USS Alligator Shipwreck

USS Alligator wreck
USS Alligator

Photo of FLKeysDiving.com

The USS Alligator is a U.S. Navy schooner constructed in 1820 at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, Massachusetts. It is an excellent example of an American warship from this period. The Alligator combated the slave trade off the coast of African and protected merchant ships in the West Indies from pirates. These were two of the most significant issues on President James Monroe's agenda. By the time Monroe took office, it was illegal to transport new slaves to the United States from Africa and the U.S. Navy was called on to enforce that law. The Alligator was one of many ships that patrolled the shores of West Africa in an attempt to curtail illegal slave trading. The Alligator also transported Dr. Eli Ayres and Lt. Robert Field Stockon, the ship's captain, to West Africa in 1821. Dr. Ayres was a representative of the American Colonization Society. He traveled to Africa to buy land that became a colony for freed African American slaves. This new colony, formed in 1847, is now the country of Liberia.

The Alligator was also used to combat piracy in the Caribbean, which became an issue in 1819. In 1819 Spain ceded Florida to the United States. The United States became responsible for protecting merchant ships off the coast of Florida from pirates.
The Alligator met many pirate ships in combat during the spring and summer of 1822. In November of that year it ran aground while escorting a convoy of merchant ships. After unsuccessfully attempting to refloat the vessel, the crew set it afire to prevent pirates from salvaging the wreck. The Alligator is 86 feet in length and 25 feet at the beam. The wreck consists of two ballast piles and associated coral heads and rubble. The primary ballast pile consists of the remains of the lower hull, which are preserved in situ. The second pile contains artifacts from the vessel, as well as components of the Alligator that were jettisoned overboard when the crew tried to refloat the ship. Today, the Alligator has stabilized and is in a fair state of preservation.

The USS Alligator wreck lies 200 ft. southwest of Alligator Reef lighthouse off of Islamorada. Located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the wreck is submerged in 3-12 ft. of water.

Last updated: September 28, 2017