On November 23, 1894, the Ozama, bound from Philadelphia to Charleston, S.C., struck on Cape Romain shoals and stove a hole in the engine room compartment.
"The water quickly filled the fire rooms, rendering the engines useless. The steamer floated off the shoals soon after striking, and at 2 a.m. sank in six-and-half fathoms of water," the New York Times reported.
The crew took to the boats, while eleven men were reported missing, but probably landed on Romaine beach.
Declared a total wreck, the Ozama was then forgotten and lost.
"We don't know that anyone searched for her. Newspaper accounts said she was traveling in ballast, without cargo. This would have discouraged any attempts at salvage, which would have been both dangerous and expensive back then," Spence said.
He first found the ship in 1979 while doing a magnetometer survey.
"I had absolutely no idea it might be valuable until this year when I finally learned her identity during a research on other wrecks," Spence said.
Officially recognized as the "true and exclusive owner" of all of the wreckage, Spence believes the ship wasn't cargo free.
"Ships reporting themselves as traveling in ballast, often carried money and even other cargo. When you are smuggling, the smuggled cargo often isn't listed or is intentionally miss-listed," Spence said.
When the Ozama embarked on her last trip, the death of Haiti's president was considered imminent. The ship would have carried guns and funds for either supporting the existing regime, or for sustaining an insurrection. In this view, such funds would have needed to be in gold, not paper money.
"Whatever is still there, we have good reason to believe at least some of it will be intact, as I have already brought up some unbroken china," Spence said. His work is being funded by United Gold Explorations Limited, a British company.
"As you might guess, I am hoping to find gold, and gold should not only be intact, it should still be shiny," he added.
According to John Christopher Fine, an admiralty attorney and an award winning diver, the exacting research that was conducted leading to the discovery of Ozama's identity is especially important.
"The Spence library collection is an archive unmatched even in public collections," Fine, an expert on both treasure hunting and diving, told Discovery News.
"While reports of the ship's cargo and passengers' effects make the Ozama wreck intriguing, it is also a virtual time piece of history that has not been disturbed by careless salvage," he added.
Spence and his team will thoroughly map the wreck and try to determine its structural integrity before digging into it.
"We will also be salvaging several of the earlier wooden hulled wrecks that I discovered nearby," Spence said.