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Sunken Treasure

( Orginally published 1962 )



The amount of treasure that has been lost under the sea has been estimated at many millions of dollars. If you have dreams of sunken galleons and ships loaded with gold, then watch for old maps, old charts. And watch for money which washes up on beaches, for this is one way of telling that somewhere nearby lies a ship beneath the sea-and when storms rage and the water churns, the cargoes are moved and doubloons flee from their watery grave to be washed up on the beach.

One ship was found by using this reasoning. In the late 1700's a treasure ship sank off the coast of South Africa. Recently skin divers went down after it and found it. They found cannon and coins, evidence of a far greater treasure still to be brought up.

The ship was the Grosvenor. It carried a cargo of gold and wealth untold, including a throne that was encrusted with gems. The Grosvenor went down only one hundred yards from the shore; yet, it took men a hundred and seventy-five years to find it.

But they were certain of success, and one reason for their optimism was the fact that over the years the tides had brought in doubloons and laid them on the beach.

There is another beach where a person may find sand and pebbles-and doubloons. The sea washed up gold at Naples, Florida. Probably from an old wreck, it gives credence to the story of a Spanish galleon that went down o$ the coast in the latter part of the seventeenth century. The Grosvenor has been found, but as yet not the ship o$ Naples. Let us hope that it does not take another one hundred and seventy-five years to find this one.

Yet the years do go by, and men have known of ships down there waiting, and the ships are still there. In 1798, a mile o$ Lewes, Delaware, the De Braak was sunk by a storm. Carrying eighty thousand pounds and a cargo worth over $10,000,000 she still lies at the bottom of the sea. As late as the 1930's money was found washed up on a beach near where the De Braak went down!

Whether money has been washed up from the wrecks or not, they are there waiting for you to find them if you can expend the time, the effort, and, sometimes, the courage.

The Kitty Reeves with a cargo of copper went down in Lake Huron. The Westmoreland, with at least a portion of its cargo laid out in gold, went down in the Great Lakes. And underneath the waters of Lake Erie is a ship called the Atlantic. Its cargo was gold!

Treasure ships went down everywhere, it seems. Tales of treasure in our southern waters are particularly common, especially around the coastal waters of Florida, where ships went down carrying with them untold millions of dollars in cargo.

Tales of ships down o$ the New England coast, however, are rare and far between, and so are the official records of these sinkings. Most of the ships bearing good cargo went down years ago, but, alas for the treasure hunter, the records are scarce. Lyle J. Holverstott, Archivist in charge, Fiscal Branch, General Records Division, the National Archives, says, "Information in records in the National Archives on shipwrecks in the New England area generally does not exist before the establishment of the Life-Saving Service in 1874."

He goes on to say, however, that there is an "Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board and of the Life-Saving Service available to the public in most of the large libraries in America . . . and in these annual reports are frequent statistical or narrative reports on wrecks after about 1885." This is at least one source of information available on New England shipwrecks.

The main source, however, could be the lucky finding of an old letter, a newspaper, or even an old logbook-if you are lucky. Look for these old letters, old newspapers, and log books, in second-hand stores, stuck away in old desks in the second-hand stores, and even in your attic. And then use the information therein as a steppingstone to wealth.

There are other paths to sunken treasure wealth, and, like most of them, they are to the south of us. One of these is the treasure of Silver Shoals. Off the coast of Florida, at the southern extremity of the Bahama Islands, there lie, under the water, sixteen Spanish galleons, some of them still facing toward the open seas they tried to make. Their cargo holds were filled with wealth undreamed of in jewels and gold, as they faced the double burden of terrible reefs and a violent hurricane.

Legend says that only one ship survived the storm; all the rest were rotting in their ocean grave. Such were the stories that William Phips, in another century, listened to as a young man. Listened to and believed in so strongly that he was able to convince first Charles the Second and then the Duke of Albemarle that treasure lay within their grasp.

Financed first by the king in an unsuccessful try and then by the duke on a second try, Phips located one of the treasure ships, taking back untold wealth to England. He became one of the richest men in England; he was knighted, and was made the first governor of the Massachusetts Colony.

Phips meant to go back to his treasure ship, but somehow he never did. He left over half the treasure in the ship because he feared a leakage of information-and leakage to other treasure seekers meant death to himself and to his men. So he fled to England-and a knighthood.

The rest of the treasure, however, is still there. Sixteen gold-filled Spanish galleons. They call it the Treasure of Silver Shoals, and it is marked by two reefs jutting out like the twin points of a crescent moon and another rock within the horns of the crescent. Sometimes, however, treasure hunting is even more frustrating than this. Many years ago divers went down looking for a sunken ship in New York's East River, thirty miles north of Sandy Hook. They found an anchor, but the anchor did not belong to the ship they were looking for.

