This painting depicts a storm-tossed Spanish galleon similar to those that went down in Florida waters in 1715.
Nearly three centuries ago, “hurricane season” descended on the seas around the Florida Peninsula. On July 31, 1715, a fierce storm lashed a fleet of Spanish vessels plying their way north from Havana, Cuba, along Florida’s east coast. The 10 ships, which were carrying New World gold and silver destined for Spain, crashed into the reef and sank to the sandy bottom. More than 1,000 people perished. Although the Spanish returned to the spot and recovered most of the treasure from the wreckage, they didn’t find it all.
Today’s deep-sea treasure hunters are still finding some of the left-behind booty. In early July, a boat working for the 1715 Fleet–Queen Jewels salvage company discovered a trove of gold coins, worth an estimated $250,000, not far from Cape Canaveral. It was a significant find, but nowhere near the most valuable shipwreck treasure discovery in Florida waters. In 1985 the renowned Mel Fisher retrieved some $400 million worth of coins and other treasure from a Spanish galleon that had sunk in 1622 off the Florida Keys.
In 2007 another salvage company made a haul worth even more, retrieving gold and silver coins and other artifacts valued at more than $500 million from a sunken Spanish vessel off the coast of Portugal. However, when the claim wound up in court, the treasure ended up being awarded to the government of Spain. The company’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied in 2012. Do such rulings sound a death knell for the notion of “Finder’s keeper’s”? Judging by the intrepid explorations of treasure seekers like the Floridians who “struck gold” last month, the court’s decision has not put a damper on the perennial search for shipwrecks and their bounty.
Image credit: © National Geographic Society/Corbis
- Treasure Hunters Find Gold Coin Trove Off Florida
This article describes the history behind the treasure of Spanish gold coins found off the Florida coast.
(Source: ABC News, July 15, 2013)
- Treasure Hunters Hit Jackpot off Florida Coast
Watch this video interview with the owner of the salvage company whose crew found the Spanish gold coins worth a quarter million dollars.
(Source: Fox News; accessed August 5, 2013)
- Hurricane Sinks Spanish Treasure Ships
Check out History.com’s description of the hurricane in 1715 that led to the sinking of Spanish ships off the Florida coast—the source of the recent discovery.
(Source: History.com; accessed August 5, 2013)
- Explorers Haul in Deep-Sea Treasure Worth $500 Million
This article puts the current story in perspective: both in terms of value and security; the finders were not allowed to be keepers.
(Source: New York Times, May 18, 2007)
- Who Gets to Keep shipwreck Treasure? Supreme Court Declines Spain Case
This article discusses the legal appeal made by the Odyssey treasure finders—and the U.S. Supreme Court’s dismissal of the salvage company’s case.
(Source: Christian Science Monitor, May 14, 2012)
- The Most Expensive Treasures of Our Time
This website describes history’s most amazing treasure finds—not all of which were discovered at sea; includes a photo gallery.
(Source: DailyFresher.com, July 23, 2012)