ListMoto - Spanish Treasure Fleet

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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 adopted by the Spanish Empire from 1566 to 1790, linking 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, luxuries, silver, gold, gems, pearls, spices, sugar, tobacco, silk, and other exotic goods from the Spanish Empire
Spanish Empire
to the Spanish mainland. Passengers and goods such as textiles, books and tools were transported in the opposite direction.[1][2] 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.


1 History

1.1 Spain-Americas Fleets 1.2 Shipwrecks

1.2.1 Encarnación 1.2.2 Capitana

2 The flow of Spanish treasure 3 See also 4 Notes 5 Further reading 6 External links


Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, admiral and designer of the treasure fleet system

Spanish ships had brought goods from the New World
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
Canary Islands
because of attacks by pirates and foreign navies.[3] 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.[4] The treasure fleets sailed along two sea lanes. The main one was the Caribbean
Spanish West Indies
Spanish West Indies
fleet or Flota de Indias, which departed in two convoys from Seville, where the Casa de Contratación
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.[5] 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.[6][7] To better defend this trade, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and Álvaro de Bazán
Álvaro de Bazán
designed the definitive model of the galleon in the 1550s.[8] Spain
controlled the trade through the Casa de Contratación
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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] Spain
became the richest country in Europe by the end of the 16th century.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17] The Spanish trade of goods was sometimes threatened by its colonial rivals, who tried to seize islands as bases along the Spanish Main
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
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.

A shipyard on the river Guadalquivir
in 16th century Seville: detail from a townscape by Alonso Sánchez Coello

Charles III began loosening the system in 1765. In the 1780s, Spain opened its colonies to free trade.[18] 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.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21] The 1702 West Indies fleet was destroyed in the Battle of Vigo Bay
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.[22] 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
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.[23] 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.[24][25] 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.[26] Spain-Americas Fleets[edit]

The Spaniard Amaro Pargo, a corsair and merchant, participated in the West Indies Fleet.

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.[27] 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
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.[28] In Mexico
in 1635, there was an increase of the sales tax levied to finance the fleet, the Armada de Barlovento.[29] Between 1703-1705 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.[30] Shipwrecks[edit] Wrecks of Spanish treasure ships, whether sunk in naval combat or by storms (those of 1622, 1715, 1733 and 1750[31] 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.[32] In August 1750, at least three Spanish merchantmen ran aground in North Carolina
North Carolina
during a hurricane. The El Salvador[33] 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.[34] Encarnación[edit] 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 Encarnacíon sank in 1681 during a storm near the mouth of the Chagres River
Chagres River
on the Caribbean
side of Panama. The Encarnacíon sank in less than 40 feet of water.[35] The remains of the Urca de Lima
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.[36] Capitana[edit] 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.[37][38][39] The flow of Spanish treasure[edit]

A silver 8-Reales (Peso) coin minted in México (1621-65).

Walton[40] 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
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 $527,270,000,000 or €469,839,661,964 (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
Spanish road
to the Low Countries
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
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
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.

Estimated Legal Treasure
Flow in Pesos per Year

From To 1550 1600 1700 1790

Peru Havana 1,650,000 8,000,000 4,500,000 small

Colombia Havana 500,000 1,500,000 1,500,000 2,000,000

México Havana 850,000 1,500,000 3,000,000 18,000,000

Havana Spain 3,000,000 11,000,000 9,000,000 20,000,000

Europe Asia 2,000,000 1,500,000 4,500,000 7,000,000

Peru Acapulco – 3,500,000 ? ?

Acapulco Philippines – 5,000,000 2,000,000 3,000,000

See also[edit]

New Spain
portal Piracy
portal Spain

Spanish Empire List of Atlantic
hurricanes before 1600 San Esteban (1554 shipwreck) Nuestra Señora de Atocha, a famous galleon wrecked in 1622 and found off Florida in 1985 1715 Treasure
Fleet, which sank off Florida and was partly salvaged in the 1960s Álvaro de Bazán The Asiento, a monopoly on the trade of African slaves to Spanish America, held by the English between the War of the Spanish Succession and the War of Jenkins' Ear Piracy
in the Caribbean Manila
galleon El Salvador, a Spanish merchantman that ran aground in North Carolina in August 1750 during a hurricane.[41]


