For a sneak peek of TS Rhodes‘ Pirates of the Golden Age: Revealing the True History of Pirates And Their World (CreateSpace, 2016), check out the excerpt below!
Christopher Columbus discovered the New World for Spain in 1492, and he brought back news that the natives had gold. Only 14 years later, 45 ships had sailed to the Caribbean. By 1550, Spain had colonized lands ten times the size of Spain itself.
Many of the expeditions were funded and led by Spanish nobles. Basically, they got permission from the Spanish king to start colonies, then went in with soldiers, horses and guns, and carved out their own small empires.
They wanted the gold and silver found in the New World. Hernando Cortez, whose military success made him Governor of Mexico, was the richest man in Spain by 1547.
Their military conquests continued wherever there was even the rumor of treasure. The amount of money coming out of the New World stretches the imagination. Gold was said to fall like rain.
In addition to gold mines, the Spanish captured a mountain named Potosi, which seemed to be made entirely of silver. Silver coming from the mountain was so plentiful that the total amount of silver in Europe doubled.
Spain did not use its newfound wealth to build businesses or improve the country’s roads or bridges. Most of the treasure belonged to Spanish nobles, who used it to buy luxury goods from other countries, including England. While the nobles lived in growing luxury, the common people of Spain remained poor.
Pirates chased the Spanish treasure ships, so the ships only traveled in large groups. Some of these treasure convoys took years to assemble, and contained as many as 100 ships.
The English and Dutch did everything possible to stop the flow of treasure to Spain. They did not capture any Spanish treasure ships, but in 1702 they sank the whole treasure convoy. The next convoy, in 1708, was destroyed by the English alone, and the one in 1711 was sunk by a storm.
The Spanish government had come to depend entirely on gold and silver from their colonies for funding. With the loss of three treasure convoys, the Spanish king was desperate. He demanded that the next convoy leave as soon as possible.
At sunrise on July 24, 1715, a convoy of twelve Spanish treasure ships set sail from Havana Harbor.
The convoy was late setting out. Delays in shipments of silver and pearls had cost time, and some of the governors had not wanted to contribute their due to the king.
As a result the convoy took off during the hurricane season. In the evening of July 30, 1715, eleven of the twelve ships of this fleet were lost in a hurricane near present-day Vero Beach, Florida.
The Spanish sent army and navy forces to recover as much gold as possible. But news that piles of gold were lying on a Florida beach, salvage for anyone who could get to it, drew fortune hunters from all over the world.
The shipwrecks and their spilled cargo also came at a time when many sailors were out of work. They rushed to the site, hoping to get rich. When the Spanish army fought to defend the treasure, the sailors fought back. The salvage efforts, and the battles, lasted for months. During the fighting, honest men who had wanted easy gold were transformed into pirates.
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