Off the coast of Florida, near Cape Canaveral, dozens of ruined rockets lie beneath the sea, having failed to make it to space. Mixed among the rocket debris are the remains of shrimp boats, airplanes, and surprisingly, three Spanish shipwrecks carrying French artifacts from the 16th century.
In 1565, the Spanish ships were en route to Havana when they were lost during a storm that struck the eastern coast of Florida. While searching the seabed with metal-detecting equipment, the Global Marine Expedition made the discovery in May 2016. Originally, the shipwrecks were thought to be the two lost ships of French colonist Jean Ribault, sunk during a storm in 1565. Ribault had taken refuge in England due to Protestant prosecution in France and was ordered to help with the colonization of North America. When the French officer refused, he was imprisoned until he agreed to make the voyage. The Spanish government, however, had already sent Pedro Menendez Aviles to capture the new French Huguenot colony. After killing the inhabitants and destroying the colony he had Ribault and his crew executed and commandeered the French spoils, confiscating 22 cannons, a monument hand carved from marble, a stone grinding wheel, anchors and miscellaneous ammunition and ballast.
After further examination, it is now thought that although the French loot had been brought to the New World by Ribault in 1562, it had been safely delivered to the Protestant colony located near the present day city of Jacksonville, Florida. The colony may have been populated by the first of the French to colonize North America. Three of the cannons were made of bronze and decorated with the symbol of French royalty, the fleur-de-lis. The largest two cannons were discovered to be 10 feet long, and the smallest was 7 feet. The 3-foot tall marble monument is carved with several fleur-de-lis symbols as well as an image of the crown of the French King.
Global Marine Expedition CEO Robert Prichett tells us that the description exactly matches that of the original ship manifest. Some of the cannons have etchings that date back to the reign of French King Henry in the 14th century.
The debris field from the wreckage of the three ships covers a 4-mile stretch along the bottom of the ocean. The depth of the area where the ruins were found is about 25 feet, and they rest in anywhere between three to eight feet of sand depending on the shifting of the sea.
Florida officials have not yet approved the Global Marine Expedition’s request to recover the items, and the priceless treasure continues to rest in shallow water at risk of hurricanes and those who would remove them illegally for sale to the highest bidder. If that were to happen, irreplaceable historical artifacts could be lost forever.
According to Pritchett, “We’ve been letting the state know that these artifacts are at the jeopardy of looters, and of the weather. These cannons are worth over a million dollars apiece — so if looters could find out the location, then a piece of history is gone forever because it’s going to be sold on the black market.”
Speaking of the marble monument, Pritchett claims, “[it is] the only one of its kind — and probably the most significant piece of maritime history that’s ever been found on the entire East Coast of the United States. It’s a mystery at this point, and until we bring all these items up and study them, we’re not going to know a lot more about them — only what we know from the little bit of research in the water that we’ve been able to do but right now, we’re waiting on the state of Florida.”