Shackles from the Deep by Michael Cottman

Shackles from the Deep: Tracing the Path of a Sunken Slave Ship, a Bitter Past, and a Rich Legacy by Michael Cottman. January 3, 2017. National Geographic Children’s Books, 128 p. ISBN: 9781426326646.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.4; Lexile: 1160.

A pile of lime-encrusted shackles discovered on the seafloor in the remains of a ship called the Henrietta Marie, lands Michael Cottman, a Washington, D.C.-based journalist and avid scuba diver, in the middle of an amazing journey that stretches across three continents, from foundries and tombs in England, to slave ports on the shores of West Africa, to present-day Caribbean plantations. 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. Told from the author’s perspective, this book introduces young readers to the wonders of diving, detective work, and discovery, while shedding light on the history of slavery.



Booklist starred (December 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 7))
Grades 6-9. The idea of identity is at the center of this fascinating narrative nonfiction book about the slave ship Henrietta Marie, which sank off the coast of Florida in the early 1700s. Cottman, an African American journalist and scuba diver, was moved to join the investigation of the wreck of the Henrietta Marie thanks to his curiosity about his own ancestry: “Could it have been possible that any of my ancestors had been on this slave ship?” His search takes him to London to research the iron worker who made the shackles discovered in the wreck, some small enough for children; to Barbados, where 188 slaves were purchased at an auction by the same man; and to countries in West Africa to walk the land where those Africans were captured. This truly multidisciplinary volume, an adaptation of his 1999 adult title The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie, engagingly explores a wide scope of topics, including the history of slavery, marine archaeology, and contemporary racial discrimination, culminating in a dive down to the wreck itself. Every bit of this concise, detailed book feels personal, and Cottman’s exploration and investigation of the wreck is rich with intrigue and poignant, thought-provoking questions. Color photographs show artifacts from the Henrietta Marie, and end material includes references and additional reading. Part mystery, part history, part self-discovery, this is a stunning trip well worth taking.

Publishers Weekly (November 14, 2016)
In this accessible and very personal account, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and scuba diver Cottman travels to the Caribbean, England, and West Africa as he retraces the route of a sunken slave ship, the Henrietta Marie, whose iron shackles kindle an “emotional journey. I had a deep yearning to know more about the oppressed African people aboard.” Cottman’s angered efforts to understand how the slave trade could be “simply business” drives his quest as he visits the grave of the shackle maker, Gorée Island in Senegal, and a Jamaican banana-packing farm. Cottman’s attunement to his emotional state is never far from the surface: “I knew it was unusual, but I had this strange sense that, whether or not these people were actually distantly related to me, they were my family,” he reports. “In the face of so much despair, cruelty, and sadness, these people and I were all connected because we had survived. Our people had survived.” A timeline, map, color photo insert, index, and additional resources round out this chilling exploration of the slave trade, along with a pitch for the “next generation of young adventure-seekers” to consider scuba diving. Ages 10-up.

About the Author

Cottman has written about politics, social trends, race, and America’s expanding multi-cultural society. He has interviewed and written about some of the world’s most prominent news makers, including President Barack Obama, United States Attorney General Eric Holder; White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, former South African President Nelson Mandela, the late John F. Kennedy Jr., former New York Mayors Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Rudolph Guliani, and former President Bill Clinton.

His website is

Teacher Resources

Shackles from the Deep Educator Guide

Around the Web

Shackles from the Deep on Amazon

Shackles from the Deep on JLG

Shackles from the Deep on Goodreads



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