They discovered that the anchor belonged to a ship called the Hussar, a British ship which went down in the late 1700's, carrying with it four million dollars intended as pay for the redcoats.

Yet, even after they found the anchor, they did not find the Hussar. She still lies in the East River, thirty miles north of Sandy Hook -waiting for some lucky treasure hunter to bring her up.

Sometimes we know the exact spot of a sunken treasure but it eludes us in the deeps. In 1946, treasure seekers tried for a ship which had gone down off Key West, Florida. They were after the Spanish galleon which went down carrying Montezuma's ransom to Cortez, a treasure known to everyone. Consisting of over $20,000000, the treasure of Montezuma to date still lies there at the bottom of the sea.

Also still at the bottom of the sea are Carlotta's rubies. The story of Maximilian and Carlotta is one of the most famous and sorrowful of any in the annals of treasure history. When Maximilian accepted the throne of Mexico in 1864, he brought his young and lovely wife Carlotta to sit beside him on the throne as Empress.

He brought her to his palace at Chapultepec, which is a hill just outside Mexico City. It means "Hill of Grasshopper" and was originally a place of worship for the ancient Aztecs. Things were not easy, however, for Maximilian, and he soon was in deep trouble.

Carlotta fled from Chapultepec, in the midst of her husband's difficulties, because she thought she would be able to get help for him in Europe, but help was refused her. She tried to get assistance from both Napoleon III and from the Pope in Rome. Both of them turned her down. When she was told that she would not be given any help for her husband, it affected her mind.

In 1868, with Carlotta still in Europe, Maximilian was at Querataro trying to defend it, but he was betrayed. He was taken prisoner, court-martialed, and executed.

When Carlotta heard the news she became completely insane, and she died eventually in seclusion in the Chateau de Bouchoute in Belgium.

The lovely young Empress, before all the trouble, had owned much beautiful jewelry, and one of the things she had brought with her to Mexico were her rubies, an especially beautiful set.

When she fled from Chapultepec, she was forced to leave the rubies behind, and, after Maximilian was tried and executed, they passed from hand to hand until finally, in 1908, the rubies were on board an east-bound ship. A storm arose, and the ship went down carrying with her Carlotta's rubies.

Today, that ship is still down, somewhere in Chesapeake Bay, waiting for the treasure hunter to come look for her and the rubies of the Empress who went mad.

There are all kinds of things under the sea, including a whole city full of treasure! In this underwater ghost town a man, with the proper equipment, could walk the lanes of yesterday and see for himself the ruins of another time when pirates walked the streets and men dealt in its shops in illicit wealth.

The City of Port Royal died on the seventh of June 1692, first groaning a little under a layer of hot air, then shivering, and finally quaking and falling into the open mouth of the sea. Today, the superstitious say that on a quiet evening if you listen closely enough you can hear the bells of Christ Church ringing down there in the sea. But the more practical man, the treasure hunter, may in a facetious vein answer the superstitious by saying that what he hears is the clinking sound of gold from a city where wealth was so fabulous that even the common man was wealthy and common taverns served their drinks in vessels of gold.

Whatever the origin of the ghostly sound, the city of Port Royal sleeps in its ocean grave, waiting for the adventurous treasure hunter to once again walk its lanes-and gather the gems and silver of another century.

But more common are the stories of ships at sea-and when speaking of the sea and its sea dogs one name cannot be overlooked: Drake! On August 20, 1558, three ships reached the Straits of Magellan, at the tip of South America. They were the "Elizabeth," the "Marigold," and the "Pelican," commanded by Sir Francis Drake.

According to Elizabethan Sea Dogs, by William Wood,' ". . . There was great store of wild-fire, chain-shot, harquebusses, pistols, corselets, bows and other like weapons in great abundance. Neither had he omitted to make provision for ornament and delight, carrying with him expert musicians, rich furniture (all the vessels for his table, yea, many belonging even to the cook-room, being of pure silver), and divers shows of all sorts of curious workmanship whereby the civility and magnificence of his native country might amongst all nations whithersoever he should come, be the more admired."

1 From The Chronicles of America. Copyright Yale University Press.

Drake was so happy that all three ships had reached the Straits of Magellan safely that he changed the name of his flagship, the "Pelican," to the "Golden Hind" in honor of "the crest of his friend and patron, Sir Christopher Hatten."

The Straits of Magellan were considered to be very difficult for sailors, as navigation information concerning them was unknown. Yet, despite this difficulty of the Straits, within sixteen days Drake was almost through. Then they were actually through the Straits, only to hit a storm head on.

