The 1554 Plate Fleet - The Spanish Shipwrecks of Padre Island, Texas: A FACT SHEET


Isabella - Queen of Castile and Leon

Ferdinand - Kind or Aragon

House of Aragon - 1479 date of Isabella and Ferdinand's marriage - Union of Castile and Aragon

1479-1504 - Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella - Isabella died 1504

1504-1506 - Reign of Joanna and Phillip I

Ferdinand wanted to retain Castile throne, but Castilian nobility revolted and Phillip I, ascended throne with wife Joanna (Johanna "la loca", daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella)

Phillip, son of Maximilian I, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, died 1506.

1506-1516 - Ferdinand, King of all Spain. Ferdinand died 1516

House of Hapsburg

1516-1556- Carolus I (Charles I of Spain, Charles V as the Holy Roman Emperor)

Charles V abdicated in 1556 . He gave the Holy Roman Emperor position to his brother, Ferdinand, and the kingdom of Spain to his son, Phillip II.

1556-1598 - Phillip II of Spain - married Mary, Queen of England - Bloody Mary

1598-1662 - Phillip III

1665-1700 - Charles II, last of the Hapsburg Kings, and began the Spanish War of Succession.-- Replace by the Bourbon Kings

Charles V (Charles I or Carolus I) was b. 1500 and d. 1558 to Queen Johanna and her husband Phillip I. He always considered the Netherlands to be his homeland. He was raised by an aunt in the Netherlands and did not see Spain until he was 17 when his grandfather, Ferdinand,  died in 1516 and his became king, ruling jointly with his mother, Johanna. He was raised by an aunt in the Netherlands and did not speak Spanish. Of his 40 year reign, he only spent 16 years in Spain.

Charles was never fluent in Spanish, he had bug eyes and the pronounced jutting jar of the Hapsburgs. He married Isabel of Portugal

At 17, at death of his Grandfather, Ferdinand, he inherited the crown of Spain and the Netherlands (Kings of Spain, Sicily, Naples, the Duchy of Milan, and the New World Colonies)

At 19. At the death of his Grandfather, Maximilian I, he inherited Austria.

At 20 - he was elected the Holy Roman Emperor and all of its territory, including much of what is today Germany. Contenders for the position of Holy Roman Emperor were Henry VIII of England and Francois I of France.  This started a conflict between the various monarchs and a battle of will over who was and was not subject to the will of the Holy Roman Emperor.  Started a change in the iconography on coins.

Background history of the 1554 Fleet:

February 1552 - Preparation began for sending a fleet to the New World.

November 4, 1552
Fifty-four ships left Spain under the command of Captain-General Bartolemé Carrano. These included the three that were to eventually wreck on Padre Island. Of the 54, 16 were bound for Vera Cruz, but only six of the 16 were scheduled to make the round trip back to Spain.

The ships carried a cargo of slaves, manufactured goods, hardware (nails, knives), textiles, wine, and even a harpsichord. .

February 1553/March 1553
14 of the 16 ships bound for Vera Crus arrived. Due to a hurricane which wrecked the Port in September 1552, only two of the six scheduled to return in 1553 were able to get unloaded and reloaded to return to Spain with three other ships. That same Spring, 1553. The other four had to wait until 1554 for the next scheduled fleet. - Ships could only travel in designated fleets.

April 9, 1554
Four ships organized as a fleet, left Vera Cruz bound for Spain, via Havana, Cuba loaded with returning conquistadors, Dona Catalina de Ribera, wife of Juan Ponce de Leon (murdered in 1552), and a combined cargo of about 96,000 pounds of precious metals or about 2 million pesos (9.2 millions dollars at today's rate of exchange.

The ships:
San Andrés - Master Francisco de Huertos
San Esteban - Master Franciso del Huerto
Espírutu Santo - Master Damián Martín
Santa Maria de Yciar - Master Alonso Ojos and Captain and pilot, Miguel de Jáuregi, the ship's owner.

Santa Maria de Yciar - ship of 220 tons that had 20 officers and 7 ship's boys.
It was armed with 10 pieces of heavy artillery, 22 versos, and had 5000 #of hardtack, 2 barrels of meat, 50 barrels of water, olive oil, beans and vinegar.
22,000 pounds of cochineal, 1226 cow hides, 13 barrels of sugar, and about 27,500 pounds of silver/gold

April 29, 1554
All except the San Andres were wrecked in a storm on Padre Island. Hurricane season is between June and October. Since the ships were wrecked in April, it is probably the result of a Spring or Vernal Equinox storm (March 21) - a Norther. The San Andres limped into Havana Harbor in near sinking condition. The San Andres was off loaded onto Farfan's ship and that ship ended up sinking off the coast of Portugal. In the salvage of that ship, only about 150,000 pesos of the 375,000 pesos on Farfan's register arrived in Spain. The notorious pirate Pie de Palo (Peg-leg) tried to horn in on the salvage of the ship in Portugal.

The three ships wrecked on Padre Island carried 304 people. Probably at least half made it ashore and most of these were then killed by Indians while attempting to walk back to Tampico along the coast. The women and children were killed between the Las Palmas and Panuco Rivers. Ca. 30 survived, including a monk, who ended up in a monastery in Peru. The monk writes an account of the wreck and the trek back to civilization, some 32 years after the incident.

July 21, through September 12, 1554
Spanish Salvage expedition at site salvaging the lost cargo.
Archive records place the wrecks at 26 degrees 30 minutes, actually is 26 degree, 45 minutes.
The three ships carried a combined total of 87,000 pounds of precious metal (if all silver, approx. 6.6 million dollars with silver at 4.75 an ounce.)
Approx. 35,801 pounds were salvaged,
Leaving 51,330 unaccounted for.
State of Texas and Platoro salvaged less than 500 pounds of silver, and two gold bars.

Spanish recovered about 40% of the precious metal. Of course most of the remaining cargo was pretty much a total loss.
Example- Santa Maria Yciar, about 41% of the silver/gold was recovered.
Of approx. 15,000 pound s of treasure, only 6,225 pounds was recovered.

Fall 1967
Platoro, Ltd. an Indiana treasure hunting corporation, out of Gary, Indiana, located and worked the site of the Espiritu Santo, located about three miles north of the Mansfield Cut. Unknown salvagers some time prior to 1967 had also been on the San Esteban, and the site of the Santa Maria de Yciar was destroyed when the Mansfield Cut was dredged though Padre Island in the late 1940's . Coins and other artifacts continue to show up in the dredge piles along the Mansfield Cut, near the site of the wreck.

September, 1969
The Texas Antiquities Code went into effect.

Judge Martineaur, of Brownsfield, TX placed the Platoro Collection in the custody of the Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory.

Summer, 1972 & 1973
The Texas Antiquities Committee located and excavated the San Esteban, located some 5 miles north of the Mansfield Cut.

Miscellaneous surveys and excavations have continued over the years at the sites of the Santa Maria de Yciar and the San Esteban.

Major significance of the 1554 Plate Fleet Wrecks:

Data on mid-16th-century Spanish armaments

Data on the coinage of the first mint established in Mexico

Data on smelting of silver/gold in the 16th century.

Data on silver marks found on silver bullion.

Data on navigational instruments