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History of the Treasure Coast | Waterfront Properties

Posted by Gerald Lombardo on Thursday, March 19th, 2020 at 10:00am.

While Martin and St. Lucie counties have a lot to treasure—like their blue ocean waters and preserved natural environment—the so-called “Treasure Coast” actually got in a rather interesting way.

In 1715, a Plate Fleet (plate referring to the Spanish word for "silver") was collecting new wealth from the American possessions of the Spanish Empire to transport it to Spain. Upon their route back, the fleet encountered a severe hurricane, causing 10 of its 11 ships to sink offshore near the St. Lucie Inlet, scattering their gold, silver, and jewels all over the seafloor. 

This particular fleet was especially rich, as it was the first sent to collect revenue from the New World in over a decade. From 1700 to 1714, most of Western Europe was at war over who would succeed the throne of Spain. Plate fleets usually sailed from the Spanish port each year, but the fierce European conflict made it too hazardous to make the journey during that time. Once the war was settled however, the Spanish set out to collect the much-needed proceeds from their American colonies.

The fleet always split once it reached the New World- some ships headed to New Spain and others farther south to Columbia and Venezuela. By the time they reunited in Havana, the ships were loaded with gold, silver, jewels, and other valuable trade items. The final part of the trip back to Spain always carried the plate fleet up the Gulf Stream between the Bahamas and Florida's east coast. This route was risky because if the ships encountered bad weather, it could push them into shallow waters along the coastline where a number of reefs could easily destroy the wooden hulls. As it turned out, most plate fleets sailed during hurricane season, and the 1715 fleet encountered a storm that would never allow them to pass. Two ships, La Francesca and San Miguel, disappeared completely while 8 others sunk between Cape Canaveral and Miami. 

The Spanish attempted to recover their lost treasures but only got so far as the sea broke apart the ships and continued to scatter their contents. As word of the wrecks spread, small ships from many places came to recover any treasure they could find, and to this day people still get lucky enough to find washed up silver and gold coins.

When a 1955 hurricane blew away a portion of the sand dunes near the Sebastian Inlet, it revealed major evidence of the shipwrecks close by and treasure hunters began looking for the wrecks once again. Resident Kip Wagner took up the search as a hobby, and eventually found two of the fleet ships and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of artifacts. Local reporters covering the news of his discovery decided that since Florida had a Space Coast to the north and a Gold Coast to the south, the "Treasure Coast" might be a good nickname for the region between.

Now, Florida's Treasure Coast, which consists of St. Lucie, Martin and parts of Indian River county and the Palm Beaches, still draws divers to its many shipwrecks, and attracts families to the area for its great housing options, schools and beaches.

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