Piracy and World Maritime Day


Today, Thursday, is World Maritime Day. I recently received this infographic on modern-day piracy around the world, and efforts to combat it. Although it’s presented in a fun format, it contains some useful information about what remains a serious problem in some parts of the world. You can view a slightly larger version here.

This graphic was sent me by Tom Murphy of Nature’s Water Ltd., a water treatment and filtration company in Ireland. Thanks for the graphic, Tom!



This should be interesting:


KiddPurging the Seas: Government Reaction to Piracy, 1600-2015

Governments have had a conflicting and complicated relationship with piracy through the centuries.  When pirates attacked a rival nation’s merchant or naval fleets, governments turned a blind eye.  Diminution of an enemy state’s commerce or navy could only be a positive affair – increased trade opportunities, markets for stolen goods, and a militarily weakened adversary. Yet, when pirates gazed away from enemy states and directed their attentions to the commerce or navy of their own nation, governments cast pirates as “enemies of all mankind” and engaged in naval and legal anti-piracy campaigns.  Join Dr. Kim Todt and Dr. Elizabeth Nyman, from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, as they explore government responses to piracy from the Golden Age through today’s arresting headlines.

Tuesday, March 10 at 7 p.m. Houston Maritime Museum, 2204 Dorrington, Houston, Texas 77030 (near the Texas Medical Center)

Kim Todt is an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette whose work focuses on the history of Early America.  She is currently working on a book on the trading networks of Early America.

Elizabeth Nyman is the Anthony Moroux/BoRSF Endowed Professor of Political Science I at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She is currently working on a book on international maritime conflict.


It’s always been interesting to me, the idea that modern pirates (e.g., off the Horn of Africa) are considered among the worst sort of criminals, but their counterparts from 300 years ago were suitable subjects for Disney. I’m as afflicted by that particular cognitive dissonance as anyone, I’m afraid.

Texas Navy Exhibit Opens with a Bang — Several, in Fact


On Saturday I had the privilege of speaking at the opening of the revamped Texas Navy exhibit at the Texas Seaport Museum in Galveston. We had decent (though cloudy) weather for the event, with a good turnout of folks. The highlight of the event, naturally, was a salute fired by the Texas Navy reenactors (yes, there are such!) from Brazoria County, who brought up three small field pieces. The smallest of these, oddly, was by far the loudest. (The guns, I mean, not the reenactors.) The gun crews are mostly composed of Scouts, so it’s good to see young people get involved in history in a hands-on way. I understand the carriage of the largest piece, with red wheels, was built by the kids themselves. Good job, y’all!




And finally, exhibit Guest Curator Jim Bevill (pointing), author of The Paper Republic, guides visitors through the display. The gun in the foreground is an 18-pounder pivot gun believed to have used aboard the Texas Schooner Brutus in 1836-37:


Blue Water Ships, Brown Water Bayou

My new feature article on Liberty ship construction in Houston during World War II will be hitting local newsstands shortly. I’m especially honored to have it included in the new issue of Houston History Magazine (right), dedicated to the centennial of the formal opening of the Houston Ship Channel. The full article won’t be online for some months yet, but you can read the opening grafs here. Houston has never had the reputation of a major shipbuilding center, but it accomplished remarkable things during the war. Two hundred eight Liberty ships were pushed off the ways into Buffalo Bayou between 1942 and 1945. For those of you familiar with Houston geography, if placed end-to-end those ships would stretch more than seventeen statute miles, from the San Jacinto Battleground to City Hall downtown.

There are some wonderful articles in this issue, many of them supplemented by the photography of Captain Lou Vest, a Houston pilot and one of the best maritime photographers working today. (Don’t miss Steve Nelson’s photos, either.) I’d like to give special thanks to the managing editor of Houston History, Debbie Harwell, for her enthusiasm and encouragement. She’s great to work with.


Deep Wreck Presentation, Houston, October 14



On Tuesday, October 14 at 7 p.m., Amy Borgens and Fritz Hanselmann will discuss the recent deep-water shipwrecks expedition to investigate the wrecks of three sailing vessels, believed to have been overtaken by a catastrophic event with a presumed loss of all on board. These vessels were lost to history until 2011, when they were detected as three unknown sonar targets during a Shell Oil seafloor hazard and archaeological survey. A deep-water remotely operated vehicle investigation by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research unveiled a copperclad shipwreck with collections of small arms and six cannon lying at a depth of approximately 4300 ft. A team of underwater archaeologists from several federal and state organizations returned to the site in July 2013 and recovered a small collection of artifacts to help identify the shipwreck. An investigation of the two nearby Shell Oil targets confirmed these were indeed shipwrecks – one a merchant vessel transporting hides among its cargo and a third vessel of unknown purpose believed to be a three-masted ship. The archaeological team continues to research the video and photographic documentation of the sites and learn more about the artifact assemblage as conservation continues.


Deep-Water Discoveries: The Monterrey Shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico
Tuesday, October 14
7:00-8:00 PM
Houston Maritime Museum, 2204 Dorrington
Houston, Texas 77030

Free to the Public



Talkin’ Blockade Runners and Wicked Ol’ Charles Morgan

In three weeks, I’ll be giving a couple of talks, one in Arlington, that I’ve mentioned before, and one in Houston, that I haven’t.

