Nuestro Señora de Ia Pura y Limpia Concepcion
On September 28, 1641, the Spanish treasure fleet set sail for Europe from Havana. This was their second attempt for that season. Only ten days before: the fleet had sailed and hit storms and had to return to port for repairs.
Nuestro Señora de Ia Pura y Limpia Concepcion flew the flag of Vice Admiral Juan Luis de Villavicencio.The Concepcion, a leaking 600 ton galleon with too small a rudder and overly high freeboard, was loaded to the gunwales with the treasures of the New World and the Orient. She carried tons of silver from the rich mines of Mexico and Potosi. Also aboard were quantities of gold and jewels, silks, spices, porcelain, and jade. Treasures from the Orient, which had been sent on the Manila galleons to Acapulco then transshipped overland to Veracruz and loaded aboard the fleet In addition to the government cargo, the Concepcion and other ships also carried much personal treasure of Diego de Pacheco, Viceroy of New Spain, and payments being remitted by major merchants of all the new World Colonies.
On the second voyage, the fleet once again encountered severe storms. The hurricane season being in full swing, the fleet was scattered and the Concepcion was badly damaged. She drifted under jury rig for many days, the pump going full-time. On November 2, 1641, the hulk of the Concepcion ran aground amidst the reefs north of Hispaniola, the present day Dominican Republic. Between the storm and the wreck itself, starvation, exposure, and sharks, over three hundred of those aboard the Concepcion perished, the others had no idea where they were. Eventually, some reached Santo Domingo, but were unable to say exactly where the ship had gone down.
In 1687, William Phipps (later to be governor of Massachusetts) discovered the wreck of the Concepcion and salvaged a large quantity of silver and 25 pounds of gold, an estimated 13 percent of the ships bullion cargo. It was great wealth for the time, but obviously much more remained to be found. Many tried without success. Over the years, the legends grew. The reefs where the ship went down came to be known as the "silver shoals," as once in awhile, a piece of eight scattered from a chest would glint in the sun.
On November 28, 1978, salvages found the remains of the Concepcion and modern divers were able to bring up the coinage which had been in the strong room in the aft section, never reached by Phipps. The tragedy has bequeathed to our age on of the richest historical treasures taken from the sea. The wreck is especially important to the history of our country, since it is one of the most significant treasure ships ever discovered that has direct connections to our colonial period.