When the American-owned slave ship named the Peter Mowell ran ashore and ripped apart on July 25, 1860, the 129-ton, 88-foot schooner left behind its fragments in the silent gullies and craggy rocks at Lynyard Cay in the Abacos.
Of the 400 people aboard, 387 — many quite young — clambered safely ashore. And thanks to fate, the 96 men, 37 women, and 256 children were not to be sold as slaves.
Saved by early salvager Ridley Pinder and other wreckers from Cherokee Sound, they were some of the last of the 37,000 African-born immigrants rescued in the Bahamas. Their descendants most likely make their homes there today.
But what was left of the ship intrigued archaeologist Michael Pateman of the Nassau-based Antiquities, Monuments & Museums Corp. of the Bahamas and archaeologist Corey Malcom from the Key West-based Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society.
They also wondered what happened to its human cargo, crew and wreckers ? Where are their descendants, and what stories do they have to tell?
On the 152nd anniversary of the wreck, Pateman and Malcom partnered with William Mathers of Lake Worth-based Atlantic Sea Resources and set out to see for themselves.
Using coordinates recorded in a letter from the Bahamian governor of the time, Charles Bayley, they returned to the site and spotted piles of ballast stones scattered along the shoreline, as well as encrusted copper nails and spikes that over time had become concretized together.
The rest of the Peter Mowell was gone. Reusable objects and materials had been salvaged by Pinder and the other wreckers, but the ship had broken apart and washed away.