Family Ties?STORY AND PHOTO BY GREG GARDNER
José Ubilla can’t prove it just yet, but the Port St. Lucie man is sure he is an ancestor to the commander of a fleet of Spanish ships which sank off the Treasure Coast in a 1715 hurricane.
“I need to trace it back to Mexico. It has to be,” said Ubilla, owner of a Fort Pierce stone and granite company. “The Basque region of Spain is where the name originated.”
In 1715 Captain-General Don Juan Esteban Ubilla left Veracruz, Mexico, to rendezvous in Havana with the Cartagena Fleet. From there, the two fleets headed for Spain by way of St. Augustine, leading a fleet of five treasure-laden ships, part of which carried the dowry for King Felipe V of Spain’s bride-to-be, Elizabeth Farnesse. Ubilla himself was aboard the ship La Capitana, which carried 1,300 chests with more than three million silver coins. Also on board were emeralds, pearls and precious Chinese porcelain.
“He ( Captain-General Ubilla) left Mexico. The name only exists (outside of Spain) in Nicaragua, Chile and Mexico. We believe he had sons. It’s not a very common name.”
The armada of 12 ships left Havana July 24 in calm seas. But on the night of July 30 and morning of July 31, the ships encountered a hurricane, forcing them aground and breaking them up. Eleven of the ships went down and half of the 2,500 crew was lost, including Ubilla. Wreckage and bodies were scattered along 30 miles of what is now known as the Treasure Coast. The survivors made it to shore by swimming or holding onto wreckage.
Captain-General Ubilla perished along with 1,000 other sailors, according to two books written about the 1715 shipwrecks. Miraculously, about 1,500 sailors survived, but many perished later from disease and raids by local Indians.
“Is it a direct coincidence or a direct link?” Jose Ubilla said. “I am going to find out. My children are intrigued by it. They are in college now, but as they grow up, I am going to encourage them to find out the truth.”
While Ubilla’s immediate ancestors are from Nicaragua, there is a 150-year gap between the genealogy that is known and the records on the captain-general, he said. “I can’t determine exactly at this point. We think he had sons who migrated to Central and South America.”
Ubilla, owner of Real Stone & Granite in Fort Pierce and Boynton Beach, and the captain-general have something else in common besides a shared last name. Like Captain General Ubilla, José Ubilla views his work as dealing in precious treasure.
“We continue to bring treasures here in the form of stones,” Ubilla said.
All site content © Indian River Magazine