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Lost Ships of Henry Morgan

Lost Ships of Henry Morgan Project and Chagres River Maritime Cultural Landscape Study

Research Faculty, Chief Underwater Archaeologist, and Dive Training Officer Frederick “Fritz” Hanselmann is a leader in research on underwater sites from a wide variety of time periods, ranging from submerged prehistoric deposits in springs and caves to historic shipwrecks around the world. Fritz is the director of the underwater archaeological research at Spring Lake on the Texas State University campus. He also led the first-ever archaeological survey of the mouth of the Río Chagres in Panama in 2008 as the initial phase of the ongoing Río Chagres Maritime Cultural Landscape Study, which continues as the Lost Ships of Henry Morgan Project, one aspect of the overall study, that led to the 2010 excavation of cannons that could possibly be from the wrecks of Henry Morgan’s ships lost in 1671.

Mr. Hanselmann directs the Lost Ships of Henry Morgan Project in Panama, as one aspect of the overall Chagres River Maritime Landscape Study. The Chagres River is described by one historian as the richest river in the world. It also functioned as the original Panama canal, until it was dammed during the creation of the modern canal. Spanish riches that traversed its waters called out to some of the most fabled personalities in world history, among them Captain Henry Morgan. One of the most famous privateers or pirates of all time, Henry Morgan was one of the few to survive and enjoy his ill-gotten gains.

From 1664 to 1671, Morgan led daring raids throughout the Spanish Main, resulting in riches for he and his men and exposing the fragility of the Spanish Empire in the western hemisphere. In 1670, he amassed a fleet of 36 vessels and 1,846 men, the largest fleet of privateers and pirates in the history of the Caribbean. Their target was one of the richest cities in the western hemisphere, lying in the heart of the Spanish colonies: Panama City. Morgan’s subsequent sacking of Panama City not only served as yet another pirate victory, but also dealt the blow that loosened Spain’s grip on the New World. En route to that famous raid, Morgan lost his flagship Satisfaction and four other vessels that sank approaching the Chagres River. With funding from the Waitt Institute and later Captain Morgan Rum Co., Mr. Hanselmann has directed the efforts to search for and uncover Morgan’s lost ships and, in two short field seasons, he has successfully recovered cannons that appear to have been lost overboard from Morgan’s ships when they wrecked and he has found an unidentified 17th century shipwreck laden with wooden chests.

Project Partners & Collaborators

  • Way Family Foundation

  • Captain Morgan Rum

  • Waitt Institute

  • National Park Service Submerged Resources Center

  • Instituto Nacional de Cultura, República de Panamá

  • Center for Archaeological Studies

  • National Geographic Society

  • Mr. Charles P. Garrison

  • NOAA Maritime Heritage Program

  • Aquarius Reef Base

  • Open Ocean Productions

  • The Explorer’s Club

  • Universidad del Norte, Colombia

  • Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia