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

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

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)


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