Treasure of the Month Update:
As you might recall, Our featured Treasure of the Month for April 2017 was a large silver bar found in the 1960’s south of Fort Pierce, Florida at a location that was referred to as the “Gold Wreck.” Now known as the Douglass Beach Wreck, this prolific site has produced an almost endless supply of treasure and artifacts. The silver bar which is the subject matter of this post made its appearance at the Second International Conference on the 1715 Fleet held in St. Augustine a few months ago. Brought to the conference by one of our speakers, Jorge Proctor, the bar created quite a bit of excitement as conference goers gathered around to get a look at the bar and hopefully get a picture. Weighing in at a hefty 35 pounds 8.5 ounces it was the largest silver bar ever found on any of the 1715 Fleet wreck sites. The information on this bar was scant. It was known that the bar was found in the 1960’s at the Douglass Beach wreck site. But other than that, not much else was known about it. That was about to change. Little did we know at the time that the convergence of several unrelated events would lead us on a treasure hunt of our own.
Our quest started with a visit from John de Bry who was also one of the speakers at our conference. John and his wife had arranged to attend a dinner along with Manuel Almeida and his wife Teresa who were visiting from Cuba. At the dinner, John gave me a gift of some books and catalogues from his library including an article published in 1965 by the University of Florida (Gainesville) for the Florida State Museum.
The article was written by Carl J. Clausen and was titled “A 1715 Spanish Treasure Ship.” Carl J. Clausen was an archaeologist employed by the State of Florida to report on the 1715 Fleet wreck sites as the States’ representative. The article dealt with the salvaging of a 1715 Fleet vessel in the summer of 1964. The wreck site was designated SL-17 and was located about three nautical miles south of Fort Pierce. Never having seen this report before I tucked it away for reading on a rainy day.
Fast forward to late April. At that time I reported to the local courthouse for Jury duty. While waiting in the “Jury Room” to be called as a prospective juror I read the Clausen article to occupy my time. About half way through I came to a section dealing with gold and silver bars found at the wreck site. There at the bottom of page 16 was an entry that caught my attention. Reference was made to a 35 pound 8.5-ounce silver bar. This was too coincidental. I searched through the book hoping to find a picture of the bar. The photos were in black and white and not of the high-resolution quality of contemporary images. But, nevertheless, they were clear and distinct enough to know what they were. And, there it was Plate VII. A large silver bar. The silver bar that was at the conference
The Clausen article now confirmed that the bar was found in the summer of 1964. The article also had a site plan of the wreck site showing the debris field and, most importantly, that a silver bar was found near the location of the ballast pile. (Later, additional research from other sources confirmed that the bar was actually found by Mel Fisher who was working the area with Lou Ullian of the Real Eight Company and that it was found in May or June, 1964. )
This discovery has now lead to an all-out research project to learn as much as we can about the vessel described in the Clausen article and, through archival investigation and the analysis of its artifacts and armament, the name of the vessel. This whole endeavor will take many months, maybe years. But in the end, we believe that a new and exciting chapter on the 1715 Fleet will be written.
Special thanks to Neill Wallis, Florida Museum of Natural History, who helped make this article available for public viewing.
Ben Costello, Director