The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is a 501 (c) (3) accredited, not-for-profit organization existing to research, interpret, and exhibit the maritime history of Florida and the Caribbean in ways that increase knowledge, enrich the spirit, and stimulate inquiry.

For the 1622 return voyage, Atocha was loaded with a cargo that is, today, almost beyond belief - 24 tons of silver bullion in 1038 ingots, 180,00 pesos of silver coins, 582 copper ingots, 125 gold bars and discs, 350 chests of indigo, 525 bales of tobacco, 20 bronze cannon and 1,200 pounds of worked silverware! To this can be added items being smuggled to avoid taxation, and unregistered jewelry and personal goods; all creating a treasure that could surely rival any other ever amassed.

The Nuestra Señora de Atocha sank with 265 people onboard. Only five young sailors survived by holding on to the stump of the mizzenmast, which was the only part of the wrecked galleon that remained above water. Rescuers tried to enter the drowned hulk, but found the hatches tightly battened. The water depth, at 55 feet, was too great to allow divers to work to open her. They marked the site of her loss and moved on to rescue people and treasure from Santa Margarita and Nuestra Señora del Rosario, other ships also lost in the storm. On October 5th, a second hurricane struck and further destroyed the wreck of the Atocha, scattering it for miles. For the next 60 years, Spanish salvagers searched for the galleon, but they never found a trace. It was seemingly gone for good.

Archaeology ​/ More ... 1622 Galleons

Nuestra Señora de Atocha & Santa Margarita - Spanish Galleons of 1622

 

In 1969, Mel Fisher and his Treasure Salvors crew began a sixteen year quest for the treasure of the Atocha. They spent long years following the wreck’s elusive, breadcrumb-like trail – sometimes finding nothing for months, and then discovering bits and pieces that teasingly indicated the proximity of the ship and its cargo. Fisher kept the crew motivated with his mantra of “Today’s the day!” reminding them that each new sunrise brought the possible discovery of the Atocha’s “main pile.”

In 1973, three silver bars were found, and they matched the weights and tally numbers found on the Atocha’s cargo manifest, housed at the Archive of the Indies in Seville. This verified that the team was indeed on the Atocha trail and was surely drawing closer to the major part of the wreck site. In 1975, Mel’s son Dirk found five bronze cannon whose markings would clinch identification with the Atocha. Only days later, Dirk and his wife Angel, with diver Rick Gage, were killed when their salvage boat capsized and sank. The Treasure Salvors family was deeply shaken by the tragedy, but they knew that their lost colleagues would have wanted the search to continue, so the resolute crew persevered.

In 1980, they found the site of the Santa Margarita, including a large section of the galleon’s wooden hull weighed down by ballast stones, iron cannon balls, and artifacts of 17th century Spain, including a fortune in gold bars, jewelry and silver coins. And in 1982, after a years-long battle with the state and federal governments over possession of the shipwrecks, the US Supreme Court ruled that the items found on the galleons belonged to Fisher and Treasure Salvors and no one else.​

Finally, on July 20, 1985, Kane Fisher, captain of the salvage vessel Dauntless, sent a jubilant message to company headquarters, "Put away the charts; we’ve found the main pile!" The elusive cargo hold of the Atocha had been found! Ecstatic crew members described the find as looking like a reef of silver bars. Within days, the shipper’s marks on the bars were matched to the Atocha’s manifest, confirming the triumphant discovery. At long last, the wreck’s "motherlode" had been found -- and the excavation of what was widely referred to as the "shipwreck of the century" began.

Quickly, Duncan Mathewson, chief archaeologist for Treasure Salvors’, assembled a team of researchers from across the country to ensure that the shipwreck and its artifacts were excavated and documented properly. Because the material had lain on the ocean floor for three and a half centuries, much of it was in an extremely unstable state; rigorous conservation treatment by laboratory staff was required to ensure its preservation after it left its saltwater tomb.

Among the items found on the wreck  were silver bars and coins destined for the coffers of Spain; gold bars, a solid gold belt and necklace set with gems; a gold chalice designed to prevent its user from being poisoned; an intricately-tooled gold plate; a gold chain that weighs more than seven pounds; a horde of contraband emeralds -- including an impressive 77.76 carat uncut hexagonal crystal experts have traced to the Muzo mine in Colombia; religious and secular jewelry; and finely-crafted silverware.

With the treasure, and perhaps ultimately more important, were countless articles that provide insight into seventeenth-century life, especially under sail: rare navigational instruments, military armaments, native American objects, tools of various trades, ceramic vessels, galley wares, even seeds and insects. The surviving portion of the Atocha’s lower hull was documented and then recovered to be stored in a protected lagoon at the Florida Keys Community College, making it readily accessible to interested researchers.

With the treasure, and perhaps ultimately more important, were countless articles that provide insight into seventeenth-century life, especially under sail: rare navigational instruments, military armaments, native American objects, tools of various trades, ceramic vessels, galley wares, even seeds and insects. The surviving portion of the Atocha’s lower hull was documented and then recovered to be stored in a protected lagoon at the Florida Keys Community College, making it readily accessible to interested researchers.

Today, a large and broad array of fascinating artifacts from the Atocha and Margarita form the cornerstone of the not-for-profit Mel Fisher Maritime Museum’s permanent collection. Approximately 200,000 people visit the Key West museum annually to marvel at them, to learn about their fascinating role in colonial history, and to applaud the triumph of the human spirit that their recovery represents.

Photo Gallery of 1622 Galleons
Videos of 1622 Galleons
3D Gallry of 1622 Galleons

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Did you know that the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is the only fully accredited museum in the Florida Keys? That means we’re more than just an exciting adventure story. We’re also a nationally recognized research and archaeology institution.
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum - Galleon "Atocha"
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200 Greene Street | Key West, Florida 33040