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From the start there was bad blood between the Concepción’s admiral, Juan de Villavicencio, and Juan de Campos, the captain general who commanded the entire fleet. Known for his arrogance, Campos was a shipowner and silver dealer who was more businessman than mariner.

At 37, Villavicencio was much younger than Campos, but already had established a solid background in seafaring; indeed he had already commanded a fleet of galleons on its homeward voyage to Spain. The men clashed immediately: Campos wanted to sail from Havana right away, but Villavicencio argued that the ship needed major repairs first. On the first night Villavicencio was vindicated when the ship sprang a leak and had to return to port, but the repairs needed were not nearly as extensive as he thought would be necessary to ensure a safe passage to Spain.


Concepción’s passengers were a cross section of Spain and her New World colonies. There were merchants accompanying goods to market in Europe, government administrators, priests and friars heading home after tours of duty in New Spain, a company of marines, and the ship’s officers and crew.

The wealthy traveled with servants and slaves and commanded the best accommodations: richly appointed cabins that occupied the quarterdeck. They dined on livestock and fowl that were slaughtered en route, as well as eggs, fresh fruit, salt beef, and wine—as long as the stores lasted. Officers were given white bread or biscuits, ham, and sherry. Ordinary soldiers and crewmen made do with a daily ration of salt pork, cheap wine, and a pound and a half (0.7 kilogram) of black bread. They slept in hammocks, and many overnighted on deck, scurrying below for shelter during storms.



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