Little Bits of History

July 31

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 31, 2017

1715: The Spanish Treasure Fleet runs into a hurricane. The Spanish ran a convoy system of ships bringing treasures from the New World home to Spain frm 1566 to 1790. The convoys were essentially cargo ships filled with agricultural goods, lumber, and various luxury goods such as silver, gold, gems, pearls, spices, sugar, tobacco, silk, and other exotic goods found in the Spanish Empire holdings. As the trips returned to the New World, they often brought passengers, textiles, books, and tools. The West Indies fleet was the first permanent transatlantic trade route in history. They were also known as the Flota de Indias (Fleet of the Indies) or silver fleet or plate fleet (from the Spanish plata which meant silver).

The fleet of eleven ships left Havana, Cuba a week earlier. They were near present day Vero Beach, Florida when the storm hit.  This lies close to half way up the coast of Florida. The fleet was carrying mostly silver and is known today as the 1715 Treasure Fleet or the 1715 Plate Fleet because of this. Ten of the eleven ships sunk in the storm. Around a thousand sailors died. A small number of men survived by riding out the storm in small lifeboats. News of the cargo and the sinking brought in a number of ships, some to help, the rest to scoop up any available assets. Henry Jennings was one of those who came on the scene.

Jennings was a British privateer, that is, a private person (or ship) which engaged in maritime warfare under a commission of war. Carrying a letter of marque, the person was entitled to carry on any form of hostility against enemy ships while at sea. Capturing a ship allowed the privateer proceeds from the sale under a ruling called a prize law. In 1716 Jennings was in charge of three ships and between 150 and 300 men when they ambushed the Spanish salvage fleet attempting to recover some of the treasure from this wreck. Since he had to travel to Jamaica, there had been time for others to scavenge most of the wreckage, so he captured their ships. They were able to steal about £87,500 in gold and silver.

Even today, there are silver relics washing ashore on the Florida beaches. Kip Wagner was able to put together an exhibit of artifacts from the 1715 fleet’s misfortune. This was featured in the January 1965 edition of National Geographic. This brought the wrecked ships to the attention of the world and Wagner published more works on the recovery efforts available to divers today. In 1987, the Urca de Lima was found in the Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserves, a ship from this fleet. In 2015, 1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels, LLC discovered $4.5 million in gold coins off the coast of Florida, all of which came from the disaster befallen to the Spanish fleet on this day.

Gold and silver, like other commodities, have an intrinsic value, which is not arbitrary, but is dependent on their scarcity, the quantity of labour bestowed in procuring them, and the value of the capital employed in the mines which produce them. – David Ricardo

The most pitiful among men is he who turns his dreams into silver and gold. – Khalil Gibran

Every cloud has its silver lining but it is sometimes a little difficult to get it to the mint. – Don Marquis

Humanity appreciates truth about as much as a squirrel appreciates silver. – Vernon Howard

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