Fabulous Treasures
 

 Numerous fortunes hidden or lost in Florida.

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Hunting for treasure has been the focus of many books, movies, television shows, and documentaries.

Florida's Fabulous Treasures
based on Jeffrey Kramer's 1964 compilation. 
Note: Since this article was first written in 1964, some of the sunken treasure has been found and recovered from both the 1622 and 1715 fleets.

Florida is a potential millionaires’ breeding ground. All that is needed is a shovel and an imagination. Of course, a great deal of luck is necessary also. The treasures are here, just waiting for someone to dig them up.

Spanish Galleon riding high in the water--she had no load of treasure aboard.Many researchers and historians claim that Florida contains more buried and sunken treasures than any other state. They have also put a price tag on these treasures, which amounts to a cool $165 million (1964). Florida, like all other states, has a fascinating and romantic history. Seven different flags have flown over her, not to mention the black flag of the pirates. Florida became the haven of many notorious pirates, including Blackbeard, Lafitte, Gasparilla, Kidd, Rackham, Bowlegs, Bonnett, and possibly even Morgan himself. They roamed the waters of the Caribbean Sea, and captured every ship in sight. Often, they brought their loot back to Florida, and buried it on some lonely shore. When they finally died, the location of their hidden wealth died with them. The majority of all buried treasure in Florida is the work of pirates.

Numerous wars have been fought in Florida and upon the waters around her. Men hastily buried their wealth when being pursued by the enemy. Valuables were lost or misplaced when the fighting started and were never found again. Naval battles accounted for the sinking of many ships with valuable cargoes, their resting-place to be forgotten in time. Some very valuable treasures were lost during the many wars in Florida.

Florida has survived through dozens of hurricanes in the past four centuries, but many ships around her have not. From the year 1500 to 1960, hurricanes have sunk their quota of treasure-laden ships. These wrecked ships represent all nations, but the majority of them are Spanish galleons. They carried gold and silver from the New World to the Old, only to have their contents deposited on some jagged reef off Florida. Many gold doubloons and pieces-of-eight are awaiting a lucky finder on the Florida reefs.

Actually, there are two types of treasure hunting; buried treasure merely requires a shovel, but it is advisable to use a metal detector if success is to be achieved. Hunting sunken treasure becomes more expensive and complicated. Diving gear is needed and of course a boat is required. Only an experienced diver should go after sunken treasure. Luckily, Florida contains both types of treasures, thus enabling the prospective hunter to choose from a larger variety.

Florida has already yielded hundreds of lost treasures to many happy people. Among these are: A chest containing $25,000 in Mexican gold was found on Grassy Key. Miami has yielded some buried treasure. A road crew while building a new road near Cocoa found thirteen chests of treasure. $70,000 was discovered on Lower Matecumbe Key, plus another 61 gold pieces that were found by fishermen there. Dozens of pirate caches have been found on the West Coast of Florida. Millions of dollars have already been salvaged from the Spanish galleons off Florida. Some of these sunken treasures can be seen at Art McKee’s Sunken Treasure Museum on Plantation Key. This is only a small sample of what has been unearthed and salvaged in Florida.

Listed below are some major treasure locations in Florida:

• The most notorious and successful pirate was Jose Gaspar, better known as Gasparilla. His methods were black and bloody, and he stands out among all the pirates who used Florida to bury their wealth. Leaving Spain at an early age, he sailed to the West Coast of Florida. He soon picked a good spot in Charlotte Harbor, and began to build his pirate kingdom. His headquarters were at Boca Grande, on what is today known as Gasparilla Island. In the following years, he accumulated a board estimated at $30,000,000. It is said that he and his brother buried all of his money on the islands in and around Charlotte Harbor. In all, he buried 13 casks and chests of treasure in the vicinity of his headquarters. His men, who numbered in the hundreds, also buried their smaller caches on these islands.

