On January 8, 1961, the map of Florida changed forever. The now famous Florida “Treasure Coast” was born. On that day Kip Wagner and Mel Fisher found over 2,000 Spanish gold coins in shallow water less than 200 feet from the beach. The treasure was from one of the shipwrecks from the 1715 Spanish Plate fleet. The treasure had been waiting on the sea bed for over 250 years.
Kip Wagner used a map made by a Dutch Surveyor named Bernard Romans 59 years after the 1715 Spanish Plate sank in a hurricane. This real live treasure map showed the location of the wreck just off the coast of Florida, south of the Fort Pierce inlet. Where do treasure hunters find treasure maps? Kip Wagner’s partner, Dr. Kip Kelso, did years of translation and researched in the famous Archives of Seville in Spain to find this Survey.
When the map was made, the Sebastian Inlet was called the Sebastian River. This real Treasure map states “Opposite this River perished the Admiral commanding the Plate Fleet 1716” To pin down the location further, Kip Wagner searched the beach brush South of the inlet for signs of the shipwreck survivors 1715 encampment.
In the early morning hours of July 31, 1715 the Spanish Plate fleet, filled over six million pesos in registered treasure was hit by a category 5 hurricane. The treasure ships sank off the Florida coast with ships, treasure, and wreckage spread out over 75 miles of coral reef. There were over a thousand souls lost in that storm.
In May 1964, under a subcontract from Kip Wagner’s “Real Eight” Company, Mel Fisher found the fabulous treasure called the “Carpet of Gold.” The Carpet of gold is over 5000 gold “cobs” scattered on the shallow bottom. The amazing thing about finding sunken gold treasure is that hundreds of years later it is still shiny yellow, almost pure 22 Karat gold.
The chests of silver appear like a box shaped stack of black oysters because the box melts away and the coins turn to black because of the coating of silver oxide that develops due to seawater corrosion.
After Mel Fisher found the “Carpet of Gold” he was hooked. He used this money to search for his own shipwreck, the Atocha. Treasure was needed badly by the king of Spain in 1614. There had been no treasure ships for over 4 years. King Philip V had his Royal coffers empty from years of war with England.
Potter’s Treasure Diver book is the “Bible” of treasure hunters. After 4 years of looking in the Upper Matecumbe Keys, his research team in the Archives of Seville realized that Fisher was looking in wrong place. On every day of his 16 year search for the wreck of the Atoche, he would say “Today is the Day”. In 1975, one of Mel Fishers sons died when the boat he was sleeping in capsized.
Using very high-tech Proton Magnetometers and side scan sonar, the team got one hit on barrel hoops from Spanish Gallon water barrels. Finally, he hit the mother lode, over 250,000 artifacts and yards of gold chain. The reason the chains were so long was because back in 1614 passengers could bring all the gold jewelry that they could wear tax free, otherwise they must pay the Kings Royal 5th (20% duty tax) .
The State of Florida and the Federal claimed ownership of the 1/2 billion dollars of treasure. Mel Fisher offered 30% but they wanted all of it not 30 percent. Supreme Court awarded to Mel Fisher after 8 year legal battle. It took Mel Fisher 24 years to finally bag his treasure.
Photos courtesy of the 1715 Fleet Society. See more information about the shipwrecks from the 1715 fleet society on the web at 1715 Fleet Society.