A communication from a scornful spouse to her husband who appeared to have deserted her upon journeying to the Americas, which was left unread for approximately 300 years, is one of many documents from Spanish vessels in the 18th century taken by the British and currently accessible online.
On January 22, 1747, Francisca Muñoz, living in Seville, sent a letter to her husband, Miguel Atocha, who resided in Mexico. This letter was one of 100 written by Spanish women to their husbands, discussing the difficulties they faced emotionally and financially while their partners were away. The letters were discovered on La Ninfa, a registered ship that traded between Cádiz and Veracruz, Mexico. Unfortunately, the ship was captured by the infamous British privateer squadron known as the “Royal Family”.
My beloved husband, I am happy that this letter has reached you and I hope it finds you in good health. I am curious as to why I have not received a response to the 13 letters I sent. Is there perhaps a shortage of paper, pen, or ink where you are?
She adds that she is deeply unhappy, facing more hardships than anyone else, burdened by numerous pains, and also having to care for your two children, for whom your love has faded.
Their son, Miguel, has grown into a man with a bigger physique than your own and he is currently unclothed due to the lack of job opportunities or means of earning anything in this area.
Due to their illnesses, both she and her daughter, Maria, have been compelled to serve as household workers. She herself suffers from a throat abscess and is unable to ask for money to see a surgeon due to her extreme weakness and hunger. She describes days where she cannot even drink water because she lacks access to it and is too unwell to go door-to-door begging.
Their son requires someone to lend him a cloak to attend mass. Their daughter was forced to marry the son of Estacio Hidalgo, who was known as “el playero” or the beach man, against her father’s wishes. Her unfortunate story continues as she reveals that Maria had given birth to a child who was admired by all in Triana and Seville, but sadly passed away after only 14 months.
She signs off with: “Your wife, Francisca Muñoz, who wishes to see you.”
The documents and objects from approximately 130 Spanish vessels that were taken by the British during the conflicts of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-1748) and the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) are included in the collection of papers. The initial batch is currently accessible through the Prize Papers project on the internet.
The Spanish ambassador to the UK, José Pascual Marco, commented that the documents were essential for comprehending the intricacies of the world, its essence, and its challenges. He described them as a window into the human experience of the Americas.
During the time span of 1652 to 1815, British privateers and naval ships took control of approximately 35,000 ships. They also confiscated hundreds of thousands of documents, including 160,000 undelivered letters in 20 different languages. These papers, known as the Prize Papers, are currently being digitized through a collaborative effort between the UK’s National Archives and the University of Oldenburg in Germany that is expected to last 20 years.
The recently published Spanish documents consist of two stunningly illustrated books from the Nuestra Señora de Covadonga, a valuable ship captured while en route from Acapulco to Manila in 1743. The ship’s cargo included a large sum of silver coins, specifically reals and pesos. Additional papers feature a message sent in 1742 to the governor of the Philippines on behalf of King Philip V, directing him to provide sanctuary to Danish vessels.
At the age of 16, Joaquín Ruiz de España, who moved to Veracruz in Mexico with his father from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, wrote a letter to his friends describing a near-death experience on their ship before leaving Havana.
I was ascending the ship’s ladder at 10 PM when I lost my footing and fell into the dark waters below. I was able to keep myself above water thanks to God’s grace rather than my own abilities.
The father of the non-swimming son threw him a rope. The son expressed gratitude to God, the Holy Virgin, Saint Joseph, and Saint Anthony for allowing him to hold on, as he was struggling to breathe and on the verge of losing consciousness.
He went on to say, “I envisioned myself facing death and believed that, as a sinner, God would surely end my life.”