Sunken Treasure

Gold coins in a chest

Discovering treasure is one of the greatest human dreams. It has fueled gold rushes, the settlement of colonies, and the founding of states (i.e. California). To this day the idea of unearthing a glittering treasure trove captures our imaginations.

This is precisely what happened to the Schmitt family of Sanford, Florida. They are a true family of adventurers, often searching all together or individually. Rick and Lisa Schmitt have two children, Hillary and Eric, the latter discovered his own sunken treasure back in 2002: a silver platter worth $25,000; that and he was just a sophomore in high school.

The convoy was called the Plate Fleet because ‘plata’ is Spanish for silver. The majority of treasure was silver with small percentage of gold contraband.

The treasure discovered this time around is more substantial. It dates to a Spanish convoy from 1715, scattered and sunk by a vicious hurricane off the coast of Vero Beach, Florida. Eleven out of the twelve ships were lost along with 1,000 sailors.

The Spanish had been mining gold and silver from the Americas since they’d first arrived there in the 1500s. Their convoys were frequent targets for both pirates and enemy navies, hence the reason why you hear the phrase “the Spanish Main” in pirate talk.

Gold coins, or escudos, like this were also found in the wreckage although almost no gold coins were registered on the ships meaning these were probably smuggled.

The 1715 convoy was especially important. In 1700, King Charles II of Spain died without a direct heir. He had no children so in his will he passed the Spanish throne to Philip of Anjou. He was Charles’ closest relative, but also grandson of the most famous and most powerful French king of the era—Louis XIV.

Having the French Philip as king of Spain would combined the two countries—and their overseas colonies—into one powerhouse of a kingdom. This was something the other powers of Europe couldn’t accept and war ensued.

It may not look like much, but silver bars like this extracted from the Potosi mines in Bolivia made Spain at one point the richest country in Europe.

To finance this massive military adventure, Spain relied on gold and silver from its colonies. The problem was that England and the Netherlands, Spain’s enemies, ravaged her treasure convoys throughout the war. When war ended in 1714, Spain was near bankruptcy. This convoy was meant to change all that.

On the morning of July 24, 1715 the fleet of twelve ships carrying roughly 6,388,020 pesos, mostly in silver, but also in gold contraband. On the night of July 30 a ferocious storm obliterated the fleet.

Spain actually did manage to salvage a good amount of the treasure. Still out of the roughly $400 million cargo, only $175 million has been recovered. Exhibitions have displayed the recovered treasure as far back as the 1960s. The Schmitts are part of a long line of treasure hunters that have found bits and pieces of this convoy.

Brent Brisben of 1715 Fleet Queens Jewels LLC points out details on this gold bird found in the wreckage (Photo by Sam Wolfe).

Their most recent discovery is worth roughly $300,000, which isn’t too shabby. Under Florida law, up to 20% of the finding can be taken by the state and put on display in a Florida museum. The rest of it doesn’t all go to the Schmitts. A company called 1715 Fleet-Queens Jewels LLC actually owns the wreckage; they contracted the treasure hunt out to the Schmitts and receive half of the find.

So even though the Schmitts don’t get the full amount, they still receive a large sum. More significantly there’s still a vast amount of treasure waiting to be discovered from the murky depths.


Dr. Sam Sadati is the owner and practitioner of The Sadati Center of Aesthetic Dentistry in West Palm Beach and a leader in the world of cosmetic dentistry and smile design. He is the only accredited cosmetic dentist in all of South Florida and is one of only forty dentists in the world to receive an Accredited Fellow honor from the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD). Apart from creating beautiful smiles, Dr. Sadati enjoys photography, travel, and the opportunity to tell a good joke. If you have a question or comment, dental-related or otherwise, connect with us on Facebook or Twitter. We always reply to our fans and followers!