Member Login

Elusive Blockade Runner Found Near Downtown Tampa

September 16, 2009

florida-aquarium-1Tampa, Fla. (Sept. 15, 2009) – The Florida Aquarium has spent the last four years researching and actively searching for James McKay’s confederate blockade runners burned in 1863 during the Civil War. The burning of these vessels by Union soldiers, along with a third ship scuttled by the Confederates, led to the skirmish at Ballast Point, Tampa’s only battle of the Civil War.


Principal Investigator and Underwater Archaeologist John William Morris spent the last 30 years documenting underwater assets and specializes in Civil War and World War shipwrecks. Though the search for the Scottish Chief had previously led to investigation of this area, an improved sonar scanner led to the discovery of “something that was undoubtedly a ship of some kind” during a second look at this particular section of the Hillsborough River.

This is the third Civil War era shipwreck discovered by The Florida Aquarium in as many years. James McKay’s other blockade runner, the Kate Dale, was discovered last summer by this same team and in 2007 the U.S.S. Narcissus was documented off of Egmont Key. McKay, Tampa’s first mayor, was also one of the first entrepreneurs of Florida.

“While Tampa’s role in the Civil War may have been minor,” says John William Morris. “It was a colorful and fascinating time in the early development of Tampa’s history. James McKay was certainly the father of Tampa’s maritime industry and his ships were the focal point of the skirmish at Ballast Point, Tampa’s only battle of the Civil War.”

The program’s goal is a three-part project that encompasses the search and discovery of what lies at the bottom of our local waterways, building an educational curriculum around the discoveries and using the data collected to create shipwreck exhibits at The Florida Aquarium.

“The Florida Aquarium is more than a great destination for residents and tourists to the area,” says Thom Stork, president and CEO of the Aquarium. “Our research and conservations programs are dedicated to bringing these rich cultural moments in Tampa’s maritime history to light and further enhance people’s understanding of this great city and region of Florida.”

With much of the 128-foot-long hull intact, the Scottish Chief may yield some interesting artifacts from the Civil War era. Further excavation will be necessary to fully determine all the cultural assets that may be held in the murky depths of the Hillsborough River.

Comments are closed.