Thursday, April 14, 2011

St. Augustine, Florida Civil War Shipwreck Documentary Released

Buried in the ocean's sands off St. Augustine, Florida, “the Nation’s oldest port,” is a lost shipwreck, one of the last great maritime mysteries from America’s Civil War. The 150 year old shipwreck had several incarnations—first, that of a commercial trader, then an illegal slaver, and finally a feared rebel privateer. Join underwater archaeologists and forensic scientists in their pursuit to find the missing Confederate privateer, the Jefferson Davis.

One hundred fifty years ago, America was embroiled in a terrible Civil War (1861-1865). 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 non-existent rebel navy. The most successful of those marauders was the brig Jefferson Davis. Lost on the St. Augustine Bar in August of 1861, underwater archaeologists from the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) are engaged in a search for this vessel. The Jefferson Davis started life as a merchant ship known as the Putnam, then slipped into a dark period as an illegal slave trader, and finally ended its career as the Union Navy’s “most wanted.” The quest to find this lost shipwreck is a journey into our shared maritime past.

Pepe Productions, a Glen Falls, New York multi-media company, announces the release of their new DVD documentary: "Search for the Jefferson Davis: Trader, Slaver, Raider."

The Jefferson Davis started life as a merchant ship built in Baltimore, Maryland and was originally known as the Putnam.  The vessel was then used 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 spent two sessions in St. Augustine, Florida in June 2009 and April 2010, acquiring interviews and video footage with LAMP underwater archaeologists.  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 (also spelled Tilghman), 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.

The 50 min. long documentary is timely as it is released one month before the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.  The documentary was 25 months in production.

Underwater archaeologists Joseph W. Zarzynski (Wilton, New York) and Dr. Samuel Turner (St. Augustine, Florida) wrote the documentary script.  Peter Pepe directed the production.  Pepe and Zarzynski were also co-executive producers for the documentary.

Pepe Productions is the company that has produced two other award-winning shipwreck documentaries: The Lost Radeau: North America's Oldest Intact Warship (2005, 57 min.) and Wooden Bones: The Sunken Fleet of 1758 (2010, 58 min.).

To view the trailer and to purchase the DVD "Search for the Jefferson Davis: Trader, Slaver, Raider", visit the website . The documentary will also be available for purchase at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum gift shop and at other stores and gift shops around the country. Part of the proceeds generated from the sale of the DVD documentary goes to support the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, the underwater archaeology team of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum.

For more information on the shipwreck search, contact Mr. Chuck Meide (Director, LAMP:  cmeide "at"