On Friday evening, October 10 at 7:30, I’ll be speaking on “Civil War Blockade Running on the Texas Coast” at the University of Texas at Arlington Central Library, Sixth Floor. There will be a reception and a book-signing after. This event is open to the public and everyone’s invited. To RSVP, please call 817-272-1413 or email LibraryFriends@uta.edu. This will be my second trip to North Texas in the last few months, and it should be great fun.

Then, on Saturday the 11th, I’ll be participating in the Fourth Annual Houston History Conference. The conference will be held at the the Julia Ideson Building of the Houston Public Library, 550 McKinney.The theme this year, in recognition of the centennial of the official opening of the Port of Houston. My presentation is “Charles Morgan and the Genesis of the Houston Ship Channel,” a wonderful little story of economic boosterism and Gilded-Age avarice. Space is limited so advance reservations are recommended, but not required. The cost of the conference is $50 per person before October 3; $40 for seniors, presenters and exhibitors; and $25 for teachers not covered by scholarships from their respected school systems. If space allows, on-site registration will be available. All tickets include lunch and admission for a full day of activities. For more information or to enroll in the conference, visit www.houstonhistoryassociation.org or email info@houstonhistoryassociation.org.

The full listing for the Houston History Conference follows below the jump. Hope to see y’all there!


Fourth Annual Houston History Conference

“Houston: Born on the Bayou, Built on the Port”

Conference set for Saturday, October 11, 2014

WHAT: Entitled “Houston: Born on the Bayou, Built on the Port,” the fourth annual Houston History Conference will coincide with the citywide Centennial of the Ship Channel in Houston. Produced by the Houston History Association (HHA), the conference will be held on Saturday, October 11, 2014 from 8 a.m. – 3:45 p.m. in the Julia Ideson Building – Houston Public Library, 550 McKinney. The conference will provide information to create discussions and awareness among Houston leaders, scholars, academics and the public about the history, important assets and challenges of the port.

Throughout its history, whenever the Port of Houston has grown, Houston has grown, proving it to be a fiscal engine that produces jobs and monetary prosperity for the local and state economy. In 2012, ship-channel related businesses provided over one million jobs throughout Texas, generating $178.5 billion and $4.5 billion in state and local taxes. “Arguably, the Port of Houston ranks as one of Houston’s greatest historical and vital resources, and merits this in-depth examination and attention by HHA,” says Diana DuCroz, president of HHA.

Port of Houston Commissioners Theldon Branch and Dean Corgey and Houston Mayor Annise D. Parker will open the daylong event, followed by the morning presentation from (Ms.) Pat Jasper, director of the Folklife and Traditional Arts Program for the Houston Arts Alliance.

After a preview of the “100: Ship Channel History 1914 – 2014” documentary, attendees can then tour the library’s exhibit on “Stories of a Workforce: Celebrating the Centennial of the Houston Ship Channel.”

The Houston History Association also will present the “Betty Trapp Chapman Awards” to (Ms.) Miki Lusk Norton and Pam Young in recognition of and appreciation for their tireless work for HHA and Houston’s history community.

After lunch, a variety of speakers will give presentations on a wide range of topics in two breakout sessions, including:

  • David Falloure and Tom Tellepsen on outtakes from their book The Town that Built the Port that Built the City; and Mike Mitchell on The New Deal, Federal Writers’ Project & The Port of Houston
  • Mikaela Selley of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center (HMRC) on the Behind the Scenes Research and Making of the Centennial Documentary and Curriculum Guide; and Kim Lykins and Jim Bailey, co-founders of the Texas Foundation for the Arts, on their documentary 100: Ship Channel History 1914-2014.
  • Frances Trimble on The Houston Pilots: Silent Servants of Progress: Houston Ship Channel Pilots; Andy Hall on Charles Morgan and the Genesis of the Houston Ship Channel; and Ms. Sam Akkerman and Ginny Garret on Sport and the Port – An Historical Review of Recreational Boating and Commercial Shipping on Houston’s Shared Waterways
  • Tanya Debose moderating discussion with long-time residents of Pleasantville, Magnolia and Clinton Park neighborhoods about living in the shadow of the Ship Channel

Over 65 community history and preservation partners of HHA have been invited to present exhibits about their organizations and current work. Ample time will be allowed within the conference for attendees to network and learn about Houston History through the work of these organizations.

Space is limited so advance reservations are recommended, but not required. The cost of the conference is $50 per person before October 3; $40 for seniors, presenters and exhibitors; and $25 for teachers not covered by scholarships from their respected school systems. If space allows, on-site registration will be available. All tickets include lunch and admission for a full day of activities.

Houston ISD will offer CEUs and scholarships for its teachers.

The Lancaster Hotel is the official hotel partner for HHA; for special rates, visit http://thelancaster.com or call 800-231-0336.  Limited availability.

For more information or to enroll in the conference, visit www.houstonhistoryassociation.org or email info@houstonhistoryassociation.org.

