About Underwater Archeologist Dr. E. Lee Spence






Underwater Archaeologist, Shipwreck Historian, Author, Treasure Hunter, & Award-Winning Cartographer

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Spurred on by childhood tales of pirates and adventure, Dr. E. Lee Spence, built his own diving gear and found his first shipwrecks the year he was twelve. That was 1959-1960. He has since found hundreds more wrecks and has worked on everything from Spanish galleons and pirate ships to Civil War blockade runners and twentieth century freighters. He remembers the exciting dreams of his youth and is still making them come true. One of those dreams was eating off the dinner plates and drinking wine recovered from the shipwrecks. Another was finding gold and silver coins, cannons and swords. He has lived all of those and lots more.

Video by Tony Giambra: “Dr. E. Lee Spence, Author/Treasure Hunter.”

NightTalker Radio: Michael David McGuire’s interview with Dr. Spence


Brief Biography

Dr. Spence is an internationally known expert on shipwrecks and sunken treasures. He received one of the first five doctorates (Doctor of Marine Histories, College of Marine Arts, 1972) ever awarded for marine archaeology anywhere in the world 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. In the early 1990s he served as Chief of Underwater Archaeology for Providencia Y San Andres, a 40,000 square mile archipelago in the Western Caribbean. He has authored more than two 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 hasn’t only made discoveries underwater. 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 claim of ownership to the Civil War submarine Hunley was based 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.

In 2013, Dr. Spence announced his discoveries at Cape Romain of the 1894 wreck of the SS Ozama and the 1881 wreck of the SS United States.

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. Spence on Wikipedia.

Awards & Accolades

  • 2013- Honored with the 2012-2013 NOGI in science
  • 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 Archaeology, 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- Reserve Officer Training Corps 4-year 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 inflatable house
  • 1965- National Science Foundation Scholarship
  • 1960- National Educational Development Test Certificate of Merit

Dr. Spence on Radio & TV...

WIS TV (NBC): TV Interview re SS Ozama discovery

BBC Radio: What Lies Beneath

NightTalker Radio: Interview

World Footprints: Reno River Festival


Dr. Spence in Social Media...

Facebook Public Page: Dr. E. Lee Spence, Underwater Archaeologist, Shipwrecks, Sunken Treasure (85,500+ Likes)

LinkedIn: Dr. Spence’s Profile Page (his 6,500+ connections link him to 20,108,176+ professionals)

Pinterest: Dr. Spence’s Boards (140+ Pins and 430+ Followers)

Twitter: Dr. Spence is “HunleyFinder” (over 1600+ Tweets and 4,890+ Followers)


Some of Dr. Spence's many Discoveries...

Dr. Spence was the original researcher behind the discoveries of two of the richest wrecks salvaged to date, i.e. the Gold Rush era steamer Central America, lost in 1854, and the Republic, sunk in 1865. The gold and silver coins and bullion recovered from them have been collectively valued at over a half billion dollars.

In 1970 Dr. Spence discovered the tiny Civil War submarine H.L. Hunley, which was the first submarine in the entire history of the world to actually sink an enemy ship in battle. He also located her victim, the USS Housatonic. In 1995, at the official request of Senator McConnell, Chairman of the Hunley Commission, Dr. Spence donated his rights to the Hunley to the State of South Carolina. The Hunley was raised in 2000 and is undergoing intensive study and conservation/preservation. The Hunley has been valued at over $20,000,000 and has been described by government officials as “the most important underwater archaeological discovery of the Twentieth Century.”

Dr. Spence has found a long list of Civil War blockade runners including the following steamers: GeorgianaMary Bowers; the Stonewall Jackson (ex-Leopard); the Norseman; the Constance Decimer; the Wave Queen; the Celt (also called the Colt or Sylph); the Presto; the Stono (ex-U.S. gunboat Isaac Smith); the Ruby; the Beatrice; the Minho; the Prince Albert; the Sumter and the Flora. Although he wasn’t the original finder, he has also worked on many other Civil War wrecks such as the Dare.

Other discoveries include the locations and/or identities of numerous wrecks of merchant vessels of all time periods and nationalities, including but not limited to: the British transport Glasgow Packet captured and burnt in 1776; the ship America wrecked in 1788; the brig Consolation, sunk in 1804; the schooner Diamond, sunk in 1816; the square rigged ship Delia Maria, sunk in 1854; the schooner Prince of Wales, sunk in 1861; the bark Canterbury, sunk in 1875; the bark Carrier Dove, sunk in 1876; the steamer City of Vera Cruz, sunk in 1880; steamer United States sunk in 1881; steamer Ozama lost in 1894; and the fuel oil tanker George MacDonald, sunk in 1960. (Several of the above vessel identifications are, of necessity, tentative identifications.)

Dr. Spence was also the first person to research, prove and reveal to the public that George Alfred Trenholm was the historical basis of the fictional blockade runner captain, Rhett Butler, in Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Gone With The Wind. Like many of his shipwreck discoveries, the announcement of that discovery made international news.

He has found as many as twenty-eight previously unknown shipwrecks in a single day. In that particular case he never formally announced their discovery because of safety and other concerns.