All had been going along fine for Gasparilla until the year 1822. The American Government then decided to get into the act and sent a Navy squadron to end his career. One day Gasparilla prepared to attack a merchantman, but to his surprise, it turned out to be a United States man-of-war. When he finally realized that it was a warship, it was too late. The notorious pirate then committed suicide by wrapping a heavy chain around himself and jumping over the side. His ship soon followed him to the watery depths. The ship contained $1,000,000 in assorted treasure, and should be there today. Charlotte Harbor is an ideal spot to go treasure hunting. Just pick any island and start digging, because Gasparilla’s loot is buried on many of them, including Cayo Pelau.

• For many years, there lived in a cabin on Shell Creek an old Spaniard named Juan Gonzalez (not to be confused with Juan Gomez). He claimed that he had pirated with Gasparilla and knew where the famous pirate had buried one of his treasure casks. He said, “it was buried near the shore of Lettuce Lake,” (this is near Ft. Ogden, Florida) and “that it is worth several million dollars.” Shortly after the Civil War Gonzalez made a deal with two cattlemen to dig up the cask. When the two men went to Gonzalez’ cabin with a skiff on an oxcart as per agreement, he was too sick to go. When they returned a few days later, they found him lying on the floor, dead. After he was buried, they searched his cabin. All they found was a jar full of gold coins and an engraved copper plate. This engraving may be the key to the buried treasure, but nobody has ever been able to decipher it. (I have seen a picture of the plate myself, and it seems to be authentic.) Engraved on the copper plate is the following: Whoever deciphers the engraving correctly will be a few million dollars richer. This is one of the most interesting pirate treasures in Florida.

• There are many legends of pirate treasure associated with the Tampa Bay area. During the 1700's, a pirate named Caster used Egmont Key off Tampa Bay as a base of operations. Before being captured and beheaded by the Spanish, he buried a sizeable treasure near Egmont Key. Another legend tells of two long boats carrying loot which was supposedly buried on the banks of Sweetwater Creek, near Rocky Point on the east side of Tampa Bay.

• During the period between 1519 and 1617, when the Calusa Indians were at the height of their power, the King of Spain's “plate fleets” transported millions in New World gold, silver and precious stones. The leader of the Calusas was named Carlos, and he also ruled over a vast Indian federation that controlled the entire southern Florida coastal region. As tribute, the other Indians of the federation would give him most of the booty they collected whenever a ship sank along the eastern coast of Florida and they were able to salvage any of the cargo.

Accounts of Carlos’ wealth and power were recorded in the memoirs of a ship wrecked Spaniard. Hernando Fontaneda was only a boy of 13 en route to Spain when he found himself stranded on one of the Keys. He was soon taken captive by the Calusas and brought to the village of the chief, where he managed to amuse Carlos by performing songs and dances.

The young castaway’s life was spared and he spent the next 17 years as a member of the tribe. He learned several Indian dialects and served as a translator for Carlos in dealings with other tribes. Finally, when he was about 30, he managed to escape.

Gold emerald cross found by Teddy Tucker off Bermuda.In the book entitled Narrative of Le Moyne, an artist who accompanied Laudonniere, mention is made of the proposed expedition that Fontaneda wanted to make back to try and recover some of the treasure Carlos had accumulated. “They (Fontaneda and his companion) also reported that he (Carlos) possessed a great store of gold and silver and that he kept it in a certain village in a pit not less than a man's height in depth and as large as a cask; and that, if I could make my way to the place with a hundred arquebusiers, they could put all the wealth into my hands besides what I might obtain from the richer of the natives.”

When Fontaneda eventually found passage to Spain, he wrote an account of his experiences in Florida and delivered it to the King of Spain. By doing this, he hoped to win favor and enter the King's service. In one section of Fontaneda's memoirs, dated 1575, there are several references to Calusa wrecking activity and the tribe's enormous wealth. The following is but one example: “I desire to speak of the riches found by the Indians of Ais, which perhaps were as much as a million dollars or over, in bars of silver, gold, and in articles of jewelry made by the hands of the Mexican Indians, which the passengers were bringing with them. These things Carlos divided with the caicques of Ais, Jeaga, Guacata, Mayajuaco and Mayaca, and he took what pleased him, or the best part.”

