1750 - Spanish Treasure Fleet Encounter a Hurricane:
Moving to 1750, a fleet of Spanish treasure ships departed from Havana in late August. The fleet included La Galga followed by La Merced, Los Godos, San Pedro, Guadeloupe, El Salvador, and La Soledad bringing up the rear. It was in the heart of the hurricane season and at the same time, Spain was in a peaceful period with England, though both sides tread lightly with each other. The four-year conflict was known as the War of Austrian Succession or known as King George's War in the Americas in a treaty signed in 1748. The treasure fleet including El Salvador along with six other vessels in the fleet left Havana, Cuba on August 7, 1750, and was on their way to Cadiz, Spain.
Along with El Salvador were the Nuestra de Solidad and Guadalupe. According to Spanish archives El Salvador was carrying 240,000 pesos in Spanish Treasury funds. They were contained within four chests of gold and sixteen chests of silver coins of various denominations. Also, included on the ship were 50,000 pesos in commercial funds. Guadeloupe was a large ship that had a cargo of sugar, Campeche dyewoods, cocoa, plant seedlings, copper, a great number of hides, valuable cochineal and indigo for dyes, and as many as three hundred chests of silver containing 400,00 pieces-of-eight valued at 613,000 pesos. Also aboard Guadeloupe was the president of Santo Domingo, Hispaniola, and a number of prisoners. Soledad carried a cargo of cochineal, hides, sugar, and at least fourteen chests containing $40,000 in silver.
As the fleet was 29 degrees north of Cape Canaveral, the commander of the Los Godos, Don Pedro de Pumarejo, noticed the skies were looking rather ominous. By early afternoon on August 25 (others indicate the date was closer to August 18), large dark clouds began to gather and darken the horizon to the northwest. By 3:00 PM, The winds were blowing out of the north at gale force. A few hours later, the winds began to blow out of the north-northeast with increasing force. The intensity continued to grow and by evening the winds had shifted again to the south-southeast. By 8:00 PM, the winds were so strong and loud, that voice communications on the quarterdeck of Los Godos were impossible. They were caught in a hurricane Northeast of present-day Cape Canaveral, Florida.
La Galga, who was the head of the fleet, was taking on water but continued to push on despite the intensity of the storm. However, other ships struggled as they attempted to move forward. Los Godos had to sail with only fore and mizzenmasts in use. By only using these sails, she found herself drifting away from the fleet and needing to open her mizzens to take her back to the fleet. By nightfall, she returned to the fleet. But Los Godos struggles weren't over. Her tiller was blown away and her foretopmast sheets were ripped apart. With the damage, control of the ship and keeping up with the fleet was no longer possible. Out of desperation, Captain Pumarejo, ordered the mizzen cut away to bring the ship around to the wind. By that time the lower deck was under several feet of water. By the evening of August 26, the hold began to fill with water. Even with two pumps working at all times, the captain knew he had to reduce the weight aboard the ship. He ordered the great guns, the oven, and the damaged lifeboats to be thrown overboard. The larger livestock was tossed overboard too. Most of the livestock had been killed by being tossed around by the treacherous waves. Even with this added weight thrown overboard, the onslaught of the storm waves continued to take their toll. The timbers at her head were so badly damaged that water flowed freely thrown the seams. With this pounding nine feet of water poured into the below decks.
San Pedro didn't fare much better. The stern of the ship stoved in and all of her lifeboats were washed away. Six feet of water had washed into the hold and one mask blew away. Like the Los Godos, Captain Kelly ordered as much cargo as could be spared be thrown overboard. The storm forced the ships to continue north along the Gulf Stream. As they entered the area of the Outer Banks of North Carolina they were pushed ashore.
By August 28, the Los Godos briefly sighted Guadeloupe and saw that her mizzenmast was gone. By that time both ships realized they were close to the Carolina coast and were desperate to avoid getting that close. That was the last contact between the two ships. By dusk, the winds had calmed somewhat but that wasn't the case of the heavy waves that continued to pound the ships. The water level in the hold of Los Godos was still getting deeper. Pumarejo reported that water reached above waist high. A new tiller had been installed to replace the old one which had been washed away. However, it was soon split in half. The lion figurehead that decorated the bow was ripped off by a huge wave. The forecastle (forward deck) continued to dip deeper and deeper with each wave but continued to resurface. To make matters worse, the foremast fell, which then meant the ship had lost total control.
