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How Shipwrecks Can Change Everything

How Shipwrecks Can Change Everything

Authored By William DePaula

The Butterfly Effect

The philosophy known as the butterfly effect is summed up in this manner: if a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world a sort of disaster would happen in another part of the world, such as a typhoon.  Basically all because a butterfly got up this morning and had to fly around.  I’m not sure why the philosophy picks on harmless butterflies so much, but you kinda get the idea.  Another way to think about it is that one thing happening causes a subtle chain reaction that causes something big to happen somewhere else.  Although this sounds silly, it is surprising how little things can affect our standard of life.

Enter Carl Fismer

I started to think about the butterfly effect when working with Carl, a famous treasure hunter, because of him I would start to dive into the world of shipwrecks.  I would read various stories about the wrecks and learn all about them.  Now ships go down all the time – all cause ripple effects.  When you read about the Spanish Treasure Fleets, you rarely hear much more than,  “it was a tragedy that the ships went down and Spain had to endure some economic hardships because of the wrecks.”  After talking to another friend of mine, Brian, he introduced me to some books that talked about American shipwrecks.   These wrecks really symbolize how the butterfly effect could work.  The most interesting thing is that there are some of them that really change history.  Again, shipwrecks happen all the time, there are literally tens of thousands of wrecks, but these three are special.

The SS Republic

The first wreck I’m going to talk about is the SS REPUBLIC.  The REPUBLIC was a steamship that was used in the Civil War, it seemed to be one of those things that were at the right place at the right time or in reality the wrong place at the wrong time.  The ship went down in 1865.  This was right after the Civil War and the ship was sent to rebuild and stabilize the area of New Orleans.  At this time, paper money could still be exchanged for gold coins.  Because of the war, gold and silver were much harder to come by.  The SS REPUBLIC was filled with enough money to help stabilize the dollar.  Around this time a paper dollar was actually only worth $0.80.  The SS REPUBLIC sunk in a hurricane, and that one shipwreck affected the economy drastically.  A paper dollar now was only worth $0.50.  Because of this gold and silver became hoarded and desired.  So, can you imagine the effect this one shipwreck had on the economy of an already distressed economy?   The SS REPUBLIC was salvaged by Odyssey Marine Exploration in 2003. 

The Central America

Central America was a mail steamship and is often nicknamed “the ship of gold”.  The Central America was an amazing find by Tommy Thompson.  The ship was recovered in 1989, and the amount of gold found on that ship was amazing, but the interesting part of the story happened in 1857.  The ship went down filled with gold, it was during the gold rush in America.  The Central America did not only carry gold, it carried what is estimated to be 1/5 of the gold in the United States.

The shipwreck couldn’t have come at a worse time.  There was a recession and people were making a run at the banks.  The Central America was supposed to help the run on the banks.  But the ship wrecked and the recession grew worse and banks had to close down.  It is amazing when you think of how much was riding on one ship.

El Cazador

The final shipwreck I will talk about is the most amazing of all I have listed.  This shipwreck changed the history of the United States.  The wreck? El Cazador.  The El Cazador was a Spanish ship and it’s  a true wreck, as it caused all kinds of problems.

New Orleans was owned by the Spanish at the time and the area was in trouble.  Officers and government officials were being paid with IOUs and those promises meant little unless the Spanish government paid up.  The area was under borderline civil unrest because of the lack of hard currency.  Spain decided to solve this problem by sending the Cazador filled with gold and silver.  The ship wrecked and the area, which was known as New Spain,  went into further turmoil.  The Spanish king was tired of all the trouble New Orleans had caused.  He then offered the area to France, whose ruler was Napoleon.   Napoleon decided that he would rid himself of the area, make some money doing it, and give England a more formidable enemy.  Napoleon offered the area to a gentleman called Mr. Thomas Jefferson.  So it became official, and Thomas Jefferson made a deal called The Louisiana Purchase.  A deal that doubled the size of America and changed history forever.  All of this because a ship never reached port.

As you can see, sometimes small things can cause big problems and cause ripple effects that change history.  Let’s try to keep our eyes open and see what happens next.


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