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The Treasure of the San José

Death at Sea in the War of the Spanish Succession

2007 Award for Excellence in World History and Biography/Autobiography, Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers

Sunk in a British ambush in 1708, the Spanish galleon San José was rumored to have one of the richest cargos ever lost at sea. Though treasure hunters have searched for the wreck's legendary bounty, no one knows exactly how much went down with the ship or exactly where it sank. Here, Carla Rahn Phillips confronts the legend of lost treasure with documentary records of the San José's final voyage and suggests that the loss of silver and gold en route to Spain paled in comparison to the loss of the six hundred men who went down with the ship.

Drawing from rich archival records, Phillips presents a biography of the ship and its crew. With vivid detail and meticulous scholarship, the author tells the stories of the officers, sailors, apprentices, and pages who manned the ship and explains the historical context in which the San José became prey to the British squadron.

But the story does not end with the sinking of the San José. While Phillips addresses the persistent question of how much treasure was on board when the ship went down, she focuses on the human dimensions of the tragedy as well. She recovers the accounts of British naval officers involved in the battle, and examines the impact of the ship's loss on the Spanish government, the survivors, and the families of the men who perished. Original, comprehensive, and compelling, The Treasure of the San José separates popular myth from history and sheds light on the human lives associated with a "treasure" ship.

About the Author

Carla Rahn Phillips is the Union Pacific Professor in Comparative Early Modern History at the University of Minnesota. She has published two award-winning books with Johns Hopkins, Six Galleons for the King of Spain: Imperial Defense in the Early Seventeenth Century and, with William D. Phillips, Jr., Spain's Golden Fleece: Wool Production and the Wool Trade from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century.


"Not just another maritime disaster drama, this history of a Spanish galleon sunk by the English in 1708 offers fascinating glimpses into Spain's American empire... By plumbing the dashed hopes of those invested in the success of the San José, Phillips endows her narrative with a foreboding poignancy."

- Booklist

"Her work proceeds, even with its scholarship, to retain the basic magic of the tale of the magnificent galleon under the command of the Count of Casa Alegrre and manned by 600 souls, all still resting untouched and waiting."

- Library Journal (starred review)

"Phillips' book does much to dispel longstanding myths and provides a close look at maritime practices as well as the difficulties posed by allowing memory to stand in for fact... Certainly the most fascinating portion of the book was Phillips minute description of the battle that resulted in the loss of the San Jose."

- PhiloBiblos

"It sounds like the title of a boy's own adventure tale or an Erroll Flynn movie, and rightly so: The Treasure of San José has a swashbuckling spirit and contains all the elements for an old-fashioned romance: sea battles, suave adventurers and sunken treasure. But it also displays the kind of detail and precision that comes from shrewdly plundered archives. Carla Rahn Phillips is clearly an assiduous historian with an eye for an extraordinary story."

- Wall Street Journal

"Phillips' impeccable scholarship, detailed reporting, and careful analysis will appeal primarily to students of Spanish history and naval affairs."

- Margaret A. Koger - Magill Book Reviews

"A book that will please and reward all students of Spanish imperial and maritime history."

- N.A.M. Rodger - International Journal of Maritime History

"A well-written and well-researched book which can be effectively read by both scholar and novice."

- John Leiby - Hispanic American Historical Review

"For Carla Rahn Phillips, the sinking of the San José is significant beyond the terrible tragedy and can be used as a lens to view complex themes in a changing Spanish Empire... This is a very well-written, analytical study based on extensive fresh archival research."

- Christon I. Archer - American Historical Review

"The author has used this wealth of documents to write a marvellous book, fascinating from beginning to end."

- Jaap de Moor - The Northern Mariner

"A penetrating micro-study of the Spanish monarchy during the conflict over the Spanish succession... The human element is never forgotten as she probes the lives and careers not only of viceroys, but of lesser officials and soldiers, and even the humblest seamen and their families."

- Jerzy Lukowski - Bulletin of Latin American Research

"A first-rate book written by an experienced historian at the height of her career."

- James A. Lewis - Itinerario


"A model work of historical investigation: painstaking, meticulous, searching. It is also an example of the best sort of microhistory: exhaustive in depth, but far-reaching in breadth. Documents are handled with unfailing deftness, and with a detective's tenacity, to provide a blow-by-blow account of the battle in which the San José went down and to resolve the question of how much cash it carried. Phillips displays versatile historianship, with outstanding work on ship construction, shipboard life, and the diplomatic background to the war."

- Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Tufts University
Johns Hopkins University Press
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