the Jefferson Davis

The search for the Jefferson Davis

From St Augustine Underground

Buried in the ocean sands off St. Augustine is a lost shipwreck, one of the last great maritime mysteries from America’s Civil War.

A new DVD documentary,“Search for the Jefferson Davis: Trader, Slaver, Raider,” is the fascinating story of the underwater archaeological pursuit of one of the Civil War’s greatest Confederate privateers, the brig Jefferson Davis.

One hundred fifty years ago, America was embroiled in a terrible Civil War. Early into that conflict, the Confederate government issued letters of marque, creating privateers that preyed upon Union shipping. Confederate privateers acted in support of an almost nonexistent rebel navy.

The most successful of those marauders was the brig Jefferson Davis. Lost on the St. Augustine Bar in northeastern Florida in August of 1861, underwater archaeologists from the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) and forensic scientists from around the country are engaged in a search for this sunken vessel.

The Jefferson Davis started life as a merchant ship built in Baltimore, Maryland and known as the Putnam.

The vessel then slipped into a period as an illegal slave trader and finally ended its career as the Union Navy’s “most wanted,” a privateer that seized nine prizes on its one and only cruise.

Pepe Productions, a Glen Falls, New York multi-media company, spent two sessions in St. Augustine, Florida in June 2009 and April 2010, acquiring interviews and video footage with LAMP personnel for the documentary.

The documentary team also interviewed people in Charleston, South Carolina, in Baltimore, Maryland, and at the State Museum in Albany, New York.

The documentary also tells the story of William Tillman, an African-American steward aboard the schooner S.J. Waring. The S.J. Waring was one of the vessels captured by the Jefferson Davis.

A prize crew was put aboard the captured schooner to sail the Long Island-built watercraft to a southern port.

Tillman, realizing he would probably be sold into slavery, seized a hand ax and killed several privateers. He then succeeded in sailing the vessel back north and became a hero in the Union states.