History of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha Treasure Ship

These silver ingots salvaged from the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha were photographed by Daderot on December 9, 2010.
These silver ingots salvaged from the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha were photographed by Daderot on December 9, 2010. | Source

What was the Nuestra Señora de Atocha?

The Nuestra Señora de Atocha was a Spanish galleon, a type of warship used in the 16th to the 18th centuries by a number of European countries. It was built in Havana, Cuba in 1620. During the ship's second voyage to Spain, the Atocha and four other ships sank in the waters west of Key West, Florida. This article will discuss what happened and why it happened. The salvage operations will be discussed in a future article.


Cadiz, Spain to the New World

Spain established colonies in Mexico, Central America, and the northern part of South America beginning in the mid-16th century. From 1561 to 1748, a trading system was in place between these colonies and Spain. Two fleets per year were sent from Spain to the New World. Spain wanted the coffee and tobacco which the colonists grew, and the gold and silver they mined. The colonists needed the supplies which Spain could provide.

Two fleets—a total of 28 ships—left Cadiz, Spain on March 23, 1622. Each fleet had two large war ships—galleons—assigned to it. The reason for having two war ships as part of each fleet was to protect the passengers, crew, and cargo from pirates.

One fleet was known as the Nueva España. The other was known as the Tierra. The ships traveled convoy-style—one behind the other. A galleon was placed as the first ship and the last ship in each of the two fleets. The lead galleon in each fleet was known as the Capitana. The rear galleon was known as the Almirante, the rear guard.

The warship (galleon) Nuestra Señora de Atocha was the Almirante (rear guard) of the Tierra Firme fleet. It was the 28th ship in the convoy. Since it was a war ship, a full company of 82 infantrymen was onboard the Atocha.


Nueva España and Tierra Firme Fleets Arrive in the New World

When the Nueva España and Tierra Firme fleets arrived in the New World, they stopped at the Caribbean island of Dominica. The Nueva España fleet sailed from Dominica to Veracruz, Mexico. The Tierra Firme fleet sailed to Cartagena, Colombia, stopping there briefly before continuing on to Portobello, Panama. The ship arrived in Portobello on May 24, 1622.

The Nueva España and Tierra Firme were to unload the supplies needed by the colonists, and record and load their cargo for the return trip to Spain. The fleets were to meet in Havana, Cuba and travel to Spain as one combined fleet, sailing single-file in convoy formation.

Dominica, Cartagena, Portobello, Veracruz, and Havana

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A markerDominica -
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B markerCartagena, Colombia -
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C markerPortobello, Panama -
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D markerVeracruz, Mexico -
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E markerHavana, Cuba -
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This gun salvaged from the Nuestra Señora de Atocha was photographed by Paul Hermans on March 22, 2011.
This gun salvaged from the Nuestra Señora de Atocha was photographed by Paul Hermans on March 22, 2011. | Source

Hurricane Season

The Tierra Firme fleet arrived in Portobello, Panama on May 24, 1622.

It was a well-known fact that hurricane season began in late July. The Nueva España and Tierra Firme fleets were supposed to meet in Havana, Cuba and begin their return voyage to Spain before the start of the hurricane season.

Atocha's Cargo on the Return Trip to Spain

Nuestra Señora de Atocha’s cargo for the return trip to Spain is considered by many historians to be the wealthiest cargo ever assembled. The Atocha carried silver from Mexico and Peru, pearls from Venezuela, and emeralds and gold from Colombia. The following list shows some of the registered cargo.

  • 20 bronze cannons
  • 24 tons of silver bullion in 1038 ingots
  • 18,000 pesos of silver coins
  • 1,200 pounds of silverware
  • 125 gold bars and discs
  • 582 copper ingots
  • 350 chests of indigo
  • 525 bales of tobacco

In addition to the items registered as cargo, the following items were on the Atocha.

  • Items being smuggled to avoid taxation by Spain
  • Passengers’ jewelry
  • Passengers’ personal items

Return Trip to Spain

It took nearly two months for the Nuestra Señora de Atocha’s cargo to be recorded and loaded onto the ship. Part of this delay was due to some of the treasures from South America having to be transported by mule train from Panama City, a port on the west coast of Panama, to Portobello, located on the east coast.

It wasn’t until July 22, 1622—the start of the hurricane season—that the Atocha and the other ships in the Tierra Firme fleet left Portobello, Panama, bound for Cartagena, Colombia. In Cartagena, additional cargo was recorded and then loaded onto the ship.

It was late August 1622—well into the hurricane season—when the Tierra Firme fleet arrived in Havana, Cuba.

Havana, Dry Tortugas, and Key West

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A markerHavana, Cuba -
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B markerDry Tortugas -
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C markerKey West, Florida -
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Hurricane

Sunday, September 4, 1622—nearly six weeks into the hurricane season—was a clear day, with no storm in sight. The decision was made for the 28 ships in the combined fleet to set sail from Havana, Cuba, heading due north toward the Florida Keys and the current of the Gulf Stream. The galleon (war ship) Nuestra Señora de Atocha—the Almirante (rear guard)—was the last ship in the single-file convoy.

