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A 19th century steamship wreck has been discovered in Mexico

Archaeologists from the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) have found and examined the wreck of a vessel, behind which lies an extremely interesting and little-known story. According to the researchers, the steamer La Unión was used by slave traders, whose victims were the Maya. For INAH scientists, this discovery is of particular
Published: September 20, 2020 - 09:00
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 21:05
A 19th century steamship wreck has been discovered in Mexico

Archaeologists from the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) have found and examined the wreck of a vessel, behind which lies an extremely interesting and little-known story. According to the researchers, the steamer La Unión was used by slave traders, whose victims were the Maya.

For INAH scientists, this discovery is of particular importance. Apart from the fact of how difficult and complicated the identification of the wreck itself was, with their research they have opened a chapter of history, showing one of the dark pages in the history of Mexico, which, as they themselves stress, must be recognised and studied according to its historical context.

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La Union steamer of Mayan slave traders divers24.pl In Mexico, slavery was banned with the country’s independence in 1821. And 40 years later, on 6 May 1861, President Benito Juárez issued a special decree to protect the Maya from a tragic fate and forced deportation.

The first steamer of the Mayan slave traders divers24.pl However, the wreck of the steamer La Unión, which sank in a fire on 19 September 1861 while the vessel was on a voyage to Cuba, is clear evidence that slavery continued at its best.

The wreck has been the subject of research and exploration by Mexican scientists for the past three years. Today, they claim with certainty that this is the only known vessel that was used for the Mayan slave trade.

INAH archaeologists wreck La Union divers24.pl The ship belonged to the Spanish company Zangroniz Hermanos y Compañía, founded in Havana in 1854. A year later it received permission to trade in Mexico, making crossings between Sisal, Campeche, Veracruz and Tampico.

Figure of steamer La Union Mexico divers24.pl It usually brought first-, second- and third-class passengers to Cuba with goods such as agave henekwen fibres, tanned hides, dyed wood and deerskin. However, the crew was also in league with slave traders who smuggled in Mayans whom they captured by force or lured by trickery.

A year before the sinking, in October 1860, the steamer was stopped in Campeche and 29 Mayans were discovered on board, including boys and girls aged between 7 and 10. However, this fact did not affect the end of slavery.

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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