Tuesday, March 27, 2007

 

Team checks shipwreck's ties to those aiding slaves

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The Courier Journal
March 27, 2007


OGDEN DUNES, Ind. -- An archaeological team is trying to determine if a Lake Michigan shipwreck might have had ties to the Underground Railroad, which helped slaves escape from the South during the 1800s.

A member of the Briggs Project Team said the group has begun analyzing the wreckage off Ogden Dunes beach and has combed through historical records in LaPorte and Porter counties for information about the role the area played in providing fugitive slaves with an exit route to freedom in Canada.

"There's a good possibility you have a big piece of history here in your back yard," Roger Barski told guests of the Ogden Dunes Historical Society during a presentation on the team's research Sunday.

The team began studying the ship, designated the Alpha Wreck, in summer 2005.

Barski said the wreck will be excavated this summer. Through study of the ship's construction, the group hopes to gather enough information to learn its name, the captain, the owner and the cause of the wreck.

Barski said members think it was a wooden schooner, a type of ship that was inexpensive to build and operate, and was popular on the Great Lakes throughout the 1800s.

Peg Schoon, the wife of Ken Schoon, author of the book "Calumet Beginnings," alerted Barski and his fellow archaeologists to the Ogden Dunes shipwreck and the writings of historian William Briggs.

Barski said Briggs wrote of a wooden ship that transported runaway slaves from the area west of Burns Ditch to freedom in Canada. According to Briggs' story, slavery supporters eventually seized and burned the ship in the area of the wreck.

"Indiana was a free state, and many slaves came through our area," said Ruth Loftus, a Briggs Project Team member. "Many lumbermen and boat captains were anti-slavery."

Barski said a similar ship, the HMS General Hunter, has been excavated in Canada at a cost of $3 million.

"It's an expensive proposition," Barski said.

The Briggs Project Team is self-funded, and "we don't have $3 million, so this is going to be a bare-bones operation," he said.


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