To this day, Florida historians, archaeologists and treasure hunters are still looking for leads to the tribe’s lost gold. It is known that Carlos’ village was near what is now called Charlotte Harbor, on the West Coast of Florida, near Fort Myers.

• Another pirate who made his headquarters near Charlotte Harbor was Black Caesar. He was a former slave who escaped to the West Coast of Florida. Soon afterwards he became leader of the pirates and built his base on Sanibel Island. It is said that he captured a Spanish galleon off Cuba, and brought it back to his stronghold. Among other things on the galleon was 26 tons of silver, which he quickly buried. This enormous hoard is supposedly on or near Sanibel Island.

• In 1798, Black Caesar buried a ship load of silver bars on the north end of Key Largo. This treasure had been captured from a Spanish Galleon en-route to Spain from Vera Cruz, Mexico. Black Caesar made the Spaniards dig a massive hole for the silver, then killed them all and buried them in the hole with the treasure.

• Calico Jack Rackham was another buccaneer who sailed the waters off Florida. Headquartering first in Cuba, he moved to the West Coast of Florida. Here, he buried his $2,000,000 treasure on an island some ten miles up either the Shark or Lostman’s River. (This treasure cache lie buried within the boundaries of the Everglades National Park and it is illegal to do any digging here.)

• In 1864, a U.S. gunboat chased a Confederate ship up the Suwannee River. As the Confederate vessel rounded the second bend of the river, the crew rolled off kegs of gold coins to prevent their capture by the Union gunboat.

• On the northwestern coast of Florida is the site of Billy Bowlegs’ hoard. He was believed to be one of Lafitte’s top men and for some time lived near New Orleans. After the Battle of New Orleans, he cut his ties with Lafitte and set out on his own. Moving to Santa Rosa Island near Pensacola, he started his own pirate kingdom. After accumulating much treasure, he decided to bury it. Thus, on a small island in Santa Rosa Sound, he buried most of his gold and silver bars. Nearby on the mainland, he deposited the bulk of his coins. In the hold of his ship was another million dollars in miscellaneous loot. This ship was later sunk, and has never been recovered. Billy Bowlegs’ treasure awaits discovery by some very lucky finder.

• The pirate Louis Aury is said to have buried several chests near a freshwater spring located on a small bluff in Clearwater Bay. While operating out of the northern end of Anclote Key, Aury was alleged to have buried loot on the Anclote River as well as on Honeymoon Island and Seahorse Key. In 1817, after taking over Amelia Island, he was known to have secreted a chest containing an estimated $60,000 in treasure. After surrendering to U.S. forces, he was given only 24 hours to leave the island, and was unable to retrieve this hoard.

1732 Pillar Dollar• Amelia Island lies on the northeastern coast of Florida and pirate treasure almost grows on trees there. Blackbeard, Kidd, Lafitte and Aury have at one time or another used this island as their center of operations. Approximately $170,000 in treasures has already been found, but this is only a small portion compared to what is still buried. This is a very attractive island for the treasure hunter.

• Ex-pirate Juan Gomez lived on Panther Key, until the ripe old age of 120. On numerous occasions he claimed that lumps of melted gold were hidden under the roots of a tree on the island. (This island is also in the Everglades National Park.)

• Another of Gasparilla’s undiscovered treasures, amounting to several thousand dollars, was buried on Anastasia Island, south of Matanzas Inlet. The site was recorded as being a three-hour walk south of St. Augustine. It has been stated that he never returned for the chest.

