

  4. How can I get invited on stuff like this?!

  5. Did you get some free rum out of the trip from Captain Morgans?

  6. Sounds like an amazing experience Lee

  7. This is incredible that you were a part of this discovery and excavation…good for you Lee

  8. Is that what a world class archaeological team poses like LOL?!

  9. Hey Lee. my self i’m from Panama, and i i’m extremely proud to know that you paticipated in this historic and “unico momento”. Felicidades.

  10. What a cool experience! How do they determine if it was in fact the ship of Captain Morgan?

    • There is some scientific group out of England that verifies all this stuff. I don’t know exactly how they do it but seems like a tedious and interesting process.

  11. Every time I read a blog post of yours, I get insanely jealous, want to quit my job, pack my bags and discover somewhere new. This has got to be one of the most incredible trips and experiences!

  12. Hello Lee, great experience to be part of. What did they do with all the artifacts? Where are they now?

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