Fort Fisher Preservation Laboratory

Underwater archaeology team helps preserve N.C. maritime history

Chris Southerly, Julep Gillman-Bryan, Mark Wilde-Ramsing, Madeline Spencer and Nathan Henry make up the team at the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the N.C. Division of Archives and History based at Fort Fisher
Photo Paul Stephen 

By Amy Hotz - Star News Online

On Good Friday of 1962, just as the nation’s collective thoughts reflected on the Civil War after 100 years of hindsight, a storm approached the Cape Fear.

Sand shifted, as it always does along the Graveyard of the Atlantic. But this time grains scattered to reveal the wreck of a blockade runner, the Modern Greece.

The steam-powered ship had run aground near Fort Fisher on June 27, 1862, while trying to deliver supplies to the Confederacy. This was the first time any human being had seen it in decades. And it was nearly full of cargo.

Navy divers, representatives from the state of North Carolina and several U.S. government departments began a major salvage operation.

To house the objects, the Fort Fisher Preservation Laboratory, a makeshift facility, was somewhat hastily set up. By today’s standards, it was primitive, but the whole field of underwater archaeology was primitive at that time. Still, more than 20,000 individual artifacts were recovered from the wreck, including bowie knives, rifles, andirons and straight pins.

Much of the Modern Greece’s cargo today is scattered among museums across the Southeastern United States, including the museum at the Fort Fisher State Historic Site.

But some artifacts will never be seen again. They were simply rinsed off and, unintentionally, left for corrosion to set in.