Wreck History

Dateline: Late in 1659 or early 1660 - 350 Years Ago

Back in 1660

A Spanish aviso vessel (a kind of dispatch or advice boat, that is, a vessel designed not for warfare or carrying heavy cargo, but for delivering at top speed dispatches or advice, usually to the king or his government; aviso = “advice”) met its end along Jupiter, Florida’s east coast. It is called the Jupiter Wreck. A generation before Jonathan Dickinson’s landing in 1696, (Dickinson lived 1663–1722 and was a Quaker merchant from Port Royal, Jamaica),the original Indian inhabitants of the Jupiter-Hobe Sound area experienced one of the most significant contacts with Europeans anywhere on American soil. Up to this event, the Spaniards, who held north Florida, were unable to subjugate South Florida’s native American population on this rough-weathery coast. What was significant, was that the ship may have been carrying a form of plague, which may have led to the decimation of the native indigenous people of this area.

Current Ressearch:

It is suggested the Jupiter Shipwreck and its survivors brought plague to Jupiter's shoreline. Without even a shot of having been fired, this event within itself struck the fatal blow to South Florida's, then native American peoples.

The find . . . off the shores of Jupiter, Florida, U.S.A. 1987

In 1987, two surfers fell off their boards one day and saw what they thought was a canon and reported it to a lifeguard. Two days later, while on his morning training swim, the lifeguard refound the canon and contacted a master mariner and marina owner, Captain Dominic Addario, who had equipment capable of recovering the find. They agreed to form a joint venture to recover it. Their initial goal was simple. They resolved to put the cannon at a museum about to open in Burt Reynolds Park, sponsored by the Loxahatchee Historical Society. During those first weeks, further discoveries were made. More cannons were identified, then . . . silver “pieces of eight.” Neither of the two partners knew at the time that the laws governing discoveries such as theirs were approaching a major change, or that the two of them could play an instrumental part in the formulation of new rules that would affect the future rights of the private sector to participate in historic shipwreck research and recovery. Captain Addario placed an Admiralty claim upon the unknown vessel in the U.S. Southern District Court on the 27th day of July, 1987. A bond was posted to the Court, and Jupiter Wreck, Inc., a newly formed Florida corporation, was subsequently named Federal Substitute Custodian of the wreck site. More cannons and artifacts were discovered. Rare coins of silver and gold were retrieved, then a 78-pound ingot of silver! The State of Florida stepped in to assume jurisdiction, claiming it was in the wreck's and public's best interest. The public didn't totally agree, neither did the Federal Courts. Jupiter Wreck's legitimate claim was upheld by the Federal Judge, but the State's rights were also recognized. The crew had to dig with their bare hands while all issues were pondered.

Historical research based on documents from the Archivo General de Indias. Sevilla, Spain Victoria Stapells Johnson - September 2006

In our archival search to identify the name of the “Jupiter wreck”, the starting point in the Spanish archives was the section Contratación (issues related to trade with the Indies) and specifically: the Libros de Registros for the time period of the mid 17th century. In these bound volumes are the names of many (but not all) of the ships which plied back and forth across the Atlantic during the years of the Carrera de Indias. In most cases, there is a note in the margin beside a ship which wrecked in the course of a journey. As regards the ship at Jupiter Inlet, silver and gold coins and particularly a silver bar marked no. 820 found at the site, indicate a point of departure from Tierra Firme. Hence, the ports of Cartagena and Portobelo were checked most carefully. In this initial stage of research, there is no evidence to suggest this wreck being of a ship returning to Spain from Mexico. Of the ships which meet the profile for the “Jupiter Wreck” based on the document search at the Archivo General de Indias, six are “aviso” ships. By decree of the crown in 1525, avisos were the ships designated to carry official correspondence back and forth between Spain and her over seas colonies. Two courier or aviso ships were despatched each year from Spain to Nueva España (Mexico) and Tierra Firme (north coast of South America). Small ships which generally did not exceed 100 toneladas, these vessels were capable of sailing quickly and efficiently. Aboard, they carried all manner of crown documents to the colonies. On the way back to Spain they carried a variety of papers: correspondence from the colonial treasury accounts, court cases, reports from the Viceroys, court cases, religious correspondence and so on. Another very important part of an aviso’s job was to inform the authorities of the presence of lurking enemy ships ready to attack the treasure laden fleets returning from the Indies. Passengers were not allowed on board officially although there were plenty of exceptions. Of course avisos also carried some cargo: on the way out from Spain, this would include items needed in the colonies such as wine, oil, wax, textiles and funds for garrison payrolls. Iron work or tools were taken as ballast. On the return trip, one can imagine that a certain amount of contraband was loaded on these ships in the form of silver or gold. This was common practice on all ships during the colonial time period. In the time frame of the Jupiter wreck, there were FOUR ships which sailed as avisos and appear to have wrecked on their return trip to Spain from Tierra Firme ports. One of the four was the San Miguel Archangel.

SAN MIGUEL ARCANGEL Dispatched by the Viceroy of Peru, the San Miguel Archangel sailed as primer aviso under Juan Ramirez de Miranda, pilot Diego García and Captain Juan de Ostalaca from Portobelo for Spain on September 18, 1659. Six and half months later, the ship had not arrived in Spain and was feared to have wrecked. It was decided to send duplicates of all the correspondence on the next aviso to Spain in April 1660. On the backside of the letter there is a scribbled note “ The aviso ship under Juan Ramirez de Miranda wrecked on the coast of Florida” Included with this document is another longer report (23 pages) entitled “Testimonio sobre el despacho del navío San Miguel Arcangel que se despachó de aviso a los reinos de España por el Virrey del Perú a cargo de Juan Ramirez de Miranda” This deals with the financing and preparation of the ship to sail to Spain and there is no reference to what happened to it after leaving Portobelo. A list of the boxes of correspondence loaded on the ship is included. Nevertheless, it should be read through carefully in case there is any information on the ship itself. Juan Ramirez appears to have been a notable in Portobelo. In 1661, he was named notary of the city of Portobelo. It is suggested that further research on this man might shed some light on the aviso because he undoubtedly had cargo on board. Source: A.G.I. – Santa Fe 43, ramo 3, n.10. Also: Panamá 58, n.1 Confirmación de oficio: Juan Ramírez de Miranda. 14 enero, 1662