On August 18, 1750, the Spanish man-of-war, La Galga, departed Havana, Cuba for Spain, escorting six other ships which consisted of four Spanish merchant ships, a Portuguese merchant and a brig, or zumaca, belonging to the King of Spain. They were carrying New World products and treasure. La Galga’s departure had been delayed due to repairs on the ship and waiting for cargos and crew to arrive and be loaded. This delay linked La Galga with the disastrous fate of the fleet she was assigned to protect. This delay also changed the course of history.
On August 25, 1750, the fleet encountered a hurricane off of Cape Canaveral, Florida, a point where the fleet would have turned east towards Spain. The hurricane disabled the ships leaving them at the mercy of the winds and the north-bound Gulf Stream. The ships were propelled to the coasts of North Carolina and Virginia. Two of the ships made it safely into Hampton Roads, Virginia. At North Carolina, El Salvador was lost at Cape Lookout and Nuestra Señora de Soledad was lost at Old Drum Inlet. The Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe was driven to Ocracoke Inlet and was unable to proceed. The King’s zumaca, Nuestra Señora de Mercedes, was lost on the shoals fifteen miles north of Cape Charles at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. La Galga drove ashore on Assateague Island on September 5, 1750.
La Galga sat in shallow water a very short distance from the beach and in or adjoining a small inlet.None of the crew died during the storm or on board the ship. Several died trying to swim ashore on pieces of the wreck. This included one Englishman who was being held prisoner by the Spanish. On the third day some Indians arrived who aided the Spaniards with their canoes and some crew made a raft from ship wreckage and made it to shore. It wasn’t until the following day that the English arrived and carried Captain Don Daniel Huony and his crew to the mainland in Worcester County, Maryland. Spanish records show that there were not only a number of desertions of prisoners but of the Spanish crew as well. Some of these may have been absorbed into the neighboring settlements without returning home. Captain Huony ultimately returned home to Spain in early 1751.
La Galga left a legend that the horses that run wild today swam from the shipwreck. The preponderance of the evidence suggests that the legend is true.
Prior to her demise at Assateague she had an interesting history.
She was built in 1731at Cádiz by Juan Cassanova and in service as of October 29, 1731. She was built to carry 56 cannons. Her keel 109.4 ft.; length overall, 120.7 ft; beam 33.5 ft.; depth of hold, 16 ft.; and was rated at 632 1/10 toneladas.
In 1732, she was careened at Cádiz with more repairs the following year. In 1734, she was armed with fifty-four cannon and cruised in the Mediterranean.
In 1736, she was part of an expedition to Buenos Aires under command of Nicolas Geráldino and found her way back to Cádiz in 1739. The following year, La Galga was at Ferrol, Spain, and was ordered to leave on a privateering mission with Daniel O’Leary against the English on the coast of Guinea, Africa. She had permission to carry 400 to 450 men. Conde de Vega Florida was named captain by the King. The project was called off in 1741 by the King for a more important mission.
On May 21, 1740, Admiral Pensadoes sailed from Ferrol for Cádiz with a large fleet of warships which included the St. Philip and La Galga. In 1741 she was at Graña, Spain. This was wartime and her crew numbered 444.
In 1744, she was at Toulan, France, but did not participate in the sea battle with the English captain, Edward Hawk. The following year she became part of a squadron of seventeen ships under the Marqués de la Victoria and was in the port of Cartagena, Spain. Her captain was Don Augustín de Idiaquez.
1745. La Galga was part of a squadron of 17 ships under the Marqués de la Victoria and was in the port of Cartagena, Spain. Her captain was Don Augustín de Idiaquez.
In September 1747, La Galga was careened for repairs at Cartagena. Her captain, Blas de Barreda, was ordered by the Marqués de Ensenada, the Minister of the Navy, to prepare for a cruise to Italy after stopping in Cádiz. But the Marqués had secret plans because of the war. La Galga was going to join the fleet of warships under the command of Don Francisco Liaño which, along with twenty-three merchant ships, would be carrying mercury for the refinement of silver in Mexico. La Galga loaded 667 chests of mercury each weighing 150 pounds. She also was freighted with fifty tons of iron. She was also crewed for wartime service with over 400 sailors and soldiers. On March 14, 1748, the fleet, with La Galga, departed Spain. This would be La Galga’s last trip to the West Indies.
The British attempted to intercept the fleet off of Cape Cantin, Africa. La Galga escaped capture because of a diversion by several of the other warships. In May, La Galga stopped at Hispaniola to take on supplies. On June 2, La Galga and the other ships arrived at Veracruz, Mexico.
At Veracruz, La Galga was loaded with treasure and cargo valued at over a million pesos to be transported to Havana. She departed on January 18, 1749, and arrived at Havana on March 6. Here, her treasure was offloaded and repairs were made. She would set sail on April 14 for a return to Veracruz for more treasure. Her captain was Fernando de Varela but she was under the fleet command of Don Daniel Huony. La Galga arrived at Veracruz on April 24. There were delays in loading treasure and finding suitable crew. It was hoped that La Galga would have been able to return to Havana in time to sail back to Spain with the treasure fleet of Admiral Reggio, but he left before La Galga dropped anchor at Havana on July 17.
La Galga was again leaking and had to undergo extensive repairs. She was preparing for her last voyage, not to transport treasure for the King of Spain, but to bring a legend to the coast of North America that would endure for centuries.
Her last voyage began on August 18, 1750, and it ended on September 5, at Assateague Island, Virginia.