The careful documentation of Spanish shipwrecks is sufficiently rare that every fresh publication in the field is welcome. In their new book, Charles Pearson and Paul Hoffman provide a valuable introduction to many aspects of the archives and artifacts associated with eighteenth-century shipping. El Nuevo Constante was a private merchant ship, originally of English make, that sailed as part of the Spanish flota in 1766 and sank off the coast of Louisiana after being battered by a hurricane. The wreck was discovered in 1979 and, after some initial private salvage efforts, was reported to the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism. Because the wreck lay in state waters, the original salvors agreed to collaborate with professional archaeologists to map, excavate, and study the ship. But this book, although structured as a history and site report of a single wreck, speaks to many broader issues.
For students of history, the book provides basic information on the operation of Spanish shipping in the eighteenth century and its expression in archival records. Included are a photostat of the Nuevo Constantes cargo list, with translation, and an excerpt from the ship’s manifest, showing its basic syntax and marginal notes. Many other illustrations provide visual cues for technical naval and shipping terms; for example, diagrams depict different types of vessels and rigging. The text discusses the Nuevo Constantes cargo and defines the various types of containers used in shipping, making this book a useful reference guide for anyone who works with shipping records.
A similar attention to detail appears in descriptions of the artifacts recovered from the wreck. Shipping hardware is shown both in black-and-white photos and in drawings that make clear the placement and function of such items as preventer plates and deadeyes. Well-preserved but rarely recovered items are also illustrated (such as a zurrón, or leather bag, used for shipping cochineal, indigo, or cacao). The Nuevo Constante’s cargo of pottery from Guadalajara includes particularly fascinating examples of tiny clay musical instruments, animal effigies, and other decorative items made for export.
The narrative concludes with evidence of smuggling—silver and gold bullion discovered in the wreck but unreported in the manifest and lacking tax stamps. Here is a classic example of how history and archaeology together can help render a true picture of past events. This account of the Nuevo Constante is destined to become a useful and enduring reference and cross-reference for both historical and archaeological research on Spanish shipping.