July 31

This Day in History

Disaster

Jul 31, 1715:

Hurricane sinks Spanish treasure ships

A hurricane strikes the east coast of Florida, sinking 10 Spanish treasure ships and killing nearly 1,000 people, on this day in 1715. All of the gold and silver onboard at the time would not be recovered until 250 years later.

From 1701, Spain sent fleets of ships to the Western Hemisphere to bring back natural resources, including gold and silver. These groups of ships were heavily fortified against pirates, but there was little that could be done to protect them from bad weather.

On July 24, 10 Spanish ships and one French ship left Havana, Cuba, on their way to Europe, carrying tons of gold and silver coins, about 14 million pesos worth. The Spanish ships stayed very close to the Florida coast, as was the custom, while the French ship, the Grifon, ventured further out from the shore. A week later, as the ships were between Cape Canaveral and Fort Pierce, in modern-day Florida, the winds picked up dramatically.

The hurricane advanced quickly and, one by one, the ships were wrecked. The Nuestra Senora de la Regla sank, sending 200 people and 120 tons of coins to a watery grave. The Santa Cristo de San Ramon went down with 120 sailors aboard. In all, somewhere between 700 and 1,000 people lost their lives in the wrecks. Meanwhile, the Grifon was able to ride out the storm; most of its crew survived.

In the following months, Spanish officials in Havana sent ships to salvage the treasure. About 80 percent had been recovered by April 1716, but the rest remained lost until the 1960s.

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