Departure and sinking
Spain’s King Carlos III ordered his most trusted captain, Gabriel de Campos y Pineda, to set sail for the New World to transport silver coins from the Mexican Mint to New Orleans. On October 20, 1783, the “Brig of War” named El Cazador (The Hunter) set sail for Vera Cruz, Mexico. On January 11, 1784, she left Vera Cruz, headed for New Orleans. One month into the voyage the ship sank without a trace of causes unknown. What we do know is that El Cazador has become known as the “shipwreck that changed the world.”
During the mid-to-late 1700’s, wars dominated the New World and the Old World over control of the North American territories. Under King Carlos III’s reign, Spain emerged as the victor and gained control of nearly one million square miles of North America. This area, known as the Louisiana Territory, consisted of the land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. The heart of Spain’s new holding was the port of New Orleans. This port was the main gateway for shipments to and from the New World. Unfortunately, the economy in Louisiana was already in trouble when Spain acquired it. Unreliable and devalued paper currency, as well as counterfeit bills, made it difficult to finance foreign and local trade. The weakened monetary system had to be stabilized. King Carlos III decided to replace the existing paper currency with silver coinage. Spain’s attempts to locate the ship were unsuccessful and in June 1784, El Cazador was officially listed as missing at sea. The loss of this treasure was devastating to Louisiana’s economy and Spain’s ability to profit from its key holding in the New World. Even though Spain dispatched more silver, the economy never recovered and further efforts to stabilize the currency failed.
El Cazador and the Louisiana Purchase
Once again, Spain found itself facing war – this time with France. Unable to capitalize on its North American territory, Spain (now under the control of King Carlos IV) ceded Louisiana to France in 1800. Just three years later in 1803, Napoleon sold the Louisiana Territory to U.S. President Thomas Jefferson for $15 million (approximately 3 cents an acre). This became known as the “Louisiana Purchase” and it double the size of the nation and opened the door for westward expansion.
The shipwreck of El Cazador was discovered in 1993 by a fishing boat named Mistake in the Gulf of Mexico. The boat’s fishing net caught on a “hang” 300 feet down on the ocean floor. When they brought the net up to check for damage, they found silver coins instead.
Coins of El Cazador
Upon reaching Vera Cruz, El Cazador was loaded with over 400,000 “pieces of eight” in denominations of 8, 2, 1 and ½. All the coins bore the date of 1783 and the Mexican Mint mark.
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