In 1549, a Spanish ship wrecked in the Florida Keys and the survivors were captured by fierce Calusa Indians who sacrificed all but 13-year old Hernando Escalante Fontaneda. He was the only one who seemed to understand the Calusa’s gestures asking them to dance and sing at the risk of getting killed if they did not.
Of the four vessels that set sail in April 1554 for Spain carrying 2 million pesos, goods, and some 300 people, three sank after being hit by a storm off Texas. Many drowned, others died of hunger and thirst, and a group of survivors was mercilessly attacked by the native Karankawa tribes. But some 30 men managed to get on a boat and reached Veracruz to get help.
In 1559, Tristán de Luna y Arellano’s colonization expedition to Florida was struck by a hurricane, destroying seven ships and causing loss of supplies and lives. Despite establishing a settlement, food shortages forced the men to venture inland. Ships promising food arrived late, coinciding with Luna falling ill.
Few shipwrecks occurred in the North American Pacific due to low maritime traffic. One notable wreck is the San Agustín, a galleon that sank off the coast of California in 1595. The survivors made contact with the Miwok people, built a boat and sailed south for 40 days before reaching Chacala. Remains of Chinese porcelain, iron nails and ceramics from the San Agustín have been found in Miwok villages.
The Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas set sail in 1655 from Cartagena de Indias carrying 5 million pesos and goods. While sailing in a storm, it was accidentally rammed by another ship and badly damaged. It tried unsuccessfully several times to find shelter before striking a reef and sinking with the loss of most of its 600 crew and passengers.
In 1715, two Spanish fleets were caught in a hurricane off Florida and sank, losing over 1000 lives. Survivors faced starvation and attacks from natives. Only a fraction of the 12 million pesos in cargo was recovered, with much stolen by pirates. It was a tragedy for the new Bourbon dynasty.
In 1622 two Spanish fleets set sail from Cartagena de Indias and Havana bound for Spain. While departing Cuba a gale scattered the fleet, causing two galleons to wreck off the Florida Keys. A total of about 500 people died, four million ducats were lost, and three galleons and several merchant ships wrecked. The survivors were gathered and returned to Cuba while Spain sent ships to rebuild the fleet.
Built in 1731 in Cadiz, the 54-gun, 631-ton, two-bridge frigate served Spain for nearly 20 years as an escort, surveillance and cargo ship, battling enemies like Algeria, England and Portugal, even capturing a Portuguese ship from Angola with more than 600 slaves. On her last voyage in August 1750, a week-long storm caused La Galga to lose her masts and, in a desperate maneuver, part of her artillery was thrown into the sea to lighten her load.
In July 1733, the Nueva España Fleet of 4 escort galleons, 16 merchant ships and 2 small ships left Havana bound for Spain but was hit by a hurricane near the Florida Keys. Most ships were wrecked on the shallows and reefs with only 4 merchant ships and 1 escort galleon managing to return to harbor in Havana.
In 1802, before the Peace of Amiens, the Spanish frigates Juno and Anfítitre left Veracruz carrying 700,000 pesos in silver. After facing storms and damages, the Juno encountered the American schooner Favorita. Despite attempts to help, another storm hit, and the Juno ultimately sank with 425 people on board and the silver cargo, never to be seen again.