Baby of the Beach, Home Page!

Pieces-of-Eight
©2010-2019 Doug Wilson

Spanish Treasure FleetHavana harbor was a hotbed of activity as the 1750 Spanish treasure fleet readied itself for the long and perilous voyage to Spain. It was August and the hurricane season was already upon them. ... the vessels assembling beneath the mighty guns of Morro Castle numbered just seven. They had been placed under the overall command of Captain-General Don Juan Manuel de Bonilla, a brave and courageous man but one occasionally prone to indecision.

The most important ship was the Admirante, or "admiral" of the fleet, Bonilla's five-hundred-ton, four-year-old, Dutch-built Nuestra Señora de Guadeloupe, alias Nympha. She was owned by Don Jose de Renturo de Respaldizar, commanded by Don Manuel Molviedo, and piloted by Don Felipe Garcia. Guadeloupe was a big ship, and had been alotted a substantial cargo of sugar, Capeche dyewoods, Purge of Jalapa (a laxative restorative plant found in Mexico), cotton, vanilla, cocoa, plant seedlings, copper, a great quantity of hides, valuable cochineal and indigo for dyes, and most importantly, as many as three hundred chests of silver containing 400,000 pieces-of-eight valued at 613,000 pesos. Among her passengers was the president of Santo Domingo, Hispaniola, as well as a company of prisoners. (Shomette 2007:19)

So writes Shomette in his enlightening tale of a routine Spanish treasure shipment casting its fate to the wind. Another account reports just five ships and names only de Guadeloupe. And according to a TreasureNet™ post by rik, there are as many as eight ships in the armada under Bonilla's command:

  1. Nuestra Señora de Guadeloupe alias Augusta Celi or Nympha, with Captain Molviedo, owned by Respaldizar;
  2. the King's 50-gun frigate, Nuestra Señora del Carmen alias La Galga, Don Daniel Mahoney, captain;
  3. the King's small brigatine or Zumaca schooner Nuestra Señora de la Merced, or La Mercede, Don Antonio Barroso, captain;
  4. a Portuguese ship, Nuestra Señora de los Godos alias Arinton, captained by Don Pedro de Pumarejo and Don Francisco de Ortiz;
  5. a small Portuguese frigate with Cartagena registry, San Pedro or Saint Peter, John Kelly, commander;
  6. a Cartagena registered Snow packet boat, El Salvador alias El Henrique, owned by Don Francisco Arizon, Don Juan Cruanio, captain;
  7. a small frigate, Nuestra Señora de la Soledad y San Francisco Xavier, owned by Don Jose de Respaldizar and Don Manuel de Molbudro; and, possibly,
  8. a sloop from Compeche, La Marianna, Don Antonio Ianasio de Anaya, commander.

Pieces-of-Eight:  one ounce Spanish dollars that could be cut into eight bits to make changeThe small armada carries important passengers like the Governor of Havana and family, the quartermaster general of Chile and family, a treasure and luxury item shipment of the King's own company, and a silversmith as representative of another precious cargo's owner. They are similarly laden with more Spanish Reales (known as pieces-of-eight), valuable commodities, diamonds, and precious metals, all extracted from the conquest of Central and South America. But it is de Guadeloupe that is the greatest prize, with more than 12 tons of silver in 400,000 pieces-of-eight, each of which weighs one ounce. The early American silver dollar is based upon this coin and its weight / value in silver. That is why 25¢ is known as two bits. Two pieces (or bits) of eight make a quarter. (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

The King is anxious for a successful voyage and transit of his goods. These valuables are sorely needed to replenish the Spanish treasurer from years of conflict with England and France, known in Europe as the War of Austrian Succession and, in the colonies as, King George's War. Mother Nature has other plans. This time, Bonilla's own flagship and its precious cargo will be jeopardized by the fierce weather. It will force him to trust a former enemy in a desperate encounter with English privateers turned pirates - including some FitzRandolphs and a young Joseph (Thorne) Jackson of Woodbridge, New Jersey, that are the original subjects of my research.

This story draws from several different accounts of the events retold from personal records and government documents. The Spanish perspective is taken from Bonilla's log and Spanish documents as referenced in Donald Shomette's recent compilation of shipwreck tales. The English and Dutch perspectives are contained in colonial government correspondence and news articles. The Jersey pirates' tale is told by shipmate William Waller in his 1750 testimony to the New Jersey Provincial Justices. The New Englander sloop's story was passed down in the family of one of the ship's owners. But there are also two jokers in the pack, Owen Lloyd and William Blackstock. It is Blackstock, alias William Davidson, who tells their story in his 1750 testimony before Dutch West Indies Justices. He'll also tell us how some of the treasure gets buried on the "real" Treasure Island - and what happens to it next. Be sure to follow the links to learn more about these stories.

Click on a section title below to learn more about the next events in this adventure or open all sections and browse.

Dangerous Shoals

Acts of Piracy

Justice

References

Collections of the New Jersey Historical Society, Volume 10, New Jersey Historical Society, 1858.
Documents Relating to the Colonial, Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey v.7, New Jersey Archives s.1, 1883.
Documents Relating to the Colonial, Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey v.10, New Jersey Archives s.1, 1886.
Documents Relating to the Colonial, Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey v.12, New Jersey Archives s.1, 1895.
Documents Relating to the Colonial, Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey v.16, New Jersey Archives s.1, 1891.
Documents Relating to the Colonial, Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey v.19, New Jersey Archives s.1, 1897.
Documents Relating to the Colonial, Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey v.20, New Jersey Archives v.1, 1898.
Documents Relating to the Colonial, Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey v.22, New Jersey Archives s.1, 1900.
Documents Relating to the Colonial, Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey v.30, New Jersey Archives s.1, 1918.
Documents Relating to the Colonial, Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey v.32, New Jersey Archives v.1, 1924.
Encyclopedia Brittanica Online, Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Inc., 2010.
Genealogical and Family History of the State of Maine, v.3, Henry Sweetser Burrage and Albert Roscoe Stubbs, 1909.
History of New York, William Leete Stone, 1872.
History of Seafaring Piracy Found in Archives, David Wadsworth, Cohasset Mariner, 1988.
International Registry of Sunken Ships by
Ocracokers, Alton Ballance, 1989.
Pieces of Eight, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2010.
Pirates 'Brethren of the Seas', Oracle Education Foundation, ThinkQuest : Library, 2001.
Report concerning the Spanish ship Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe landed in North Carolina by Gabriel Johnston and Juan Manuel de Bonilla, 1750, as reprinted in
Documenting the American South Colonial and State Records of North Carolina by the University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2004-2010.
Shipwrecks and Treasure: the Spanish Treasure Fleet of 1750, Peter Bilton, Factóidz, 2010.
Shipwrecks, Sea Raiders, and Maritime Disasters along the Delmarva Coast 1632-2004 , Donald Shomette, 2007.
The Colonial Records Project, Jan-Michael Poff, Editor, 2010.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Ninth Edition, Volume 5, Thomas Spencer Baynes, 1833.
The Outer Banks of North Carolina, 1584-1958, David Stick and Frank Stick, 1958.
The Roll Family Windmill, William Henry Roll, 2010.
The Story of the Norman Island Treasure, Gerald Singer, 2008.
Zebulon Wade, Pirate or Privateer?, Richard H. Benson, American Ancestors, Spring 2010.

 

Close all sections

©1996-2019   Doug Wilson   All rights reserved.