Monday, May 26, 2008

First Confederate Blockade Runner Found in Florida!

Tampa, Fla. (May 22, 2008) – It may not have all the excitement of an Indiana Jones movie, but underwater archaeologists from The Florida Aquarium have discovered their own bit of treasure. It isn’t gold or silver, but it does have a lot of value to Florida’s Civil War history.
After two years of searching and more than 100 man-hours of underwater data collection, the first Confederate Blockade Runner ever found in Florida has a name: the Kate Dale. “I’m 98 percent sure,” says John William Morris, principal investigator on the project. “In this field you are rarely 100 percent sure on anything, but with all the data we’ve collected and historical records we’ve research, I can say with confidence this is the Kate Dale.”
The Kate Dale is one of three blockade runners owned by James McKay, considered the father of maritime industry in Tampa. Measuring more than 80 feet in length, the Kate Dale was a sailing vessel used to gather goods from McKay’s warehouse located near Lowry Park and shipped to foreign countries for cash to bring back for the Confederate Army. The story from there is as murky as the waters in the Hillsborough River.
With almost zero visibility during most of the work and the occasional run-ins with alligators and other marine life, underwater archaeology has its own inherit dangers, says Mike Terrell, Dive Training Officer for The Florida Aquarium.
“Our divers have challenging conditions to overcome on a daily basis,” says Terrell. “Sometimes it’s working with little to no visibility while trying to take down extremely accurate measurements. Other times you have to keep one eye on the work and another on a passing gator or the rare bull shark sighting.”
The Kate Dale will remain in its current location while more research is done on its fascinating story.
“It depends who you talk to as to whether James McKay was a sympathizer for the confederate army or a spy for the union,” says Tom Wagner, spokesperson for The Florida Aquarium. “I relate him to a kind of Tampa Rhett Butler who was using both sides for capital gain.”
The work on the Kate Dale ends today, but research will continue as the pieces of the puzzle come together to form as complete a picture as possible about the historical significance of the wreck. Union records indicate a battalion of union soldiers were sent to the Hillsborough River to set fire to both the Kate Dale and the Scottish Chief, another McKay owned blockade runner.
The program’s goal is a three-part project that encompasses the search and discovery of what lies at the bottom of our local waterways, building an educational curriculum around the discoveries and using the discoveries to recreate shipwreck exhibits at The Florida Aquarium.

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