Rio History: All Washed Up

Special to the PRESS

John Singer, arguably our Island’s best known beach-comber and finder of great treasures, was shipwrecked on the shores of Padre Island sometime in the late 1840s. He is said to have made his living the first year by crafting shingles from a cargo of cypress logs that washed ashore during the same storm that stranded him and his family.

In 1854, following a Texas cyclone, Singer and his eldest son Alexander stumbled upon the carcass of an ancient ship that had wrecked upon these shores many years before. It had only been revealed due to the action of the waves created by the cyclone. Amid the timbers, the two found a partially buried strong box containing well over 60,000 Spanish silver dollars or eight reale coins that were of the same size and weight as our American silver dollar.

Singer left the Island at the onset of the Civil War but before departing, he and his sons buried a fortune including the Spanish coins and other priceless artifacts gathered from the shores of Padre. In a 1935 interview, Alexander, now in his 80s, related how he and his father had made several clandestine returns to the spot where their treasure was buried, each time removing several thousand dollars in coins. It was a couple of years after the war before the two made another trip to the Island. But they were too late. A great hurricane in1867 swept in and totally inundated the Island, washing away their landmarks in the process. The treasure is supposedly still awaiting some lucky beachcomber.

But don’t for a minute think that John Singer’s is the only treasure hidden under the sands of the Padre’s Island.

In the June 6, 1869 issue of the Indianola Bulletin, the editor reported: “Mr. H. Seeligson has shown us some old coins that were washed ashore on Padre Island by the motion of the sea. We learn that fully a barrel full was picked up by the people of the Island. They are much worn by the sea. About a hundred years back, an old Spanish galleon sank off of Pass Cavallo loaded with money and wax for the missions. The wax has been floating up on the beach for years and now the loose coins with a salt incrustation are washed up. They are much blackened by and resemble the old pistareen or Spanish two reale coin similar in size and value to our silver quarter. It is strange but never the less true.”

The Corpus Christi Advertiser reported seeing several half and quarter dollar coins gathered up on the shores of Padre Island that are more than three hundred years old.”

An editor of the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer wrote in an article dated 1869, “Similar coins have been picked up from time to time in the vicinity of the same spot for about two or three miles. Judge Curry, a resident of Padre, has seen some eighty dollars of similar coins picked up there at one time. All are quarters or halves.”

In today’s coin market, such antiquities could command anywhere from five to ten dollars to several thousand dollars for exceptionally nice copies.

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