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‘Shackles From the Deep’ is a new book about slavery written for children

Young readers learn the story of a slave ship through scuba diving, detective work and discovery


How can we explain slavery to our children?

Author Michael Cottman has that answer in his new book geared toward readers ages 10 to 16. Shackles From the Deep: Tracing the Path of a Sunken Slave Ship, a Bitter Past, and a Rich Legacy, released on Jan. 3 by National Geographic Books, explores the story of the Henrietta Marie — a slave ship that sank off the coast of Florida.

“This is more than just the story of one ship — it’s the untold story of millions of people taken as captives to the New World,” Cottman said. “We’re working together to introduce the book to public/private school students across the country, discussing how to share the story across multimedia platforms, and we’re talking about ideas for my next book.”

The book is an adaptation of his book for adults, The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie, for which he currently is writing a screenplay.

“I wrote Shackles From the Deep in a conversational way for young readers to tell the story of the Henrietta Marie, a 17th century slave ship, my underwater exploration of the ship off the coast of Florida, and how I retraced the route of the ship over three continents and scuba diving.”

Told from Cottman’s perspective, the book introduces young readers to the wonders of diving, detective work and discovery, while shedding light on the history of slavery.

Cottman said he began his journey in London “reading pages of shipping records and slave-ship captains’ journals and I logged numerous dives on the wreck of the ship over the years, about 50 miles from Key West, Florida, in an obscure area called The Marquesas.”

The story is also the start of a partnership between members of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers and white marine archaeologists who forged friendships to explore a sunken slave ship and confront race in America. The Henrietta Marie is the only slave ship in America that has been scientifically documented and where 20,000 artifacts were recovered, including the largest collection of slave-ship shackles ever found on one site.

Cottman has been a member of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers for 20 years. Members of the organization placed a one-ton concrete monument on the site of the Henrietta Marie. It’s believed to be the only underwater memorial of its kind in America. The bronze inscription reads: “Henrietta Marie: Speak Her Name And Gently Touch The Souls Of Our Ancestors.”

Cottman is a Pulitzer Prize-winning, Washington, D.C.-based journalist and avid scuba diver. His journey includes exploring three continents, from foundries and tombs in England to slave ports on the shores of West Africa to present-day Caribbean plantations.

Kelley Evans is a digital producer at Andscape. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic Southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.