Another find is the wreck of a side wheel steamer. If it is the remains of the vessel he believes it to be, it will be still another major discovery. He does not plan a formal announcement until he can make a positive identification of the wreck.

SS Georgiana sunk in 1863: Blockade runner & most powerful Confederate cruiser.

H.L. Hunley lost in 1864: First submarine in history to sink an enemy ship.

SS United States sunk 1881: First submarine in history to sink an enemy ship.

SS Ozama wrecked in 1894: First submarine in history to sink an enemy ship.

Dr. Spence's Current Involvement in Research & Education...

Sea Research Society: Underwater Archaeologist and President

International Diving Institute: Faculty and Vice President

Dr. Spence in Print as Author or Editor...

Dr. Spence has authored/edited well over two dozen books, so this section is incomplete and still under construction with pictures of more books by Spence to be added, please check back again soon.

Author of: Treasures of the Confederate Coast: The real Rhett Butler & Other Revelations

Author of: Spence’s Guide to South Carolina

Cover of <em>A look at South Carolina

Author of: A Look at South Carolina’s Underwater Heritage


cover of Dr. E. Lee Spence

Author of: Shipwrecks, Pirates, & Privateers: Sunken Treasures of the Upper South Carolina Coast, 1521-1865

cover of the spiral bound book <em>Shipwrecks of the Era of Revolution South Carolina & Georgia 1763-83</em> by Dr. E. Lee Spence; part of the Spence

Author of: Shipwrecks of the Era of Revolution South Carolina & Georgia 1763-83

cover of the spiral bound book <em>Shipwrecks of the Era of Colonization South Carolina & Georgia 1521-1762</em> by Dr. E. Lee Spence; part of the Spence

Author of: Shipwrecks of the Era of Colonization South Carolina & Georgia 1521-1762


Author of: xxxxxxxxx

Author of: xxxxxxxxx

Cover of <em>Shipwrecks of South Carolina</em> by E. Lee Spence, showing an old fashioned helmet diver holding a human skull. Dr. Spence has discovered numerous shipwrecks in and around Charleston Harbor and approaches, including the Hunley, which was the first submarine in history to sink an enemy ship. He moved away from Charleston after his home on Sullivan

Author of: Shipwrecks of Charleston Harbor


Cover of the spiral bound book, <em>Wreck of the Georgiana: Mystery Ship of the Confederacy</em> by E. Lee Spence, President, Shipwreck Consultants,™ Inc. Spence, who found his first shipwrecks at age 12, discovered the wreck of the <em>Georgiana</em> in 1965 when he was just 17, and went on to become one of the pioneers of underwater archaeology. In 1970 he discovered the wreck of the <em>Hunley</em>, which had been the first submarine in history to sink an enemy ship. In 1972, he received one of the first five doctorates ever given in underwater archaeology anywhere in the world. In 2013 he was honored with a NOGI, which is the oldest and most prestigious award in diving.

Author of: Wreck of the Georgiana: Mystery Ship of the Confederacy

Cover of the spiral bound edition of the book <em>Shipwreck Encyclopedia of the Civil War: North Carolina, 1861-1865</em> by Dr. E. Lee Spence. This book is part of the Spence

Author of: Shipwreck Encyclopedia of the Civil War: North Carolina 1861-1865

Cover of the book <em>Shipwreck Encyclopedia of the Civil War: South Carolina & Georgia 1861-1865</em> by underwater archaeologist Dr. E. Lee Spence; part of the Spence

Author of: Shipwreck Encyclopedia of the Civil War: South Carolina & Georgia 1861-1865


Author of: Shipwrecks through War, Weather, and Error

Contributing Author toxxxxxxxxx

cover of the book

Contributing Author/Editor to: South Carolina and the Sea: Day by Day toward Five Centuries


Dr. Spence as a magazine editor...

cover of ShipWrecks magazine, published by shipwreck archaeologist Dr. E. Lee Spence

Publisher/Senior EditorShipWrecks®

cover of Atlantic Coastal Diver magazine

Underwater Archaeology EditorAtlantic Coastal Diver

cover of Wreck Diver magazine, published by shipwreck archaeologist Dr. E. Lee Spence

 Publisher/Senior EditorWreck Diver


cover of Treasure Diver magazine, Dr. E. Spence, underwater archaeology editor

Underwater Archaeology EditorTreasure Diver: The Journal of Underwater Adventure

cover of Treasure Found magazine

Contributing EditorTreasure Found

cover of America

Contributing Editor: America’s treasure Search magazine


Cover of Treasure Quest magazine

Contributing EditorTreasure Quest magazine

cover Treasure magazine

Contributing EditorTreasure magazine

Chief EditorR.L. White Pages magazine


Dr. Spence in Books by Others...

This section is still under construction with more books to be added, please check back again soon. It relates to various non-fiction books crediting Spence with various discoveries and/or referencing Spence as a source and/or listing his works in their bibliography, as well as novels dedicated to Spence and/or mentioning Spence’s real-life discoveries in the storyline. 

