Maritime Heritage

America's greatest museum of our past as a seafaring nation lies on the bottom of the sea and lakes in the national marine sanctuaries. Prehistoric sites, shipwrecks and naval battlefields are protected by sanctuaries. They are places to explore, discover and appreciate our country's maritime cultural heritage. That heritage is a legacy of thousands of years of settlement, exploration, immigration, harvesting the bounty of the seas and creating coastal communities and maritime traditions. Through the study, protection and promotion of this diverse legacy, sanctuaries help Americans learn more about our past.

The Search For Planter

The Ship that Escaped Charleston and Carried Robert Smalls to Destiny

When ordinary men and women step forward and do extraordinary things, the story of the human race takes a quantum leap forward. In 1862, Robert Smalls was a slave assigned to steer the CSS Planter, an armed Confederate military transport. One night after Planter's white officers decided to spend the night ashore, Smalls commandeered the vessel with a hardy band of ordinary men, women and children; their escape voyage freed themselves and helped free their nation from the bondage of slavery.

Dr. Kelly Gleason investigates a ginger jar at the Two Brothers shipwreck site

Two Brothers

Whaling ship captain George Pollard was either the luckiest or unluckiest captain in the U.S. whaling fleet, depending on one's perspective. He endured a brutal ordeal of having his first ship Essex sunk by a whale (the inspiration for Moby Dick) and survived in a lifeboat at sea by cannabalising dead crewmen. Just three years later, he once again lost a ship under his command, the Two Brothers, when he ran aground on French Frigate Shoals in the mid-Pacific and which is today's Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Read here about Pollard's second rescue, the exciting rediscovery of Two Brothers and what it means to our understanding of the importance of the Pacific whaling industry to the United States economic growth as an emerging nineteenth century maritime power.

Multibeam Survey of Liberty Ship Richard Montgomery

Battle of the Atlantic

In 2010, archaeologists from NOAA's Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and Maritime Heritage Program completed their third phase of a multi-year expedition to document the historic shipwrecks from World War II's Battle of the Atlantic in the waters off of North Carolina. Read here how NOAA and its partners are recording some of the last vestiges of WWII that were brought up to the U.S. mainland in one of the nation's darkest hours.

photo of diver and fish and shipwreck

Outer Banks Maritime Heritage Trail

The dynamic, changing coastline of North Carolina is one of the nation’s significant shorelines reflecting thousands of years of human activity and interaction with the marine environment.  This newly released overview examines how the area is a large maritime cultural landscape that reflects not only its history, but specifically how humans have been influenced by the environment, and how human activity in now influencing the environment.

css shenandoah

In Search of the Lost Whaling Fleets

During the latter half of the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries, whaling fleets from a variety of nations concentrated their efforts far to the North, among the bergs and ice pack of Alaska's north slope. This was one of the last refuges of the oil-rich bowhead whale. The harsh extremes found in the Arctic made the hunt particularly hazardous, and on two occasions, 1871 and 1876, whole fleets were trapped by the ice and crushed. Read their story here.

Fathoming Our Past, the Historical Contexts of the National Marine Sanctuaries ( 9.7MB)

photo of a captian's hat and flag

Preserve America

Through dynamic education and outreach programs, exhibits visitor centers, and the media, NOAA spreads the message that our heritage resources belong to everyone, and that we all have a role to play in preserving them for future generations.