Spanish Silver Fleet of 1691

1691 Silver Fleet
Outcome:Spanish Advantage
United Provinces

1 Voyage to the Caribbean

1.1 Silver Fleet

The silver fleet that arrived back in Spain in 1691, had left Spain a year before, in 1690. It was of crucial importance to the Spanish state and the economy. What is less well known, is that many of the goods in this fleet belonged to merchants from England, France, and especially the United Provinces. Therefore the chapter about the Spanish Silver fleet of 1691 does not end with its arrival back in Cadiz. It ends with part of its cargo reaching its destination in the Sea Powers or elsewhere.

1.2 Galleons vs New Spain

Spain sent multiple convoys to the Americas. It's obvious that the Convoy to Buenos Aires was not part of the silver fleet. What's less obvious is that the sliver fleet was something different from the fleet to New Spain. The silver fleet was commonly described as 'The Galleons to Tierra Firme' and collected the silver from Peru after it had been transported overland in Panama.

The fleet to new Spain traded with New Spain. However that may be, the fleet from New Spain led to fleets from Cadiz that were laden with silver.

1.3 Equipping in Cadiz

Preparing a big fleet with so many financial interests involved, took time, and was prone to delays. In January 1689 it was thought that the galleons would leave in May or June 1689 OHC 3 February 1689. The availability of masts and rigging were a persistent concern. On 17 April a big Fluyt with Spanish flags and papers arrived from Galicia in Cadiz with timber for the warships and galleons OHC 21 May 1689 On 26 April 1689 3 ships from Galicia with wood and rigging for the galleons arrived from Galicia. Fleet and galleons had to be ready by 10 June 1689 OHC 7 June 1689. This probably had to do with the expected war with France that was declared on 7 June OHC 2 July 1689. Also on 7 June two Galleons and the Petache arrived for the fleet from Sevilla, and were brought behind the Puntals OHC 14 July 1689.

On 28 June the first ships of the fleet to New Spain (not the silver fleet) came from the behind the Punctals into the Bay of Cadiz. On 1 July the other ships came into the Bay OHC 30 July 1689. On 14 July 1689 the fleet to New Spain sailed from Cadiz. It consisted of the Capitana Admirante, 5 big merchants, two Petaches and a ship to Maracaibo OHC 13 August 1689.

On 3 August there were orders in Cadiz that the galleons should leave in September. The missing masts and rigging should be taken from the warships, or otherwise from the Buenos Aires ships OHC 10 September 1689. Masts were then found in Biscay and were expected from Portugal OHC 30 August 1689, but it was not to be. On 10 August the president and prior of the council and the General of the Galleons held a meeting in Port St. Maria, and decided to delay the departure till October because the masts and rigging that had arrived in Lisbon were found inadequate to equip all galleons, and so they had to wait for the much delayed Dutch Convoy OHC 10 September 1689. In a reaction new orders reached Cadiz on 26 August, stating that the galleons should then indeed sail on the date in October, and repeating that masts should be taken from the warships, and that galleons that would not he ready were to be left behind OHC 24 September 1689. Letters of 2 October denied the arrival of the Assogues ships, and claimed that the galleons would wait for the English and Dutch convoys OHC 3 November 1689. On 20 October the 'register' of the galleons was opened and 4000 tons of cargo space permitted OHC 22 November 1689.

1.4 Loading the Galleons

By 21 November 1689 the arrival of the Hamburg Convoy of Carsten Lou (probably with shipping parts) was thought the cause that the galleons actually started loading OHC 20 December 1689. In mid December 1689 the Assogues ships had arrived in Cadiz, and it was thought certain that the galleons would leave in January 1691 without waiting any longer for the convoys from England OHC 3 January 1690. There was also a message that many French goods were loaded after arriving over Lisbon, and that the governor of the house of contraction was doing his utmost to let the ships sail in late December or early January 1690 OHC 3 January 1690. On 2 January the date of 26 January was published as when the galleons would leave, but it got little credit. By 2 January the Assogues ships had not unloaded much goods. By 11 January there doubts in Madrid that the galleons would leave before March OHC 31 January 1691.

