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E. Lee Spence
E. Lee Spence with a 22kt gold sword hilt.
Edward Lee Spence

November 1947 (age 76)
Munich, Bavaria, Germany
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma materUniversity of South Carolina
College of Marine Arts
Known forDiscovery of H. L. Hunley (1st successful submarine),

Discovery of Georgiana (wrecked Confederate cruiser/blockade runner),

Discovery of the identity of the "real Rhett Butler"
AwardsDonald O. Bushman Award
Scientific career
FieldsUnderwater archaeology

Maritime history

Naval history
InstitutionsSea Research Society International Diving Institute

Edward Lee Spence (born November 1947) is a pioneer in underwater archaeology[1] who studies shipwrecks and sunken treasure.[2] He is also a published editor and author of non-fiction reference books;[3] a magazine editor (Diving World, Atlantic Coastal Diver, Treasure, Treasure Diver, and Treasure Quest), and magazine publisher (ShipWrecks, Wreck Diver); and a published photographer.[4] Spence was twelve years old when he found his first five shipwrecks.[5][6][7]

Spence's past work has been funded by such institutions as the Savannah Ships of the Sea Museum, the College of Charleston, the South Carolina Committee for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 1991 and 1992, Spence served as Chief of Underwater Archeology for San Andres y Providencia, a 40,000 square-mile, Colombian-owned archipelago in the western Caribbean. He has worked on the wrecks of Spanish galleons, pirate ships, Great Lakes freighters, modern luxury liners (cruise ships), Civil War blockade runners and submarines.[8]


H. L. Hunley

H. L. Hunley, suspended from a crane during its recovery from Charleston Harbor, August 8, 2000. (Photograph from the U.S. Naval Historical Center.)

Main article: H. L. Hunley (submarine)

Spence first reported the discovery of the Civil War submarine Hunley in 1970.[9] Spence mapped and reported its location to numerous government agencies. The July 2007 cover story in U.S. News & World Report noted that the Hunley "disappeared without a trace" until 1970 when it was found by "underwater archaeologist E. Lee Spence."[10] That report made no mention of novelist Clive Cussler, whose organization later (August 2008) dropped a lawsuit in federal district court against Spence in which it had claimed that they and not Spence had discovered the wreck in 1995. Both sides still claim that they and not the other discovered the wreck.[11]

On September 13, 1976, the National Park Service submitted Sea Research Society's (Spence's) location for H.L. Hunley for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Spence's location for Hunley became a matter of public record when H.L. Hunley's placement on that list was officially approved on December 29, 1978.[12][13]

Spence's book Treasures of the Confederate Coast, which had a chapter on his discovery of Hunley and included a map complete with an "X" showing the wreck's location was published in January 1995.[14]

In 1995 the discovery was independently verified by a combined South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA) and National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) expedition directed by SCIAA underwater archaeologist Mark M. Newell[15] and funded in part by novelist Clive Cussler.[16] Later the same year, at the official request of Senator Glenn F. McConnell (chairman), of the State of South Carolina Hunley Commission, Spence donated all of his rights to the shipwreck to the State.[17][18]

The Hunley discovery was described by William Dudley, Director of Naval History at the Naval Historical Center as probably the most important (underwater archaeological) find of the (20th) century."[19] The tiny submarine and its contents have been valued at over $40,000,000 making the discovery and donation one of the most significant and valuable contributions ever made to the State of South Carolina.[20][21]

In 2016 the Naval History and Heritage Command published a detailed report on the history, discovery, and restoration of the Hunley entitled H. L. Hunley: Recovery Operations suggesting that it is most likely Spence found a nearby buried navigation buoy rather than the Hunley.[22]

Other discoveries

Spence with KM17 Diving Helmet

In addition to the Hunley, Spence has discovered several historically significant shipwrecks, including the SS Georgiana[23][24] (said to have been the most powerful cruiser built by the Confederate States of America).[25][26]

