Underwater Archaeologist, Shipwreck Historian, Author, Treasure Hunter, & Award-Winning Cartographer
Spurred on by childhood tales of pirates and adventure, Dr. E. Lee Spence, found his first shipwrecks at the age of twelve. He has since found hundreds of wrecks and has worked on everything from Spanish galleons and pirate ships to Civil War blockade runners.
Millionaire Magazine: The Vault
CNBC: Diving Into Sunken-Treasure Investing
Columbia-Metro: A Real-Life Adventure Hero
The Advanteer: Dr. E. Lee Spence, Treasure Hunter & Underwater Archaeologist
BBC Radio: What Lies Beneath
People Magazine: Yo-Ho-Ho and a Bottle of Mumm! Veteran Diver Lee Spence Toasts the Treasure of the Lost Wreck Regina
The Epoch Times: Unburying Treasures: Cartographer Finds Hidden Treasure – How maps help save sunken ships
Der Standard (Austria): Goldrausch in der Tiefsee (Gold Rush in the Deep Sea)
Dr. Spence lives in Summerville, South Carolina, and is an internationally known expert on shipwrecks and sunken treasures. He is one of five people in the world with a Doctor of Marine Histories (College of Marine Arts, 1972) and he has long been considered one of the founding fathers of marine archaeology.
His work has been funded by such institutions as the Savannah Ships of the Sea Museum, CRIL (the Caribbean Research Institute Ltd., Colombia, South America), the College of Charleston, the South Carolina Committee for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He recently served as Chief of Underwater Archaeology for Providencia, a 40,000 square mile archipelago in the Western Caribbean. He has authored more than a dozen books, and has served as an editor for a number of nationally distributed magazines. He is also an award winning cartographer and has published a number of maps and charts dealing with shipwrecks and treasure.
Always an adventurer, Spence has traveled to a wide range of exotic places in the Far East, Europe, Central and South America. He has explored castles, palaces, shipwrecks, ancient ruins, secret tunnels, and subterranean and underwater caves. He has dived in the Great Lakes, the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean.
He has been shot at, buried in cave-ins, tangled in fishing nets, pinned under wreckage, run out of air, lost inside a wreck, and bitten by fish while pursuing his quests.
Although Dr. Spence has discovered numerous historically significant shipwrecks, including the Civil War blockade runner Georgiana and the Confederate submarine Hunley, he considers his identification of Charleston born banking and shipping magnate George Trenholm as the “Real Rhett Butler” to have been his most interesting non-shipwreck discovery. Trenholm’s fleet of fast steamers earned today’s equivalent of over one billion dollars running munitions, medicines, and merchandise through the Federal blockade. By the end of the Civil War, Trenholm was a major figure in the Confederate government. The United States actually charged Trenholm with treason and claimed he had made off with and concealed hundreds of millions in Confederate assets. Trenholm died without revealing his secrets. Spence is currently trying to uncover them.
The State of South Carolina’s recent claim of ownership to the Civil War submarine Hunley rested in part on Spence’s 1970 discovery of that vessel and his subsequent gift of his salvage rights to it to the State. Spence’s gift of his rights was made in September of 1995 at the official request of the Attorney General of South Carolina and the South Carolina Hunley Commission.
Dr. Spence’s work has been written up in hundreds of periodicals including: Life; Skin Diver; People; Treasure; Civil War Times; New York Times; USA Today; the London Sun; Vi Menn (Norway); La Stampa (Italy); Heutzu (Germany); MacCleans (Canada); and Tresors de l’histoire (France). He has also been on numerous radio and television shows, both here and abroad, including NBC’s Today Show.
As an historian, Spence believes the biggest key to success on any expedition is the archival research that precedes it. Spence calls historical research “his drug of choice” and says, “In today’s world, time is the most expensive part of a salvage expedition. Man-hours spent in the archives can cut hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of time from the field phase of most projects.”
Read more about Dr. E. Lee Spence on Wikipedia.
Read about Dr. Spence’s discovery of the wreck of the SS Ozama.
Here is an Michael McGuire’s exclusive interview of Dr. Spence on Talk Radio’s “NightTalker” show.
Here is a link to WIS-TV’s video & news story on Dr. Spence’s discovery of the steamer Ozama.
- 2012- Winner of the 2012 NOGI in science category
- 2011- Nominated for 2011 NOGI (diving award)
- 2010- Nominated for 2010 NOGI (diving award)
- 2010- Undersea Explorers Award (Montres Charmex SA)
- 2010- International Who’s Who of Diving (Diving Almanac)
- 2009- Honorarium, National Geographic
- 1998- Who’s Who in South & South West
- 1997- Who’s Who in America
- 1996- Who’s Who in Finance & Industry
- 1992- Chief of Underwater Archeology, Providencia
- 1991- Mark of Excellence, Beneath the Sea
- 1983- Grant, South Carolina Committee for Humanities, shipwrecks study
- 1983- Grant, National Endowment of the Humanities
- 1983- Grant, Ships of the Sea Museum
- 1976- Donald O. Bushman Cartography Award by University of South Carolina
- 1971- Grant, Contemporary University, University of South Carolina
- 1971- Honors Program University of South Carolina
- 1966- Honors Program University of Miami
- 1966- National Honors Scholarship University of Miami
- 1966- ROTC scholarship
- 1966- appointment to Merchant Marine Academy
- 1966- alternate appointment to United States Naval Academy
- 1966- alternate appointment to West Point, United States Military Academy
- 1966- First Prize Science Fair, underwater inflatible house
- 1965- National Science Foundation Scholarship
- 1960- NEDT Certificate of Merit
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