Expedition’s Director Credits Spence with Discovery of the Hunley.

Newell says Spence not NUMA Divers and not Cussler should be credited with finding the Hunley.



The following is an email sent February 27, 2001, from underwater archaeologist Dr. Mark M. Newell to me (Dr. E. Lee Spence). Dr. Newell was the official director of the expedition that has been widely credited with the discovery of the Hunley. Dr. Newell’s expedition was partially funded by novelist Clive Cussler and many people mistakenly believe Cussler was the actual discoverer of the wreck. Dr. Newell clearly credits me with finding it first. I think the fact that Dr. Newell, as that expedition’s director, could try to claim credit for himself, but instead openly acknowledges my earlier work, speaks highly of his integrity and should give his words credibility. For convenience, I have placed Dr. Newell’s email headers at the end of this note.


Underwater archaeologist E. Lee Spence, M.H.D., has asked me to comment on his longstanding claim to have found the wreck of the submarine H.L. Hunley prior to 1995. I assume he has asked me to do this because I was the originator and official director of the project, which has been widely credited with the discovery of the Hunley. I appreciate being asked for comments, because it gives me a chance to point out some facts, offer my opinions, and to ponder some important issues.

First, let’s get straight on the facts. The Hunley Search Project was neither a NUMA project nor a Clive Cussler project. NUMA was simply one of several organizations, which I, as an underwater archaeologist working under the auspices of the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology & Anthropology at the University of South Carolina, had invited to participate in a project that I had originally put together with the support of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Mr. Cussler was only one of a large number of individuals who participated in the project. Mr. Cussler’s biggest contribution was his name recognition value as a best-selling author who writes about a fictional Government agent. His name was a draw card, which is still being used to help sell the Hunley. Furthermore, there were many other people and organizations who supported and otherwise contributed to the project. The most valuable support for the project came from the aforementioned United Daughters of the Confederacy and from members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I am not involved in the current work, but it is my understanding that virtually all of the financial support for the current work is coming from the taxpayers of South Carolina, who have followed the lead of those same Sons and Daughters.

Although, even by NUMA’s official pressrelease and by Mr. Cussler’s own statements to the press in May of 1995, I was the director of the Hunley Search Project, and could theoretically claim all credit for the discovery, that would not be ethical or fair. It would be especially unfair to Dr. Spence. I say that because, after a review of the archaeological evidence published in the federal government’s H.L. Hunley Site Assessment (1998), and of various maps, notes, and other information related to me by Dr. Spence, I am convinced that Dr. Spence found and correctly identified the wreck prior to 1995.

I am not saying that our project was not part of the discovery, it most certainly was. Part of our objective for 1995 was to visit and check out Dr. Spence’s site. But, like Dr. Spence, we were only a part of the discovery. In a very real sense the discovery of the Hunley has already spanned thirty years and is still going on. Every day the archaeologists, forensic experts, archivists and others discover more about the Hunley.

What my project apparently did in 1995 was to verify that what Dr. Spence had found was indeed the Hunley. That was a discovery of major importance and it was something Dr. Spence had actively pressed the government to do for years. It was Dr. Spence’s persistence in pursuing and publishing his claim that has allowed all of us to participate in and be part of the ongoing discovery of the Hunley.

Dr. Spence should be credited with being the first to find the Hunley, not the NUMA divers, and certainly not Clive Cussler.

The Hunley Commission’s conclusion against Dr. Spence was simply not supported by the scientific evidence. The evidence actually supports Dr. Spence’s contention that the wreck was partially exposed when he found it in 1970. There is so much evidence in support of Dr. Spence’s claims that one might even wonder whether Mr. Cussler’s published threat to give $100,000 to any political opponent of Hunley Commission Chairman, Senator Glenn F. McConnell, was a factor in the Commission’s 1997 decision in favor of Mr. Cussler.


Mark M. Newell Ph.D.

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Subject: Re: The discovery of the

Hunleyis a continuing effort

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See also: The Discovery of the Hunley (https://hunleyfinder.wordpress.com/article/the-discovery-of-the-hunley-by-dr-e-lee-9a3pk7ykcgda-2/)

and see: A Comment on Cussler’s Alleged Discoveries (https://hunleyfinder.wordpress.com/article/a-comment-on-clive-cussler-his-alleged-9a3pk7ykcgda-4/)