Shipwrecks and Treasure: the San Miguel De Arcangel

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The remains of a shipwreck discovered at Jupiter Inlet, Florida in 1987 may well be that of the Spanish aviso, San Miguel de Arcangel ( archangel) the wreck site has yielded more than 10,000 artifacts and is of tremendous archaeological interest.

In the seventeen hundreds Spain most often used the flota system (Spanish fleet) to transport treasure from its colonial ports to Spain. However the large Spanish, heavily armed, galleons and merchant vessels had one disadvantage. They were slow and cumbersome. For this reason the Spanish crown used smaller, well armed vessels called patache or aviso’s. These vessels were often 60 tons or less and could outrun the larger vessels of the Royal Navy or privateers. The aviso traveled without escort and was primarily used to transport correspondence to and from the Spanish throne; although they also carried goods and treasure. The vessels also transported passengers and were often sent ahead of the convoys to scout for enemy ships.

In the summer of 1987 two surfers reported seeing a dark shadow in the water off Jupiter Inlet jetty, to lifeguard Peter Leo. Leo and his friends began to investigate the unknown shipwreck and recovered silver and gold coins as well as a silver bar. The silver bar was of particular interest to archeologist’s because it was inscribed with its date of mint as1652. Subsequent research suggest that the silver bar originated from the port of Cartagena, Colombia via the silver mines of Potosi, Bolivia.

The anchor and cannon from the San Miguel de Arcangel at Jupiter, Florida.

Although it has not been verified the time frame and other circumstantial evidence such as a letter for the Governor of Havana to the Spanish crown, points to the shipwreck as being the San Miguel de Arcangel. Between 1987 and 1995 the wreck site was substantially excavated and over 10,000 artifacts were recovered. They included flatware, navigational tools, cannons, cannon balls and the ships anchor. The gold coins found were eight-reale and two escudos coins from the Cartagena and Bogota mint respectively.

The San Miguel de Arcangel was the primer aviso for the Viceroy of Peru, Count de Alba and the vessels captain was Juan de Ortalaca. The Viceroy of Peru had written a letter to the King of Spain which he had given to the notary of the city of Portobello ,Juan Ramirez de Miranda. A second letter from the Viceroy sent six months after the San Miguel de Arcangel had not arrived in Spain confirmed this. After stopping at the ports of Cartagena and Portobello the ship arrived in at the port of Havana on December of 1659. From there the aviso sailed for the Florida Straits loaded with treasure and 120 passengers. Two days later, either a hurricane or tropical storm struck Florida’s east coast. The aviso became grounded on a sandbar and began to break up. As the ships passengers attempted to reach the shore many drowned in the process.

The 34 survivors were eventually rescued by a patache from San Augustine. It was also rumored that they were assisted by Native American Indians of the Jeaga tribe. 

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Posted on Jan 30, 2012
Charlene Collins
Posted on Jul 27, 2010