Florida’s 16th Century Spanish Colonists; Archeologists Found #3 of 6 Spanish Colonist Shipwrecks

Last month archeologists confirmed another sunken Spanish galleon off the coast of Pensacola, Florida. It’s the third one they’ve found from the same fleet.

Considering the age and location of the find, even though it’s not the first one, it’s an exciting find. Based on new information about the settlements of the people who came on those galleons, we may be at the edge of more discoveries.

These ships are teaching us about the way the Spanish built their ships at the time, but they also tell part of the story of Spain’s attempt to colonize the United States. In case you don’t know, they failed. Ironically, the same thing that terrorizes modern day Florida, sent the Spanish packing: hurricanes.

Tristán de Luna

Statue of Luna in Pensacola | flickriver.com

Luna came from a noble family in Spain. His cousin was the viceroy of New Spain, the colonial territory of Spain that once stretched from Canada to Venezuela. Florida was part of that territory, even though nobody had yet settled there.

In 1559, Spain sent Luna on a mission to colonize Florida. It was an ambitious plan. Luna was to sail from Mexico with 12 ships loaded with supplies and 1,500 Spaniards, enough to start a colony.

Sailing from Vera Cruz, Mexico, the ships moored just off the coast of modern day Pensacola on August 15th, 1559. What nobody saw coming was the hurricane that landed September 19th.

Six of their ships sank in that storm. A seventh ran aground. Supplies on those ships and others sank in the storm. In less than one month, this otherwise well-prepared plan fell apart at the seams.

They were no longer colonists. Every resource Luna’s people had they directed at survival.

The Galleon

It’s the third ship they’ve found. The first one, they found in 1992, they called the Emanuel Point I, named after a nearby penninsula. We don’t know the actual names of the ships, not that we could identify them if we did.

The second ship, found in 2007, they named the Emanuel Point II. No surprise, they’ve dubbed the new one the Emanuel Point III.

Archeologists found it buried under seven feet of ocean sand. So far they’ve uncovered the hull, ballast rocks, and artifacts.

They’re as excited about what these boats teach us about ship building as anything. Back in the 1500’s, they didn’t keep or make blueprints for boats.

It may surprise you to learn we’re limited with our records of these boats. What we can read in books or see in paintings is the best we’ve got. The ships off the coast of Pensacola are putting together the pieces for us.

What’s interesting as the new galleon was how the archeologists found it.

Luna Settlement

Since they already knew of the first two ships found off the coast, researchers knew they weren’t far from the other sunken ships. The key was where exactly to search. The ocean is a tough place to find things that sank hundreds of years ago.

In 2015, a local historian, Tom Garner, identified Spanish pottery at a construction site. After involving University of West Florida archeologists, they were able to determine that the pottery shards belonged to Luna’s settlement.

This was the first time we knew exactly where their colony settled. From this location, the archeologists could make a more educated guess where to look for more ships.

They surveyed the water between the other ships and the construction site using a magnetometer. They call this technique “mowing the lawn.” The device measures for magnetic anomalies, which they found in the water.

As luck would have it, the new ship was found in shallower water than the other two.

The settlers of Luna reported that six ships sank in the water. Of the ships that remained afloat, the storm had beat them to a pulp. The survivors pushed their settlement inland.

By 1561 they’d abandoned that settlement too. The King of Spain gave up as well. He decided it would be better to settle the east coast of the United States instead.

In a bit of historic irony, the first permanent American settlement established themselves only four years later in St. Augustine, Florida. It would be 1698 before anyone tried to settle in Pensacola again.

Source: Live Science