However, the captain and crew refused to surrender. Holes were chopped through the between decks floors to let the waters pass more easily to the pumps below. By the morning of August 29, things seemed hopeless. They began to dump more things overboard: chests, mattresses of officers and passengers, and cargo between decks, such as hides, dyewoods, meat, and boxes. All this time still manning the two pumps in hopes that they would get the upper hand on the flooding. At 8:00 AM, they were hit with a giant wave, and once again at 9:30 AM. By then all the oakum (tarred fiber used to seal gaps) of the first deck was destroyed and water ran down the entire ship, flooding the victuals, sails, gunpowder, and whatever else lay in its way.
By this time, any semblance of a fleet now became a distant memory. Every ship and everyone aboard fought to survive. It had been seven days and nights of constant bombardment from the sea. Now they had been pushed northward toward the Outer Banks of North Carolina. At Cape Hatteras, where the Gulf Stream collides with the cold waters of the Labrador Current. Here is where the Diamon Shoal lies. Here the waters remain in a constant, dangerous state of turbulence. Another obstacle for ships is located Southwest of Hatteras, Cape Lookout, where sand bars pose another danger.
El Salvador was the first of the fleet to confront the shoals of the Outer Banks. The night of August 29, they could hear the breakers on the shore near Topsail Inlet, close to Cape Lookout. By the time she realized she was too close, it was too late. At that time she was driven ashore by the waves and broken apart on the beach. Only three crewmen and a ship's boy managed to escape from the wreckage. They were able to save eleven boxes of the king's silver. While dead bodies washed ashore, scavengers arrived to take whatever they could find of value from the ship. At the time a Bermuda sloop commanded by two Englishmen, Ephraim and Robert Gilvert, was able to survive the storm and anchored by the sandbank where El Salvador had split open. Even though the seas were still raging they were able to salvage whatever they could including sails, riggings, and several chests of registered treasure. Once the sloop departed El Salvador was bombarded with wind and waves which led to it being buried under seven to eight feet of sand.
Nuestra de Solidad was more fortunate. The captain and crew fought to keep the ship afloat to the bitter end even though they knew it was useless. Somewhere between ten and twelve leagues (3.452 miles = 1 league) south of Ocracoke, near old Drum Inlet where it was lost for good. However, its captain, Captain Don Manuel de Molburdro, and his crew were able to recover fourteen boxes of silver (32,000 pieces of eight) but lost its cargo of cochineal, hides, and sugar.
Guadeloupe's mask with its masks broken seemed to ride the storm until August 30, 1750. At that time the captain, Captain Bonilla found the ship to be helpless, having been blown toward a low sandy coastline (Cape Hatteras). Apparently, when the weather became increasingly dangerous, he anchored the ship with two cables on end approximately five to six leagues south of the cape. Throughout the night, his ship rode out the storm, here cables straining and stretching. The crew expected at any moment to be pushed to the shore.
The following morning, August 30, Bonilla realized the severe damage the ship had experienced. The ship had lost its rudder, mizzenmast, main and foretop masthead, and all her sails. The ship's hold was full of water and most of the provisions aboard were either ruined or lost overboard. Captain Bonilla knew the only way to save the ship was to find safe anchorage inside Ocracoke Bar so that repairs might be made. With some clever maneuvering and calmer winds, though the seas were still high, with some improvisation they were able to rig a new sail fixed to the yard.
While attempting this maneuvering, Bonilla faced strong opposition from some of his crew. A boatswain's mate, Pedro Rodriguez, wanted to run the ship ashore and save themselves. Some crewmen panicked and began tossing everything they could find overboard. Bonilla appealed to his officers and crew to work together for His Majesty's interest. However, his appeal went unanswered and a mutiny was on the brink of occurring. When he ordered a boat lowered to look for safe haven ashore some of the men hacked the boat to pieces. He was able to quietly sneak several passengers ashore to get a sense of what was onshore. When they returned, they reported seeing cattle tracks going inland which would indicate there were inhabitants close by. Wanting to see for himself Bonilla went with an Englishman who once lived in the Carolinas. They discovered the only safe anchorage was inside Ocracoke Inlet which was five leagues away. The danger was that this was the same area of the infamous pirate Blackbeard had been defeated and beheaded more than thirty years before.
