History of the 1715 Fleet

In the summer of 1715, having concluded their individual routes, two separate fleets consisting of six Tierra Firme and five New Spain fleet ships joined forces in Havana, Cuba. They carried three years of accumulated New World wealth—riches of such splendor as to be almost beyond comprehension: gold coins, magnificent jewelry, gold discs, bars and bits, chests upon chests of silver coins, silver bars, emeralds, pearls, and fine Chinese porcelains.

 

One of the ships, the Nuestra Señora de la Regla, listed 62 chests of “gifts” among its cargo, in addition to 1,300 chests holding 2,559,917 pesos in silver coins and bars, 23 chests of worked silver, and registered gold bars, coins, and pearls. One can only begin to wonder at the contents of these gift chests.

 

On July 24, the combined fleets departed for Spain. As the ships passed the Florida Keys and sailed along mainland Florida, the weather began to worsen.

 

Trapped in the narrow stretch of the Bahama Channel along an area of east coast spanning from today’s St. Lucie Inlet to Sebastian Inlet, the armada was demolished. Many hundreds of lives and approximately 14 million pesos in registered treasure were lost in the hurricane of 1715.

Post-Hurricane Salvage:

For the next decade, Spanish salvors inhabited coastal salvage camps, braving Florida Indians, weather, hunger, mosquitoes and pirates as they sought to recover the fortunes scattered beneath the waves. Eventually, salvage attempts were abandoned and the 1715 Fleet tragedy became yet another historic footnote.

Modern Salvage:

In the late 1950ʼs, after coming upon some silver coins exposed on the beach following a storm, a man named Kip Wagner began to intentionally search for and recover treasure from the fleet. Others, motivated by his success, soon followed. Since Wagner’s first discoveries, many thousands of precious treasures and artifacts have been recovered, inspiring the area’s romantic alias, “Treasure Coast.”

Present Status of the 1715 Fleet Shipwrecks:

MRR is working in partnership with 1715 Fleet-Queen’s Jewels, LLC, the legal permit holder for an area of ocean in which six of the 1715 fleet wreck sites have thus far been identified.

What are some of the unique benefits for MRR associated with the 1715 Fleet sites?

  • 1715 Fleet-Queens Jewels, LLC, retains U.S. Admiralty Custodianship of a 300-­square-­mile stake off Indian River County that extends from the low-­tide mark into the ocean. There is no danger of foreign government interference with our work.

  • All necessary contracts and permits with both the State of Florida and 1715 Fleet-Queens Jewels, LLC, are already in order.

 

The 1715 Ships and Their Cargoes:

Our search and recovery contract encompasses an area containing wreckage from four or more 1715 Fleet ships. Because the ships were destroyed in the same storm, in close proximity to one another, and carrying cargoes datable to the exact same time period, without specific identifying evidence—such as a ship’s bell or serial numbered artifacts matching a cargo manifest—one cannot state with certainty from which wreck recovered artifacts are originating. Therefore, while some ship identities are suspected and in some cases fairly certain, it has become customary to refer to the various sites by nicknames adopted in modern times.

 

  • The Cabin wreck: Called by this name because it lies seaward of a cabin once inhabited by Kip Wagner, multiple cannon and piles of ballast stone identify two separate  and  distinct  areas, one in shallow near-­shore waters, the other in deeper waters, containing what are believed to be remains of the Nuestra Señora de la Regla. Since Wagner’s first accidental discovery in the sand led to intentional search and recovery from the sea, the site has produced a fabulous array of treasures: gold coins, silver coins in the many thousands (including a single 250 pound chest-full), silver “cupcakes,” and a wealth of stunningly beautiful jewelry such as a golden brooch containing 170 diamonds, a butterfly-­inspired piece of gold jewelry studded with 144  diamonds, gold and precious stone earrings and rings, and gold toothpicks and manicure sets. In addition to vessels equipped for deeper excavations, MRR has a 17’ vessel equipped  to  work  in  the  extremely  shallow near-­shore  areas  of  this  site, and though this area has been searched for many years, fortunes yet remain to be discovered. A large ship of 471 tons, the Nuestra Señora de la Regla carried 50 cannon. Among other practical and agricultural items, cargo listed on the Rggla's manifest includes:

