Monday Mystery: The Spanish Plate Fleet of 1715

Jul 24, 2015
300 Years Later, We Remember the Lost Spanish Plate Fleet of 1715

We’ve found the perfect Monday Mystery topic to discuss before the series takes a brief hiatus- The Spanish Plate Fleet of 1715.

The story of the doomed Spanish Fleet of 1715 is one of our favorite stories of sunken treasure. In the early 1700s, the Spanish and the English were locked in a bitter war over who would ascend to the Spanish thrown. King Charles II of Spain had died without an heir, and named Philip V of France his successor. The English, determined to prevent the alliance between the French and Spanish, launched a large scale naval attack against Spain. Spanish ships in the New World were unable to safely transport necessary supplies back to their homeland for fear of being attacked by the formidable English navy.

In 1715, The War of Succession finally ended and King Philip V ordered his Spanish fleet in the New World to promptly set sail for Spain. The eleven ships in the fleet met in Havana, Cuba, and began loading their cargo with luxury goods such as precious jewels, gold, silver, porcelain, and tobacco. Today, it is estimated by some that the entire treasure could be worth nearly half a billion dollars – to say it was a sizable haul would be an understatement.

Among the fleet was a single French ship, the Griffon, captained by Antoine d’Aire. Although they were technically allies, the Spanish sailors distrusted the French; the Spaniards feared that the French weren’t keeping their haul a secret, and that as a result the fleet would be attacked and robbed during transit.

In an effort to dissuade would-be-thieves from attacking their treasure-laden ships, the fleet waited to begin their journey until hurricane season- July 24, 1715. At the first sign of an impending storm, the French ship Griffon abandoned the Spanish ships (which had been hugging the east coast of Florida) and sailed out to sea. Within a week of their departure, a hurricane struck the Spanish ships full-force; they sunk off the coast of Florida, killing the vast majority of crew members on board and scattering their treasure into the waves.

The Griffon, having sailed away from the treacherous shoreline, managed to reach land rather than sink to the bottom of the ocean. The survivors sent word to Havana to alert city officials of the tragedy, and a salvage crew was sent to dredge the ocean floor for the lost Spanish treasure. The venture was ultimately successful, and within a few months a large portion had been recovered. When news of this reclaimed treasure spread, pirates began looting the salvage ships until the area was ultimately abandoned.

In 1960, a treasure hunter named Kip Wagner and his crew began discovering artifacts from the doomed Spanish fleet. Wagner partnered with National Geographic to put many of their findings on display in museums. Since that time, treasure seekers have routinely flocked to the area around Cape Canaveral to find a piece of Spanish gold or silver for themselves. Some of the beautiful artifacts found so far have been porcelain plates, gold coins, and jeweled gold crosses and rosaries. With so much treasure lost to the sea, it’s almost impossible to say what priceless piece of history will be discovered next. It’s one mystery we can’t wait to see unraveled, and it’ll probably happen in the near future!

We hope you’ve enjoyed our Monday Mystery series! Stay tuned for updates on the latest jewelry and watch releases and for news on upcoming sales and promotions. We’ll tell new tales of mysterious, sometimes cursed, treasure again in the future!


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