When the two returned, they brought with them an experienced local pilot to see if it was even possible to get the ship over Ocracoke Bar. Judging from the current state of the ship, it was determined that it would need to be lightened even more. While ashore, Bonilla purchased a small packet boat (medium-sized boats designed for domestic mail, passenger, and freight transportation in European countries and in North American rivers and canals) to pull Guadeloupe over the bar. Before anything was attempted the order went out to take the treasure chests from the hold and carry them ashore in the pinnace and several canoes that were also purchased at Ocracoke.
It took them two hard days to move more than fifty chests of silver onto Ocracoke Island. Before they could complete the task, a near mutiny almost broke out again. Led by Rodriguez, a large party of sailors seized all of the arms that they could find. The cause of their near mutiny was that with the possibility of losing their ship, they would never be paid. A deal was made that they would be paid once everything was carried ashore. As the men returned to work, some sailors began smashing open passengers' trunks, robbing them of jewelry and private property. Bonilla finally gained control and the unloading continued. After three days the ship was anchored behind Ocracoke.
By 12:30 PM on August 30, the Los Godos was still struggling to remain afloat. The men had just completed reinforcing the hall when a sudden calm fell over the sea. However, once again the skies looked ominous. The calm they were experiencing was simply the eye of the storm. Within ninety minutes, the hurricane was back at full force. Winds began blowing from the southeast. The storm began to toss the Los Godos around in various directions. First, it was pushed to the north-northwest, then to the north-northeast, and finally back west. The men continued to work the pumps throughout the night and into the following morning, August 31. Finally, at about 8:00 AM the winds began to calm and conditions were improving. By 9:00 AM land was sighted and Captain Pumaarejo estimated his position to be 36°4' north. By 12:00 p.m., they saw the sun for the first time in a week. He knew that the beach was to his west and with his ship sinking began to head in that direction. Noticing a creek, which he thought to be a port entrance, he decided to drop anchor. While anchored a pirate canoe approached the ship around 5:00 PM. A man from the canoe was brought aboard and told them that 15 miles to the north was the Virginia River (Chesapeake Bay). He informed them that he would guide them there and seek out a local pilot.
At 2:30 AM the next morning, they headed toward the Chesapeake Bay. As they approached Cape Henry, at around noon, Pumarejo spotted two vessels slowly headed towards them. One was San Pedro, almost maskless, and the other was a ship not recognized. It was later identified as Mariana, a Spanish sloop, blown off course while bound from Campeche for Santo Domingo with a cargo of logwood, hides, and snuff. The three disabled ships were guided into the harbor.
While they were safe in the harbor, six leagues above Cape Charles, La Merced, the crew attempted to keep the ship a safe distance from the coast without any losses. Unfortunately, the Machipongo Shoal had other plans for them. The schooner was driven ashore. The men were able to escape and reach the beach. As they stood on the beach, they witnessed the ship being torn to pieces by the sea and sand.
La Galga, which had pushed on forward as the hurricane took full force began to be pushed around by the sea and winds. She was being driven westward toward the shoreline with her mainmast, foretop, and mizzen masts snapped. More than seven feet of water had filled her hold. To lighten the load aboard Captain Hunoni ordered seven guns pushed overboard, Later another fifteen guns would follow. Yet, the La Galga would take on more and more water.
As this was happening, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore could be heard. The captain and crew knew from the proximity of the shore, their fate was sealed. The La Galga struck a shoal, tearing off her rudder. Within seconds, she was pushed into a shallow trough between the shore and the sand bar. The captain ordered the anchor drop. By that time the ship had received so much damage, its fate was sealed. Some men in panic attempted to lower small boats, but they were crushed to pieces. At that moment, Captain Huoni ordered the prisoners to be released. Many of the crew and prisoners decided their best chance to survive was by swimming to shore. Three men drowned in the attempt, two Spaniards who had tied money to their waists weighing them down and sinking them, a man from New York, Mr. Edgar, who died while trying to swim to shore.
The captain, not wanting to neglect his duties, attempted to save both his crew and the king's property, especially the treasure. Apparently, the captain had the crew making a raft made from the deck cargo of mahogany, to transport the treasure and the crew. It was reported that most of the money and other things of value were saved.