On 28 the 'Vendels' (probably companies of troops) were brought aboard. Therefore it was thought that the president of the House of Contraction was hurrying the departure of the galleons. In regular operations, an advice yacht sailed two months before the galleons to Lima, so the merchants could bring their silver to Porto Velo. However the yacht had been held back by contrary winds. Some French clothing from Faro had been loaded into that yacht, and in the galleions. There was fear that the galleons would be inspected like they were in 1680, and the enemy goods removed. Several merchants were under house-arrest after communications with France had been intercepted OHC 28 February 1690.

On 14 February the advice yacht sailed. On 13 February the Galleons had been said to sail on 25 February OHC 11 March 1690. On 14 February the galleons came from behind the Punctuals into the Bay of Cadiz. The merchants were still under very loose house-arrest OHC 14 March 1690. There was news about French goods from Faro being loaded without any problems OHC 16 March 1690. On 30 (sic) February 1690 the clergy was reported to be embarking on the galleons in Cadiz, and they were expected to sail with the first new moon OHC 28 March 1690. On 14 March the Gallions sailed to the Americas OHC 20 April 1690.

2 In the Caribbean

The silver fleet was reported to have arrived from Cadiz in Cartagena on 15 May 1690 OHC 1 August 1690. The galleons were ordered to sail from Cartagena to Portobelo (Panama) on 2 November 1690 OHC 8 May 1691.

On 28 December 1690 the Galleons were reported to be in Portobelo. The silver that the silver fleet was named for was mined in Peru. At the time it was brought from Peru to Panama city, and then transported overland to Portobelo. The silver had left Lima in great quantity on 2 December, and there they expected a good Feria AC 5 July 1691.

The galleons, with an estimated 30 million in silver, were reported to sail from Portobelo on 1 April 1691, meaning they would not be in Spain before September OHC 5 July 1691. On 7 January the silver arrived in Panama to be transported overland. The general of the Galleons meanwhile send a message to New Spain to send bread and supplies to Havana OHC 25 August 1691.

From Portobelo the ships then sailed to Cartagena.

3 From Cartagena to Cadiz

The 1691 Silver fleet
Ship Captain Notes:Source
Jesus Maria Joseph** Don Pedro Carillo Amirante
NS de los Remedios y San Ignatio** Don Ignatio de Voilla RA
NS del Rosario, San Joseph y St. Theresa**Don Diego de Cordoba Late RA Count de Gerena
NS de la Concepcion** Don Pedro Adrian Colarte
Sanctissimo Sacramento** Don Juan de Eguees
The Capitana Gen. Marq. del Vao del Maestre
Margarita Don Francisco de Cordoba The Petache ****
NS de la Estrella Y san Joseph Domingo Sabalburto Petache de Galeones
NS de la Estrella Don Laureano Ximenez
El Santo Christo de San Roman Matias de Zavala
NS de los Remedios Don Diego de Rosoles
NS de Regla, San Joseph y San IgnatioFrancisco de Lauri
NS de la Victoria y San Francisco de PaulaDon Melchior Castano
Santa Barbara Juan Antonio Hugo From Honduras
A new ship Made in Maracaibo
NS del Mar Don Francisco (or Thomas) de PinedaSunk 24 Sep. near Azores, only crew***
The ship from Honduras Lost contact near Azores
NS de la Concepcion, San Joseph y las AnimasDon Ignatio de los CamerosSunk Cartagena-Havana
The Angel Don Pedro Azpilcueta Sunk Cartagena-Havana
NS del Carmen y San Jospeh Diego Ibanes Sunk Cartagena-Havana
Santa Cruz Diego Barrea del Corro Sunk Cartagena-Havana
**In sight of Cadiz on 30 October 1691, the rest (except the Honduras ship) arrived on 5 November.
*** Silver saved OHC 29 November 1691.
**** Petache Margriet not arrived OHC 1 December 1691.

3.1 From Cartagena to Havana

On 29 May the 'Ships and Galleons' left Cartagena. Soon after (Probably 5 June) the fleet hit Pedro Bank a submerged bank then called 'Vibora' (because its shape resembled a viper). Here 4 ships sunk with only the crew saved OHC 4 December 1691.

A ship leaving Havana on 2 April noted that in October the Honduras ships had been driven back by storm. The commander was driven on the coast would be demolished, and the most important parts of its cargo would be transferred to the vice-commander, who would join the galleons on their return trip OHC 28 August 1691.

