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The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is a 501 (c) (3) accredited, not-for-profit organization existing to research, interpret, and exhibit the maritime history of Florida and the Caribbean in ways that increase knowledge, enrich the spirit, and stimulate inquiry.

Archaeology & Research / More ... Guerrero and Nimble

The Pirate Slave Ship Guerrero & HMS Nimble, 1827

Of 561 Africans on board the Guerrero, forty-one were killed in the collision with the reef. Of those fortunate enough to be rescued, only a small minority ever saw freedom again. The day after the wreck, nearly 400 of the rescued Africans were put aboard wrecking vessels only to be hijacked by Guerrero’s desperate pirate crew, then spirited off to Cuba and sold as slaves. Some 121 Africans were safely delivered to US government authorities at Key West. After a short stay on the island, these people were sent to the Kingsley Plantation in north Florida, where they served as virtual slaves for over a year. Eventually, the surviving Africans rescued from Guerrero were sent to Liberia, a US colony in West Africa designed as a refuge for liberated slaves. 

Divers map artifacts at the supposed Guerrero wreck site.
An account of Guerrero and Nimble in Nile's Register, 1828.

Between 2003 and 2006, after identifying the likely strike-points for Guerrero and Nimble, MFMHS archaeological staff joined with the RPM Nautical Foundation, and personnel and volunteers from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to conduct magnetometer surveys in the area of Carysfort Reef with the purpose of finding and identifying any man-made items. Collecting magnetic data is a good way to find submerged cultural resources, because almost all historic-era ships contain a significant amount of iron, and this metal causes a readily-detected, confined distortion of the earth’s natural magnetic field. By systematically surveying across an area, an accurate picture of the magnetic anomalies within it is created. The magnetic data is linked with coordinates from the Global Positioning System, so any unusual readings can be located and investigated. Across four separate survey areas, the team recorded 82 points of interest, but three – a shipwreck site, a deposit of iron ballast and shot, and an anchor – fit with what is known about the 1827 events and were of particular interest.

In 2010 and 2012, The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum partnered with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Diving With a Purpose program to map these sites. These more-detailed explorations of the ballast, fasteners, rigging elements, shot, ceramics, glassware, and wood, along with distribution patterns,

Iron ballast ingots on the reef.
Blue-edged pearlware dating from the 1820's.

only reinforced the idea that they are the remains of Guerrero and Nimble.  Still, though, the evidence for these sites is only circumstantial – there is no “smoking gun” bearing a ship’s name – so other groups continue surveys in the Upper Florida Keys to see if evidence for the 1827 events might be found elsewhere.

As research continues, the locations of the Guerrero and Nimble sites will come to be resolved. For now, we will continue to study the sites and artifacts already found. New archaeological techniques like 3D photogrammetric modeling will be used to collect and share information about items as they are situated on the sea floor, and any new 

Encrusted iron bar-shot underwater.

evidence will be compared to the historical record to put it into better context. The stories of Guerrero, Nimble, and the people whose lives were upended by the shipwrecks are dramatic and compelling. But they reflect the often violent and complicated reality of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and are important in local, national, and international contexts. We are honored and proud to be a part of moving this history forward.

Mel Fisher Maritime Museum - Galleon "Atocha"
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