• A map in the Spanish Archives shows a large chest from a wrecked ship was buried in the mid-1600’s somewhere in the Murdock Point area on Cayo Costa Island. Located some 100' from the Gulf of Mexico, the Spanish were unable to locate the chest. Also, in Boca Grande Pass on the north end of Cayo Costa an American frigate with $3,000,000 in minted U.S. gold coins sank in 1823.

• There were reports that when they were first dredging the Venice Inlet, a shipwreck was struck with the clam bucket dredge and gold coins were being picked up from the sand piles. A scan of old newspapers might confirm this story.

• After tropical storms, Spanish coins have been washing up on the beach at Stump Pass, just SW of Grove City. The dates are running from l754-l762, and the coins are in good condition. A gold 8 Escudo with a similar date was recovered in the water from the same area.

• Spanish gold coins were found on the beach at Longboat Key near Sarasota, after a dredger pumped in sand from off-shore.

• Boca Raton, located south of Palm Beach, is the site of two separate treasures. Blackbeard buried $2,000 in casks near the Boca Raton Inlet. These casks may be in submerged caverns. When a Spanish galleon was wrecked near here, the surviving seamen saved a large chest and buried it on the beach at Boca Raton.

• The members of the Ashley gang were notorious bank robbers who terrorized the citizens of Florida, during the early part of the 20th century. They succeeded in stealing over $100,000 in cash and it is believed buried near their headquarters. This was near Canal Point at the southern tip of Lake Okeechobee. All the members of the gang were shot to death, but their loot has never been found.

• DeLeon Springs is the location of a treasure chest lost by unknown persons. In the 1890’s, a chest was seen on the bottom of Ponce deLeon Springs. It soon fell into one of the submerged caves and could not be recovered. The chest has eluded divers ever since.

• Three silver church bells were buried by Spanish padres in 1586, somewhere in the present city park area of St. Augustine, to keep them from Sir Francis Drake. The padres were killed, and the location of the silver bells lost.

• In 1702-1704, the British, under Governor James Moore of Carolina, raid Spanish settlements including a 52-day siege of St. Augustine. The town is captured, but the fort is not. Many of the people buried their valuables, and were later killed.

Atocha Gold Broach• In 1894, a merchant named Richard Crowe died in St. Augustine, leaving a will stating he buried $60,000 in gold coins on his property. Searchers were unable to locate the treasure.

• A Spaniard named Don Felipe, is known to have buried the family silver, along with a large amount of gold coins, on his plantation during the Seminole war before he was killed by Indians. Located 2 miles NW of Ocala.

• Eight barrels of English coins amounting to $100,000 were buried near present-day Cross City and State Road 19/98, by two Bahamian traders before they were hung by General Andrew Jackson for selling arms to the Seminole Indians in the 1830's. Reportedly this treasure was buried near the junction of two streams on the northern edge of the town.

• During the dry season in the year 1907, a treasure chest was first spotted lying in a swampy area surrounded by quicksand between the Atlantic Ocean and Indian River. Many treasure hunters since have tried unsuccessfully to retrieve it. Survivors of one of several old shipwrecks lying nearby may have buried the chest. Located on the outer banks close to state A1A, 8 miles south of Vero Beach.

• The Florida Everglades is the area of a well documented lost treasure. Near the end of the Civil War, a Confederate paymaster being pursued by Union troops buried a million-dollar payroll, $200,000 in gold coins and the remainder in paper currency. Records reveal he wrote, “Chased by the enemy, we buried our payroll at a point in the Everglades at a junction of two creeks, where the land rises like a camel’s back. The money is buried in the west hump of the rise.” The area is somewhere between Alligator Alley and State Road 41 in the Seminole Indian Reservation.