South Carolina's law protecting both the state's and the salvors' interests in shipwrecks was passed following Spence's discovery of the Georgiana and his company Shipwrecks Inc. was granted South Carolina State Salvage License #1.[27]

Spence states he has salvaged over $50,000,000 in valuable artifacts[28] and has been responsible, through his archival research, for the location of the wrecks of the side-paddle-wheel steamers Republic[29] and Central America[30][31] from which over one billion dollars in treasure has been recovered.[32]

On April 4, 1989, Spence announced his discovery that Margaret Mitchell, who had claimed her Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gone with the Wind was pure fiction, had actually taken much of her compelling story of love, greed and war from real life[33] and that Mitchell had actually based Rhett Butler on the life of George Alfred Trenholm, a tall, handsome, shipping magnate from Charleston, South Carolina, who had made millions of dollars from blockade running and was accused of making off with much of the Confederate treasury and had been thrown in prison after the Civil War.[34][35] Spence's literary discovery that had its roots in his prior discoveries of some of Trenholm's wrecked blockade runners made international news.[36]

The Encyclopedia Of Civil War Shipwrecks by W. Craig Gaines additionally credits Spence with the discoveries of the following Civil War wrecks: the Constance (lost 1864, found 1967); Housatonic (lost 1864, found 1970); Keokuk (lost 1863, found 1971); Minho (lost 1862, found 1965); Presto (lost 1864, found 1967); Ruby (lost 1863, found 1966); Stonewall Jackson (lost 1863, found 1965).[37] Spence's own books, as well as numerous third party books, newspaper and magazine accounts, and archaeological reports describe his discoveries of the blockade runners Mary Bowers and Norseman and dozens of other ships of all types and nations in waters all over the world spanning a time period of over two thousand years.[5][6][38]

In June 2013 Spence announced his discovery of the wreck of the SS Ozama, a steamer with a history of smuggling, which had been wrecked off the South Carolina coast in 1894.[39]


Spence is also a cartographer and has published a number of popular and archaeological (proximal, contour and conformant) maps and charts dealing with historical events, archaeology, shipwrecks and treasure.

International Diving Institute

Spence is a founder, owner, and Vice President of the International Diving Institute, one of fewer than a dozen schools in North America that teaches and certifies commercial deep sea divers.[40]

Credentials and affiliations

Current President and Chairman of the Board of the Sea Research Society, Spence is a past member of both the Board of Directors of the American Military Museum and Board of Directors of the Cardiovascular Research Institute of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. He is a lifetime member of Mensa International and a former member of Intertel. Spence has an honorable discharge from the United States Army Reserve and has served as Commander and Vice Commander for Post #10 of the veteran's organization American Legion.[citation needed]


Spence graduated cum laude from the University of South Carolina in 1976, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with an academic concentration in marine archaeology and won the Donald O. Bushman Award in cartography. His doctorate is a Doctor of Marine Histories (DMH) from Sea Research Society's College of Marine Arts.



