DNA Match Positively Identifies Hunley Crewmember as Joseph Ridgaway of Talbot County, Maryland
For more information contact: For Immediate Release
Kellen Correia at 843-722-2333 ext. 32
(September 24, 2004 – CHARLESTON, SC) – Hunley project staff and consultants have been actively working to identify the eight submarine pioneers who manned the Hunley on February 17th, 1864, when she became the first successful combat submarine in world history.
When the crew was buried in April of this year, a preliminary estimation on the identity of each crewmember was released, but a positive identification could only come from a DNA match with a descendent.
Recently, the Hunley scientific team’s identifications passed their first test when Joseph Ridgaway was identified through DNA confirmation to be the crewmember scientists originally speculated.
Warren Lasch, Chairman of Friends of the Hunley, said, “Before the DNA match, our only tools in identifying the Hunley crew for their burial was the archaeological, forensic, and genealogical data. The DNA confirmation of Ridgaway’s identity is a perfect example of the world class scientific work taking place on the Hunley project.”
In 2001, once the crew’s remains were excavated from the submarine, Hunley scientists sent samples of each crewmember to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Hawaii, where the samples were selected for DNA analysis. From there, the samples were sent to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL).
AFDIL extracted mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from the samples and laser scanned the DNA sequences. Since then, they have waited for the Hunley scientific team to locate DNA samples from potential descendants to cross reference in hopes of making a match.
“A mother passes mtDNA to her children, meaning mtDNA identification can only be done through direct maternal descendants,” said Jackie Raskin-Burns, AFDIL Supervisory DNA Analyst who led the analytical work on the Hunley crew samples.
After extensive historical research, forensic genealogist Linda Abrams was able to locate a maternal descendant. Abrams says Ridgaway was initially very difficult to track down due to questions surrounding the correct spelling of his name. Much of the material on the Hunley crew has Ridgaway spelled with an “e” (Ridgeway) instead of an “a,” and the copy she had of his Confederate enlistment papers was difficult to read. The original paper was stained near the bottom where he signed it, but after studying the actual document under magnification, she was able to confirm the correct spelling.
Discovering the correct spelling of Ridgaway’s name opened up several avenues for Abrams to investigate. She was able to track Joseph Ridgaway to Talbot County, and found census data listing his family. However, the 1850 and 1860 censuses had an inconsistency on the Ridgaway family. She continued to research, and learned of a Confederate marker that listed all the men in Talbot County who served during the Civil War.
“Though the census was telling me I may have the wrong Ridgaway, my intuition was telling me this was the right man. Once I learned of the statue, I immediately got in my car and drove to see it. I was overwhelmed when I saw the marker listed his name, and finally, I knew we had found him,” Abrams said.
“Knowing Ridgaway’s age and that he was American born was a tremendous breakthrough,” said Hunley Senior Archaeologist Maria Jacobsen. “Identifying his remains among the submarine’s crew then became a process of elimination.”
The Hunley team found that the man seated at the 7th crank position matched Abrams research on Ridgaway’s location of birth and approximate age. The last step was then to confirm Ridgaway’s identity with a DNA match.
After Ridgaway was lost at sea the night the Hunley failed to return from her historic mission, his friend and shipmate on the Indian Chief, James Joyner, took the submariner’s personal belongings back to his family in Maryland. Joyner eventually married one of Ridgaway’s four sisters, Elizabeth. From this line, Abrams was able to locate Elizabeth Joyner’s grave in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. With the permission of Elizabeth’s great granddaughter, a sample was taken by physical anthropologist Dr. Doug Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution and sent to AFDIL for testing.
“When we received the sample, we performed mtDNA typing and the sequence was consistent with one mtDNA sequence obtained from the remains of the Hunley crew,” Raskin-Burns said.
The mtDNA sequence was consistent with the crewmember who was second-in-command of the Hunley and stationed at the 7th crank position: Joseph Ridgaway.
Ridgaway was raised to be a sailor. Born in late 1833 to James and Elizabeth Ridgaway, Joseph was from Talbot County, Maryland. His father was a prosperous sea captain who owned several merchant vessels. He was just 16 when he earned his Seaman’s Protection Certificate, rating him as an experienced seaman.
On August 29, 1862, Ridgaway joined the Confederate States Navy in Richmond, Virginia. Like four other members of the Hunley crew, he had been assigned to the CSS Indian Chief in Charleston, South Carolina.
From there, Ridgaway volunteered to man the Hunley. He must have been an experienced and reliable crewmember, because when William Alexander, one of the submarine’s builders, was called back to Mobile, Alabama in early 1864, Dixon promoted Ridgaway to fill his place as second-in-command. In this position, he was responsible for securing the aft hatch, manning the seventh crank and operating the aft pump as well as the seacock.
During excavation of the Hunley, Ridgaway’s remains were found associated with a pipe, suggesting he was a smoker. Perhaps most intriguing among the discoveries related to Ridgaway was an item he wore around his neck: the ID tag of a Union soldier named Ezra Chamberlin.
Descendants of Ridgaway’s sister were in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 17, 2004, to witness the burial of their ancestor, Joseph Ridgaway.
Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL)
The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) is a division of the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner, the largest and most comprehensive department at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, DC. AFDIL is one of the leading DNA laboratories in the world, and AFDIL scientists have provided positive identifications in several high-profile cases, including the Tomb of the Vietnam Unknown, Russian Czar Nicholas II, and victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at the Pentagon and in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. AFDIL also provides ongoing DNA identification expertise for U.S. casualties in the Global War on Terror.
Friends of the Hunley
On the evening of February 17, 1864, the H. L. Hunley became the world’s first successful combat submarine by sinking the USS Housatonic. After signaling to shore that the mission had been accomplished, the submarine and her crew of eight vanished.
Lost at sea for over a century, the Hunley was located in 1995 by Clive Cussler’s National Underwater Agency (NUMA). The hand-cranked vessel was raised in 2000 and delivered to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, where an international team of scientists are at work conserving the vessel and piecing together clues to solve the mystery of her disappearance.