• Down in Key West, there lived in the 1870’s a middle-aged man of German extraction. His name was Homer Ludwig, and while most of his younger years had been spent at sea, it is said that he “jumped ship” at Key West, and became one of the town's handymen. For the next 20 years he eked out a bare living, by doing odd jobs, and spent his spare time studying the history of the Island City. One day in early 1890’s Homer bought a small and decrepit sailboat and began to spend his spare time patching it up. To those who took the trouble to ask why he wanted a boat, he would explain that he intended to go treasure hunting. He claimed to have learned the location of a money chest removed from a vessel wrecked on a reef. He would talk at length about how the captain of the doomed ship had carried the money ashore, and buried it in the sand for safe keeping, intending to return with another vessel and reclaim the treasure. The captain never returned.

Several weeks later, Homer set sail in his little catboat and was never seen at Key West again. A fisherman had seen the old fellow on the beach of Big Pine Key, and a little later a yacht had sighted a man of Homer’s description at Matecumbe Key. A year later a couple of Key Westers met Homer on the beach at Key Largo. The old man had built himself a shack of driftwood and palm fronds, and he seemed fit and hard as nails. The old man was living on Key Largo about five years when it was discovered how he was getting money. A fellow who ran a general store in Miami said that Homer was selling old gold and silver coins, a few at a time, to a coin dealer on Flagler Street. He’d get maybe 50 or 100 dollars for the coins and then go buy what he needed. Then he would sail back to Key Largo. One day in September 1909, old Homer got into his boat and started hoisting the sail. A couple of fishermen told him he’d better stay ashore, because a bad storm was building up. The old fellow wouldn’t listen, and he shoved off and headed north. He was probably making another trip to Miami, but he never got there. That night the storm came howling up the Keys, and Homer was never heard of again. The secret of where the treasure was hidden went with him. Somewhere on Key Largo the rest of that old Spanish treasure is waiting for a second finder.

Can't have a story about treasure without a treasure map. Pictured at left is a map showing wrecks off the Treasure Coast of Florida.

• A man lived on Elliot Key and boated to Miami for supplies. One time a storm came up and he beached on a very shallow reef to pick up ballast rocks to help his catboat. He docked at Biscayne and 79 St., which was known as Sea Ray boat docks. He piled the ballast on the dock, and it sat there 6 months. One day he scraped one to discover they were encrusted silver bars. He died without finding where he found them, but the area suspected was the Dry Rocks off Upper Elliot Key.

• Florida in the 1830's was a battleground with the U. S. army engaged in a war against the Seminole Indians. It was not a place you would have expected to find a young inventor from Paterson, New Jersey, promoting his products. His name was Samuel Colt and he was selling guns.

Colt felt that his 8-shot revolving-cylinder carbines would find instant favor among men armed with single-shot rifles. But his success was limited. He sold a few handguns to officers, but his only quantity order was from Gen. Thomas S. Jessup for 50 carbines and more than half of them may be in a Florida swamp today, awaiting some lucky treasure hunter with a metal detector.

In a letter dated November 8, 1850, Col. Harney of the 2nd U. S. Dragoons reported; “Gen. Jessup ordered the purchase of 50 and they were placed in my hands . . . they were the first ever used or manufactured. Thirty of them were lost at Caloosahatchee . . .”

Stories vary as to just how the carbines were lost. One persistent version has it that the arms, still in their oak, zinc-lined, grease-filled cases, were lost when the canoes in which they were being transported were capsized during an Indian attack. If this is so, it's likely the guns may be in good condition today. Harney Point is part of present day Cape Coral.

Spain was the first nation to benefit from the discovery of the New World. The Spanish conquered Mexico, Central America and South America, and their investment is these newly acquired countries began to pay off with interest. Silver and gold were discovered, and shipments of these precious metals were soon on their way back to Spain. In a few short years, Spain became the richest country in the world.

Treasure from the 1715 Atocha wreck pictured at left.

Each year, large fleets of Spanish galleons were seen voyaging back and forth between Spain and America. These treasure ships carried millions of dollars in gold, silver, platinum and precious stones. Often, hurricanes cut the voyages short and left the galleons on the ocean bottom. In many cases, everything was lost including men, galleons, and treasure. Although the men and galleons have long since disappeared, the treasure may still remain.