^ Marx, Robert: Treasure
lost at sea: diving to the world's great shipwrecks. Firefly Books, 2004, page 66. ISBN 1-55297-872-9 ^ Marx, Robert: The treasure fleets of the Spanish Main. World Pub. Co., 1968 ^ John R. Fisher, "Fleet System (Flota)" in Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, vol. 2, p. 575. ^ Walton, pp. 46-47 ^ Nolan, Cathal: The age of wars of religion, 1000-1650: an encyclopedia of global warfare and civilization. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006, page 177. ISBN 0-313-33733-0 ^ Borrell, Miranda: The grandeur of Viceregal Mexico: treasures from the Museo Franz Mayer. University of Texas Press, 2002, page 23. ISBN 0-89090-107-4 ^ Walton, pp. 46-47 ^ Walton, p. 57 ^ Walton, page 30 ^ Carrasco González, María Guadalupe: Comerciantes y casas de negocios en Cádiz, 1650-1700. Servicio Publicaciones UCA, 1997, pp. 27-30. ISBN 84-7786-463-2 (in Spanish) ^ Walton, page 226 ^ Danbom, David B.: Born in the country: a history of rural America. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006, page 20. ISBN 0-8018-8458-6 ^ Walton, pp. 84-85 ^ Walton, page 145 ^ Walton, page 136 ^ Walton, page 138 ^ Walton, page 177 ^ Buckle, Thomas: History of civilization in England. Parker, Son, and Bourn, 1861, v. 2, pp. 93-94 ^ Walton, page 180 ^ Walton, page 121 ^ Walton, page 129 ^ Walton, pp. 154-155 ^ Murray ^ Walton, page 189 ^ Konstam, Angus and Cordingly, Daviv (2002).The History of Pirates. The Lyons Press, p. 68. ISBN 1-58574-516-2 ^ Walton, page 191 ^ Gibson, Charles. Spain
in America. New York: Harper & Row, 1966, p. 102. ^ "1733 Spanish Galleon
Trail - Plate Fleets". info.flheritage.com. Retrieved 2015-05-13.  ^ John Jay TePaske, "Alcabalas" in Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture vol. 1, p. 44. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons 1996. ^ De Paz Sánchez, Manuel; García Pulido, Daniel (2015). El corsario de Dios. Documentos sobre Amaro Rodríguez Felipe (1678-1747). Documentos para la Historia de Canarias. Francisco Javier Macías Martín (ed.). Canarias: Archivo Histórico Provincial de Santa Cruz de Tenerife. ISBN 978-84-7947-637-3. Retrieved 8 June 2016.  ^ "1733 Spanish Galleon
Trail - Fleet of 1733". info.flheritage.com. Retrieved 2015-05-13.  ^ Walton, pp. 216-217 ^ "El Salvador". Intersal, Inc.  ^ http://northcarolinashipwrecks.blogspot.com/2012/05/dangerous-shoals.html ^ Lee, Jane J.; 12, National Geographic PUBLISHED May. "Rare Spanish Shipwreck
From 17th Century Uncovered Off Panama". National Geographic News. Retrieved 2015-05-13.  ^ "The Spanish Treasure
Fleets of 1715 and 1733: Disasters Strike at Sea". nps.org. Retrieved 15 July 2015.  ^ "1733 Spanish Galleon
Trail - Capitana". info.flheritage.com. Retrieved 2015-07-30.  ^ Lee, Jane J.; 28, National Geographic PUBLISHED July. "300-Year-Old Spanish Shipwreck
Holds Million Dollar Treasure". National Geographic News. Retrieved 2015-07-30.  ^ Plucinska, Joanna (2015-07-28). "Shipwrecked Spanish Gold
Found". TIME.com. Retrieved 2015-07-30.  ^ Timothy R Walton,"The Spanish Tresure Fleets",1994 ^ Heit, Judi (2012-04-07). " North Carolina
North Carolina
Shipwrecks: The Spanish Galleons ~ 18 August 1750". North Carolina
North Carolina
Shipwrecks. Retrieved 2016-05-12. 

Further reading[edit]

Andrews, Kenneth R. The Spanish Caribbean: Trade and Plunder, 1530-1630. 1978. Fish, Shirley. The Manila- Acapulco
Galleons: The Treasure
Ships of the Pacific, with an Annotated List of the Transpacific Galleons 1565-1815. Central Milton Keynes, England: Authorhouse 2011. Fisher, John R. "Fleet System (Flota)" in Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, vol. 2, p. 575. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1996. Haring, Clarence. Trade and Navigation between Spain
and the Indies in the Time of the Habsburgs (1918) Haring, Clarence. The Spanish Empire
Spanish Empire
in America
New York: Oxford University Press 1947 Murray, Paul. The Spanish Mariners: From the Discovery of America
to Trafalgar. 1492-1805. Observations and Reflections. Mexico, 1976 Schurz, William Lytle. The Manila
Galleon. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1939. Walton, Timothy R.: The Spanish Treasure
Fleets. Pineapple Press Inc, 2002. ISBN 1-56164-261-4 Zarin, Cynthia. "Green Dreams", The New Yorker, November 21, 2005, pp. 76–83 www.newyorker.com

External links[edit]

Attack of the Tierra Firma Fleet of 1708. Royal Geographical Society of South Australia Two firms seek ship, Carolina Coast Online Treasure
hunter in race to uncover ship of riches, Google Philip Masters, True Amateur of History, Dies at 70, New York Times Shipwrecks and Treasure: the Spanish Treasure
Fleet of 1750 Treasure
hunter that found Blackbeard's pirate ship sues state for $8.2 million, Fayetteville Observer Lawmakers enter legal battle over Blackbeard's ship, News & Observer Photographer suing state over Blackbeard
shipwreck footage, WRAL-TV Blackbeard's Law would clarify control of media rights to shipwrecks, News & Record Controversy Over Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge
Queen Anne's Revenge
Continues, Public Radio East Battle Over Shipwreck
Photos Brews in N.C., Courthouse News Plunder disputes plague the wreck of Blackbeard’s ship, Soundings

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