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February 23, 2007

Sebastian Inlet

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Along this coast, in the early morning darkness of the last day of July 1715, a hurricane destroyed a fleet of eleven of possible twelve ‘homeward bound merchant ships carrying cargoes of gold and silver coinage’ and other valuable items from the American colonies on its way from Cuba to Spain.

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This flotilla was carrying several years worth of stockpiled treasure that had not been shipped due to Spain’s participation in Queen Ann’s war.

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Winds and waves stripped the eleven ships of their rigging and dismasted them. Ships began to founder and sink in the darkness. Some broke apart and probably sank in deep water. The decks of some ships separated from their hulls. Survivors clung for life to these outsize surfboards. Only the Urca de Lima survived the storm. She served as a supply base for the survivors until help arrived. She was never refloated but was burned to the waterline to hide her from pirates.

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Anchor

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This piece of wood is from one of the ships of the 1715 fleet. There are four holes, one in each corner in which wooden pegs were inserted called tree nail fastening. One peg still remains in the upper right hand corner. Notice the “Teredo Clams??? holes throughout the wood. Teredo Clams are a major problem for all wooden ships because once the teredo clam enters the wood it will live its whole life drilling holes.

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Canon- found a mile off shore still loaded with a cannonball and barshot

About 1500 men, women, and children who survived the disaster and reached the shore made their camp along the barrier island near the place where the fleet’s flagship had sunk. The low, dense vegetation afforded some protection from the elements.

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The castaways knew they were on the Palmar de Ais, named for the natives of the area. They understood they were about 180 miles from help at St. Augustine. Their greatest problem was enduring until help arrived. No Indians had met them or helped pull the weak from the surf. Native Americans who lived along the coast tended to move inland during the storm season. The survivors were on their own.

Many officers had survived. They organized search parties and camps. A few looters who fled with their ill-gotten riches were arrested as they neared St. Augustine. The rest of the survivors remained until rescue ships picked them up.

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Attempts to salvage the ships’ cargoes began almost immediately. Professional salvage crews, made up of natives and islanders from Cuba, replaced the survivors. Their efforts with diving bells, grappling hooks, and other salvage implements were successful.

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About 80% of the lost property was recovered by the crews of 1715-16. Archaeological work at the site revealed that the salvagers seem to have erected some temporary structures for use as storehouses for the recovered gold and silver.

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While the salvage operation was in process, many pirates attempted to steal the treasure, including Henry Jennings, and English pirate, who sailed to the site, drove off the guards and seized a large quantity of the recovered coins, which he carried away to Port Royal, Jamaica. But the great majority of the treasure was safely regained and moved to Havana by the Spanish salvagers. Nevertheless, salvage was completed by April 1716. At least one additional attempt was made in 1719.

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Not until 1928 was a wreck from the 1715 fleet rediscovered, the Urca de Lima, off Fort Pierce. The next clues appeared on the land; In the early 1940’s Spanish colonial artifacts were uncovered at a site south of Sebastian Inlet.

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In the mid-1950’s a hurricane completely changed the face of the shore. Kip Wagner discovered a second archeological spot: the site of the Spanish salvors’ encampment, indicating that treasure ships had gone down nearby. He soon located El Capitana and by the mid-1960’s had brought up silver pieces of eight, gold doubloons, bars and plates of both metals, pearls, jewelry, rare Chinese porcelains, and countless examples of everyday items used by seamen and passengers traveling in 1715. Major new discoveries are still being made along the Treasure Coast.

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Competition! We'd better get out there!

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Success!

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Our treasure: three bottle tabs, a piece of foil, and an unidentifed piece of iron.

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Heath's Treasure

The ships of the 1715 fleet do not rest alone. At least thirty vessels perished in these waters between the 1550’s and 1945. Ships and cargoes were lost to storms, unlucky mechanical failure, faulty navigation and the torpedoes or submarines. Crew of many other ships endured close calls along this shore.

Interesting Sidebar:

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Giant Sloth Jaw

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The Ais Indians were native to this area of Florida. Unlike most other FLorida Indians they were not farmers. They gathered wild plants, hunted deer and bear, and took birds, fish, turtles, shellfish, and manatees from the rivers and sea. Their midden piles (a midden is a garbage heap) of clam and oyester shells are still evident along the coast.

Posted by Heather at February 23, 2007 12:11 PM

Comments

Photo #1 in this series is excellent. It takes me there.

Posted by: just patrick at January 26, 2008 10:35 PM

Photo #1 in this series is excellent. It takes me there.

Posted by: just patrick at January 26, 2008 10:35 PM

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