The Spanish Collections of the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum

In 1492, the king and queen of Spain sponsored an ambitious voyage across the uncharted Atlantic. Within a decade, the Spanish had reached the American continents and discovered lands rich in precious metals and other raw materials.

The first Spanish colonists did not come to trade but to rule. Daring and ruthless, Spanish soldiers exploited Indigenous political rivalries for their own ends, destroying sophisticated cultures and killing thousands of people. They brought firearms and steel but their greatest advantage lay in the viruses they carried—many European diseases were deadly to Indigenous people.

In the Americas, whole Indigenous civilizations fell while Spain built the first global empire of modern times. It was within the Spanish colonies that Africans, Asians, Europeans, and Indigenous people encountered each other, establishing the multicultural world that we have inherited. From the Caribbean to Florida, from Texas to Oregon, and from Mexico to the tip of South America, the Spanish established ports and towns. From Acapulco on Mexico's Pacific coast, they opened trade with the Far East. Spain supported her colonies with an efficient system of fleets that brought goods and emigrants to the Americas, while taking valuable cargoes back to Europe.

In 1622, 1715, and 1733, hurricanes devastated the fleets that were sailing across the Atlantic to Spain. Many ships were destroyed by these storms and sank off the coast of Florida. The vessels carried rare Inka silver, precious jewelry, silver bullion, weapons, and a host of objects that tell the story of these times. The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum was founded with a major gift of artifacts from the 1622 shipwrecks.