3.2 From Havana to Cadiz

On 13 and 14 August the fleet of 17 ships had left Havana for Cadiz. On 21 September it came near the islands of Corvo and Flores, the westernmost of the Azores. In between it lost contact with the ship from Honduras, and saw the ship NS del Mar sinking after the crew had been saved.

Near the Azores the fleet ran into some hard winds and fog, that separated the fleet in two parts. We'll see what happened to these later on.

3.3 Slightly different accounts

On 6 October a Gabarra (Barge) from Maracaibo arrived in Sanlucar (a barge crossing the ocean seems strange, but this is not important now). It had left Havana with the galleons on 6 August. On 10 August he became separated. The warship Santa Cruz was reported sunk (both men and cargo saved) as well as the Concepcion (sunk with all hands and goods), and the Campechano of Captain Bernardino and the Angel (both ships men and cargo saved). The second in command had a slightly different story: On 29 May the galleons sailed from Cartagena to Havana. On 13 August it left Havana for Cadiz. On the 5th they came to the Serpent? the ships (Concepcion) of Leonard de Lara, Pedro de Aspilquetta, Jeronimo de Estrada and Salvador Veles de Gavara sunk, but all hands except 40 were saved OHC 6 November 1691 both pages. The account of 4 December (above) is probably way more accurate.

4 Dutch convoys to Portugal and Setubal

Cadiz Convoy of Van der Saen
Ship guns CaptainNotes:
Beschermer Comm. van der SaenWould return with Delaval
Nieuw Livorno 44 Cornelis SwerverWould return with Delaval, cf 1689
Keyser Adolphus 30 Leendert ReyneWould return with Delaval, cf 1689
Hollandia Pieter Brant
Diamant Gerrit van LeeuwenWould return with Delaval
Hester Christiaan van LeeuwenWould return with Delaval
NS de los Milagros Barent Vinck
St Jacob Nicolaes Schoon
OHC 6 November 1691

4.1 Taelman's convoy to Lisbon and Cadiz

C. 18 July 1691 three ships were taken out of the Amsterdam dock for Captains Taalman, Vlack and Hoogenhoeck OHC 21 July 1691 On 15 August about 230 ships left Texel. Most of them to the Baltic, 11 to Archangelsk, 1 to Bilbao, 2-3 to the West Indies, about 30 to Lisbon and Setubal, and 14-15 to Cadiz and the straits OHC 18 August 1691. In 1691 Taelman commanded the Maria Elizabeth, and he was most probably part of this convoy. By 9 October his ships had arrived in Lisbon and Setubal OHC 6 November 1691. On 17 October 1691 he arrived in Cadiz from Lisbon with 3 Dutch Fluyts OHC 20 November 1691. It were the Joanna Maria under Jacob Jansz. Bons; De Keurvorst van Beyeren under Symon Willemse and the Eenigheyt under Roelof Laurense.

4.2 Van der Zaen escorting to Setubal

In early August 1691 Van der Saen sailed from Texel as commander of the convoy to Hull He already had orders to escort to Cadiz after his return. On 12 August Van der Saen had returned to Texel with the convoy from Hull

On 15 August 1691 Van der Saen left Texel for Cadiz together with: the Diamant, Gerrit van Leeuwen; St Jago, Claes Schoon; Hester, Christiaan van Leeuwen; Keyser Adolphus Leendert Reyne; Koning Salomon, Michiel Dirksz. Roos; Nostra Signora de los Milagros, Barent Vink; the ship of Captain Swerver etc. all to circumvent England. On 29 September his convoy arrived in Cadiz with 8 merchants: those of: Swever, van Leeuwen, Pieter Brant, Barent Vink, Cornelis du Pon, Leendert Reyne and 2 others OHC 3 November 1691. Note that there were some defendable ships in this convoy that were also involved in bringing home the goods of the 1688 silver fleet.

4.3 Taelman and Van der Zaen remain in Cadiz

From 17 October 1691 Taelman and Van der Saen were together in Cadiz. On 19 October Van der Saen left to escort a pink (small ship) to Salé in Morocco. While he was away the Spanish Silver fleet arrived from the Americas. On 3 November Van der Saen arrived back in Cadiz on his warship the Beschermer. While one would expect Taelman and Van der Saen to escort a return fleet, this was not to be. Possible reasons are the weather and especially the arrival of the silver fleet. They waited in Cadiz for about 3 months.

