Sunday, December 26, 2004


Group seeks funds for ship's recovery

By Suzanne Wentley
December 25, 2004

Somewhere, in the waters off Jupiter Island could be the remains from the shipwrecked vessel that brought Jonathan Dickinson, the Quaker pioneer whose journal taught the nation about the earliest known Treasure Coast residents and environment.

By submitting an application for state historical-preservation funds, officials with the Historical Society of Martin County are hoping they will be able to find the ship and use the new information to further interpret Dickinson's famous journal.

"We're looking for and hoping to find Jonathan Dickinson's ship," said Robin Hicks-Connors, Historical Society president.

"We know we're going to find something. There's never been a survey of the water done in this area."Spurred by recent progress in the society's effort to have another shipwreck, the Georges Valentine, become the county's first underwater archaeological preserve, historical officials said the survey could find other shipwreck sites in south county waters besides Dickinson's Reformation.

Another ship, the Nantwich, also traveled from Jamaica and was reported to have crashed on the near-shore reefs alongside the Reformation in 1696.

The ships are among thousands to have crashed along the state and among scores along the Treasure Coast, which is named for a 1715 shipwreck that spilled gold along the beaches.

But the riches from a potential discovery of other shipwreck sites is purely historical, said Renee Booth, who compiled the grant application for the historical society."It's not going to be like the Titanic under the water," she said.

"But who knows what we may find. It's an educational opportunity, not just locally but for Florida history and international history as well."

By applying for a grant administered by the governor-appointed Florida Historical Commission, the society hopes to receive a $50,000 grant from the state -- matched by in-kind donations from professional underwater archaeologists -- to study about 7 square miles of sea off Jupiter Island.

They're looking there because Dickinson gave coordinates in his journal, although that location could be up to a mile off, officials said. There also is speculation that the ship was burned.

Roger Smith, a state underwater archaeologist, said it's likely there could easily be many shipwrecks discovered in the survey site, even though it would be extremely difficult to prove that one of the ships is, in fact, the Reformation.

"There's a lot of wishful thinking involved in archaeology," he said. "The idea of the survey is to see what's out there."

Professional archaeologists would use modern technology such as sonar and magnetic scanning and digitized navigational charts, as well as historical shipwreck data from Dickinson's journal and state archives.

If the Reformation or the Nantwich is discovered, Booth said, she would use the information to recreate Dickinson's day-by-day experience, as outlined in his journal, for local schoolchildren and tourists.

The journal explains the culture of the Ais Indians, a tribe that has no descendents, as well as the dangers of life as a pioneer.

The Florida Historical Commission, which determines the recipients of the competitive grants, will meet in April. If the grant is approved, local officials will begin the survey in July.

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