Michael H. Cottman is the author of Shackles from the Deep: Tracing the Path of a Sunken Slave Ship, a Bitter Past, and a Rich Legacy, a new book for younger readers. It focuses on the slave ship Henrietta Marie, which sank off the Florida coast in the early 18th century. His other books include The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie and Spirit Dive. A journalist, he has worked for The Washington Post and Newsday, among other publications.
Q: How did you end up writing about the Henrietta Marie, and why did you decide to write this book for younger readers?
A: My daughter, Ariane, has always encouraged me to write a book about the Henrietta Marie, underwater exploration, and the African slave trade, for young readers and National Geographic embraces adventure stories like no other publisher. It was a perfect partnership.
Q: How did you research the book, and was there anything that particularly surprised you in the course of your research?
A: I traveled to three continents to piece together a trans-Atlantic puzzle. I studied shipping records and slave-ship captain’s logs in London. I retraced the route of the Henrietta Marie and scuba-dived the ship’s ports of calls in Jamaica, Barbados, and West Africa (Goree Island off Dakar, Senegal) and conducted research in archives and libraries in Jamaica, Barbados and West Africa.
I was surprised to learn there were children — boys and girls — aboard the Henrietta Marie. Some of the iron shackles — tiny ones — that were found underwater on the ship’s wreck site were used to handcuff children aboard the slave ship.
Q: What do you see as the legacy today of the ship?
A: The legacy is to teach young people everywhere about the African slave trade through the story of the Henrietta Marie slave ship. The story of the Henrietta Marie is significant because it also informs students about different cultures and ethnic groups which is critically important today as they live and interact in our ever-expanding multicultural nation.
Q: What age group do you think would particularly enjoy the book?
A: Ages 8-16.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am exploring several ideas for my next book and writing a screenplay based on the story of the Henrietta Marie.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb