The Spanish treasure fleet, or West Indies Fleet from Spanish Flota de Indias, also called silver fleet or plate fleet (from the Spanish plata meaning "silver"), was a convoy system of sea routes organized by the Spanish Empire from 1566 to 1790, which linked Spain with its territories in America across the Atlantic. The convoys were general purpose cargo fleets used for transporting a wide variety of items, including agricultural goods, lumber, various metal resources such as silver and gold, gems, pearls, spices, sugar, tobacco, silk, and other exotic goods from the overseas territories of the Spanish Empire to the Spanish mainland. Spanish goods such as oil, wine, textiles, books and tools were transported in the opposite direction. The West Indies fleet was the first permanent transatlantic trade route in history. Similarly, the Manila galleons were the first permanent trade route across the Pacific.
Spanish ships had brought goods from the New World since Christopher Columbus's first expedition of 1492. The organized system of convoys dates from 1564, but Spain sought to protect shipping prior to that by organizing protection around the largest Caribbean island, Cuba and the maritime region of southern Spain and the Canary Islands because of attacks by pirates and foreign navies. The Spanish government created a system of convoys in the 1560s in response to the sacking of Havana by French privateers. The main procedures were established after the recommendations of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, an experienced admiral and personal adviser of King Philip II. The treasure fleets sailed along two sea lanes. The main one was the Caribbean Spanish West Indies fleet or Flota de Indias, which departed in two convoys from Seville, where the Casa de Contratación was based, bound for ports such as Veracruz, Portobelo and Cartagena before making a rendezvous at Havana in order to return together to Spain. A secondary route was that of the Manila Galleons or Galeón de Manila which linked the Philippines to Acapulco in Mexico across the Pacific Ocean. From Acapulco, the Asian goods were transhipped by mule train to Veracruz to be loaded onto the Caribbean treasure fleet for shipment to Spain. To better defend this trade, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and Álvaro de Bazán designed the definitive model of the galleon in the 1550s.
Spain controlled the trade through the Casa de Contratación based in Seville, southern Spain. By law, the colonies could trade only with the one designated port in the mother country, Seville. Maritime archaeology has shown that the quantity of goods transported was sometimes higher than that recorded at the Archivo General de Indias. Spanish merchants and Spaniards acting as fronts (cargadores) for foreign merchants sent their goods on these fleets to the New World. Some resorted to contraband to transport their cargoes untaxed. The Crown of Spain taxed the wares and precious metals of private merchants at a rate of 20%, a tax known as the quinto real or royal fifth.
Spain became the richest country in Europe by the end of the 16th century. Much of the wealth from this trade was used by the Spanish Habsburgs to finance armies to protect its European territories in the 16th and 17th centuries against the Ottoman Empire and most of the major European powers.
The flow of precious metals also made many traders wealthy, both in Spain and abroad. The increase in gold and silver on the Iberian market sometimes caused high inflation in the 17th century, affecting the Spanish economy. As a consequence, the Crown was forced to delay the payment of some major debts, which had negative consequences for its lenders, mostly foreign bankers. By 1690 some of these lenders could no longer offer financial support to the Crown. The Spanish monopoly over its West and East Indies colonies lasted for over two centuries.
The economic importance of exports later declined with the drop of production of the American precious metal mines, such as Potosí. However, the growth in trade was strong in the early years. Numbering just 17 ships in 1550, the fleets expanded to more than 50 much larger vessels by the end of the century. By the second half of the 17th century, that number had dwindled to less than half of its peak. As economic conditions gradually recovered from the last decades of the 17th century, fleet operations slowly expanded again, once again becoming prominent during the reign of the Bourbons in the 18th century.
The Spanish trade of goods was sometimes threatened by its colonial rivals, who tried to seize islands as bases along the Spanish Main and in the Spanish West Indies. However, the Atlantic trade was largely unharmed. The English acquired small islands like St Kitts in 1624; expelled in 1629, they returned in 1639 and seized Jamaica in 1655. French pirates established themselves in Saint-Domingue in 1625, were expelled, only to return later, and the Dutch occupied Curaçao in 1634. In 1739, British Admiral Edward Vernon raided Portobello, but in 1741 his campaign against Cartagena de Indias ended in defeat, with heavy losses of men and ships. Temporary British seizures of Havana and Manila (1762–4), during the Seven Years' War, were dealt with by using more, smaller fleets visiting a greater variety of ports.
Charles III began loosening the system in 1765. In the 1780s, Spain opened its colonies to free trade. In 1790, the Casa de Contratación was abolished, bringing to an end the great general purpose fleets. Thereafter small groups of naval frigates were assigned specifically to transferring goods or bullion as required.
Despite the general perception that many Spanish galleons were captured by foreign privateers, few fleets were actually lost to enemies in the course of the flota's two and a half centuries of operation. Only Piet Hein managed to capture the fleet in 1628 and bring its cargo to the Dutch Republic. In 1656 and 1657 Robert Blake also attacked the fleet in Cadiz and Tenerife, but the Spanish officers saved most of the silver and the English admiral managed to capture only a single galleon. The 1702 West Indies fleet was destroyed in the Battle of Vigo Bay during the War of the Spanish Succession, when the fleet was surprised at port unloading its goods, but the Spanish sailors had already unloaded most of its cargo. None of these attacks took place in open seas. In the case of the Manila galleons, only four were ever captured by British warships in nearly three centuries: the Santa Anna by Thomas Cavendish in 1589, the Encarnación in 1709 by Woodes Rogers, the Covadonga by George Anson in 1743, and the Santísima Trinidad in 1762. Two other British attempts were foiled by the Rosario in 1704 and the Begonia in 1710. These losses and those due to hurricanes were important economic blows to trade when they occurred. The fleets, however, must be counted as among the most successful naval operations in history. Moreover, from a commercial point of view, some key components of today's world economic system were made possible by the success of the Spanish West and East Indies fleets.
Every year, two fleets left Spain loaded with European goods in demand in Spanish America, which were guarded by military vessels. The silver from Mexico and Peru were the valuable cargo from the Americas. Fleets of fifty or more ships sailed from Spain to the Mexican port of Veracruz and other to Panama and Cartagena. From the Spanish ports of Seville or Cádiz, the two fleets bound for the Americas sailed together down the coast of Africa, and stopped at the Spanish territory of the Canary Islands for provisions before the voyage across the Atlantic. Once the two fleets reached the Caribbean, the fleets separated. The New Spain fleet sailed to Veracruz in Mexico to load not only silver and the valuable red dye cochineal, but also porcelain and silk shipped from China on the Manila galleons. The Asian goods were brought overland from Acapulco to Veracruz by mule train. The Tierra Firme fleet, or galeones, sailed to Cartagena to load South American products, most especially silver from Potosí. Some ships went to Portobello on the Caribbean coast of Panama to load Peruvian silver that had been shipped from the Pacific coast port of Callao. The silver had then been transported across the isthmus of Panama by mule. Other ships went to the Caribbean island of Margarita, off the coast of Venezuela, to collect pearls which had been harvested from offshore oyster beds. After loading was complete, both fleets sailed for Havana, Cuba, to rendezvous for the journey back to Spain. In Mexico in 1635, there was an increase of the sales tax levied to finance the fleet, the Armada de Barlovento.
Between 1703 and 1705 began the participation of Spanish corsair Amaro Pargo in the West Indies Fleet. In this period in which he was the owner and captain of the frigate El Ave María y Las Ánimas, a ship with which he sailed from the port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife to that of Havana. He reinvented the benefits of the Canarian-American trade in his estates, mainly destined to the cultivation of the vine of malvasía and vidueño, whose production (mainly the one of vidueño) was sent to America.
Wrecks of Spanish treasure ships, whether sunk in naval combat or by storms (those of 1622, 1715, 1733 and 1750 being among the worst), are a prime target for modern treasure hunters. Many, such as the Nuestra Señora de Atocha, and the Santa Margarita have been salvaged. In August 1750, at least three Spanish merchantmen ran aground in North Carolina during a hurricane. The El Salvador sank near Cape Lookout, the Nuestra Señora De Soledad went ashore near present-day Core Banks and the Nuestra Señora De Guadalupe went ashore near present-day Ocracoke.
The wreck of the cargo ship Encarnación, part of the Tierra Firme fleet, was discovered in 2011 with much of its cargo still aboard and part of its hull intact. The Encarnación sank in 1681 during a storm near the mouth of the Chagres River on the Caribbean side of Panama. The Encarnación sank in less than 40 feet of water. The remains of the Urca de Lima from the 1715 fleet and the San Pedro from the 1733 fleet, after being found by treasure hunters, are now protected as Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserves.
The Capitana (El Rubi) was the flagship of the 1733 fleet; it ran aground during a hurricane near Upper Matecumbe Key, then sank. Three men died during the storm. Afterward, divers recovered most of the treasure aboard.
The Capitana was the first of the 1733 ships to be found again in 1938. Salvage workers recovered items from the sunken ship over more than 10 years. Additional gold was recovered in June 2015. The ship's location: is 24° 55.491' north, 80° 30.891' west.
Walton gives the following figures in pesos. For the 300-year period the peso or piece of eight had about 25 grams of silver, about the same as the German thaler, Dutch rijksdaalder or the US silver dollar. A single galleon might carry 2 million pesos. The modern approximate value of the estimated 4 billion pesos produced during the period would come to $530,000,000,000 or €470,000,000,000 (based on silver bullion prices of May 2015). Of the 4 billion pesos produced, 2.5 billion was shipped to Europe, of which 500 million was shipped around Africa to Asia. Of the remaining 1.5 billion 650 million went directly to Asia from Acapulco and 850 million remained in the Western Hemisphere. Little of the wealth stayed in Spain. Of the 11 million arriving in 1590, 2 million went to France for imports, 6 million to Italy for imports and military expenses, of which 2.5 went up the Spanish road to the Low Countries and 1 million to the Ottoman Empire. 1.5 million was shipped from Portugal to Asia. Of the 2 million pesos reaching the Dutch Republic in that year, 75% went to the Baltic for naval stores and 25% went to Asia. The income of the Spanish crown from all sources was about 2.5 million pesos in 1550, 14 million in the 1590s, about 15 million in 1760 and 30 million in 1780. In 1665 the debts of the Spanish crown were 30 million pesos short-term and 300 million long-term. Most of the New World production was silver but Colombia produced mostly gold. After about 1730 Brazil began producing gold. The following table gives the estimated legal production and necessarily excludes smuggling which was increasingly important after 1600. The crown legally took one fifth (quinto real) at the source and obtained more through other taxes.
The 1715 Treasure Fleet was a Spanish treasure fleet returning from the New World to Spain. At two in the morning on Wednesday, July 31, 1715, seven days after departing from Havana, Cuba, eleven of the twelve ships of this fleet were lost in a hurricane near present-day Vero Beach, Florida. Because the fleet was carrying silver, it is also known as the 1715 Plate Fleet (plata being the Spanish word for silver). Some artifacts and even coins still wash up on Florida beaches from time to time.Around 1,500 (confirmed by Cuban records) sailors perished while a small number survived on lifeboats. Many ships, including pirates, took part in the initial salvage. Initially a privateer, Henry Jennings was first accused of piracy for attacking such salvage ships and claiming their salvages.Battle in the Bay of Matanzas
The Battle in the Bay of Matanzas was a naval battle during the Eighty Years' War in which a Dutch squadron was able to defeat and capture a Spanish treasure fleet.Battle of Cape St. Vincent (1641)
The Battle of Cape St Vincent of 1641 took place on 4 November 1641 when a Spanish fleet commanded by Don Juan Alonso de Idiáquez y Robles intercepted a Dutch fleet led by Artus Gijsels during the Eighty Years' War. After a fierce battle two Dutch ships were lost but the Dutch claimed only a hundred of their men were killed; the Spanish fleet also lost two ships but over a thousand dead. The damaged Dutch fleet was forced to abandon its planned attack on the Spanish treasure fleet.Battle of Cádiz (1656)
The Battle of Cádiz (1656) was an operation in the Anglo–Spanish War (1654–1660) in which an English fleet destroyed or captured the ships of a Spanish treasure fleet off Cádiz.Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife (1657)
The Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife was a military operation in the Anglo-Spanish War (1654–60) in which an English fleet under Admiral Robert Blake attacked a Spanish treasure fleet at Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Spanish Canary Islands. Most of the Spanish merchantmen were scuttled and the remainder were burnt by the English, though the treasure, which had already been landed, was saved.Flying Gang
The Flying Gang were an 18th-century group of pirates who established themselves in Nassau, New Providence in The Bahamas after the destruction of Port Royal in Jamaica. They achieved great fame and wealth by raiding salvagers attempting to recover gold from the sunken Spanish treasure fleet. They established their own codes and governed themselves independent from any of the colonial powers of the time. Nassau was deemed the Republic of Pirates as it attracted many former Privateers looking for work to its shores. The Governor of Bermuda stated that there were over 1000 pirates in Nassau at that time and that they outnumbered the mere hundred of inhabitants in the town.George Rooke
Admiral of the Fleet Sir George Rooke (1650 – 24 January 1709) was an English naval officer. As a junior officer he saw action at the Battle of Solebay and again at the Battle of Schooneveld during the Third Anglo-Dutch War. As a captain, he conveyed Prince William of Orange to England and took part in the Battle of Bantry Bay during the Williamite War in Ireland.
As a flag officer, Rooke commanded a division of the Royal Navy during their defeat at the Battle of Beachy Head. He also commanded a division at the Battle of Barfleur and distinguished himself at the Battle of La Hogue. He was later defeated while escorting a convoy at the Battle of Lagos.
Rooke commanded the unsuccessful allied expedition against Cádiz but on the passage home he destroyed the Spanish treasure fleet at the Battle of Vigo Bay in the opening stages of the War of the Spanish Succession. He also commanded the allied naval forces at the capture of Gibraltar and attacked the French fleet at the Battle of Málaga.HMS Expedition (1679)
HMS Expedition was a 70-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched at Portsmouth Dockyard in 1679.Expedition was rebuilt as a 70-gun third rate in 1699 at Chatham Dockyard. She was rebuilt for a second time as a 70-gun third rate to the 1706 Establishment at Portsmouth Dockyard, and was relaunched on 16 August 1714. She was renamed HMS Prince Frederick after Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1715. Her final rebuild was carried out at Deptford, where she was reconstructed as a 70-gun third rate to the 1733 proposals of the 1719 Establishment.She was the flagship at Wager's Action a naval confrontation on 8 June 1708 N.S (28 May O.S.), between a British squadron under Charles Wager and the Spanish treasure fleet, as part of the War of Spanish Succession.The Prince Frederick was part of Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon's fleet and took part in the expedition to Cartagena de Indias during the War of Jenkins' Ear, 1739 to 1748.
Prince Frederick was sold out of the navy in 1784.HMS Portland (1693)
HMS Portland was a 50-gun fourth rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched at Woolwich Dockyard on 28 March 1693.She was rebuilt according to the 1719 Establishment at Portsmouth, and was relaunched on 25 February 1723.
She was present at Wager's Action a naval confrontation on 8 June 1708 N.S (28 May O.S.), between a British squadron under Charles Wager and the Spanish treasure fleet, as part of the War of Spanish Succession.On 17 March 1709, Portland recaptured Coventry, which the 54-gun Auguste and the 54-gun Jason (1704) had captured in September 1704.Portland was broken up in 1743.Henry Frederick, Hereditary Prince of the Palatinate
Henry Frederick, Electoral Prince of the Palatinate, (German: Heinrich Friedrich; 1 January 1614 – 7 January 1629 in the Netherlands) was the eldest son of Frederick V, the Winter King, and his wife, Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of King James I of England.
Henry Frederick drowned at the age of 15. He was on his way to Amsterdam to see the captured Spanish treasure fleet there and drowned crossing the Haarlemmermeer.History of Havana
Havana was founded in the sixteenth century displacing Santiago de Cuba as the island's most important city when it became a major port for Atlantic shipping, particularly the Spanish treasure fleet.Juan Gutiérrez de Garibay
Don Juan Gutiérrez de Garibay was a famous Spanish naval commander, Admiral of the Spanish navy, and commander-in-chief of the Spanish treasure fleet, during the Anglo–Spanish War (1585–1604), the Eighty Years' War, and the French Wars of Religion.List of Atlantic hurricanes in the 17th century
The List of Atlantic hurricanes in the 17th century encompasses all known and suspected Atlantic tropical cyclones from 1600 to 1699. Although records of every storm that occurred do not survive, the information presented here originated in sufficiently populated coastal communities and ships at sea that survived the tempests.
