Preserving the historical mysteries of the Blackwater River’s murky depths is one of the core missions of the Blackwater Pyrates. Finding them is the mission of the University of West Florida archaeology department. To this end, the Pyrates regularly award grants to UWF archaeology students. This year, the Pyrates awarded Jess Hendrix, Matthew Newton, and Benjamin Wells the $3,750 check.
The Blackwater Pyrates have just about reached a decade in existence according to current Captain, Ralph “Dragon” Palmer. “This is our tenth anniversary year supporting river cleanup, maritime heritage preservation, and boater safety. I think we’ve been doing grants four to five years in support of grad students who further their exploration of the BlackwaterRiver for historical artifacts (and) further studies into the Blackwater basin area.”
Matthew Newton’s work reaches into the ancient past of the BlackwaterRiver, investigating possible submerged springs where anthropologists believe prehistoric people may have gathered. The known sites, he said, go back 2,000 years but this area of the county is lacking in ice age data. Newton said the grant will help fund processes like radiocarbon dating. Without the Pyrates’ help, he said his research wouldn’t be possible.
Hendrix was unable to attend the check presentation, but Assistant Professor of Anthropology Gregory Cook said Hendrix’s work takes place at a site on a tributary of the BlackwaterRiver on private property. Among other things, a brick kiln was discovered. “The owners want to know what’s there,” Cook said.
Ben Wells’ work has already been reported in March of last year, creating the Blackwater Maritime Heritage Trail, a virtual trail documenting 4.1 miles of the river’s sunken ships and shoreline structures no longer standing. Notable natural elements along the trail will also be incorporated, Wells said. “We’re at the point now where we’re creating the narrative, making sure the data is correct.” Some of the buildings to be included, he said, are a shipyard from around 1920 to 1930 and a an 1850 to 1860 brickyard. Wells noted to preserve the artifacts below the water, exact locations will not be included. He hopes to have the trail ready for viewing online in conjunction with the opening of the Bagdad Mill Site Park in May of 2016.