During the 1700s, treasure ships, warships and pirate ships sailed the seas of the world. Thousands of ships sank in the hundred years between 1700 and 1800. Arguably the most famous of the shipwrecks involved the 1700s are the Spanish galleons, having sunk to the bottom of the ocean -- mostly off the Florida coast -- carrying vast amounts of gold, silver, precious stones and other booty.
Spanish Fleets, 1715 and 1733
Spain lost two fleets in the 1700s, one in 1715 and the other in 1733. Both fleets were lost in a similar pattern: sailing up the Atlantic coast of the present-day U.S. into the gulf stream, which would normally carry the fleet back toward Spain. Both fleets left in the fall and were destroyed in hurricanes. Each of these fleets carried much wealth in the form of gold, silver and other precious stones and artifacts. Salvage operations for the 1733 fleet performed throughout the 1730s by Spain along the Florida coast recovered much of the lost treasure, in contrast to the wrecks of the 1715 fleet. Most of the treasure recovered from the 1715 fleet was found by contemporary private treasure hunters.
Cape Haitien Mystery, 1750-1760
A large, probably French ship, sank off the north coast of Haiti between 1750 and 1760. The interesting fact about this wreck is that any information regarding the ship and its purpose in the Caribbean has been lost. All that is really known of this shipwreck is that the vessel was large and of French origin.
Carrying eight chests of silver coins (about 30,000 coins), the Reijgersdaal sank in 1747 between the islands of Robben and Dassen. After four months at sea, illness was spreading among the crew (125 out of 297 had already died and 83 were incapacitated) so it was decided to anchor by Dassen Island to hunt for rabbits and other fresh food. Only 20 men survived when a gale snapped the anchor line and blew the ship into rocks.
El Cazador, 1784
Headed to New Orleans form Vera Cruz, Mexico, El Cazador was carrying 450,000 pesos meant to stabilize the economy of then Spanish Louisiana. The fact that the coins did not arrive probably hastened the Spanish ceding of Louisiana to France in 1800. Nothing was known of the wreck of El Cazador until 1993, when a fishing boat 50 miles from New Orleans pulled in a net filled with silver coins.
Laden with 209,280 oz. of fine silver, the Hartwell set off on its maiden voyage to China in the beginning of 1787. The Hartwell was thought to be the biggest ship in the service of the East India Company. Three months into the voyage, the crew mutinied, and after three days the mutiny was put down and the captain changed course for the Cape Verde Islands, presumably to drop off the mutineers with the governor. The ship ran into a reef on the way to the Cape Verde Islands and sank quickly, though all the crew was saved.
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