WHEN:           Saturday, October 11, 2014, 8 a.m. – 3:45 p.m.

WHERE:        Julia Ideson Building – Houston Public Library, 550 McKinney

WHO:            The Houston History Association is an independent 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting Houston area history and serving as a resource for existing historical, preservation and educational organizations and institutions.

Sponsored by: This program is made possible in part by a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition, generous sponsorship has been received from the Port of Houston Authority and Texas Historical Foundation. Other partners include the University of Houston Center for Public History, The Strake Foundation, Miki and Ralph Norton, The Lancaster Hotel, Houston Academy of Medicine – Texas Medical Center Library (HAM-TMC), Texas State Historical Association, Houston Public Library, the City of Houston and Houston Independent School District.

Civil War Blockade Running on the Texas Coast

My new book, Civil War Blockade Running on the Texas Coast, will be released by the History Press on June 10. It’s available now for pre-order at the History Press, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. An e-book version should follow this summer. This short volume discusses blockade-running in the western Gulf of Mexico, with particular emphasis on the last year of the war, when Galveston became the last remaining port in Confederate hands in the region. Running the blockade under sail, life aboard the Union ships of the blockade, and the lure of prize money are also discussed. The book includes an epilogue that discusses some of the archaeological work done on runners over the last 40 years.

Blockade-running in this area has been an active interest of mine for nearly 20 years, and I’ve been privileged to contribute to the documentation of four different ships involved — the famous runners Denbigh and Will o’ the Wisp, as well as Union vessels U.S.S. Arkansas and U.S.S. Hatteras. Lots of folks have helped me along the way, and I’m grateful to all of them.

Monterrey Shipwrecks Talk — Galveston, Nov. 14

Monterrey Wreck

My friend and colleague Amy Borgens of the Texas Historical Commission, and Fritz Hanselmann of Texas State University, are presenting a free public talk on the Monterrey Shipwrecks in Galveston at Moody Gardens on Galveston on November 14 at 7:00 pm. This presentation will discuss the three early nineteenth-century shipwrecks off the Texas-Louisiana coast that were investigated this past July. This ROV investigation and artifact recovery project was broadcast live on the internet. The public event was coordinated in response to all of the interest in the project from regional historical and archeological groups in the Galveston-Houston area. These and other participating groups have been invited to host respective educational tables from 6:30 — 7:00 pm in advance of the presentation.

In July 2013, a team of scientists investigated three early 19th-century shipwrecks 170 miles off the Texas-Louisiana coast at a depth of 4,500 feet. This unique expedition, the deepest of its kind in the United States, documented the shipwrecks and recovered a small collection of artifacts. Team members will present the initial findings that suggest these archeological sites may be a privateer and two prizes. Supporting groups such as the Houston Archeological Society and Galveston Historical Foundation will be present to provide insight and information on regional history and archeology.


Talkin’ Texas Navy

TexasNavySnottyThanks to the Sam Houston Squadron of the Texas Navy Association for hosting me at their first anniversary dinner Sunday evening, at which I spoke on the role of the little steamboat Laura in the coming of the Texas Revolution. It’s a great little story that deserves more attention than it gets. I’ll have to blog about it some one of these days.

With me on the program were Ed Cotham, who gave a short talk outlining events in Texas during the sesquicentennial year of 1863 — it was a good year for the Union generally, but a disastrous one for them in Texas — and Justin Parkoff and Jessica Stika, who gave an overview of the efforts to conserve and exhibit artifacts recovered from the wreck of U.S.S. Westfield.

In his presentation, Justin joked that he tends to be quiet and, because he didn’t speak up soon enough in a meeting where the NautArch students were selecting projects, he got stuck with “the junk.” (At this point he flashed an image of Westfield‘s machinery as it came off the site, in rusty, unrecognizable jumble of stuff.) In fact, Justin’s dived headlong into this subject with remarkable success, and has gone a long way toward not only reconstructing the gunboat’s machinery, but its overall construction and conversion from a New York ferryboat to a warship. Before he’s done, I think we will know more fine-grained detail about U.S.S. Westfield than any other ship of her type. It will be a delicious irony that such knowledge ultimately came about because her commander, 150 years ago, blasted her to smithereens rather than let her fall into enemy hands.

We’ll be hearing more about Westfield in the next few months — a lot more.


Image: Wikimedia depiction of foul anchor and star insignia for the Texas Navy rank of Passed Midshipman, by user Glasshouse.

Aye Candy: Morgan Line Steamship Harlan, 1866


New renders of the Morgan Line steamship Harlan (seen previously here), that ran a coastwise route between New Orleans, Galveston and Indianola, Texas in the late 1860s and 1870s. Harlan was the last of seven ships built to the same design by Harlan & Hollingsworth for the Morgan Line between 1861 and 1866. The first of these ships, St. Mary’s, was purchased new and converted into the Union warship U.S.S. Hatteras. In 1880, Harlan transported former President Grant and his party from Clinton, on Buffalo Bayou near Houston, to New Orleans.

Full-size images available on Flickr.