History Of The Maple Leaf Civil War Shipwreck
The Civil War Shipwreck of the Maple Leaf is a fascinating event that captivated people, particularly in the 1980s when it was rediscovered. It was a literal time capsule of history, containing 4500 artifacts from the 1800s.
This union steamship sank as the result of an attack by the Confederate Army off the coast of Mandarin Florida. It was recovered from under 30 feet of mud and water in the St. Johns River by divers in 1984.
Here is an overview of the Maple Leaf Civil War Shipwreck that is now regarded as a National Historic Landmark.
The History Of The Maple Leaf
The story of the Maple leaf begins in Kingston, Ontario. Through a series of financial problems and the advent of the Civil War, it became a transport ship for Union troops.
However, during a trip in 1863, Confederate POWs overpowered sailors on the ship, taking control of this vessel.
Once recovered by the union, it set sail along the East Coast of the United States and was struck by a Confederate mine on April 1 of 1864. This occurred at Mandarin Point, on the St. Johns River, very close to where Harriet Beecher Stowe made her home just a few years later. This was where the ship sank, killing four soldiers, and was the last time the Maple Leaf was seen until its recovery in 1984.
Why Did The Wreck Occur
The ship was navigating through the dark waters of St. Johns River. According to accounts, visibility was extremely poor. They were going past Mandarin Point, just 15 miles from the city of Jacksonville.
Traveling from Palatka, they had almost completed their 60-mile journey, when an explosion occurred. They were struck by a new Civil War weapon, what some called a submarine torpedo, but today is known as a mine.
The Confederates had planted this, just below the surface of the water. The explosion killed the sailors on board and sunk the vesel. From that point forward, the ship remained, until a company recovered the ship.
Maple Leaf Civil War Shipwreck
The recover efforts for the Maple Leaf were initiated by Dr. Keith Holland after his brother in law began talking about his diving experiences in various Florida springs.
Dr. Holland, a passionate history buff, was intrigued by the idea of finding the rumored Maple Leaf wreckage. By the 1980’s many people doubted the sunken vessel was still even located in the area.
It took a number of years and many diving expeditions before Dr. Holland’s brother in law located the Maple Leaf shipwreck site under multiple feet of river mud.
Once located, Dr. Holland began the intense work of getting the legal rights in order to form a real expedition and see if anything could be recovered from the Maple Leaf. He theorized with the heavy mud and sediment, that the wreckage and contents should be well persevered.
After getting all the require legal processing in order, an initial recovery dive was performed in 1988. They penetrated the hull of the Maple Leaf and were able to recover 100’s of well preserved artifacts.
Over the next year, a second dive was scheduled and a group of divers were selectively chosen by Dr. Holland and trained in order to properly recover and preserve any remaining artifacts. This group formed the St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions.
In 1989, the second dive took place and the St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions were able to recover thousands of pounds of materials and artifacts from the wreckage. This came to be known as the largest recovery of it’s kind.
Over the next 10 years, this group of divers were able to recover hundreds of thousands of pounds of artifacts and cargo that were preserved in outstanding condition.
It represents the largest single collection of artifacts from the Civil War that exist in the world today.
The story of the Maple Leaf Civil War Shipwreck is a riveting tale, complete with a complex background story and a graphic conclusion. It was due to this explosion, and the subsequent shipwreck and recovery, that we now have thousands of Civil War artifacts.
Thanks to St. Johns Archaeological Expeditions, we now have access to pieces of history that would have otherwise never been found.
Over 80% of the items were donated to the State of Florida and the remaining items were donated to the Mandarin Museum.
Many of the artifacts recovered can now be seen at the Jacksonville Museum of Science and History as well as the Mandarin Museum.
Farnham Dentistry is a proud sponsor of the Mandarin Museum.