Edward Lee Spence is a pioneer in underwater archaeology who studies shipwrecks and sunken treasure. He was born in November of 1947 in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. He started dreaming of shipwrecks by age 5 and found his first wreck at 12 years old.
He was inspired by stories his father told and later by books like “Treasure Island” by Robert Lewis Stephenson and “Le Monde du Silence” by Jacques Yves Cousteau. He believes his most important find was the wreck of the Confederate submarine Hunley, which was the first submarine in history to actually sink an enemy ship.
It has been described by government officials as “the most important (underwater) archaeological discovery of the 20th Century.” It sank in 1864 and was raised intact in 2000.
Less than 40 feet long, the submarine could hold up to nine crewmen, most of whom propelled the vessel by hand cranking a single screw. It successfully attacked the Union sloop Housatonic with a spar torpedo on February 17, 1864, sinking the vessel.
Spence discovered the SS Georgiana which is said to have been the most powerful cruiser built by the Confederate States of America. Soon after this, Spence’s company, Shipwrecks Inc., was granted South Carolina State Salvage License #1.
Making International news, 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 from real life and that she had actually based Rhett Butler on the life of George Alfred Trenholm, a tall, handsome, shipping magnate from Charleston, South Carolina.
He 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. Spence found the Georgiana 132 years after sinking. She was carrying 400 tons of munitions, medicines, and merchandise as well as considerable gold.
Spence is responsible for the location of the wrecks of the side-paddle-wheel steamers Republic and Central America from which over one billion dollars in treasure has been recovered.
Spence has also dived on 24 or so World War I and World War II wrecks. Always an adventurer, Spence has traveled to a wide range of exotic places in the Far East, Europe, Central, and South America.
He has explored castles, palaces, shipwrecks, ancient ruins, secret tunnels, and subterranean and underwater caves. He has dived in the Great Lakes, the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. He has been shot at, buried in cave-ins, tangled in fishing nets, pinned under wreckage, run out of air, lost inside a wreck, and bitten by fish while pursuing his quests.
Dr. Spence is an internationally known expert on shipwrecks and sunken treasures. His bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies was perhaps the first accredited academic degree ever awarded in the United States for any program in marine archaeology.
He also received one of the first five doctorates (Doctor of Marine Histories, College of Marine Arts, 1972) ever awarded for marine archaeology anywhere in the world and he has long been considered one of the founding fathers of marine archaeology. He is also a published editor and author of non-fiction reference books; a magazine editor (Diving World, Atlantic Coastal Diver, Treasure, Treasure Diver, and Treasure Quest), and a magazine publisher (ShipWrecks, Wreck Diver); and a published photographer.
Spence is the author/editor of more than two dozen non-fiction reference books on shipwrecks. He appeared on “The Curse of Oak Island” on January 18, 2022, in the episode “A Boatload of Clues”.
Spence as a Cartographer
Shipwrecks of Hilton Head & Vicinity chart by Lee Spence, (Shipwreck Press, Sullivan’s Island, S.C., 1980) OCLC: 15281285
Shipwrecks of Wreck Valley : [New York City and Long Island regions] chart by E. Lee Spence (Shipwreck Press, Sullivan’s Island, SC, 1990) OCLC: 40228884
Shipwrecks of the Civil War: Charleston, South Carolina, 1861-1865 map by E. Lee Spence, (Shipwreck Press, Sullivan’s Island, S.C., 1984) OCLC: 11214217
Spence’s Chart of Shipwrecks of Charleston, S.C.: over 250 wrecks map by E. Lee Spence (Shipwreck Press, Sullivan’s Island, S.C., 1980) OCLC: 40228884
Gold Bug: Treasure Chart, Edgar A. Poe by E. Lee Spence, (Sullivan’s Island, SC: E. Lee Spence, 1981) OCLC: 49829303
South Carolina Shipwrecks, 1520-1776 by E. Lee Spence (Charleston, S.C. : E. Lee Spence, 1976) OCLC: 6270298
Sidescan Sonar Operator – Klein Associates – 1989;
Shipwreck Consultant – Sea Research Society – 1972;
Open Water Diver – Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) – 1969;
Scuba Instructor – NASDS – 1967;
Commercial Diver (surface supplied air) – Palmetto Diving Association – 1966;
Scuba Diver – Florida Safety Council – 1963
2013- Honored with the 2012-2013 NOGI in science
2010- Undersea Explorers Award (Montres Charmex SA)
2010- International Who’s Who of Diving (Diving Almanac)
2009- Honorarium, National Geographic
1998- Who’s Who in South & South West
1997- Who’s Who in America
1996- Who’s Who in Finance & Industry
1992- Chief of Underwater Archaeology, Providencia
1991- Mark of Excellence, Beneath the Sea
1983- Grant, South Carolina Committee for Humanities, shipwrecks study
1983- Grant, National Endowment of the Humanities
1983- Grant, Ships of the Sea Museum
1976- Donald O. Bushman Cartography Award by University of South Carolina
1971- Grant, Contemporary University, University of South Carolina
1971- Honors Program University of South Carolina
1967- Honorable Discharge United States Army
1966- Honors Program University of Miami
1966- National Honors Scholarship University of Miami
1966- Reserve Officer Training Corps 4-year scholarship
1966- appointment to Merchant Marine Academy
1966- alternate appointment to United States Naval Academy
1966- alternate appointment to West Point, United States Military Academy
1966- First Prize Science Fair, underwater inflatable house
1965- National Science Foundation Scholarship
1960- National Educational Development Test Certificate of Merit
Check out Dr. Edward Lee Spence’s Website: shipwrecks.com