The wind picked up on the evening of September 4th and grew stronger by the hour. On September 5, 1622, most of the ships in the combined fleet were pushed past the Dry Tortugas—a group of small islands located west of Key West, Florida—into the relatively calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The last five ships in the convoy—Nuestra Señora de Atocha, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, Santa Margarita, and two smaller ships—received the full impact of the hurricane. The ships’ sails were torn and their masts were broken. Helpless, the five ships drifted toward the reefs surrounding the Dry Tortugas.

The Atocha, lifted very high by a huge wave, was thrown against a coral reef. Badly damaged, Nuestra Señora de Atocha, due to the heavy weight of her cargo, sank instantly.

On September 6, 1622, a merchant ship traveling through the debris, found three sailors and two slaves clinging to a piece of one of the Atocha’s masts. They were the only survivors among the 265 people onboard Nuestra Señora de Atocha.

Before reading this article were you familiar with the story of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha?

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Comments 40 comments

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 4 years ago from sunny Florida

This story has always fascinated me. The father of one of my friends was almost obsessed with it. He had book after book on the topic and would gladly regale us with stories about the Atocha. He traveled to Florida from New York many times and was really swept into high gear when he was here. To my knowledge he never went on an expedition but he certainly had fun dreaming about it. Thanks for sharing this.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Patricia (pstraubie48),

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading my article and being the first person to comment.

The Atocha story , especially the Mel Fisher aspect of it, has fascinated me for quite some time. I'll be publishing an article which discusses salvage attempts from the 1620s on up through the present day.


Vellur profile image

Vellur 4 years ago from Dubai

Your writes on history are very interesting. This ship (name very difficult to pronounce) has quite a story that you have written so well. What a loot on the return trip to Spain. Voted up and shared.


Rfordin profile image

Rfordin 4 years ago from Florida

I know there are a bunch of ships that 'went down right off the coast where we live. We are deemed the "Treasure Coast" because of this reason (I live in Port Saint Lucie, FL - ships). I know that many "treasures" have been found out in our waters here. It's still interesting to read and ponder :). Follow up articles of the rest of the ships would be a cool read too......

Thanks for sharing!

~Becky


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Nithya (Vellur),

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. Thanks, too, for sharing my Hub.

The name of the ship, Nuestra Señora de Atocha, is in Spanish. It means "our lady of Atocha."


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Becky,

Thanks for reading my Hub and commenting. Thanks, too, for your suggestion about future artices. I'm currently writing an article about the savage operations related to Nuestra Señora de Atocha and Mel Fisher's museum in Key West.


kidscrafts profile image

kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

Thanks for your interesting article about the Nuestra Señora de Atocha! I love also your map so well documented, it's more visual to understand!

I had the chance to visit a shipwreck museum on the island West-Terschelling (The Netherlands) this past summer and it was so interesting. There are a lot of sandbanks around the different islands and they are moving constantly with the currant and that's why they got so many shipwrecks. One of the most recent one was a ship that transported shoes.... so in the museum you could see people with arms full of shoes. The difficulty I suppose was to find the right size ;-)

http://www.divingheritage.com/wrakkern.htm

Voted up, interesting and awesome!


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Great story! I love to read everything about treasure ships. I once was a scuba diver and it is one of the best things about diving - hoping to come across a long lost treasure ship.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

kidscrafts,

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. I appreciate your telling us about the museum in Netherlands. You ought to write an article about it.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Lela (Austinstar),

Thanks for reading my article and commenting. I'm currently organizing my notes and doing more research regarding Nuestra Señora de Atocha's salvage operations. The story of the search for the wreck and what has been salvaged will be discussed in my next article.


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

I look forward to it. I've heard of some of the fabulous items retrieved from the wreck.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Lela,

Thanks for visiting again. I was amazed at what I saw in Mel Fisher's museum in Key West.


rasta1 profile image

rasta1 4 years ago from Jamaica

Being from the Caribbean, I like these stories.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Art (rasta1),

It's nice to "see" you again. I'm glad you enjoyed reading my article.

Attempts have been made from 1622 to the present day to salvage the Atocha treasures. That story is next.


kidscrafts profile image

kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

Thanks for the suggestion but shiprecks are definitely not my speciality. I like to visit museum and discover new places but I prefer write about art for kids... helping them discover new techniques and creating new projects. Maybe I could write a little bit about that museum when I do an art project about boats, pirates and treasures.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

kidscrafts,

Thanks for visiting again. Including something about the museum when you discuss some pirate-craft projects sounds like a great idea!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Daisy, what an interesting hub. Shipwrecks have always fascinated me, indeed there have been a few off the coast where I live but they were almost always only carrying coal. The cargo in this ship looks a lot more interesting, the cannon looks so sturdy and well made. I imagine there are a number of ships which have come to be wrecked in this area what with the hurricanes etc.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Julie (Jools99),

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. I don't know the exact number, but I do know there have been many shipwrecks in the vicinity of the Florida Keys.

