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How a Shipwreck Changed History, Part II: The Treasure

Real treasure found from a shipwreck discovered in 1984. (Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/theodorescott/)

Discover how a fishing boat found the treasure of a lifetime…

Last week, we learned about the shipwreck that changed history, sinking to the bottom of the ocean and indirectly causing the Louisiana Purchase, doubling the United States in size.

But what happened to the ship and its contents – namely the 400,000 silver reales on board?

The famous scene from Treasure Island where the huge treasure trove is discovered.

The famous scene from Treasure Island when the treasure is discovered.

One lucky fisherman found out on the fateful day of August 2, 1993. Jerry Murphy was fishing on a boat ironically named “Mistake” when his trawler got caught in something on the floor of the ocean. At first, they thought it was rock or debris, but when they pulled the net up a shower of silver coins appeared instead.

Murphy had come upon a stash of hundreds of Mexican silver coins, all dated 1783.

Immediately realizing the potential he had hit upon, Murphy marked the spot with a plotter and went to make a few calls.

First he called up his uncle Jim, partial owner of “Mistake”, and told him the news. They could hardly believe their luck.

Then Jerry called a lawyer, and in three days, they gained legal rights to the shipwreck.

They also hired a researcher of maritime history who extensively researched the wreck.

If you’ve read Part I, you know the rest: the wreck was found to be that of El Cazador, the ship that sank and lost its hundreds of thousands of coins to the bottom of the sea.

A Spanish piece of eight from 1803.

A Spanish piece of eight from 1803. (via Jerry “Woody” on Flickr)

The coins found in the shipwreck included Pieces of Eight, the coin famous for its inclusion in classic adventure novels. Also known as a Spanish 8 Reales silver coin, the 8 Reales was the first U.S. dollar used in commerce and trade. It was used as legal currency until 1857.

Today, pieces from the El Cazador are available for sale from The Franklin Mint, offering the chance to hold a piece of history in your hands.

What would you do if you found treasure at the bottom of the ocean?

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