Guadalupe Underwater Archaeological Preserve

Archaeology and History

On July 13, 1724, two galleons left the port of Cádiz, Spain for the New World in what is now Veracruz, Mexico. The liquid metal mercury, also known as quicksilver, was important in the amalgamation of silver, which in turn was important to the Spanish Crown. Constructed in 1702, the 1000 ton Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe was built to carry quicksilver with a special double frame work of iron bars and cement to make this possible. Two hundred and fifty tons of quicksilver was to be carried across the Atlantic aboard this vessel as well as 74 cannons; commercial merchandise including wine, water, personal goods, gunpowder, and artillery; and 600 passengers. Weighing 1500 tons, the Conde de Tolosa was larger than the Guadalupe, but only carried 150 tons of quicksilver, as it was not specifically created to transport mercury. There were also 600 passengers aboard the Tolosa, 350 of which were officials, sailors, and soldiers.

Conditions on this voyage were poor. The passengers were cramped together exposed to the scorching sun and rain with no escape from contagious illnesses. Almost everyone slept outside on the deck, and very few bathed or changed clothes. Thirty-nine days had passed when on the August 20th, the galleons entered the Port of Aguada, located on the western tip of Puerto Rico. The passengers took advantage of this break in the journey and disembarked for three days finally resting and bathing. The galleons stocked up on fresh water, food, and took on livestock.

The morning of August 23rd General Guerva said they were to set sail again, but signs of a storm were already prevalent. Pilot Major, Antonio Pérez Salcedo, opposed this order, saying that a hurricane could form at any moment since they were not uncommon at this time of the year. The ships set sail anyway and arrived that evening near Cape Cabrón, north of Samaná Bay. The next day, the ships proceeded to sail when a sudden change in direction and force of the wind caused General Guerva to change his mind and decide to pull into Samaná Bay. The captain of the Tolosa, Admiral Sebastián Villaseñor, was advised to do the same. As the galleons were heading for the bay, they were being pushed out towards the reefs. The weather conditions worsened, separating the ships as they had lost complete control. Terror set in among the passengers as waves poured upon the decks and the rigging was destroyed by the winds. The decks were ordered to be cleared and everyone was supposed to go beneath them so the sailors could do their best at trying to keep the ship from wrecking on the reef. The Guadalupe dropped anchor and ran aground in twenty feet of water. Many of the passengers on the lower decks had been drowned because of the waves that sloshed over the ship. Meanwhile, most of the passengers on the upper deck and stern survived. Throughout the night, vast openings were created in the hull as a result of the repeated collision between it and the sandy bottom. The cargo was then flooded and the rudder lost. General Guerva ordered a boat launch to shore on the morning of the 25th to seek help. However, a wave hurled the boat into the side of the ship, destroying it and sending all the passengers to drown in the sea.

The Tolosa had been carried farther into the reef away from the coast. Two main anchors were dropped at 180 feet, but at daybreak, the lines did not hold any longer, and the ship drifted toward the breakers of nearby reefs. The Tolosa was smashed up against the rocks and coral that split open the hull. The ship was quickly buried in forty feet of water, and almost all 600 passengers drowned. The main mast was the only thing intact after the storm, and seven survivors managed to climb to the top where they remained for 32 days. Another thirty people created a raft from the floating debris and rode the current for three days. Only six of the thirty had survived by the time they reached the River Jaian. One of the six claimed another twenty-four people had left on another raft, but they were never accounted for.

Survivors of the Guadalupe had gathered on the shores and set up camp, and two survivors from the Tolosa had joined them four days later. Thirteen people left the camp in hope to find a village nearby. They came across the village Higuey where they were told that Santo Domingo was not far away and if they walked east along the coast, they should come to it. At first the journey was not too difficult because for a time two rivers ran along the way, providing the travelers with food and drink. However, after many days, many had to be left behind. Many died during this treacherous trek due to exhaustion, starvation, eating poisonous fruits, or drowning. Finally, after crossing the beaches of Bahahibe, Romana, and Cumayasa they arrived between the Soco and Macorís Rivers where a fisherman had spotted them. He provided them with provisions after hearing about the tragedy they had experienced and left for Santo Domingo to get help. President Colonel Francisco de la Rocha Ferrer sent several rescue boats for the remaining survivors.