4.4 Hartman sails to Cadiz

While van der Zaen left Texel on 15 August 1691, the Koning David of Jan Hartman was left behind. He obviously sailed through the Channel later. On 21 September he left Plymouth together with Jan Wagenaer and 10 others. On 26 September they were west of Scilly when they were forced back by headwinds AC 9 October 1691. On 23 October Hartman wrote from Plymouth that on that day and the 22nd he had been under sail for the 4th time, but had been forced to remain at Plymouth because the wind turned South West OHC 3 November 1691. On 25 October Hartman left Plymouth with an eastern wind OHC 8 November 1691. Together with about 24 others he had reached Cape Lizard when the wind turned south west and the weather became rough so that 10-12 ships returned. In the evening a storm arose, so that he could not round Cape Lizard. The wind then turned south. The next morning the wind turned north west and weak, and he returned to Plymouth. He knew that the Temple of Salomon, De Son, the St. Jan and Wagenaer were also turning OHC 10 November 1691. Hartman next sailed with Callenburg OHC 20 November 1691

On 29 October Hartman left Plymouth again, in company of some ships to the West Indies, that soon left. On the 30th he met what was probably the whole fleet of Delaval and Doedes Star combined. On the 31st they left the fleet, but got an English warship that remained with them till 1 November. On 5 November the convoy was near Galicia when it ran into a storm. It continued for three days with thunder, lightning and rain from the south south-east. On 9 November the 6 ships to Lisbon and Setubal left the convoy. On 16 November Hartman saw a small squadron of warships near Cape St. Vincent. On 23 October Hartman arrived in Cadiz OHC 1 January 1692

Hartman on the Koning David arrived in Cadiz together with the Temple of Salomon under Jan Jansz. Beets; De Son, Simon Pietersz. Grande; St. Jan Baptist, Adriaen Klaver AC 1 January 1691 In late November the ship Maria, that had sailed with Hartman, arrived in Portugal OHC 1 January 1691

4.5 The Amsterdam and Rotterdam Convoy to Portugal

The next convoy to sail to Cadiz was the Rotterdam convoy under Samuel Forman on the Wapen van Rotterdam and Sterrenburg under Lamoureux. A convoy from the Meuse to Spain and Portugal was to leave on 27 September 1691 OHC 28 August 1691. On 3 November 1691 the convoy left the Meuse. It became scatterred in the Channel. 30 ships entered Plymouth OHC 15Nov1691 20Nov1691 , while many others went ahead and in the week of 20-27 November entered Porto, Lisbon and Setubal. Others continued to Cadiz with Forman. It was thought that Commander L'Amoureux would go to Porto to collect ships destined to Setubal AC 01 01 1691. Number of ships (names on page 1) the Rotterdam convy lost OHC 1 January 1691. On 17 December Forman sailed from Cadiz to Lisbon LG 25 January 1691/92

4.6 Callenburgh's aborted expedition to Cadiz

Dutch squadron planned for Cadiz under VA Callenburg
Ship guns Captain notes:
Noord Holland (N) 68 De Jong, VA Callenburgh a.k.a Noorderkwartier
Premier Noble (Z) 74 A. de Boer
Groot Frisia (F) 72 Hidde de Vries
Maes (M) 70 Pieterson
Haarlem (A) 64 A. Manard
Amsterdam (A) 64 Cornels van der Saen
Schattershoef (A) 50 Wassenaar
Ripperda (A) 50 H. Lijnslager
Schiedam (M) 50 Jacob van der Goes
Bu. 6 gebroeders Comm. de Jong
Bu. Mercurius (N) Comm. Marten Dick
List from Finch p. 265
List also in: OHC 9 October 1691 details added from other sources.

