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Summer 2018, 119:2

The Summer 2018 “Oregon's Manila Galleon,” a special issue of the Oregon Historical Quarterly, features articles on over a decade of research into uncovering the mystery of the “Beeswax Wreck.” The authors discuss topics including an introduction to Oregon’s Manila galleon; galleon trade routes, the Spanish Empire, and Native oral tradition; using archaeology to identify the Beeswax Wreck; crew and passengers aboard the Santo Cristo de Burgos; cargo on board the Santo Cristo; and treasure hunting on Neahkahnie Mountain.

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In this Issue

Oregon’s Manilla Galleon

by Cameron La Follette, Douglas Deur, Dennis Griffin, and Scott S. Williams 

For two centuries, physical evidence of a vast shipwreck, including beeswax and Chinese porcelain, has washed ashore in the Nehalem Spit area on the north coast of Oregon. The story of the wreck has been “shrouded by time, speculation, and surprisingly rich and often contradictory Euro-American folklore.” In this introduction to the Oregon Historical Quarterly’s special issue, “Oregon’s Manila Galleon,” authors Cameron La Follette, Douglas Deur, Dennis Griffin, and Scott S. Williams summarize the rich archival findings and archaeological evidence that points to the Santo Cristo de Burgos, a Manila galleon owned by the kingdom of Spain and bringing Asian trade goods to the Americas, as the ship that came to be known as the “Beeswax Wreck.”   

Views Across the Pacific: The Galleon Trade and Its Traces in Oregon 

by Cameron La Follette and Douglas Deur  

From 1565 to 1815, Manila galleons such as the Santo Cristo de Burgos — the ship now thought to be the seventeenth century “Beeswax Wreck” that sank or ran aground near Nehalem Spit in Oregon — followed a 12,000-mile route from the Philippines through the stormy North Pacific, sometimes passing parallel to what is now the north Oregon coast, before reaching their destination in Acapulco, Mexico. The galleons were a central part of Spain’s complex international commerce system, transporting people and Asian goods around the world. In this article, Cameron La Follette and Douglas Deur discuss the Spanish empire and the Manila galleon trade; tempestuous seas and hazardous weather conditions that likely led to the ship’s demise; oral traditions of the Native peoples who encountered the shipwreck and its survivors; and the Euro-American interpretations of that oral tradition that fueled treasure-hunters’ speculations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  

The Beeswax Wreck of Nehalem: A Lost Manila Galleon 

by Scott S. Williams, Curt D. Peterson, Mitch Marken, and Richard Rogers  

A volunteer group of archaeologists, historians, geologists, and community members began working in 2006 on a project aimed at identifying the identity of Oregon’s “Beeswax Wreck.” The authors are involved in the group’s Beeswax Wreck Project and discuss here their research process and findings that support the hypothesis that the Santo Cristo de Burgos, a Manila galleon, was the ship that wrecked near Nehalem Spit. Along with systematic archaeological documentation, the team used beeswax stamped with Spanish shippers’ marks to determine the ship’s country of origin and radiocarbon dating of Chinese porcelain sherds coupled with geological research to determine when the ship wrecked. According to the authors, “for those of us researching the Beeswax Wreck, the goal has never been to recover artifacts or ‘treasure.’ Instead, we are most interested in solving the mysteries of the what ship wrecked off the north coast of Oregon three hundred years ago.”  

The Galleon’s Final Journey: Accounts of Ship, Crew, and Passengers in the Colonial Archives 

by Cameron La Follette and Douglas Deur, with Archival Researcher Esther González 

Through archival research, Cameron La Follette and Douglas Deur document the history of the Santo Cristo de Burgos — the ship thought to be the Beeswax Wreck of Oregon — and its crew and passengers. The Santo Cristo “drew together a multiethnic crew of Spanish, Spanish Basque, Philippine, Mexican, and possibly African men in the most sprawling global trade network of their day.” Research conducted in the Archives of the Indies in Seville, Spain, the National Archives of the Philippines in Manila and the Archivo General de la Nación of Mexico in Mexico City shows that the galleon left the Philippines in the summer of 1693 without some necessary crew and supplies. The lack of skilled men and critical supplies, along with winter storms, likely contributed to the ship’s fate. Based on Native oral tradition, there were survivors of the shipwreck. According to La Follette and Deur, those survivors “were key participants in arguably the first Native-European contact on what is now the northern coast of Oregon, before disappearing into the state’s cultural lore with few traces.”  

The Galleon Cargo: Accounts in the Colonial Archives 

by Cameron La Follette and Douglas Deur, with Archival Researcher Esther González  

Much of the debris that has washed up on the shores of the northern Oregon coast for centuries were mainstays of Spanish trade carried as cargo across the world on Manila galleons. Both Native people and Euro-Americans have recovered large beeswax chunks, lending to the lore of the “Beeswax Wreck,” as well as Chinese blue-and-white porcelain fragments. In this article, Cameron La Follette and Douglas Deur describe research findings about cargo on the Santo Cristo de Burgos and similar Manila galleons, including the San Francisco Xavier of 1705, the previous favored candidate for the Oregon wreck.  La Follette and Deur located probable matches for the shippers’ identities of four shipper’s marks found on Oregon beeswax chunks. According to La Follette and Deur, “in addition to trade goods, the Santo Cristo de Burgos carried a cargo of liquid mercury,” which was essential for refining silver ore from South American mines used to make coins that fueled the Spanish empire and the Manila trade itself. The article contains a partial cargo list for the 1693 Santo Cristo de Burgos voyage and a special digital appendix with the full cargo manifest for the 1701 San Francisco Xavier.  

The Mountain of a Thousand Holes: Shipwreck Traditions and Treasure Hunting on Oregon’s North Coast 

by Cameron La Follette, Dennis Griffin, and Douglas Deur 

“Euro-Americans in coastal communities conflated and amplified Native American oral traditions of shipwrecks in Tillamook County, increasingly focusing on buried treasure,” write authors Cameron La Follette, Dennis Griffin and Douglas Deur. In this article, the authors trace the Euro-American blending of Native oral tradition with romances and adventure tales that helped create the “legends contributing to Neahkahnie [Mountain]’s reputation as Oregon’s treasure-seeking haven.” They also examine the history of treasure-seeking in the area and describe the escalating conflict between Oregon’s treasure-hunting statute and cultural resources protection laws, which led finally to statutory repeal that ended all treasure-hunting on state lands. While treasure hunting is no longer allowed in Oswald West State Park where Neahkahnie Mountain is located, the “Beeswax Wreck” lore continues to fascinate visitors to the north Oregon coast.

Complete Cargo List for the 1701 San Francisco Xavier (PDF)

This detailed cargo manifest shows all properly registered cargo, including the names of the shippers and their identification marks, carried on the San Francisco Xavier galleon voyage from Manila to Acapulco in 1701. The manifest was deposited in the Archivo General de Indias (General Archive of the Indies) in Seville, Spain. This is the official archive for documents of Spain's empire in the Philippines and the Americas. Any smuggled cargo, which was commonplace in the Manila trade, is not listed on the manifest.

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