Records of hurricane activity directly impacting America is very incomplete during the 1600s as colonists were sparse outside of the New England region or not existent until much later in the century or early 1700s, especially in the most hurricane prone regions of the coastal south, Florida and the Keys, and Gulf Coast.McLarty Treasure Museum
The McLarty Treasure Museum is located at 13180 North A1A on Orchid Island, north of Windsor and Vero Beach, Florida, on the barrier island at the north end of Indian River County. The museum occupies part of the former site of the Survivors' and Salvagers' Camp - 1715 Fleet, and is part of Sebastian Inlet State Park. It houses exhibits on the history of the 1715 Spanish treasure fleet, and it features artifacts, displays, and an observation deck that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. An A&E Network production, The Queen's Jewels and the 1715 Fleet, is shown, telling of the fleet's attempt to return to Spain when a hurricane struck off the Florida coast 300 years ago.
The property for the museum was donated to the State by Mr. Robert McLarty, a retired Atlanta attorney who lived in Vero Beach.Moses Cohen Henriques
Moses Cohen Henriques was a Dutch pirate of Portuguese Sephardic Jewish origin, operating in the Caribbean.
Henriques helped Dutch naval officer and folk hero Admiral Piet Pieterszoon Hein, of the Dutch West India Company, capture the Spanish treasure fleet in the battle of the Bay of Matanzas in Cuba, during the Eighty Years' War, in 1628.
Part of the Spanish fleet in Venezuela had been warned because a Dutch cabin boy had lost his way on Blanquilla Island and was captured, betraying the plan, but the other half from Mexico continued its voyage, unaware of the threat. Sixteen Spanish ships were intercepted; one galleon was taken after a surprise encounter during the night, nine smaller merchants were talked into a surrender; two small ships were taken at sea fleeing, four fleeing galleons were trapped on the Cuban coast in the Bay of Matanzas. After some musket volleys from Dutch sloops their crews surrendered also and the Dutch captured 11,509,524 Dutch guilders of booty in gold, silver, and other expensive trade goods, as indigo and cochineal, without any bloodshed. The Dutch did not take prisoners: they gave the Spanish crews ample supplies for a march to Havana. The treasure was the company's greatest victory in the Caribbean.
Henriques then went on to lead a Jewish contingent in Brazil during the Dutch rule, and established his own pirate island off the Brazilian coast. After the Portuguese Empire's recapture of Northern Brazil in 1654, Moses fled South America and ended up as an advisor to Henry Morgan, the leading pirate of the time. Even though his role as pirate was disclosed during the Spanish Inquisition, he was never caught.Piet Pieterszoon Hein
Pieter Pietersen Heyn (Hein) (25 November 1577 – 18 June 1629) was a Dutch admiral and privateer for the Dutch Republic during the Eighty Years' War between the United Provinces and Spain. Hein was the first and the last to capture a large part of a Spanish "silver fleet" from America.Survivors' and Salvagers' Camp – 1715 Fleet
The Survivors' and Salvagers’ Camp - 1715 Fleet is a historic site on Orchid Island, Florida. Survivors of the destroyed 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet established a camp at this location while awaiting rescue. Salvors also used the site as they recovered sunken treasure from the 1715 fleet. Currently, the McLarty Treasure Museum occupies part of the area.Treasure
Treasure (from Latin: thesaurus from Greek language θησαυρός thēsauros, "treasure store") is a concentration of wealth — often those that originate from ancient history — that is considered lost and/or forgotten until rediscovered. Some jurisdictions legally define what constitutes treasure, such as in the British Treasure Act 1996.
The phrase "blood and treasure" or "lives and treasure" has been used to refer to the human and monetary costs associated with massive endeavours such as war that expend both.
Searching for hidden treasure is a common theme in legend; treasure hunters do exist, and can seek lost wealth for a living.Treasure Coast
The Treasure Coast is a region of the U.S. state of Florida. It is located on the state's Atlantic coast, comprising Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin, and in some definitions, Palm Beach counties. The region, whose name refers to the Spanish Treasure Fleet lost in a 1715 hurricane, evidently emerged from residents' desire to distinguish themselves from Miami and the Gold Coast region to the south.
The area includes two metropolitan statistical areas designated by the Office of Management and Budget and used for statistical purposes by the Census Bureau and other agencies: the Port St. Lucie, Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area (comprising St. Lucie and Martin counties) and the Sebastian–Vero Beach, Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area (comprising Indian River County). Palm Beach County is part of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL Metropolitan Statistical Area.
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