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Thursday, September 7, 2000

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Suzanne Finney, a UH-Manoa doctoral student of
anthropology, shows a video of one of three shipwrecks
her team found in Pohnpei, Micronesia.

Archaeologists find
sunken Civil War
whalers off Pohnpei

By Helen Altonn

The island of Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia harbors the remains of four victims of the U.S.Civil War 135 years ago.

They're wrecks of four whalers -- three of U.S. registry and one of Hawaiian registry -- sunk by the Confederate raider Shenandoah in April 1865.

The Shenandoah attacked and burned the whalers during its first stop in the Pacific. Gen. Robert E. Lee already had surrendered at Appomattox, but the ship's captain didn't learn of the war's end until several months later, University of Hawaii researchers say.

Evidence of three of the wrecked vessels was found during an underwater archaeology survey over the past month.

Leading the team were Suzanne Finney, doctoral student at the University of Hawaii-Manoa Department of Anthropology, and Frank Cantelas, Eastern Carolina University staff archaeologist.

Michael W. Graves, anthropology professor and special assistant to the UH senior vice president and executive vice chancellor, is the project's principal investigator. But he said, "Ninety percent of it is Suzanne's ideas and work."

Finney took classes the past year at Eastern Carolina University, one of only two universities in the nation offering master's and doctoral degrees in underwater archaeology.

She left yesterday for the mainland after stopping here for a few days en route back to Eastern Carolina University from Pohnpei. She will return to the UH in the spring to complete her doctoral work.

She plans to return to Pohnpei next summer, and hopes to find the fourth wreck in Pohnahtik Harbor, Madolenihmw Province.

She believes the team found two of the three U.S. whalers and the Hawaiian whaler Harvest.

"They should all be in the harbor," she said. "The only thing we really have to go by are eyewitness accounts and the historical record."

According to accounts, she said, three whalers burned together, drifted onto the reef and sank , and the Hawaiian vessel burned last.

In a statement in the harbor, the Harvest's captain said the Confederate ship questioned whether the Hawaiian whaler was real -- and therefore neutral -- or a fake. He couldn't prove it was Hawaiian, so it was destroyed, Finney said.

She said the last surviving grandson of the Harvest's captain, who remained in Pohnpei, said his father built a stone pier that is in line with the wreckage of his grandfather's whaler.

The remains of the other two ships are "almost end-to-end," she said. "We were hand-sifting and realized we had material from two wrecks -- not one."

A fishermen asked what they were doing and said he knew where there was another wreck, a few hundred feet away, she said.

The scuba divers found the three wrecks in about 25 to 30 feet of water, despite poor visibility from silt washing into the harbor from rivers, Finney said.

She said they recovered large sections of keel and some pieces of copper sheathing, which may help them date the wrecks.

Two Eastern Carolina graduate students and Megan Moews, in the UH Marine Option Program's marine archaeology program, participated in the survey.

Finney had been long interested in the Confederacy because of her family and became involved in maritime archaeology and history through the UH Marine Option Program.

She went to Pohnahtik Harbor last year to see if anything was left of the whaling ships after a chance remark from Bill Still, former director of maritime studies at Eastern Carolina who became a UH adjunct professor.

"He said, 'There are some Civil War wrecks you should look at,' " Finney said.

The Shenandoah was sent to the Pacific during the final months of the Civil War in 1865 to destroy the American whaling fleet. In 18 months, it captured more than 30 whaling ships, including the four at Pohnpei.

Finney did extensive research on the whaling industry and the Civil War in archives in Oregon, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts and Pohnpei.

She found "Alabama claims" produced at the end of the Civil War when the U.S. sued Great Britain for supporting the Confederacy. Each ship owner submitted claims on what the ships were carrying and personal effects, she said.

She also found a log of the Shenandoah, affidavits and manifests. Now she's looking for information on construction of the vessels, she said.

"That is one reason the elements we found are so important. They will help to explain the technology of whaling."

She is interested in what the whaling ships can reveal about the industry, the impact on Pacific populations and the changing technology.

Looking at the wrecks and the Civil War episode also is the first step toward a management plan for Micronesia's underwater resources, she said.

Specialists from the Pohnpei State Historic Preservation Office participated in the project, funded by the National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program.

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