During the 1500s to the late 1600s, Spaniards would collect gold, silver, jewels, and rare spices from the Caribbean islands and the South and Central Americas. Sometimes, they’d stop at a mint in Mexico before grouping together to return home. Or they’d gather in Havana and leave from there under convoy. Not all of their ships made it. They ran aground on coral reefs, floundered during hurricanes, or got attacked by pirates.
In 1622, the Tierra Firme fleet set sail from South America. Twenty-eight ships headed home to Spain. They ran into a fierce storm off the Florida Keys. Both the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita were lost. In 1985, salvage expert Mel Fisher discovered the Atocha’s resting place and its treasure.
Unlike the Atocha that sank in deep water, the Santa Margarita lay amid shifting sand dunes due to undercurrents. This ship broke apart in a wide debris field. Through the years, people have discovered many of its relics, including a lead box filled with sixteen thousand pearls. Samples of the treasures from both ships are on display at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum.
You can read the history of the era, horrifying descriptions of slave ships, tales of pirates, and preservation tips for relics found in shipwrecks. Various tools, implements, and small articles show what life must have been like in those days.
Moving from the ordinary to the extraordinary, you get a glimpse of silver coins and ingots, gold items, jewelry and more. It’s hard to imagine all that wealth.
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