Digital Library

Espiritu Santo – 41 WY 3 (1554)

Ricardo Borrero


Country: USA

Place: Padre Island



Identified: Espiritu Santo

Dated: 1554

History of the shipwreck

A fleet of forty-eight vessels sailed on November 4th of 1552 from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain under the command of Captain-General Bartolomé Carreño. In addition to the forty-eight vessels, the fleet was escorted by six armed vessels carrying 360 soldiers. Eighteen merchant vessels and the six ships of the armada had Terra Firme as destination. Ten ships were bound to Santo Domingo, sixteen to New Spain and four to other destinations. The sixteen vessels bound to New Spain, included the San Andrés, under the command of  master Antonio Corzo, the San Esteban, under the command of master Francisco Huerto, the Espiritu Santo, under the command of master Damián Martín, and the Santa María de Yciar carrying the master Alonso Ojos and the owner, captain and pilot Miguel de Jáuregui. Just these four ships and an additional vessel were supposed to return to Spain, while the remaining were to be scrapped in New Spain. Only seven of the vessels bound to Terra Firme were scheduled to return. However, they went through many misfortunes in the return trip. The Capitana burned and sank. 300 men died and only 20 survived including the Captain-General.

In 1553 the ships bound to New Spain arrived to San Juan de Ulúa, which was severely affected by a recent hurricane causing many delays in the unloading and reloading process, so that the fleet did not arrive on time to La Habana to meet Carreño for the return trip. Only the San Pedro arrived on time and departed with four ships of a previous fleet, while the rest remained in Veracruz for more than one year. They departed on April 29th of 1554 under the command of captain-general Antonio Corzo, just three weeks before the arrival of the next fleet. Twenty days later, as a result of a storm, three of the four vessels got lost in Padre Island causing 300 deaths. San Andrés was the only vessels that reached La Habana; however, it was severely damaged and the authorities decided to scrap it and transfer the cargo to other vessels.

A few survivors from the vessels lost in Padre Island, departed to Mexico in a small boat to bring the news. The rest of the survivors attempted to reach Mexico following the beach, but in the way they engaged in conflict with the natives and only Fray Marcos de Mena reached Pánuco. Once the small boat arrived to Mexico with the news, a salvage expedition was organized and it arrived to the wreck site two months later. One of the vessels was still visible and some goods were recovered by free divers. The other two vessels were located by dragging and approximately 41 percent of the cargo was recovered.

In 1967 a General Land Office reported the discovery of a shipwreck near Port Mansfield; however, an unauthorized treasure hunting operation was already underway. It was determined that the shipwreck was the Espiritu Santo. Commissioner Jerry Sadler requested to bring suit against the treasure hunters and they were urged to stop the salvage operations and return the artifacts to the state of Texas. Artifacts were first taken to the General Land Office, later on to the Texas Memorial Museum and finally to the University of Texas Balcones Research Center in Austin. The treasure hunting company, named Platoro, Ltd., Inc. based in Indiana, appealed the decision and although the state of Texas kept the artifacts, the salvage firm was granted $313,000 to settle the dispute. These legal dispute yielded the Antiquities Bill of September 1969 to protect the archaeological heritage of the state, as well as the foundation of the Institute of Underwater Research in 1970, which is a privately financed nonprofit organization, in charge of the study of other shipwrecks in the area of Port Mansfield. Sixteen sites have been located and mapped since then, including the San Esteban.


Figure 1. Site Plan


Although it is not possible to assert if all these artifacts came from the Espiritu Santo – Platoro Inc. made few or no efforts to record location or association of these artifacts – it is assumed that the collection was raised from only one shipwreck site. Among the artifacts recovered from the site there is small solid-gold crucifix, one gold bar, several silver discs.

Navigation instruments

Three astrolabes.


 Cannons and crossbows, three bombardetas, five versos, thirty? Breechblocks, one bronze breechblock. The weights and measurements have not been reported.


Broken fluke.


Barto Arnold III and Robert S. Weddle, The Nautical Archeology of Padre Island: The Spanish Shipwrecks of 1554 (New York: Academic Press, 1978). Austin American-Statesman, January 26, 1990.

Carl J. Clausen and J. Barto Arnold III, “The Magnetometer and Underwater Archaeology: Magnetic Delineation of Individual Shipwreck Sites, a New Control Technique,” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology and Underwater Exploration 5 (1976).

General Land Office, Treasure Tempest in Texas (1969?).

David McDonald and J. Barto Arnold III, Documentary Sources for the Wreck of the New Spain Fleet of 1554 (Austin: Texas Antiquities Committee, 1979).

Marjie Mugno, “Padre’s Spanish Treasure,” Texas Highways, January 1971. Dorris L. Olds, Texas Legacy from the Gulf: A Report on Sixteenth Century Shipwreck Material Recovered from the Texas Tidelands (Austin: Texas Memorial Museum, 1976).

J. Barto Arnold III and Melinda Arceneaux Wickman,