Two fleets sailed every year from Mexico and South America, and were accompanied by two warships. The two war galleons were called the Capitana and Almiranta, and each carried about $2,000,000 in treasure. The fleet that sailed from Mexico was called the New Spain Armada, and the other one that sailed from South America was known as the Tierra Firme Armada. Each Armada would first sail to Havana, and then on to Spain. Sometimes, both armadas would combine at Havana before leaving for Spain.

After leaving Havana, the treasure fleets would sail along the coast of Florida before turning eastward. At this point in the journey, many of the galleons were sunk by hurricanes. Today, the remains of these galleons are being found regularly, and their treasures are gradually coming up to the surface. Although many of these galleons have already been discovered, there are dozens that have not.

More treasure from the Atocha pictured at left. Yes, those are big gold bars!

Below are listed both discovered and undiscovered shipwrecks* off the Florida coast.

• In 1563, the 250 ton galleon, “La Madalena,” commanded by Capt. Cristobel Rodriquez, was returning to Spain from Veracruz, Mexico and Havana. She was cast up on a shoal during a bad storm and of the 300 odd souls aboard her, only 16 survived in the small-boat. At the time she carried over 50 tons of silver in bullion and specie (coins), 170 boxes of worked silver (like candle sticks, plates, etc.), 1,110 pounds of gold in small ingots and jewelry, plus other valuables belonging to passengers. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, all of her cannon were bronze. This makes finding her more difficult as a magnetometer can only detect ferrous metals. Hopefully she went down with some of her iron anchors still aboard. The good side is that bronze cannon from this period, depending on the amount of ornamentation and markings on them, can bring as much as $30,000 each and she carried 28 of them. Six months after being lost a salvage vessel was sent up from Havana but failed to find any traces of her or her cargo. A shrimp boat snagged into a bronze cannon in the general area she was lost and the gun just happens to date from this period. The gun was sold to a private collector for $15,000 but could have netted twice this amount if sold to a museum or in an auction. Another bronze cannon was also accidentally brought up in a shrimper's net within two miles of the other, but it dated from the mid-1770's and was from another wreck. Within five miles from where both guns were found, a chest of some 3,000 Spanish four and eight real coins, dating between 1748 and 1751 were also accidentally brought up in a shrimper's net.

• In 1571, two galleons, the “San Ignacio,” 300 tons, Capt. Juan de Canovas, with 22 iron cannon; and the “Santa Maria de la Limpia Concepcion,” 340 tons, captain's name unknown, were wrecked during a storm with almost a total loss of lives on both ships. Between them they carried over 2,500,000 pesos in treasure but the documents didn't specify how much gold and silver made up this total. A “peso” was not a coin in those days but a unit of monetary value, equaled to 1 1/8 ounce troy of silver. The gold to silver ratio was 16:1. Both were very rich ships when lost. All salvors found were wooden fragments of one or both wrecks up on the shore when they reached the area several months after the disaster. The survivors reached St. Augustine in two longboats.


• In 1589, for protection against an English squadron, which was known to be waiting for the returning Spanish ships from the West Indies, at the King's orders, the Armada and Flota de Tierra Firme and the Flota de Nueva Espana joined together in Havana, forming a very large convoy of about 100 ships which sailed from Havana on the 9th of September. Soon after entering the Bahama Channel, the convoy was struck by a hurricane. Shortly after the hurricane began, the Almiranta of the Flota de Nueva Espana developed a bad leak and fired cannon for assistance. Before any aid could reach it, it sank with a great treasure at the mouth of the Bahama Channel in very deep water. While running before the hurricane up the Bahama Channel, three merchant naos also sank in thirty fathoms of water in about thirty degrees of latitude. Only the names of two of them were given in the documents: Santa Catalina of 350 tons, Captain Domingo Ianez Ome, owned by Fernando Ome, coming from Mexico; and the Jesus Maria, of 400 tons, Captain Francisco Salvago, owned by Domingo Sauli, also coming from Mexico. There is no mention of what their cargoes consisted, but it is certain that the Almiranta, at least, was carrying treasure.

