April 29, 2022

Daily Dose of Texas History - April 29, 1554 Padre Island Shipwreck and Survival

Daily Dose of Texas History - April 29, 1554 Padre Island Shipwreck and Survival
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On April 29, 1554 a severe storm blasted a convoy of four Spanish treasure ships. Three sank and one escaped.

Four ships, the Espiritu Santo, the San Esteban, the Santa Maria de Yciar and the San Andreas set sail from San Juan de Ulúa, down near Veracruz, Mexico, on April 9, 1554, with Antonio Corzo as captain-general. 

The combined cargoes of the four ships had an estimated value of a little over two million pesos. This equaled more than $9.8 million in value in 1975, which means today the cargo has the value of $52,370,617.10.

Twenty days later they were caught in a storm and the Espiritu Santo, the San Esteban, and the Santa Maria de Yciar sank. The San Andreas escaped and reached Havana. It was so damaged that it had to be scrapped rather than undergo repair.

It is believed that half to two thirds of the 300 people on the three battered ships that sank drowned before they could make it to the shore of Padre Island. For perspective, recall that Cabeza de Vaca and his surviving cohorts from the ill fated Narvaez expedition had crashed ashore just about twenty five years before, in 1528. Things had not gone well for them and things did not go well for the survivors of these ships.

A small group, including some skilled mariners, set out to sea in one of the boats that had been saved from the sunken ships. Their goal was to reach Mexico and organize a relief expedition.

The larger group that remained set out on foot. They did not understand the distance they would have to travel. 

As you might expect, they ran into some problems with some of the indigenous bands along the way and as the Handbook of Texas puts it, the trip became a death march.

They made it as far as the Rio Grande before they started suffering casualties. But when they crossed the Rio Grande they lost the few crossbows they carried. After that they were constantly stalked and picked off.

Only one person survived to reach Panuco: Fray Marcos de Mena, a Dominican lay brother.  

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