In 1783, Spanish King Charles II sent the ship El Cazador from Spain to Veracruz, Mexico. In Veracruz, El Cazador was loaded with 450,000 Spanish reales or silver coins, and placed under the command of Charles II’s most trusted captain, Gabriel de Campos y Pineda. On January 11, 1784, El Cazador left Veracruz for New Orleans; the funds carried were needed by the Spanish in New Orleans.
New Orleans was, at the time, the center of Spanish government in the region, as well as a key Spanish trade center. The paper money circulating had been devalued, and the Spanish needed to pay soldiers, traders and government officials.
El Cazador never reached New Orleans. Sometime in the first month after the ship sailed, it sank, between January and February of 1784. In June 1784, it was declared to be lost at sea. While the Spanish crown dispatched more funds to New Orleans, the damage was done. The shipwreck and substantial loss changed Spain’s attitude to their lands in Louisiana and beyond. On May 1, 1800, Spain returned control of New Orleans to France, eventually leading to the 1805 Louisiana Purchase under President Thomas Jefferson.
If El Cazador had reached its destination, history could have taken a very different course. Spain might have been unwilling to cede New Orleans, and the Louisiana Purchase might have never happened. On August 2, 1993, Captain Jeffrey Murphy was fishing some 50 miles off the Louisiana coastline when his net caught, approximately 300 feet below the water. When he pulled it up, he found that he had caught a load of silver reales, and had found the wreck of El Cazador.