Monday, September 3, 2012

Rewriting History - Dixey vs. Amstel

   One Passion of mine is History. I have been away from my hometown for two years... though a LOT of it seems unchanged since I last saw it, I found one thing that has not and that is the debate on the fate of the Robert H. Dixey...

  1st though, I think I need to give a little history from a few years back before I continue.
Stories past down that this bell came off the
Robert H. Dixey, then became the school bell
in Bayou La Batre AL, and finnaly
found it's self as a dinner bell for the
workers of my Great Grandfather's Ship Yard.
   After Hurricane Katrina I saw a story about part of a ship uncovered on Dauphin Island. It was said it could have belonged to a ship known as the "Dixey". I found the story interesting, it's not uncommon for a hurricane to uncover a ship from long ago. Often even skulls wash up on Dauphin Island, a reminder of the Islands first name of "Massacre Island"
The details in my mind are a tad bit fuzzy now nearly 7 years later and since it was a very stressful time but one night my mom was doing something and discovered a paper written by the family historian Hattie Smee Smith, my Great Aunt giving the history of a brass "dinner bell" which has been in the family for generations. I took it (always happy to find more family history and was struck by what was written... the bell had come for a ship named, Dixey that wreaked in 1860, the place Dixey Bar was named for it and an Island which no longer exists today. (also a victim of a hurricane) I was like... that sounds like... I got on the internet and yes, my memory was correct. The same name they had given for the ship that had washed up!
   The story of my family's bell was publish in the Mobile Press and I was even given a book containing the diary of a young girl who took a trip on it by the lawyer of the family of the descendant's of the owners of the Dixey. I kept up with the story of the remains that washed up but they were later sent to the dump! The family of Robert H. Dixey however believed the ship was still underwater in the bay. Other then that there was little more info of it other then they were trying to claim it. And that is where it stood the last time I heard.

Fast forward to 2012....

   Hurricane Isaac washes up a ship on Dauphin Island. Hearing of this I did a Google search on the Dixey again. Here I discover what has been happening while I was gone. Apparently a treasure hunting (well, in all fairness they may not like being called this but... whatever... until they prove to me otherwise) group has raised a large bell from ship wreak #1 which is the same wreck the Dixey family was trying to claim. Both parties ended up in court. The court's statement can be found here...
"For two principal reasons, the Court is of the opinion that Shipwreck #1 is not, and cannot be, the remains of the ROBERT H. DIXEY. First and foremost, the location of Shipwreck #1 diverges too greatly from the known spot where the DIXEY went down. The historical record leaves no doubt that the DIXEY sank at what is now known as Dixey Bar. In the DIXEY Claimants' own words, "History is clear that the ROBERT H. DIXEY sank in 1860 right there on or around what is now named Dixey Bar." (Doc. 201, at 3.)*fn14 But Shipwreck #1 is not located at Dixey Bar. All information before the Court at this time -- including maps and charts submitted by Fathom showing the coordinates of Shipwreck #1 as compared with Dixey Bar's coordinates on file with the U.S. Geographic Names Information System -- is that Shipwreck #1 is positioned more than 2 miles southwest of Dixey Bar." (Click on link to read more on this report)
  I can see how the judge came to the conclusion that the ship was not the Dixey given the proof given. I could argue the point that the location of Dixey bar could have moved over 150 YEARS if you conceder how many hurricanes have changed the face of the AL coast in that time... and that the Titanic split in two and you will still find dinner plates stacked together.... but that is not really the point of my protest. I protest this... the rewriting and making up of history.


  I would like to point out the findings of the court case and the REAL findings of Fathom Exploration...
"If the foregoing sounds like a lukewarm endorsement of Fathom's theory, that's because it is. The Court understands the monumental challenges the parties have encountered in trying to piece together the stories of these ships dating back one and a half centuries. As of right now, however, there are too many unanswered questions and too many factual gaps to enable a conclusive identification of Shipwreck #1 as the AMSTEL, particularly given the dozens (hundreds?) of ships known or believed to have sunk in Mobile Bay over the years."
  The truth is there is no record of the Amstel sinking, just that it may have been raided by the union. In Fathom Exploration's best GUESS it stayed in one spot till it sank which could have taken quite sometime and the contents never looted due to the fear of the Union. They admit that....

"the Amstel — was not even listed in any compilation of ships lost in the Mobile area, Anderson said." in an interview.
   If you read Fathom Exploration's exciting detailed story here... have to scrach your head a little bit... where did all this info come from when they knew so little about the Amstel in court? My GUESS is this looks like someone's imagantion running wild! Maybe to make their find more valuable or maybe cause they are plain enjoying it throwing aside what being historians are all about! But as a historian, this kind of stuff kind of scares me! These people are putting a story out there as the unmistakable truth when it's really just a fantasy of Fathom Exploration. Unless there was a major find I am unaware of and has not been published there is no way at this point to say with this certainty, if any, that this ship (#1) is the Amstel, no name on it found, no record of it sinking, and I can't help but to wonder how on earth a ship of this worth could have just sat there unlooted by anyone! Even if it was guarded by the union as a trap (which sounds outright silly to me but I'll play along) as Fathom Exploration speculates. I know the people of this area (hey, I have a grave robber in the family, you'd be surprised what people will do!) and we are talking about the Civil War, a time of great shortages. I have a hard time believing this ship was left alone either by the Union or the residents of Mobile. Even Fathom Exploration says that the ship the Union stopped (the AID) was taken and turned into a ship of their own purpose. Ships were very valuable things... the courts opinion was....
  "Perhaps the most vexing leap in the narrative is the proposition -- devoid of supporting evidence -- that the AMSTEL was simply left to rot on the Southwest Spit (a process that must have taken years), despite carrying a valuable cargo and despite apparently not being catastrophically damaged as a seaworthy vessel (i.e., it had not been smashed, it had simply run aground). The suggestion that no one would have cared enough about the AMSTEL to retrieve her or remove her cargo during the period of years that must have been required for her to disintegrate into the sea -- even though she would have been readily visible to the blockade, to passing vessels and even to people on land at Fort Morgan or Sand Island -- may not be impossible, but it is questionable...."
"With no hard evidence as to what became of the AMSTEL, the guesswork and uncertainty inherent in Fathom's narrative is simply too vast to be accepted as definitive truth."
   So for this company coming out making these claims about this ship is unbelievable and a sad lesson to remind us to question where history comes from. From real facts or a vivid imagination with a few faint tid bits and a dollar sign?

   I don't know Fathom Exploration's motives nor all the facts and I will freely say that just as they should disclose with their amazing claims of a "mystery wreck,” that,"...has fallen through the cracks of time.”


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