This week’s wordless image shows the front and reverse of a Spanish coin minted in Vera Cruz, Mexico at the direction of King Charles III, Bourbon King of Spain in 1783. Polski3 and Anglophile Football Fanatic were the closest in their comments to where I was headed with the images. Alison and Dr. Pezz weren’t too far behind in their reponses. Thanks to everyone who responded.
Let’s say the UPS guy shows up at your door wearing those cute little shorts and hands you an unexpected delivery. You open the box and find lots of those Styrofoam peanut things hiding whatever lurks underneath. A letters rests on top advising you the box contains something very precious. Not only are you being given the important job of keeping the precious item safe, but you are to make the item bigger and better than it currently is. This scenario always reminds me of my marriage and even the nuturing of my children---both are very precious things that I’m trusted to keep from harm and to cultivate through the years making them better as time goes by.
As an educator I think about my students in the same way. While their stay within the confines of my room is brief I strive to nurture each individual so that they leave my room in a better state than when they walked through the door in August.
You see the UPS man of sorts had delivered to King Charles, almost twenty years before, a gift of nearly one million square miles he would have referred to as New France. You might be more familiar with the gift as the Louisiana Territory.
The gift came to King Charles via the Treaty of Fontainbleu which was signed in 1762 but not made public until 1764. The Spanish would control all of the former French lands west of the Mississippi. Included in the gift of territory was the jewel of the Mississippi---the very important port of New Orleans.
Let’s think about my UPS scenario again…Remember the part of the letter that said I had to make the gift even better than it was when I received it? Well, King Charles had a problem with New Orleans. Its economy was in shambles due to the use of the devalued and often counterfeited French paper currency. Almost immediately the territory became a drain on the resources of Spain due to severe domestic problems back home. There was also a slight problem with French colonists. They did not recognize Spanish rule until 1769 and only did so at the point of 3,000 guns and 22 Spanish warships.
In order to improve the colony’s economy and begin to make a profit for Spain King Charles knew he had to replace the currency being used in his new territory. On October 20, 1783, King Charles sent a ship, El Cazador, to Vera Cruz, to pick up a load of silver coins. By January 11, 1783 El Cazador was fully loaded and set sail for New Orleans with the coin I showed in my wordless image and many, many more like it.
Somewhere between Vera Cruz and New Orleans the ship was lost. Had the ship gone down due to pirates? Was a storm to blame? No one knew, and the ship was declared officially missing at sea by June, 1784.
The loss of the currency was a huge blow to King Charles and to the citizens of New Orleans as well. For the next eleven years Spain continued to hang on to the Lousiana territory, however, in 1800 King Charles agreed to give Napoleon Bonaparte of France control of the Louisiana Territory with the signing of the Treaty of San Ildefonso on October 1, 1800.
Now, fast forward to August 2, 1993. Captain Jerry Murphy is aboard The Mistake, a fishing trawler, along with his crew. As the nets are hauled in everyone is expecting a bounteous gift of fish. Instead there are few fish and a mixture of what appears to be huge clumps of rocks. Upon closer examination Captain Murphy discovers he has been given a precious gift indeed. The rocks are identified as clumps of silver coins with some weighing as much as 35 pounds.
Coins such as these were known as Spanish millled dollars and were important currency in the New World not only in New Spain but in the American colonies as well. Thomas Jefferson recommended to the Continental Congress that Spanish silver coins should be accepted as currency in the colonies. The coins were accepted through 1857.
Captain Murphy and his crew had found the resting place of El Cazador and her silver coins meant to improve the economy of New Orleans had nearly made it to their destination. The wreck lay just a mere 50 miles south of New Orleans.
Now here is the type of question that seperates those that are merely interested in the story and those that have the genetic makeup of a true historian---What if the El Cazador had reached New Orleans and had delivered the influx of silver? Would Spain have been able to take advantage of the promise of New Orleans as a sea port? Would the Louisiana Purchase have taken place when it did? Would America under President Jefferson have become embroiled in a war with Spain over New Orleans since the the port was so important to the American economy?
I’ve already formed my opinion, but what do you think?
You can actually purchase of of the coins from the El Cazador here and here and the shipwreck website can be found here.