For over 300 years the Spanish ruled the most of the Americas. In the mid-to-late 1700s, wars raged all over the world, many of them for control of the North American territories. The Seven Years’ War (between Britain, France and Spain) began in 1754, and was known as the French and Indian War in North America. It ended in 1763, and Spain and England divided up a vast area of land that belonged to France, and ran from the Gulf Coast well into Canada. The French called it Upper and Lower Louisiana. The new territory of Spanish Louisiana, then inhabited by approximately 50,000 European settlers, extended from the Gulf of Mexico and the present day state of Louisiana, up to the Canadian border and was over 800,000 square miles. During the American Revolutionary War the Spanish funneled supplies to the American rebels through New Orleans and the vast Louisiana territory beyond.

France had been using a paper currency before Spain acquired the territory. How ever, due to various factors, including a great deal of counterfeiting, what represented four dollars in the paper money was only worth one dollar in silver (a Spanish eight reale).

This problem continued when Spain took over, and so the story goes that Charles III of Spain ordered captain Gabriel de Campos y Pineda to sail the Spanish brig of war, El Cazador (The Hunter), to Veracruz, New Spain (present day Mexico), on 20 October 1783. There she was to be loaded with silver Spanish coins, mostly eight reales, “Pieces of Eight,” that were to be used to bolster the region’s economy. On 11 January 1784, El Cazador set sail for New Orleans and was never heard from again.

In New Orleans, the economy continued to fail, and in 1801, Spain gave the territory back to France in a secret treaty.

Spain’s prime minister, Don Manuel Francisco Domingo de Godoy (di Bassano) y Álvarez de Faria, de los Ríos y Sánchez-Zarzosa (his friends called him Al), who signed the secret treaty, wrote about Louisiana: “...because of our lack of means to provide it with an increase at the same level of the other Spanish dominions of both Americas, not yielding much to our treasury, nor to our trade, and generating sizable expenses in money and soldiers without profit, and receiving other states in exchange of it, the return of the colony can be deemed as a gain, instead of a sacrifice.”

Some historians speculate that had El Cazador made it to New Orleans, its treasure bolstering the economy, Spain might not have given the territory back to France in 1801, which then the United States would not have been able to acquire it for 15 million dollars in 1803 (60 million francs). Remember, Napoleon was The Man in France in 1803 (Napoleonic Wars 1803-15), and the 60 million francs were supposed to be used for the construction of five new canals in France. Instead, Bonaparte spent the whole amount on his planned invasion of the United Kingdom, which, by the way, was eventually scrapped – in case you hadn’t noticed.

An interesting historical note is that the majority of New Orleans’ architecture comes from Spain’s ownership of the city.

Two hundred years later, about 50 miles south of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico, the butterfish trawler, Mistake, was fishing in 300 feet of water when her net snagged something on the bottom. It was 2 August 1993. Captain Jerry Murphy and his crew held their breaths as they retrieved the net to examine it for damage. As it was reported to us, when they got the net up and dumped the contents on the deck, debris and black clumps fell out. Thinking they were rocks, some of the crew started kicking them through the scuppers and back into the abyss. Then someone yelled “COINS! COINS” and all fishing stopped. Knowing he had snagged a shipwreck, Murphy quickly marked the location.

That night Murphy contacted his uncle and the vessel’s co-owner, Jim Reahard, and Reahard called his friend, Key West attorney David Paul Horan. Horan was also Mel Fisher’s attorney and knew how to secure the rights to a shipwreck.

But what ship was it? The majority of coins were Spanish portrait dollars (“pieces of eight”) that were dated no later than 1783. Using this information, and the location of the wreck, noted Belgian maritime researcher Robert Stenuit began an exhaustive search in the Archives of the Indies in Seville, Spain. Eventually he found documents that told of a Spanish ship leaving Veracruz on 11 January 1784, bound for New Orleans. Her manifest said she was carrying 450,000 pesos (8 reale coin = one peso) of Spanish treasure on board. There was no record of her reaching her destination. Her name was El Cazador, and Murphy had found her remains – a mere 50 miles from New Orleans, 209 years after she had left Veracruz.

While we will never know how history may have been changed if The Hunter had made it to New Orleans, we do know that the treasure recovered from her remains is a living testament to a time when kings ruled the lands and pirates ruled the seas!

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