The Sea powers were very much aware of the danger that the Silver Fleet could be intercepted by the French. They were of course interested in the welfare of their Spanish ally, but that was not all. Many of the goods in the Silver fleet were owned by English and Dutch merchants. Therefore a disaster would hit the Sea Powers just as hard as the Spanish. On 19 September King William III therefore wrote to Almonde that he had determined that a fleet of 24 warships should be sent to Cadiz to protect the alliance convoys to an from that place. The ships were to be 15 English warships and 9 Dutch. The Dutch were to be commanded by Callenburgh, and his ships: the Maze, Schiedam, First Noble, Noorderkwartier, the ship of Hidde de Vries, and two out of: Haarlem, Leiden, Amsterdam, and two out of Nijmegen, Schattershoef, Ripperda (Finch p 257). On 23 September Almonde wrote to Nottingham with an attached list of ships for Cadiz (cf. table, Finch p. 265).

Queen Mary was somewhat clearer when she wrote to Almonde on 15 September: 'in a matter of such importance "as the sending the squadron you mention to Cadiz for the security of the Spanish Galleons"'. On 18 September Nottingham wrote to Sydney that there were many difficulties in executing the King's commands about a squadron to secure the galleons. The Dutch ship were to get necessities out of the stores in Portsmouth. On 1 October Callenburg wrote from the Noorderkwartier that he could sail in 8-10 days (Finch p 270-3 ).

English squadron planned for Cadiz under VA Delaval
RtShip guns Captain notes:
3Berwick 70 Martin
3Lennox 70 Munden
3Monmouth 70 Raines
3Swiftsure 70 Clark
3Montague 60 Foulks
3Resolution 70 Lord Danby
3Hampton Court 70 Graydon
3Expedition 70 Dover
3Dreadnought 60 Beaumont
3York 60 Main
4Centurion 50 Wivel
4Chester 50 Chamberlain
4St. Albans 50 Fitz Patrick
4Deptford 50 Ker
3Kent 70 Nevil
List from Finch p. 277

The English thought to supply their part of the fleet to Cadiz from the fleet to Ireland. There were however only 11 ships thought fit to sail (Finch p 276). Delaval wanted to command the Expedition for the financial benefits involved, and got his way. On 25 September he sent a list of 15 ships, of which 12 were with him. The Chester, St. Albans and Deptford were not, and the Kent and Oxford were also not then under his command. He would join Callenburg from Ireland without first returning to England.

Dutch squadron planned for Cadiz under VA Callenburg
Ship guns Captain notes:
Noord Holland (N) 68 De Jong, VA Callenburgh a.k.a Noorderkwartier
Premier Noble (Z) 74 A. de Boer
Groot Frisia (F) 72 Hidde de Vries To the UP with Callenburg on 28 Dec. AC 3 Jan. 1691
Maes (M) 70 Pieterson
Veluwe (M) 64 Brakel
Leiden (A) 64 Dekker
Amsterdam (A) 64 Cornels van der Saen
Haarlem (A) 64 A. Manard
Goes (Z) 54 Martense
Schattershoef (A) 50 Wassenaar
Nijmegen (A) 50 Van Benthem
Ripperda (A) 50 H. Lijnslager
Bu. 6 gebroeders Comm. de Jong
Bu. Mercurius (N) Comm. Marten Dick
List from Finch p. 286

On 22 October Callenburg sent a new list of 15 ships and 2 burners, and said he was ready to sail in three days. Meanwhile Delaval would secure the West Indies ships from Kinsale to England (Finch p 286-287). Callenburg was then ordered to sail west and join Delaval.

Delaval was ordered to go to Kinsale first, but after a violent storm the Dutch part of his squadron (Not that of Callenburg) was in so much need of repair that it could not be persuaded to join him. By 18 November Delaval was therefore back at Spithead (Finch p 299). Callenburg was also driven back by the storm. Nothing further then came of this expedition that Callenburg was to command and Delaval wanted to command. In the end it failed because of the weather. The root causes of this failure were a general lack of provisions, and the fact that most of the alliance ships had been at sea too long. Ideally ships needed repair after a season at sea, but many had been at sea for over a year. In other words: a huge number of tasks had overstretched alliance naval resources and the failure to send a squadron to Cadiz was the result.

The relevance of describing the failed expedition is that it proves the importance that the alliance attached to it. It was not the final word, because a new expedition to Cadiz was made ready and attempted to sail at the very end of the year.

