The Storm that Crushed the Spanish Empire


The signs have been there all along.

The waves are noticeably higher, and sea foam is dancing across the surface of the ocean. Birds are flying lower than usual. Smoke from the lamp floats toward the ground as if bowing to the heavy wind. The breeze that hits your face seems unfamiliar. It’s not the wind that softly caresses your cheeks on a fair day, but the wind that slaps you in the face—cold.

A storm is coming. You have to brace yourselves.

“Strike the royals!” you command your men as you feel the first few drops of rain hit your skin. They follow you in earnest though you can see small beads of sweat forming on their foreheads. Others are busying themselves with securing loose gear, closing all portholes, and tightening the doors.

It’s too late to turn back now. There is no use steering the whole fleet back to Cumana; it is already leagues away. You also know that you have to get the treasures—hundreds of gold bars and thousands of silver coins, precious gemstones and pearls from the rarest of oysters—back to the Spanish Empire fast, or else. You dare not think of it.

It comforts you to know that your men are all well-trained and that this is not the first time that you have sailed through a storm. But something in your gut feels different. The sea is a cradle lulling your ship to sleep, and you tighten your hold on the wheel to keep your balance. Drops of rain are falling faster now, more relentless. Thunder rumbles like a hungry giant’s belly, starved for food. Your men are working their way down the mast and striking more sails, even as they start to get drenched.

Your right-hand man comes to you and shouts over the wind, “What of the treasures, captain?” Your eyes immediately dart to the three chests at the side of the deck, neglected by the men who just earlier were gloating at the treasures they contain. You feel a knot tighten in your stomach.

“Bring them to my cabin,” you say, but another roll of thunder drowns out your voice. A huge wave comes out of nowhere, and you grab the wheel, holding on for dear life. A blinding flash of lightning hits the ocean, much too close to your ship’s hull.

“Drop anchor!” you shout, but it is lost in the thunder.

Suddenly, something catches your eye: the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, not ten pasos away, is rising up – up – UP. She’s being lifted by a monster wave, taller than 20 men. She’s completely broadside to the wave—the worst possible position. The men aboard rush to the uphill side, trying to balance the weight… but it’s hopeless.

As you watch, frozen, she broaches halfway up the monster wall of water, and then tips further. She capsizes, and after a horrible interminable moment, tumbles down the wall of water upside down.

Thankfully, you can’t hear the crew as they plunge headfirst into the dark abyss.

And then you realize the monster wave is coming right for you.

“Turn her! Into the wave!” The helmsman spins the wheel, but it’s far too late. Weighted down with the gold of the New World, you can’t turn her in time.

The monster is upon you, fierce tide sucking the ship’s belly into the wave. All you see above is roiling black water.

Eight Spanish treasure ships sank off the coast of Florida in 1622. They carried over $400 million in gold and riches from the New World, which would have replenished Spain’s struggling economy. The loss of these ships contributed to the downfall of the Spanish empire.

The shipwreck was discovered in 1985, and placed on permanent museum display. Then, in 2015, certain items went up for private auction.

How the Lost Confederate Gold was Stolen

csa_coinsThe night was typical for late May in Chennault, Georgia: a little humid, but the ground where the Confederate soldiers slept was cool and welcoming. Captain Parker tucked his satchel beneath his head and finally drifted to sleep, worrying about the priceless treasure he was guarding.

His scouts had reported seeing Union cavalry ahead on the road to Augusta, so they had to find another way. He wished this trip were over already.

Hidden in wooden barrels or not, it wasn’t safe to travel with this much treasure.

Midnight Attack

Around midnight, one of the guards was alerted by a rustling sound. Suddenly, ragtag men rushed the wagon. 

“Woohoo!” one of the bushwhackers yelled, kicking a barrel off the back of the wagon. 

This crew wore ragged uniforms of both blue and gray – and there were many of them. The guard stood silently as the crowd descended.

Wealth Beyond Measure

The barrels exploded coins, socks full of specie, and ingots as it hit the hard ground.

Parker awoke to the thud of a man hitting the ground next to him. It was the guard, who’d been struck unconscious by one of the bushwhackers – some of whom stood knee-deep in Confederate gold.

One of the soldiers glanced his way, pulling a revolver from his hip.

“I know you’re tempted to try and stop us, but there’s far more of us than you. We don’t want to kill you. We’ll just be taking payment for our services from this here treasure you were trying to hide. We’ve lost more than this will ever cover, and we don’t give a damn about them frogs!”

Desperate, Hopeless Men

Parker knew many had lost everything in this war. Families, fortunes, and even entire towns had been destroyed, leaving some men had literally nothing to return to.

He knew it was foolish to ask his men to fight for the payment of a war they never wanted, to risk their lives one more time.

He threw up his hands and stood silently, accepting. The bushwhackers loaded their satchels,pockets, boots, and even their canteens with as much loot as they could carry.

The night ended with the sounds of coins hitting the ground like heavy rain drops. As the thieves rode away into the night, loose coins jostled out of their clothes as if to offer payment for compliance.

The Confederate’s massive treasure shipment melted away in that Georgia night. It was never recovered.

Should We Say Goodbye to the Penny?

Benjamin Franklin designed the first pure copper half-cent. It was issued by a private mint in 1787. Back then a penny could buy you plenty. Today they’re tossed in the nearest “penny dish” without a second thought. In 2006 the cost to produce a penny exceed its face value. The modern penny is made up of 2.5% copper to 97.5% zinc. The U.S. Mint reports that each coin costs almost 2.5 cents to make. Whether it’s time to say good-bye to the U.S. penny has been debated ever since.

Even though the penny might not have much of a future, it does have quite a past. When Teddy Roosevelt introduced the Lincoln penny in 1909, it was the first U.S. coin to bear the likeness of an actual person. And there are those who believe it would be wrong to abolish one of the most minted coins in history, and the coin that bears the visage of one of the United States’ most revered presidents.

When other countries have eliminated their lowest-denomination coins, there was no measurable economic impact. A couple years ago, Canada stopped producing its penny, deeming it a waste of money. Countries like Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and the Netherlands have done the same.

So while many love the penny, there are just as many arguments against keeping it. On what side of the argument do you fall? We’d love to know your thoughts.

Did you like this post? Check out “How Much Would a Bengals Super Bowl Ring Be Worth?” and our other great articles.

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