Peggy Leshikar-Denton wrote Ph.D dissertation on the Wreck of the Ten Sail
Cayman Islands residents may not immediately recognise the name Margaret E. Leshikar-Denton, but just about everybody has heard of the Wreck of the Ten Sail. Ms Leshikar-Denton, better known as Peggy, is the woman who spent three years researching the true facts of that historic event, and helped Cayman’s National Museum build an exhibit featuring it. She also served as guest editor for a book about it.
That work alone is more than sufficient reason for people to welcome her as the museum’s new director.
Her first day in the post was 3 October, but her connection with the museum goes back 25 years.
She first came to the Cayman Islands in 1980, when a team from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (based at Texas A&M University) was invited by government to survey the Islands’ waters for shipwrecks. In 1986, she accepted a full-time position at the museum and moved permanently to the Cayman Islands.
One of the best-known events in Cayman’s history is the Wreck of the Ten Sails, and perhaps no other episode in Cayman’s past has been the focus of so much legend, the late Philip Pedley said in 1994.
As the first director of the National Archive, he wrote the preface to a book jointly published by the National Archive and Cayman Free Press. The book was “Our Islands’ Past, Volume II” and it was based on the dissertation Ms Leshikar-Denton submitted for her doctorate in anthropology (nautical archaeology).
Her title was “The 1794 Wreck of the Ten Sail, Cayman Islands, British West Indies: A Historical Study and Archaeological Survey”.
Mr. Pedley said her work combined surveying and excavation of the wreck sites with archival research to locate and study surviving records in England, Jamaica and France.
The book’s introduction combines scholarly accuracy with dramatic narrative and explains why both “sail” and “sails” are correct. Documents reproduced are preceded by explanations of their importance.
The book is still available for purchase.
Since 8 February, 1994, was the 200th anniversary of the Wreck of the Ten Sail, a major exhibit was planned at the museum. It was only coincidence a royal visit was also scheduled for that month. Then-director Anita Ebanks conducted a tour of the museum for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s party, but turned the floor over to Ms Leshikar-Denton when they reached the diorama for the Wreck of the Ten Sail.
If that was a highlight in her career, September 2004 must have been a low point.
As museum archaeologist in charge of preserving shipwrecks and land sites, she also had responsibility for preserving field notes from explorations or “digs” at sites considered to have historic significance. In Hurricane Ivan, artefacts and records were damaged by unsanitary floodwaters. Museum staff and volunteers worked tirelessly to save and restore precious objects, documents and photographs. For Ms Leshikar-Denton, the process entailed separating pieces of paper clumped together by muck, cleaning them one sheet at a time with distilled water, then air drying them.
Recovery was a slow process, but other work went on, including research and development of displays.
Ms Leshikar-Denton also has contributed to Cayman’s register of shipwrecks and helped develop the maritime trail.
Minister for Culture Mark Scotland expressed pleasure at her appointment.
“We are very excited to welcome Dr. Leshikar-Denton as new museum director,” Mr. Scotland said. “Her local knowledge combined with her unique experience will certainly ensure that the National Museum remains one of Cayman’s premiere cultural entities.
Moreover, we expect that under her leadership we will see many meaningful initiatives that will support the preservation of Caymanian culture.”
National Museum Board Chairperson Jeana Ebanks echoed the Minister’s view, saying, “In her previous tenure at the National Museum, Dr. Leshikar-Denton has shown a deep personal dedication to, and respect for, Caymanian culture. She is adept at forging partnerships to attain major programme objectives and enjoys the widespread respect of her peers and colleagues. In addition, she has earned the complete confidence of the Board of Governors to guide the Museum competently.
I therefore join them in my pleasure at her appointment and in my expectations that she will provide strong leadership for our National Museum.”
The new director is involved in several aspects of Caymanian culture and is a member of the Visual Arts Society, Orchid Society, National Gallery and National Trust.
“I have great respect and appreciation for the heritage and culture of the Cayman Islands,” she said. “It is therefore a privilege to be entrusted with the leadership and vision of the National Museum.”
Her expertise and interests are not all local. She has archaeological experience in many countries, including Mexico, Spain, Jamaica, Turks and Caicos and Turkey.
She is a member of the Register of Professional Archaeologists, has worked as an independent researcher and has served as the senior representative for Central America and the Caribbean on the World Archaeological Congress.
She was also the UNESCO representative at the Latin American and Caribbean Technical Commission on Underwater Cultural Heritage Meetings in 1998 and 1999.
In 2001, she served on the International Council on Monuments and Sites delegation during development of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.
She has co-edited or contributed to several publications and is now secretary for the International Committee on Underwater Cultural Heritage.