[Centuries of Seeking   | Tracy Bowden   |  Finds   | Restoration]

No one knows exactly how much treasure the Concepción carried when she set sail for Spain. Besides the items listed in the ship’s manifest, much was left undeclared to avoid taxes. The ship carried between one million and four million silver pesos, which weighed as much as 140 tons (127 metric tonnes) and an assortment of jewelry, pearls, emeralds, and gold dust.

In the years immediately following the sinking of the Concepción, several adventurers, including the ship’s Vice Admiral, Juan de Villavicencio, tried to locate the wreck site. All failed. In 1687 William Phips, a young and energetic seafarer from New England, finally succeeded.

Phips recovered a king’s ransom in treasure, but hostile weather and low provisions forced him to quit the site. When he returned on a later voyage, Phips was shocked to find it crawling with small-time salvagers. After a disappointing yield, Phips gave up.

The location of the wreck was lost again until the late 1970s, when researcher and author Peter Earle found the log of one of Phips’ ships in an English archive. This discovery, along with a new type of magnetometer (a device used to detect metallic objects), enabled American salvager Burt Webber to relocate the wreck in 1978 and recover another fortune.

Convinced that more riches remained, Tracy Bowden, author of the July 1996 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC article “Gleaning Treasure From the Silver Bank,” negotiated an agreement with the government of the Dominican Republic and went on to salvage still more treasure during the 1990s.

[Centuries of Seeking   | Tracy Bowden   |  Finds    | Restoration]

©1998 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved.