A Sunken Slave Ship and the Search for Answers

A Sunken Slave Ship and the Search for Answers

In Michael Cottman's new book, Shackles From the Deep, the history of the slave trade comes to life through underwater exploration, detective work, and the author's personal journey.


3 - 12


Anthropology, Archaeology, Geography, Social Studies, U.S. History, World History

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Shackles From the Deep is about the history of the slave trade. The book was written by Michael Cottman. He is a journalist and a scuba diver. The book tells the story of a single slave ship. It was called the Henrietta Marie. Cottman wanted to make the slave trade come alive for young readers.

The British slave ship sank in 1700 near Florida. It had just delivered slaves to Jamaica and was hit by a hurricane. The entire crew died. Divers discovered shackles and chains in the wreck in 1972. The shackles and chains held the people who had been enslaved so they couldn't get free.

Cottman wanted to know more about the ship.

International Business of Slavery

First, Cottman read historical records. In them, Africans were called "cargo" or "beasts." They were never called humans.

Cottman was very upset to read that. Still, he kept going. Cottman is African American. He wanted to understand the history of his ancestors. He also hoped to send a message to young people. He wanted them to find something that makes them excited about discovering new things.

Cottman explained that he was driven by another reason. Thousands of people took part in the slave trade. He desperately wanted to know why.

Cottman researched carefully. He discovered the name of the man who made the shackles. The man was named Anthony Tournay. He was just a regular person. It shows that ordinary men and women carried out the slave trade.

Excavating the Henrietta Marie

More than 7,000 objects were found in the shipwreck. Divers found glass beads. These were traded for African people. They also found a large iron pot for cooking.

Scuba divers from two groups explored the wreck. The first was the National Association of Black Scuba Divers. The Maritime Heritage Society was the second group. Its members are mainly white.

They worked together for a common purpose. There is a lot of power in that, Cottman said. Still, he reminds readers about something else they should know. There are many other important purposes to come together on. You need to work with people who look different, Cottman said. This is becoming especially important, he said. More and more, our country has people of different colors and backgrounds and we have to work together, Cottman said.

There is another message Cottman wants to send. History is not made up of just events in the past. History is happening all around us. Students can take part in it, Cottman said.

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Anna Lukacs, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Anna Lukacs, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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