The storm lasted for fifty-two days, and the Marigold could not stand up against its fury, which went on and on-from September 7 to October 28, 1558. A bad omen was a two-hour eclipse of the moon, which occurred on September 15, at the very height of the storm. The Marigold went down with all hands.

The sailors said that the Marigold went down as God's punishment against a sailor named Ned Bright who was on board the ill-fated ship. Ned Bright had been the seaman who accused Daughty, another sailor, of mutiny against Drake. Daughty had been tried and executed at Drake's orders and on the evidence of Bright's testimony. The sailors believed that Ned Bright had falsely accused Daughty-therefore the judgment of God was upon him-and the Marigold went down because of it. As one sailor put it, "Marked judgment against a false witness."'

When the Marigold went down, she was so close to the flagship, the Golden Hind, that the men on board the latter could hear the sailors of the Marigold crying for help as they were drowning, without being able to help them.

Twenty-nine men went down with the Marigold-including Ned Bright. Yet, even after the sinking, the Golden Hind waited for the ship, in case a miracle should happen, at 30 upon the coast of Chile -a rendezvous that had been previously decided upon in case the ships were separated.

But the Marigold never came. The third ship was so damaged that they could not salvage it. They cut it up and used the pieces for firewood. This left Drake with only one ship-the "Golden Hind." But today the Marigold is still there, in the deeps, carrying a cargo of ". . . wild-fire, chain-shot, harquebusses, pistols, corselets, bows and other like weapons in great abundance. Neither had he omitted to make provision for ornament and delight, carrying with him . . . rich furniture (all the vessels for his table, yea, many belonging even to the cook-room, being of pure silver), and divers shows of all sorts of curious workmanship whereby the civility and magnificence of his native country might amongst all nations whithersoever he should come, be the more admired." We would be happy to have the chance to admire today-if we could only bring them up again.

Some men spend their lives working with sunken treasures, and one of these is Arthur McKee. Mr. McKee is a deep-sea diver, treasure hunter, and museum curator. His Museum of Sunken Treasure is at Treasure Harbor, Plantation Key, Florida, five miles south of Tavernier, Florida, on U.S. Route 1.

A treasure hunter must have some idea of what he is looking for, and one of the best places in the United States to see articles connected with treasure hunting is McKee's museum in Florida.

One thing which tourists insist upon seeing is the view through a glass-bottomed boat, through which they can watch deep-sea divers at work on the wreck site of an ancient Spanish galleon.

McKee's museum features treasure taken from the depths of the ocean, including doubloons, cannons and cannon balls, idols, and even ivory elephant tusks from the wreck of an African slaver.

Among other things, McKee has discovered the wreck of an ancient Spanish galleon which sank off Plantation Key in 1733. A painting of this discovery today hangs in the museum.

One object brought up by McKee from the ocean depths was a seventy-five-pound bar of coral-encrusted bullion-one of three which he recovered from the rotted hull of an ancient Spanish galleon wrecked on a reef east of Key Largo. The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., bought one of these bars, paying $1,000 for it. The other two bars can still be seen in McKee's Museum.

Every man can look at found treasure while he dreams of the loot of pirates hidden on some far-off island. Or he dreams of the lost mine of Bowie or of the "Dutchman" Jacob Walz. Sometimes he possesses a map which he hopes is authentic, or he has information gleaned from some old-timer who is old enough to remember the tales of treasure he heard first-hand when he was in his youth.

When you decide to go after this kind of buried or sunken treasure, there are several places where you can get more information.

The Library of Congress can usually furnish you with some; your local library has books, usually lots of them, on sunken and buried treasure; the Chambers of Commerce of the various towns near the coasts will give you information. And you can do your own research, if you have the time to travel to your favorite treasure spot.

It's most important to know your facts before you actually start digging or diving for your treasure. Know as closely as possible where it is. Know as much historical background about it as you can. But, above all, know what it is that you are looking for. It would be ironic if you did not recognize treasure when you found it!

Suppose you were like the fisherman who, while fishing off the coast of Florida on a warm, sunny day, fell asleep in his boat. He awoke suddenly, not due to the motion, but rather due to the stillness of the boat. Rubbing his eyes, he discovered that his boat had became stuck on a reef.

The reef was spotted with coral-covered bars and he took two of them to use as ballast and shoved off. Never thinking that he would want to find that particular reef again he did not take any special notice of its location. He would have given anything to find it again two years later when he discovered that the two bars he was still using as ballast were actually solid silver-part of a cargo of $5,000,000 in silver bars which had gone down off the coast.

The story goes that the fisherman is still looking for his silverstudded reef, but he has not found it again. Perhaps someone else should try fishing in those waters on a lazy summer day-provided, of course, he knows a lost treasure when he finds one.