Reader Commentary: The 1715 Fleet and How the Treasure Coast Got its Name?

treasure_1715

JULY 31ST 2015 MARKED THE 300TH YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE 1715 SPANISH PLATE FLEET DISASTER

In the early morning hours of July 31st 1715 the fleet collided head on with a terrible hurricane off the coast of what we now call the “ The Treasure Coast.” This event would change the future for the country of Spain and have unknown but long-lasting effects on the east coast of what was then called La Florida.

Treasure Coast 1715

The events leading up to the disaster very well may have put the fleet on the path that would end in a collision with a hurricane of historic proportion.

The country of Spain had been at war for decades with England and the Dutch. King Phillip V was in desperate need of silver and gold to keep the country running and to pay for debt from so many years at war.

There had been many delays getting this fleet assembled for the voyage. Timing of the flotilla’s trip was of paramount importance and this flotilla had many delays leading up to its final departure from Havana, Cuba with the hurricane season well under way.

Assembled in Cuba for the voyage were nine Spanish galleons, one captured English ship “ The Hampton Court,” a frigate and one French war ship, the Griffon, for a total of twelve ships.

All of the Spanish ships were heavily laden with silver and gold along with numerous trade goods.

For example one ship, the Capitana, had thirteen hundred chests of 3,000 pieces of silver each along with gold coins, gold bars, and jewelry. It is believed that a total fifteen million total pieces of eight were aboard the eleven Spanish ships.

On July 24th the fleet set sail from Havana with good weather. Only a few days into their voyage the sea conditions started to show the warning signs of an approaching storm.

The morning of the 29th the wind picked up as the day went on. The next day it got much worse very fast and by nightfall the wind was very strong and the seas were very high.

Shipwreck

All day the heavy winds had been pushing the fleet closer and closer to the coast of La Florida and its reefs. Soon the ships were at the mercy of the sea and storm, twenty to thirty foot seas started smashing the ships one by one along the Florida coast. Eleven of the twelve ships were doomed. One ship, the French Griffon. escaped the fate of the other eleven ships and made it home to France.

By the light of day the storm had moved on and the true scope of the tragedy was evident! All along a forty-five mile stretch of Florida coastline it looked like the aftermath on some huge battle that had taken place.

James Flood Hampton Court

Painting by James A. Flood

There were wooden ships and pieces of ships and their tremendous amount of cargo along with the bodies of passengers and crew floating in the surf and piled up on the beaches.

Over 800 people lost their lives in this horrible tragedy that night and many more survivors perished in the coming days from injuries sustained during the wrecking of the ships and many more from dehydration and starvation.

As the word got out the Spanish sent salvage party’s from Saint Augustine and Havana in an attempt to recover what they could of the ships valuable cargo and bring needed supplies to the survivors. In 1715 the fleet disaster was the worst maritime disaster on record up to that time.

A good amount of the silver and gold was recovered in the following years but much more has lain on the ocean floor and in the sands of the beaches for the next 250 years and was lost to time until its rediscovery in the mid 1900’s and then the search for the 1715 Fleet and it’s treasure began anew and the “ Treasure Coast “ name for our stretch of coastline was given.

Jim Wilson

By Jim Wilson

Incidentally, the tons of gold and silver treasures being carried by the 1715 Fleet came from South America when the Spanish conquered the Inkas. Because of the threat of piracy and from privateers, the Spanish kept the treasures in South America for five years until bringing them to Cuba.  From Cuba they went on to collide with the hurricane that created one of the greatest maritime disasters in history.

Inka Gold\

Inka Gold

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