Archeologists in Mexico It identified a ship that took the Maya to virtual slavery in the 1850s, the first time such a ship had been found.
The wreck of a Cuban paddle wheel steamboat was found in 2017, but was not identified until researchers from the National Institute of Anthropology and History examined contemporary documents and found it was the “La Union”.
The ship was used to capture the Mayans during the 1847-1901 rebellion known asSectarian war“To work in the sugar cane fields in Cuba.
Slavery was illegal in Mexico at the time, But similar ship operators were said to deceive the Mayans who were left without land by the conflict into “signing” as contract laborers, often in Cuba, despite being treated like slaves.
The ship La Unión was on a voyage to Havana in September 1861 when its boilers exploded and sank off the important port of Yucatán in Sisal.
The institute said that the identification is based on the physical remains of the wooden-hull side wagon, whose timber bears the effects of a fire and whose boilers exploded. The wreck site also coincides with contemporary accounts of the accident, which claimed the lives of half of the 80 crew members and 60 passengers on board.
In October 1860, La Unión in the neighboring state of Campeche was captured on board 29 Maya, including children as young as seven. That trip was apparently blocked, but that apparently didn’t stop the ship from continuing its voyages, which also involved taking sisal fibers and propelling the passengers to Cuba.
It was not clear if there was any Maya on board on the ship’s last voyage. The records are unclear because it is possible that the Mayans were listed as cargo, rather than passengers, or perhaps the ship attempted to conceal their presence.
Archaeologist Helena Barba Meneki noted that captured Maya fighters were frequently sent to Cuba, where many of them never returned. “Each slave to a middleman was sold for 25 pesos, and they resold it in Havana for 160 pesos for men and 120 pesos for women,” she said.
Sisal and henequen are a fiber used to make ropes, and were usually harvested by Mayans who worked in serf-like conditions on large farms.
The Maya launched one of North America’s last indigenous revolts in the Lower Yucatan Peninsula in 1847, fought against the domination of whites and mixed-race Mexicans who took advantage of it. The Mexican government fought the bloody rebellion with brutal suppression, but was unable to eliminate the last resistance until 1901.
The ship was found about two miles (3.7 kilometers) from the port of Sisal in about 22 feet (7 meters) of water, after a local fisherman led archaeologists to the wreck.
A few wrecked African slave ships have been found in waters in the United States and elsewhere, but no Maya vessel has been identified.