• In 1591, the Spanish fleet of seventy-seven ships left Havana, after spending the winter there, but they left all of the treasure in Havana, at the King's orders. All of the treasure reached Spain safely, by-passing an English blockade, aboard small, but fast, zabras. After the convoy, consisting of ships from both Mexico and South America, left Havana on the 27th of July, they suffered many storms and no less than twenty-nine were lost, many off the coast of Florida. All of this information was obtained from English sources, and as the Spanish sources for this year are very vague on the matter, it cannot be disputed. Only one Spanish document, dated 26 March 1592, briefly states: “That due to the fact that so many ships were lost returning from the Indies during the past year, there are very few ships available to be sent to the Indies for this year.” Since the ships that were lost were not carrying treasure, at least not registered treasure or any belonging to the King, this is probably the reason there is so little mention in the Spanish documents on this matter.

• In 1600, an unnamed 200 ton ship commanded by a Captain Diego Rodriquez Garrucho, coming from Mexico and Havana, was wrecked due to faulty navigation and only seven men and a boy made it ashore on pieces of wreckage. She was carrying over 700,000 pesos in treasure, including 245 chests of valuable goods from the Orient. These goods would have been brought over on the Manila Galleons and consisted of Chinese porcelain, beautiful worked pieces of gold and jewelry, precious stones, etc. Salvors located the site in 1602, and raised three bronze cannons off her, but nothing more as her cargo had already been buried. Another attempt was made in 1603, but no trace of her was found.

• In 1611, on the 2nd of June the Santa Ana Maria del Juncal, owned by Bernardo de Torres sank off Cabo de Apalachi. It was carrying several million pesos in silver bullion and specie. The ship was one in the convoy of the New Spain Flota commanded by Captain General the Marguis de Cadereyta. Some salvage was undertaken, but very little was salvaged as the ship broke up quickly.

• In 1622, another hurricane sank 10 ships of the combined New Spain Armada and Tierra Firme Armada. The wrecks are located in the Florida Keys, and some have been found and salvaged by Mel Fisher. Listed below are some of the major wrecks of the combined armada. 1. “Atocha,” sank off the Dry Tortugas with $2,000,000 aboard. She is reported in 60 feet of water, and was not salvaged by the Spaniards. 2. “Santa Margarita,” sank off the Dry Tortugas with $1,000,000 aboard. 3. “Rosario,” sank off the Dry Tortugas. 4. Six merchantmen also went down during this hurricane.

• In 1683, the 700 ton galleon, “Santissima Concepcion,” alias “El Grande,” commanded by Admiral Manual Ortiz Arosemena, heading for Spain after taking on treasures at Porto Bello, Panama; Cartagena, Colombia; Veracruz, Mexico; and making a stop at Havana, was totally destroyed after striking a shallow during a hurricane somewhere below the “Cape.” Of the 500 or more souls aboard her only four reached the coast on debris and made it to St. Augustine with great hardships. She was carrying over 1,800,000 pesos in treasure, the majority of which was silver bullion and specie. Her total gold consisting of bullion, specie and worked gold only weighed at around 1,500 pounds. However, gold was the most common object being smuggled and she probably carried ten times this amount as contraband. She also carried 77 chests of pearls, 49 chests of emeralds, 217 chests of “goods from the Orient,” and other valuables belonging to private persons (passengers). Repeated attempts to locate her were made almost yearly up until 1701. The only treasure ever found was a chest of clothes that washed ashore right after the disaster in which “some 1,500 pesos in unregistered gold jewelry” was discovered by soldiers sent down from St. Augustine. All her cannon were bronze. (I personally believe this wreck lies off the Fowey Rocks, south of Key Biscayne.)

