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The Spanish Convoy of 1750

Heaven's Hammer and International Diplomacy

James A. Lewis

Publication Year: 2009

Spanish flotas (convoys) traversed the Atlantic throughout the colonial period, shuttling men and goods between the Old and New Worlds. In August 1750, at the height of hurricane season, a small convoy of seven ships left Havana for Cádiz.

A fierce storm scattered the ships from North Carolina's outer banks to Maryland's eastern shore. Spanish merchants, military officers, and sailors struggled to survive, protect their valuable cargo, and, eventually, find a way home. They faced piracy, rapacious English officials, and discord among crew and passengers (including dozens of English prisoners).

Two and a half centuries later, the discovery of the wreckage of the convoy's flagship, La Galga, set off a legal battle between Spain and American treasure companies over salvage rights.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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Title Page, Copyright, Frontispiece, Dedication

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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Water is unquestionably the most important natural feature on earth. By volume the world’s oceans compose 99 percent of the planet’s living space; in fact, the surface of the Pacific Ocean alone is larger than that of the total land bodies. Water is as vital to life as air. Indeed, to test whether the...

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p. xv

In a preface, an author has the opportunity to profess and confess. Now that I am nearing the end of my career as a historian, I will take advantage of this opportunity to do both. At the same time, I beg the reader’s forgiveness for hopelessly mixing both activities. First, the professing. My initial attraction...

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pp. 1-3

No event of nature so captivates our attention on a daily basis as does the weather. Even today, with all our inventions to counteract the extremes of temperature and humidity, we still organize basic activities in reaction...

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1. The Seven Ships

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pp. 4-13

They gathered in Havana that summer, the seven ships that made up the 1750 Spanish flota.1 Not one of their captains had anticipated being part of this particular convoy of ships. Yet not one was particularly surprised at assuming a place in some sort of flota. All seven had arrived in Havana...

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2. Most Holy Mary (María Santísima)

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pp. 14-23

On 18 August, the small Spanish fleet put to sea from Havana.1 At least one ship may have left earlier and waited off the coast for her companions.2 Passengers and mail were still being added as late as 16 August.3 It was a dangerous...

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3. Shipwrecked

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pp. 24-30

At sea, land beckons yet threatens. All seven ships of the flota now reached the most dangerous stage of their brief voyage since leaving Havana—trying to reach safety on land. The Spanish word naufragio usually means “to be shipwrecked,” but it also...

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4. Death of a Greyhound

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pp. 31-38

True to her name, the (greyhound) and her companion prize, the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (also called the Nuestra Señora de las Merced), raced north far ahead of the rest of the flota. Whether the Mercedes strove to keep in visual contact with...

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5. Our Lady Weeps from Stem to Stern

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pp. 39-57

Far to the south of the Galgaon 30 August, the hurricane spit out the Guadalupe close to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Under the command of a very experienced merchant sea captain, Juan Manuel de Bonilla,...

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6. Cádiz

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pp. 58-66

During the weeks and months following the hurricane, the crews and passengers of the ill-fated convoy struggled to return home. Some would make it soon, most would take four to six months, and Juan Manuel de Bonilla (captain of the Guadalupe)...

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7. Hunting Pirates

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pp. 67-82

The vast wealth of the Spanish fleet attracted dozens of men, like buzzards circling stricken prey, seeking to pick clean the goods that foreigners could not protect. At the same time, the British colonial world was a coastal culture, and many residents...

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8. Closing the Books (Cuentas y Quentas)

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pp. 83-92

Significant portions of the surviving documentation concerning the 1750 flota are financial accounts (spelled interchangeably in eighteenth-century Spanish as cuentas or quentas). In Spanish (as in English), the word “account” can carry a narrative as well as a...

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9. La Galga—A Submarine? Fecundity, Gold Fever, Taps, Finders Keepers, and Other “Arresting” Issues

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pp. 93-106

La Galga, a submarine? Obviously not, but the submerged Galga does have an amazing and intriguing life today in the history of modern treasure hunting and in the development of maritime salvage laws. True to its canine (galga is Spanish for “greyhound”) and...


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pp. 107-140


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pp. 141-148


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pp. 149-157

About the Author, Further Reading

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p. 159

E-ISBN-13: 9780813048062
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813033587
Print-ISBN-10: 0813033586

Page Count: 184
Illustrations: 1 b&w illustration, 2 maps
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 760091027
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Spanish Convoy of 1750

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • La Galga (Warship).
  • Shipwrecks -- Atlantic Coast (U.S.) -- History -- 18th century.
  • Naval convoys -- Spain -- History -- 18th century.
  • Treasure troves -- Assateague Island National Seashore (Md. and Va.).
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Spain.
  • Spain -- Foreign relations -- United States.
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