I found my first shipwrecks at age 12 and grew up to become one of the pioneers of underwater archaeology. I have found pirate ships…
Charleston history, Defeating Glenn McConnell, diving, Gone With The Wind, Hunley submarine, pirates, Rhett Butler, shipwrecks, South Carolina History, treasure
I was elated to hear that Senator Glenn McConnell has become the new Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina. But I was happy for reasons that others, including the new lieutenant governor, might not be. This is a major step down in power for McConnell who was head of the South Carolina senate and arguably the most powerful man in South Carolina. Unfortunately, his removal from power was the automatic constitutional result of the resignation of Lt. Governor Ken Ard who was convicted of ethics violations, and not the result of voters finally having enough of him.
This makes Glenn McConnell a figurehead and hopefully will end his ability to manipulate and use other South Carolina politicians as secret attack dogs, sacrificial pawns and scapegoats to do his bidding. It also ends his chairmanship of the South Carolina Hunley Commission. That's what pleases me the most.
As a senator, McConnell often exercised his political might and office in what I and certain others, who crossed swords with him, considered to be in violation of the South Carolina Constitution. In my case, he also knowingly and intentionally violated my rights under the United States Constitution.
I first met McConnell in 1995 in relation to questions being raised over what should be done with the wreck of the wreck of the Civil War submarine Hunley, which I had discovered in 1970. He asked me to appear before a South Carolina legislative committee (i.e. the Hunley Commission) to testify under oath about my 1970 discovery of the Hunley and my 1980 federal district court action under which I established salvage rights under the Law of Salvage and ownership under the Law of Finds. The committee was looking into my discovery because earlier that year (1995) novelist Clive Cussler had brought a lot of attention to the wreck by falsely claiming to have discovered the wreck in only 18' of water.
I had furnished documentation to the committee before the meeting and my maps, documents and court records had been carefully reviewed by representatives of the office of the State Archaeologist and the office of the South Carolina Attorney General.
After my sworn testimony McConnell asked me about my prior written offer to donate my rights to the Hunley to the State of South Carolina. He wanted to know whether I was still willing to do that. I said I was, and the State's Attorney General (Charles M. Condon) immediately approached me with a prepared document for me to sign, which I did. And, at McConnell's further request, I agreed to lead an archaeological team out to the wreck site, which was in 27' of water off Sullivan's Island and at least a mile from Cussler's claimed location. (Cussler later admitted to a reporter that he had lied about its location, but only did so after the reporter had gone to the wreck site with the State archaeological investigative team and realized it was in 27' of water.)
Despite all I had done and everything I had agreed to, and despite the fact that the Hunley was where I had accurately marked it on maps that I had turned over to the State long prior to Cussler's supposed discovery in 1995, McConnell still ended up crediting Cussler with the discovery. That was really absurd, because Cussler not only never dove on the wreck a single time, Cussler wasn't even the director of the 1995 expedition. That expedition was directed by underwater archaeologist Dr. Mark Newell. Newell has given sworn testimony in which he says he used my maps and credits me with finding it first. Crediting Cussler was obviously not right and damages the true story of the Hunley. I am convinced that McConnell always believed me, but that he thought the truth mattered less than Cussler's threat to write a $100,000 check to McConnell's political opponent. At that time, that would have destroyed McConnell's career.
Under South Carolina's Constitution, which prevents holding more than one State office, regardless of whether its for honor or for profit, McConnell's swearing in as Lieutenant Governor means McConnell can no longer serve on the Hunley Commission.
Perhaps, one day the Commission will take it on themselves to undo some of the damage to the Hunley's history and to correct for the injustice that McConnell did to me.
Dr. E. Lee Spence
PS: For those who don't know more about me, although often described as a treasure hunter, I am a degreed, professional underwater archaeologist and shipwreck historian with many discoveries to my credit. You can look me up on Wikipedia, LinkedIn, and/or on Facebook.
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