• The Maple Leaf: A Civil War Shipwreck

    By Nancy Gadzuk

    Keith Holland spoke on The Maple Leaf: A Civil War Shipwreck at the January 15, 2018 meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society. The transport ship Maple Leaf sank in Florida’s St. Johns River in 1864, carrying over 400 tons of cargo. Keith spoke on the efforts to find and preserve some of the artifacts from that shipwreck.

    The first thing that struck me about Keith’s presentation was his obsession with shipwrecks. After scuba diving in Myrtle Beach and finding a brass spigot from a shipwreck there, he was determined to find a shipwreck near his home in Florida. He’d rather find, he said, a square cut hand-hewn nail than a 10-carat diamond in his search. His research showed that there was probably a yet-unidentified wreck in the St. Johns River, and he spent close to 10 years and an undisclosed, but large, amount of money to form St. Johns Archeological Expeditions and find it.

    This led to the discovery of the Maple Leaf, a Civil War cargo ship sunk in 20 feet of muddy sludge and carrying 400 tons of stores. The muck provided an oxygen-free environment and excellent preservation of the ship’s artifacts. Keith and his dive team brought up many artifacts in 1989, which are now under the jurisdiction of the state of Florida. The Maple Leaf Site became a National Historic Landmark in 1994.

    The Maple Leaf was a transport carrier and carried the ordinary baggage of at least three regiments. It’s the most important repository of Civil War artifacts in existence and, to me at least, a fascinating window into the minds and lives of the men whose possessions were preserved. What does a soldier carry with him when going to war? What personal reminders of home and life does he bring?

    Keith shared pictures of some of the finds: teacups, diaries, letters, chess pieces, a pocket watch, seashells. This collection of the ordinary pieces of lives lived and lost serves as a powerful reminder that there is no such thing as a “civil” war. Keith observed that while the war affected the North, it destroyed the South. He dedicated a montage of photographic images and song to the women left behind in war.

    At the end of the formal presentation, Gil Burnett and Skippy Winner, both long-time History Center members, shared briefly a few of their own experiences finding underwater artifacts.


    Keith prepared a video presentation to accompany his talk. Several of these resources were used in the presentation:

    The Maple Leaf: A Civil War Shipwreck

    The Tide: The Thrill of Discovery

    The Mandarin Museum: Maple Leaf

    Florida Frontiers: The Maple Leaf

    February Meeting – Jim McKee on the Wilmington Reserve Fleet

    The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 7:30 PM at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

    Our speaker this month will be Jim McKee from Brunswick Town – Fort Anderson.

    Jim will be speaking on the Wilmington Reserve Fleet which was one of eight National Defense Reserve Fleet’s (NDRF) anchorages established around the United States to store merchant vessels after World War II.

    By 1951 the Wilmington Reserve Fleet was at full capacity, and was the second largest reserve fleet in the nation. There are thousands of people who still remember the ships moored in the Brunswick River, but have no idea why they were there or what their purpose was.

    Jim McKee is the site manager at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site in Winnabow, NC. He graduated from Greensboro College, has his Master’s from Southern New Hampshire University, and has worked for the National Park Service and the North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport. He has been researching the Wilmington Reserve Fleet since 2007.