Each object salvaged from the wreck of the Henrietta Marie, a British merchant ship lost off the Florida Keys in 1700, tells a story.
Pewter plates and pitchers offer a glimpse at the utilitarian table that might have been set for captain and crew. Sea-scarred swords and cannonballs tell of risks in sailing 18th-century seas. But the objects with the saddest and most stirring stories are the dozens of sets of simple shackles.
The Henrietta Marie was a slave ship.
An exhibition dedicated to the grim history of the ship opens today at the Augusta Museum of History.
Considered the oldest slave vessel ever discovered in the Western Hemisphere, the Henrietta Marie was found by a diver in the employ of famed treasure hunter Mel Fisher.
"His crews were looking for Spanish galleons, and one of his divers literally tripped over the bell," said Scott Loehr, the executive director of the museum.
The divers weren't looking for a British boat, however, and for 10 years, the site was referred to as "the English wreck." It wasn't until 1983 that archaeological work began and the Henrietta Marie's grim history uncovered.
Mr. Loehr said that while the wreck's connection to the slave trade is important, the Henrietta Marie and the exhibition have more to teach than man's capacity for inhumanity.
"The idea, yes, is to deal with the issue of slavery," he said, standing outside a reconstruction of the cramped quarters slaves crossed the sea in. "But this is a larger, more complete program."
Mr. Loehr said the exhibition will trace the history of the small ship, re-create the lives of the crew that manned it and explain the challenging process of maritime archaeology. He said the exhibition also offered the museum an opportunity to form a long-sought partnership with the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of History.
"This is the first time we have been able to partner with them on a large project like this," Mr. Loehr said. "In fact, the trustees of this museum may not have taken this on without their partnership. That's the real goal of this exhibition - to foster a sense of community."
Mr. Loehr said the Henrietta Marie exhibition, which follows the Charles Lindbergh exhibition the museum played host to earlier this year, represents a new direction for the museum.
"The museum is very blessed to have about 3,000 square feet of rotating exhibit space," he said. "On a less ambitious level, we'll continue to do more of this. We may not have two in one year - 2004 has been hard on us - but we certainly would like to bring a big exhibition in every other year or so."
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or email@example.com.
WHAT: A Slave Ship Speaks: The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie
WHEN: Through March 13; museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: The Augusta Museum of History, 560 Reynolds St.
COST: Museum admission, $6 general, $5 senior, $4 children 6-18 and free for 5 and younger; call 722-8454.