<em>Treasure: Man

Treasure: Man’s 25 Greatest Quests for El Dorado by B.A. Tomkins

Cover of the book <em>Ghosts from the Coast</em> by award winning author Nancy Roberts, in which she credits Dr. E. Lee Spence with the discovery of the Hunley in 1970.

 Ghosts from the Coast by Nancy Roberts

Cover of the book <em>Hidden Treasure</em> by Alison Hawes. This book includes a picture of Dr. E. Lee Spence and tells about some of his work.

Hidden Treasure by Alison Hawes


book on the H.L. Hanley, which mentions Dr. E. Lee Spence

The CSS H.L. Hunley by R. Thomas Campbell

The Fire of Mars by Stephen F. Clegg

Dr. Spence's Maps, Charts, & Certificates...

This section is under construction with more maps, chaets and certificates to be added, please check back soon.

Dr. Spence was the 1976 winner of the Donald O. Bushman Cartography Award by University of South Carolina and has done both land and underwater surveys, creating numerous plats, maps, nautical charts, and topographical maps. In addition to the ones pictured here, some of his other published maps and certificates include: A Map of the Wakulla and St. Marks Rivers in Florida, with Historic Sites and Shipwrecks, Tallahassee, 1965 Revolutionary War Battlefields of South Carolina, Sullivan’s Island, S.C., 1974 Shipwrecks of South Carolina, 1520-1776, Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, 1976 Artificial Reefs of South Carolina, Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, 1976 Shrimping in South Carolina, Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, 1976 Crabbing in South Carolina, Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, 1976 South Carolina Shipwrecks, Sea Research Society, Columbia, South Carolina, 1976 Archaic Sites of South Carolina by County, Sea Research Society, Columbia, South Carolina, 1976 Woodland Sites of South Carolina by County, Sea Research Society, Columbia, South Carolina, 1976 Archeological Sites of South Carolina by County, Sea Research Society, Columbia, South Carolina, 1976 Relics of the Civil War, (artifact certificate with map showing wrecks), Shipwreck Press, Charleston, South Carolina, 1985 Treasure From the Regina, (artifact certificate), Shipwreck Press, Charleston, South Carolina, 1987 Wreck of the City of Vera Cruz, (artifact certificate with chart of wreck’s location), Shipwreck Press, Charleston, South Carolina, 1990 Wreck of the William Lawrence, (artifact certificate with chart showing the wreck’s location), Shipwreck Press, Charleston, South Carolina, 1990

Map: Shipwrecks of Charleston, South Carolina

Map: Shipwrecks of New York & New Jersey

Map: Civil War Shipwrecks

Wreck Chart: Map showing cross section and location of Georgiana

Map: Shipwrecks of Hilton Head, South Carolina

Map/Certificate: map of Civil War shipwrecks of Charleston with relic pin attached

Miscellaneous Honors, Awards and Recognition...

 This section is under construction, please check back 

Academy of Underwater Arts & Sciences: Awarded the 2012-2013 NOGI for Science (for his pioneering work in underwater archaeology)

Montres Charmex SA: Awarded 2010 Undersea Explorers Award (in part for discovery of the Hunley)

National Geographic Society: Awarded honorarium in 2009 for consulting on shipwrecks for Sylvia Earle’s Ocean an Illustrated Atlas

Dr. Spence in Newspapers & Magazines...

Dr. Spence’s work and discoveries have been written about in over a thousand periodicals worldwide. U.S. News & World Report (magazine) credited Dr. Spence with the discovery of the Hunley, and he has been quoted or mentioned in thousands more. A very incomplete list includes the London SunPeople magazine; Oggi (Italian Equivalent of People magazine); Vi Menn (Norwegian magazine); La Stampa (Italian newspaper); Heutzu (German magazine); Life magazine; Canadian Diving News magazine; International Journal of Nautical Archeology (Great Britain); MacCleans (“Canada’s Weekly Newsmagazine”); Tresors de l’histoire (France); USA Today; the New York Times; the Los Angeles Times; the Miami Herald; the Tallahassee Democrat; the Atlanta Journal; the Atlanta Constitution; the Chicago Sun Times; the Detroit Free Press; the Charlotte ObserverTreasure (magazine); Skin Diver (magazine); Treasure Diver (magazine), etc.

The (London) Sun: £600M Gold in Them Thar Holds – Discovery of the steamer Central America

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 

CNBC: Diving Into Sunken-Treasure Investing

Millionaire Magazine: “The Vault”

Detailed article about the conservation and preservation of the Civil War submarine <em>Hunley</em>, which credits Dr. E. Lee Spence with its discovery.

 X-Ray Magazine: “U.S. Civil War Wreck: H.L. Hunley Submarine”


Major article about the discovery, raising and preservation of the Civil War submarine <em>Hunley</em>, in which Dr. E. Lee Spence is credited with the wreck

 U.S. News & World Report: “The Hunley

Der Standard (Austria): Goldrausch in der Tiefsee (Gold Rush in the Deep Sea)


 

http://www.xray-mag.com/content/us-civil-war-wreck-hl-hunley-sub






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