    • 2,559,917 pesos in silver coins and bars in 1,300 chests

    • 23 chests of worked silver

    • 62 chests of “gifts”

    • 1 chest of gold bars, gold coins, and pearls

    • 4 chests of Chinese porcelain

    • 70 sheets of copper

 

According to research, the Regla initially hit an area of reef about 1,400 feet offshore. Here, the top decks split from the ship's lower hull and were propelled by surf and storm into an area of reef approximately 700 feet from land. With the winds turning northward, the top decks tumbled along a stretch of reef-­line running parallel to the shore, dropping canon and upper-­deck’s cargo along a path of some thousand yards before washing back over the reef and sinking in approximately 25’ of water.

 

  • Corrigan’s wreck: Believed to be the Santo Cristo de San Román, the nickname honors Hugh Corrigan, a beachcomber who began finding treasures in the sands near Vero Beach in the 1950’s. Kip Wagner acquired a lease on the site in the 1960’s, alternating work between the Corrigan’s and Cabin sites until the mid-1970’s when Corrigan’s was temporarily shut down by the state. In the 1980’s, the Mel Fisher company gained exclusive rights to the site, which they maintained mostly via subcontractors until being bought out by the 1715 Fleet-Queen's Jewels group in 2010. Among many other practical and agricultural items, cargo listed on the manifest of the San Román includes:

    • 2,687,416 pesos in 990 chests and sacks of silver and gold

    • 53 chests of worked silver

    • 85 chests of “gifts”

    • 14 chests of Chinese porcelain

    • 139 sheets of copper

 

Like the Cabin wreck site, Corrigan’s has been the subject of both 18th century and modern salvage, yet much cargo remains to be found. For instance, to this day the ship’s main ballast pile has not been located—an extremely important missing piece. Ships of the period had their hulls filled with literally tons of river rocks to provide counterbalance for  their  top-­heavy construction.  Silver bars and chests of coins—also collectively weighing in the tons—shared that purpose. When we find the missing ballast, we can expect to discover tons of silver in the form of silver bars and treasure chests of coins.

  • Rio Mar wreck: Located approximately 900 feet off the first green of the Rio Mar Golf Course in Vero Beach, the wreck is thought to be the Nuestra Señora del Carmen, San Miguel y San Antonio. The Carmen’s lading was lighter than the others, listing as its cargo:

    • 48,745 pesos in gold coins

    • 309 castellanos in two gold bars

    • 26,063 pesos in nineteen gold bars

    • 1,485 pesos in silver coins

    • 747 pesos in three gold chains

 

However, while her registered cargo may have been comparatively light, the Carmen reportedly picked up numerous passengers while in Cartagena, and these would have been carrying their own personal wealth. In addition to bullion and coinage, past explorations of this site have produced a wide array of personal treasures, many worked in gold and with precious stones, including religious artifacts, brooches, pendants, earrings, rings, cuff-­links, hair pins, chains, and grooming tools as well as silver tableware and assorted weaponry.

 

The Carmen rolled onto her starboard side and sank intact. Captain General Don Antonio de Echeverz y Zubiza wrote that the ship “…fell over in such a way that we were unable to recover anything from it.”

 

 

  • Frederick Douglass wreck: This site is believed to be the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de las Nieves. The Nieves commanding officer, Captain Soto Sanchez and 100 others narrowly escaped death by riding a broken portion of the ship’s decking through the waves and onto the beach. A collection of ballast stones lie 300 feet from shore in 15 feet of water. Having produced more gold coins than any other site in Florida, it is also sometimes referred to as the Gold wreck. MRR's focus on the Douglass wreck is a particular area that has produced some exquisite gold coins known as “Royals.” Today there is a standing order of $250,000.00 for any Royals discovered.

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