For John Amrhein, Jr., a nearly life- long adventure of exploration and archival research has culminated in two books on the lost 1750 Spanish fleet. His new book, Treasure Island: The Untold Story, now takes us back to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
Before he would solve the nagging question of “Was there a real Treasure Island?” he found himself in another hunt for shipwrecks, history, and legends. It was 1978 when he stumbled on a letter written by the captain of a Spanish warship named La Galga that had run ashore on Assateague Island, Virginia in 1750.
Two years later, he had the evidence he needed to pinpoint the Spanish wreck. But the ship was not lying where all logic and archival documents would suggest. This would-be treasure hunter realized that the ship had been buried in a forgotten inlet and was lying within the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. With this revelation came another surprise: La Galga was the legendary Spanish galleon associated with the wild horses of Assateague. Not only was the legendary galleon mentioned in the children’s classic, Misty of Chincoteague, but the great nephew of a character in the book helped Amrhein locate the wreck. Today, the author is lobbying the federal government to excavate and display the many artifacts believed to be buried within the refuge. In 2007, he published, The Hidden Galleon, which documents his amazing search in the archives, beneath the sea, and ultimately on land.
While he was working that project he also came upon some documents related to the fleet which told a story of a buried treasure that had a very familiar ring to it. He found records from the National Archives of England that contained a deposition of a captured pirate which gave a detailed account of how two brothers named Owen and John Lloyd engineered a plan to steal a fortune in Spanish silver from the galleon, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, which had been travelling with La Galga and was disabled at Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina. When he read that John Lloyd had a wooden leg and the treasure was buried on a deserted island called Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands he sensed he had read it before. Returning to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island that he hadn’t read since his youth, he opened to Stevenson’s map of Treasure Island. There was the date 1750 on the map—the date the “fictional” treasure was buried by a Captain James Flint. The hook was set but he knew that he would have to wait until time and money would permit his planed treasure hunt in the archives of the world.
That day came in 2001 for the successful real estate broker and general contractor who is now living on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
In his new book, Treasure Island: The Untold Story, Amrhein documents the trail of the treasure from the time it was loaded in Veracruz, Mexico, aboard the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, to its theft, burial, and dispersal in the Caribbean. “As the documents revealed themselves I felt that I was reading a movie script,” said Amrhein as he described his archival discoveries.
His latest book is his second installment on the 1750 Spanish flotilla which completes his documentary on this historic fleet. The historical events retold in these two books were the inspiration for two children’s classics and have become movies.