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The Curse Of The 1715-Spanish Plate Fleet: Run Aground On The Coast Of Treasure

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On July 24, 1715, a convoy of 11 Spanish ships and one French merchantman set sail from Havana, Cuba to Spain. It was called a “Plate Fleet” because their cargo consisted of valuable treasure looted from the so-called “New World”. Plata is the Spanish name for silver coins that made up much of the wealth stored in their holds. Thus, it was a Plata, or “Plate” fleet. Generally, two such fleets sailed every year. The Flota de Tierra Firme traveled from Spain to Cartagena and Panama, carrying various trade goods and necessities. The Flota de Nueva España went to Veracruz. For safety, the two fleets often stayed together until they reached the Caribbean.

It was on the return voyage that problems usually developed. The ships were by then loaded with gold and silver, jewelry, tobacco, spices, and indigo, and were a rich prize for marauding pirates and privateers. By the time they sailed east, the crews were tired and usually sick from tropical diseases, malnutrition, and horrible hygienic conditions on board. All this made them vulnerable to attack. If all this was not bad enough, however, there was another unstable element in the equation. The return trip was apt to run into the hurricane season. Traveling west during the summer, the Atlantic was usually calm, with gently prevailing winds, but in the fall, as anyone knows who lives anywhere near the southeast coast of the United States, tropical storm season can be a tough time beginning in late August. Especially in the days before accurate weather reports, hurricanes could blow up suddenly, without advance warning. The results were often devastating.

Proclamation of Philippe of Anjou as Philippe V of Spain, Versailles, 16 November 1700 by François Pascal Simon Gérard (Public Domain)

Proclamation of Philippe of Anjou as Philippe V of Spain, Versailles, 16 November 1700 by François Pascal Simon Gérard (Public Domain)

War of the Spanish Succession

By 1715, the pattern was well-known to seafaring voyagers. Yet when the fleet sailed, it was only days before the hurricane season was set to begin, and all the captains knew it. That year, the fleet, for a number of reasons, had been delayed by two years in the Caribbean, so their official excuse was that they were attempting to escape marauding pirates and privateers anxious to steal their valuable cargo, but there was also an unspoken and unwritten reason.

Between the years 1688 and 1715, Louis XIV of France had adopted a policy of rapid expansion. Europe was thus ravaged by two expensive wars. Because wars were often fought at sea, they naturally disrupted trade between the Americas and various nations of Europe, one of them being Spain.

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Jim Willis is author of 17 books on religion and spirituality, he has been an ordained minister for over 40 years while working part-time as a carpenter, the host of his own drive-time radio show, an arts council director and adjunct college professor in the fields of World Religions and Instrumental Music. He is author of The Wizard in the Wood: A Tale of Magic, Mystery, and Meaning

Top Image: AI generated image of a ship in a storm (Stream Skins / Adobe Stock)

By: Jim Willis

 
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Jim

After graduating from the Eastman School of Music, Jim Willis became a high school band and orchestra teacher during the week, a symphony trombonist on the weekends, a jazz musician at night and a choral conductor on Sunday mornings. ... Read More

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