Scattered ballast, concretized metals and aged bricks are all that remain of the 19th century American slave ship, the Peter Mowell. Built in 1855 in Dorchester County, Maryland, the ship was 88 feet, 129 tons and had a depth of hold of 6 feet and 9 inches. The draft of the ship was 9 feet. The vessel was used to transport material goods and news around the United States and Mexico before it changed hands in early 1860 and became involved in the slave trade.


On July 25, 1860, after thirty-six days of sailing from the Congo River in Africa, the Peter Mowell ran aground on Lynyard Cay in the Abaco chain of islands. The illegally operated schooner was en route to Havana, Cuba with a human cargo of 400 captive Africans.

Having already lost many of its sails, the slaver wrecked as it attempted to evade what it believed to be a British Navy man-of-war. The ship crew and at least 390 Africans made it safely ashore to the uninhabited and inhospitable Lynyard Cay. The ship itself was left to disintegrate on the rocks.

Captive and crew survived the wreck due largely to the quick response of Bahamian wreckers like Ridley Pinder and Henry Sweeting from Cherokee Sound, Abaco. They supplied the survivors with water and shelter and later carried them all to Nassau where the crew was jailed and the Africans dispersed as indentured laborers in and around Nassau.


In July 2012, after five years of collaborative research, archaeologists from The Bahamas and the United States excavated the Peter Mowell. AMMC’s Senior Archaeologist Michael Pateman and Corey Malcom of the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society of Key West, Florida spearheaded the process with support from William Mathers of Atlantic Sea Resources, a Florida-based marine archaeological organization.

The Peter Mowell wreck was discovered on the windward side/ the east coast of Lynyard Cay. Given the harsh environment, little of the Peter Mowell was preserved. However, archaeologists were able to recover enough evidence of the ship. When combined with the documentary research, they are confident that the wreckage is, in fact, the Peter Mowell. Among the artifacts recovered were numerous ballast stones scattered in gullies of Lynyard Cay and nearby Gool Cay. The archaeologists also found bricks, copper sheeting, nails, spikes and other metals concretized into the surrounding rocks and reefs.

Divers used dredges to uncover a concentration of bricks believed to be from the galley of the slave ship. The dredges removed sand and sediment to reveal various concentrations of ballast on the ocean floor. The team used hammers and chisels to collect concretions from rocks on and around the shore for further research.

News of the excavation and research efforts in The Bahamas has caught the attention of the international media. Mentions of the Peter Mowell have been found in The New York Times, The New York Evening Post, The Charleston Mercury and the New Orleans Daily Picayune.

Today, AMMC continues to document this exciting part of Bahamian history with ongoing research on the liberated Africans who survived the Peter Mowell wreck including interviews from the descendants of the captive Africans and the crew. Artifacts from the Peter Mowell are on display at the Pompey Museum in Nassau.

june, 2019

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