• In 1715, another treasure fleet was struck by a hurricane near Cape Canaveral. Over $20,000,000 went down with the 14 vessels of the combined armadas. In the mid-1960's, Real Eight Co., found some of the shallow water wrecks between Sebastian Inlet and Ft. Pierce. In later years, Mel Fisher salvaged these wrecks, and they are still bringing up artifacts. Over the years, treasure hunters have been finding pieces-of-eight and gold doubloons along the beaches after storms. Some of the galleons sank in deep water and could not be salvaged by the Spanish. A large quantity of gold and silver may lie in deep water off our rocket pads at Cape Kennedy. Pictured at left is a silver coin found on the Atocha wreck.

• In 1733, a terrible disaster struck the Spanish Armada. In July of that year, the New Spanish Armada was hit by a hurricane of such force that 20 galleons were sunk in the Florida Keys. The Spaniards wasted no time in getting up salvage operations, and they succeeded in raising $12,000,000 in treasure. After three years of work, only $4,000,000 in gold and silver remained in the wrecks. Many of these galleons have recently been found by Scuba divers, but only a small portion of the treasure has come to light. The following are wrecked galleons of the 1733 Armada: 1. “El Aviso,” a dispatch boat and is located on the south end of Pacific Reef. 2. “El Infante,” was a 60-gun galleon and the position is on Little Conch Reef. 3. “San Jose,” is thought to be the Capitana and is on Crocker Reef. 4. Seven merchantmen were sunk between Upper Matecumbe and Long Key. 5. “Almiranta,” a 58-gun galleon and is off Long Key Point. 6. “San Fernando,” another merchantmen, and is somewhere off Grassy Key in 40 feet of water. These are most of the 1733 shipwrecks, and all are in comparatively shallow water (10 to 40 feet). Any one of them could hold a large amount of treasure.

• All treasure-laden ships were not necessarily Spanish galleons, as ships of other nations also carried Spanish treasure back to Europe from the New World. In 1755, a period when no Spanish ships were available to carry treasure to Spain, as Spain and England were at war, a French ship named “Notre Dame de la Deliverance” disappeared without a trace somewhere between Havana and Cadiz. Her cargo consisted of 1,170 pounds of gold bullion carried in seventeen chests, 15,399 gold doubloons, 153 gold snuff boxes weighing 6 ounces each, a gold-hilted sword, a gold watch, 1,072,000 pieces of eight, 764 ounces of virgin silver, 31 pounds of silver ore, a large number of items made of silver, six pairs of diamond earrings, a diamond ring, several chests of precious stones, plus general cargo consisting of Chinese fans, cocoa, drugs, and indigo. (While this ship disappeared “without a trace,” it could very well lie off Florida.)

• Many years ago a fisherman was cruising over the outer reef off Boca Raton Inlet and saw what appeared to be an ancient ship partly covered with sand. After telling the story to his friends, a company was formed and a diver engaged. There, lying on the bottom of the sea in about 60 feet of water, they located the wreck of an old ship, undoubtedly uncovered by the hurricane of the previous fall. The diver went down and chopped a hole in the hull of the ship and brought up what appeared to be a bar of iron, reporting that the wreck was filled with those bars. A more careful examination proved that the bar was pure silver. Additional equipment was secured and plans made to remove the entire treasure, but severe weather prevented immediate return and they were forced to wait for a calm sea.

When the old ship was finally located once more, it had sunk deeper in the sand. Dynamite was used in an attempt to break up the wreck, but this blast only caused it to sink deeper and it was finally swallowed up and no more silver was obtained. All traces of the wreck have long since disappeared, and unless it may be uncovered by another storm, somewhere off Boca Raton, buried in the depths of the ocean, is a fortune that may never be recovered.

 



*Shipwreck Source - Spanish Treasure in Florida Waters, by Robert F. Marx.