  1. ^ BBC Radio World Service Broadcast, "What Lies Beneath" First broadcast Friday 22 August 2008
  2. ^ - Dr. E. Lee Spence
  3. ^ author search for E. Lee Spence
  4. ^ Death's Bright Angel by William Kerr, photographs by E. Lee Spence
  5. ^ a b Eugene Warner, ["Diver Lee Spence", Sandlapper magazine, (Columbia, SC), April 1970, pp. 40-43
  6. ^ a b "Treasure Diver", by Katherine Hatch, Treasure World, (February–March 1972), pp. 44, 45
  7. ^ Ghosts from the Coast, "The Man Who Found the Hunley" by Nancy Roberts, UNC Press, 2001, ISBN 978-0-8078-2665-2, pp. 89-94
  8. ^ Treasures of The Confederate Coast: the "Real Rhett Butler" & Other Revelations, by Dr. E. Lee Spence, (Narwhal Press, Charleston/Miami, 1995), "About the Author" by Charles King, pp. 515-517
  9. ^ "Diver Thinks he's Found the Hunley", AP Wire story, The State, Columbia, SC, June 14, 1975
  10. ^ Cover story: "Time Capsule From The Sea", U.S. News & World Report, July 2–9, 2007
  11. ^ "Cussler ends lawsuit over finding Hunley", The Post & Courier, August 23, 2008, article and 27 Comments
  12. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  13. ^ "Programmatic agreement on management of the wreck of H.L. Hunley". Archived from the original on 2007-09-18. Retrieved 2007-09-28.
  14. ^ Treasures of the Confederate Coast: The "Real Rhett Butler" & Other Revelations by Dr. E. Lee Spence, Narwhal Press, Charleston/Miami, 1995, p.54
  15. ^ NUMA Press Release, May 11, 1995
  16. ^ Sworn Affidavit on discovery of the Hunley by E. Lee Spence, submitted to Hunley Commission on February 1, 1997
  17. ^ Attorney General Charles M. Condon's letter of September 20, 1995, to Spence
  18. ^ The Hunley: Submarines, Sacrifice & Success in the Civil War by Mark Ragan (Narwhal Press, Charleston/Miami, 1995) p. 213
  19. ^ "H.L. Hunley Fact Sheet". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2007-12-24.
  20. ^ "Governor David Beasley's letter of November 20, 1995, to Spence". Archived from the original on September 24, 2002. Retrieved 2017-04-24.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  21. ^ "State Senator Glenn F. McConnell's letter of September 21, 1995, to Spence". Archived from the original on June 22, 2001. Retrieved 2001-06-22.
  22. ^ H. L. Hunley: Recovery Operations, Robert S. Neyland and Heather G. Brown editors, Naval History and Heritage Command (2016), p. 47-48
  23. ^ "Georgiana Wreck Confirmed", The News & Courier, Charleston, SC, p. 1-D
  24. ^ Encyclopedia Of Civil War Shipwrecks by W. Craig Gaines, Louisiana State University Press, 2008, pp. 146, 147
  25. ^ The New York Times March 30, 1863,p.4, c.1-2
  26. ^ History of the Confederate States Navy From its Organization to the Surrender of its Last Vessel, by J. Thomas Scharf, (New York, New York, 1887), p.802
  27. ^ "Hulks of Confederate Blockade Runners Yield Cargo", The New York Times, December 12, 1971, p. 83:3
  28. ^ Treasures of The Confederate Coast: the "Real Rhett Butler" & Other Revelations, by Dr. E. Lee Spence, (Narwhal Press, Charleston/Miami, 1995), "About the Author" by Charles King, p. 517
  29. ^ "Ocean Treasure Company Has a Murky History" by Jeff Nesmith, Cox News Service, June 3, 2007 Archived November 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ Cover story: "Treasure" Life magazine, March 1987
  31. ^ Cover story: "Milliard-Skatten", Vi Menn magazine (Norway) November 1989, pp. 4-7
  32. ^ Famous Treasure Hunters[permanent dead link]
  33. ^ "Newsmakers: Frankly, My Dear, Historian is on Pins and Needles," Los Angeles Times, April 4, 1989, p. 2-A
  34. ^ Oggi (Italian weekly magazine), 5 dicembre 1994, pp. 38-40
  35. ^ "The Rhett Butler Connection," Treasure Diver, Volume 1, Number One, pp. 35-40
  36. ^ "Rhett Butler," La Stampa, Turin, Italy, 18/4/1989, p.5
  37. ^ Encyclopedia Of Civil War Shipwrecks by W. Craig Gaines, Louisiana State University Press, 2008, pp. 144, 148-151, 152, 155
  38. ^ Shipwrecks of South Carolina and Georgia : (includes Spence's List, 1520-1865) by E. Lee Spence, Sullivan's Island, S.C. (Sullivan's Island 29482, Sea Research Society, 1984)
  39. ^ Archived 2013-06-07 at the Wayback Machine Smuggler's Shipwrecked Steamer Found by Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News
  40. ^ http://www.International Diving