5 Arrival of the Silver Fleet in Cadiz

5.1 The Armada cruises for the Galleons

Spanish fleet that sailed from Cadiz on 15 October*
ShipCaptain guns builtFurther activity
Hoop Antonio Ramos 1) 70 Flag of d'Aguilar 1691
Conception y las AnimasNot Francisco Valerin OHC 15 January 1691 90 AC 9 Oct 1691
St. Rosa Mateo de la Haya 1) 62? VA Salmono
Los tres Reyes Juan de Sturiaga 1) 70
NS d'Atocha Pedro Ponze de Leon 1) 60 blown up early Nov. 1691
St. Ignacio Andres de Yssasi 1) 50
Theresa de JesusJuan de Ojeda 1) 60
Theresa de NapolesBarthelome Bont 1) 24
St Pedro de AlcantaraMatheo Mas RA 1) 60
St Geronimo Alexandro Norengue 1) 60
St. Domingo Joseph Valoer 1) 54
2 unnamed burners 1)
Carel II Papachino 2) 70
Francisco Juan de Nestares 2) 50
St. Lorenzo Alonzo Fernandez de Cordoba 2)50
St. Thomas d'AquinoMelendo Suarez 2) 50
St. August Rodrigo Pardo 2) 20?
Mater Dolorosa Peter van Hetrik 2) A 'pink' from Oostende
* Conjectured composition cf page about Spanish navy
1) left Cadiz OHC 14 Aug 1691
2) left Cadiz 28 April 1691 OHC 2 June 1691

The arrival of the above 'Gabarra' (Barge) from Maracaibo to Sanlucar on 6 October 1691 might have been the first account that the Spanish got of the arrival of the galleons. By then the Armada was still near Alicante, but already approaching Cadiz. About this 'ship of the galleons' that had arrived in Sanlucar, an express was sent to Mardi, arriving there on 10 October OHC 3 November 1691

On 15 October the Armada left Cadiz. With '20 sturdy warships' it then cruised near Cape St. Vincent OHC 20 November 1691. 'Sturdy' ('kloek') should probably be interpreted as ships of the line, not frigates. By combining several sources it's possible to get a rather reliable list of this Armada, cf. the Spanish Navy page.

The winds were contrary for the galleons, and this was thought to be the cause that by 31 October there was still no other news in Madrid then that brought by the ship in Sanlucar OHC 20 November 1691

5.2 A French fleet sails to the Mediterranean

Meanwhile a Frenh fleet sailed to the Mediterranean. Whether it had orders to intercept the galleons is not that clear.

5.3 The Armada encounters the French fleet

On 27 October the Armada sighted a number of ships. Thinking these might be the Galleons D'Aguilar sent two of his best sailing ships to reconnoiter. On the 28th these found themselves in the midst of the French fleet. The Tres Reyes escaped with significant damage, but the NS de L'Atocha had to fight, and was blew up after a long resistance. What was left of the crew was saved OHC 4 December 1691. Guérin has that Captain Don Ponce de Leon was killed by a cannon ball, and that the French burned his ship because it was very damaged.

5.4 The Armada escorts the Galleons

The rest of the Armada encounterd 5 galleons and brought them before the Bay of Cadiz on 30 October. Two of these entered the bay on 31 October, the three others lay at anchor before the bay till 4 November. Meanwhile the Armada immediately set sail to the west again. It found the other galleons, and arrived with them before the bay on 5 November OHC 4 December 1691 The Ship from Honduras remained missing, by 11 November there was still no news about it in Cadiz OHC 13 December 1691.

What is remarkable is that the Spanish thought the French fleet to have come from Toulon, and noted that it returned there OHC 4 December 1691

6 Aftermath

After the galleons were secure in Cadiz a long struggle between government and merchants about the exact repartition of the cargo, or rather the amount of money the merchants would pay the king, started.

7 Results & Analysis

7.1 Results

The result of the actions of the Spanish Navy and Silver Fleet were clear. An enormous amount of silver and other costly goods had safely arrived in Cadiz. This was a strategic achievement for Spain.

7.2 Analysis

What is remarkable about the operations with regard to the silver fleet is that Spain independently achieved the results. One can remark all kinds of things about Spanish effectiveness at the time, but the fact remains that it had secured the fleet without help from its allies.

8 Sources

Finch refers to the papers of Allan George Finch, which contain correspondence of Daniel Finch, second earl of Nottingham during his first tenure of the office of secretary of state.

OHC, AC, LG refer to newspapers of the time

9 Notes