‘Your wife wants to see you’: 18th-century Spanish letters seized at sea by British published online | Social history #wife #18thcentury #Spanish #letters #seized #sea #British #published #online #Social #history

A letter from a reproachful wife to the husband who seemingly abandoned her after travelling to the Americas, which remained unopened for nearly 300 years, is among thousands of papers from 18th-century Spanish ships captured by the British that are now being made available online.

Francisca Muñoz in Seville wrote to her husband, Miguel Atocha, in Mexico on 22 January 1747. The letter was among 100 others from Spanish women to their husbands detailing the emotional and economic challenges faced in their partners’ absences, and found on La Ninfa, a registered ship trading between Cádiz and Veracruz, Mexico that was captured by the notorious British privateer squadron known as the “Royal Family”.

“My dear beloved husband I will celebrate that this letter has reach[ed] your hands and finds you with the perfect health that I wish for myself,” she writes. “I would like to know the reason why I did not receive any response to the 13 letters I sent to you; I would like to know if perhaps over there [there] is no paper or pen or ink not to have written even a letter,” she chides.

An old piece of paper covered in flamboyant faded handwriting, mainly from right to left but with part of the letter written vertically in the margin
The letter from Francisca Muñoz to her husband in 1747 chiding him for not writing from his new home in Mexico. Photograph: Supplied

She continues that she is “miserable, surrounded by more miseries than anybody else in the world, with so many pains, and moreover surrounded by these two children of yours for whom your love has extinguished”.

Their son, Miguel, “has become a man with a larger body than yours, and he is also naked, because over here there is no work or possibilities to earn anything”.

She and their daughter, Maria, have been forced to work as domestic servants, despite their illnesses. Her own include “an abscess in her throat” and she cannot even beg for money for a surgeon because she is so “stiff and starving”. “There are days in which I don’t even taste water because I have no place here to take it from, and I am so ill that I cannot even go out to beg door to door,” she writes.

Their son “needs someone who will lend him a cloak to go out to mass”. Their daughter had to marry “the son of Estacio Hidalgo, el playero [the beach man]” without her father’s permission. Her tale of woe continues, informing him that Maria had given birth “to a baby that was the marvel of all Triana and Seville”, but who had lived only 14 months.

She signs it: “Your wife that wants to see you, Francisca Muñoz.”

The papers are among documents and artefacts from about 130 Spanish ships captured by the British during the war of Jenkins’ Ear (1739–48) and the war of the Austrian succession (1740–48), the first tranche of which are now available online through the Prize Papers project.

José Pascual Marco, the Spanish ambassador to the UK, said the papers were invaluable “to understand the world, in its fine grain, in its flesh and blood, in its complexity – and that is what we have in these papers”. They provided, he said, “the human story of the Americas”.

Between 1652 and 1815, British privateers and naval vessels captured roughly 35,000 ships. They seized hundreds of thousands of papers, including 160,000 undelivered letters in 20 languages that survive to this day as the Prize Papers, which are being digitised in a 20-year joint project between the UK’s National Archives and the University of Oldenburg in Germany.

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A woman holds up a book with an elaborately illuminated cover with plant and floral motifs in black and white, the title in Spanish, and a date of 1734
One of the volumes seized from the treasure galleon Nuestra Señora de Covadonga. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/EPA

The newly released Spanish papers include two beautifully illustrated volumes from the Nuestra Señora de Covadonga, a treasure galleon captured on the way from Acapulco to Manila in 1743, whose cargo included a fortune in silver minted as reals and pesos. Others include a dispatch to the governor of the Philippines in 1742, on behalf of King Philip V, instructing him to grant refuge to Danish ships.

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Joaquín Ruiz de España from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, who migrated to Veracruz in Mexico with his father, writes to his friends detailing an almost fatal accident as their ship prepared to depart Havana.

“As I was climbing the ship’s ladder at 10 in the evening, my feet and hands slipped in the darkness of the night and I fell into the water. I managed to stay afloat more due to the mercy of God than my own skill.”

His father threw a rope to his son, a non-swimmer. “God, the Holy Virgin, Saint Joseph and Saint Anthony must have willed that I held on, for I was already gasping for air and about to lose consciousness,” he wrote.

He continued: “I saw myself at the feet of death and thought that, being such a sinner, God would surely take my life.”

#wife #18thcentury #Spanish #letters #seized #sea #British #published #online #Social #history

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