The cargo on Nuestra Señora de Atocha is thought to be the most expensive cargo that was ever .on any ship


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

Interesting and informative article, Daisy. The crew that found the treasure of Atocha have opened a museum in Key West to display what they found. They were all poor, struggling divers that became worth millions when they found the treasure. Each one of the divers became wealthy overnight as a result of their dives. This is an interesting back history of the ship.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Suzannah (suzettenaples),

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. I've been to the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West. I'll be be discussing the museum in the article I'm currently researching and writing about the salvage operations.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

I believe they once sold treasure from the ship to the public -- don't remember how many years ago this was. I'm wondering what those pieces are worth now or if they're still even for sale. Voting this Up and Interesting.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Aurelio (alocsin),

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. My article about the ongoing salvage operations will be published soon. You'll learn more about the jewelry which was...and still is...being sold when you read that Hub.


rcrumple profile image

rcrumple 4 years ago from Kentucky

Daisy, Really a strong historical article. I remember when the ship was discovered and about the salvage taking place, but it seemed to drop from the press after that. Wasn't aware of what had happened since. Will be interested to read the next hub you're working on in this series. Great Job!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Rich (rcrumple),

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. Even though Mel Fisher died in 1996, his organization is still salvaging items from Nuestra Señora de Atocha. As late as last year, some silverware was discovered, as well as a ring worth $500,000.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Very interesting, Daisy. I find it fascinating that these ships carried so much treasure. The silver bars in the photo do not look so beautiful, but I imagine they are worth a pretty penny.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Dianna (teaches12345),

Thanks for reading my article and commenting in it. I saw some of the silver bars from Nuestra Señora de Atocha in the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West. They were in the water betwwen Key West and the Dry Tortugas for more than 350 years. The museum wanted to show what the bars looked like when they were recovered. What amazes me is how much wealth there was in the New World in the 1620s.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Fascinating look at how the ships sunk, and of course their life span to the new world. I often watch the American program about the Treasure hunters, can't remember what its actually called now, they do the salvage and its so interesting to see them find the ships, and hopefully pull up the treasure, whether its gold, or even a piece of wood, the history is amazing, voted up! nell


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Nell,

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. What I find especially amazing about Nuestra Señora de Atocha is that items from the cargo are still being salvaged. Just last year. a ring valued at US$500,000 was found.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 4 years ago from UK

I've always loved sunken treasures and stories of shipwrecks. This is a fascinating study of the Spanish Galleon. Can't wait for the sequel, Daisy.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Mohan (Docmo),

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. I appreciate your continuous support of my writing.

I expect to publish my article tomorrow about the salvage attempts and Mel Fisher's Maritime Museum in Key West, Florida. The next time you're on holiday in Florida, you ought to drive to Key West and see the treasures salvaged from Nuestra Señora de Atocha . It's an incredible feeling, looking at the cargo salvaged from the 1622 shipwreck.


bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

Daisy, this is just as riveting as the NG special I watched over 30 years ago. Great, great read. Don't know how I missed this a few weeks ago, my apologies. This kind of history really interests me. VU, sharing, etc...


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Bill (bdegiulio),

Thanks for reading my article and commenting in it. Thanks, too, for sharing my Hub.

As you know from reading my Hub about the salvage operations involving Nuestra Señora de Atocha, I've been to the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West. I enjoyed working backwards from that point and doing research regarding the history of the ship.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

Interesting, now that I read the second one first, I wish I had read them in reverse, haha. Very cool...I love the whole concept of shipwrecks and treasure beneath the sea (or buried treasure). NC has a rich history of treasures and pirate lore. Rated up/I


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Denise,

Thanks for reading both of my Nuestra Señora de Atocha articles. I'm glad you enjoyed them.

I learned a lot from doing the research for this Hub. I knew about the salvage operations, having visited Mel Fisher's museum, but I didn't know a lot about the ship's history.


DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Great hub, an educational hub, interesting, informative, I voted up and useful you certainly did your research to perfection and I enjoy reading your hubs.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Devika (DDE),

Thanks for reading my article and posting your comment. I appreciate your very kind words.

I wrote an article about Mel Fisher's museum in Key West, Florida after I published this Hub. My having visited the museum is what caused me to be curious about the history of the Atocha.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 3 years ago from California

Such a well put together hub! This makes me want to go treasure hunting!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Audrey,

Thanks for reading my article and posting your comment. I appreciate your very kind words. If you get a chance, you might like to read my article about the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum and the salvage operations related to the Nuestra Señora de Atocha.


Vellur profile image

Vellur 2 years ago from Dubai

Interesting facts about the Nuestra Señora de Atocha. Came back to read again.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 2 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Nithya (Vellur),

Thanks for returning a second time to read my article about the sinking of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha. I appreciate your support of my writing.

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