Marinearchaeology & research by dr. Gaetan Algoet

Privateer Piet Heyn and the battle at Matanza Bay (september 8th 1628)

 Plan of the West Indies Company (WIC)

One squadron of 12 ships (180 canons) under the command of Direck Symensz went to Brazil at Pemambuco. He took several sugar ships. The second squadron, also 12 ships, bigger and more heavily armed. The commander was Pieter Adriaansz from Vlissingen. His order was to operate in the waters of the West Indies to attack ships from Honduraz and Mexico. This squadrons were nothing compared to the main force of the WIC consisting 31 ships (14 more than 250ton). Among them the “Amsterdam and the “Hollandsche Thuyn” (500ton). Enormous ships for those days. Amsterdam (625ton – 22 x 48 pounders and 30 x 25 pounders). The rest of the fleet had 32 and 42 pounders. They had 65 ships in the region.

May 22nd 1628

The big fleet left Texel out of the sight of the Portuguese to Brazil. What admiral Heyn didn’t know was that the Spaniards knew about the plans. 

July 10th 1628

 A canon shot was fired when the sighted land. Short after they anchored at St Vincent. Here the put in water and food, except flesh that they couldn't get here. So they decided to go to the island Islas Blanca where were a lot of goats. When the fleet left there, they were missing a crewmember. They tried to find the man but didn't found him. They left him behind but this would be a disaster. Short after that a privateer ship landed on the island who found the crewmember sleeping. After an interrogation and arresting him, the ship continued his voyage to La Guayara where the man was put on a transport to Cartagena. Here he was extremely interrogated and gave the necessary information. By this way the Spaniards were informed about the plans to attack their silver fleet from Terra Firma. Piet Heyn was lucky that the news didn't reached Vera Cruz and the silver fleet sailed out from there. Meanwhile, the squadron of Pieter Adriaensz, that sailed in the West Indies waters had no problems, but on the island Granada it went wrong. 16 crewmembers lost their life during the fishing. They were killed by natives. Later were some prices or bounty ships taken. The reconnaissance of the copper harbor of Santiago de Cuba had no result. They were cruising before the Cuba coast around Cape an Antonio.

July 21st 1628

The 1628 Spanish silver fleet of Mexico departed early. It contained 30 cargo ships and 5 galleons. The lasts under the command of Don Juan de Benevides y Bazan as "Capitan-General" with Don Juan de Leoz as second in command or "Almirante" and Don Francisco Denneboa as commander of the soldiers. Immediately after they left Vera Cruz bad luck began already for the fleet. Not far from the coast, they were surprised by a storm coming from the north. The “Capitana”, the admiralship, stranded on a beach and the rest returned confused. Some ships were damaged so they couldn’t continue.

July 27th 1628

Piet Heyn reached with his 31 ships Cap Tiburon in Hispaniola. From there they went to Isla de Pinos

July 31st 1628

The squadron of Pieter Adriaensz sighted the Honduras sailors. These large ships seamed to be warned and were sailing near the coast and tried to reach by this way the harbor of Havana. They were intercepted by the 'Leeuwin", the best sailing ship of the Dutch fleet. During this action it ran aground and was heavily damaged by the gunfire of two Spanish ships. Finally both ships were overpowered. One was so heavily damaged that was decided to put the precious cargo onto the other ship. The Nuestra Senora de Los Remeidios was put on fire in front of the coast of Florida. Everything happened very fast because they were waiting for the arrival of the other Spanish ships. Al of this was unknown to Piet Heyn and he didn't know that the Spaniards know about his presence in the region. 

August 3th 1628

During Piet Heyn’s voyage from Cap Tiburon to Isla de Pinos, between both capes they saw 2 sails. They immediately began the purchase. It seems to be two Dutch ship that came lose from the fleet. The "Rode Leeuw" and the "Pinas" both from the chamber of Amsterdam. It seemed they sailed more to the south that the rest of the convoy. The "Roode Leeuw" and the "Pinas" joined the fleet after recovery of the attack by the Dunquerk privateers.

August 5th 1628

The ships arrived in San Antonio and were keeled. Between august 5th and 10th the ships were cleaned near Cape Antonio. Because the course of the ships of New Spain was more to the north, Piet Heyn went to the Tortugas, a group of islands that continued the Keys at the Westside of Florida. There was told by fishermen that the fleet from New Spain from Vera Cruz could arrive every moment. But due to unforeseen circumstances it would last 3 more weeks. But now they knew for sure at the Dutch side that they still had a chance.

August 8th 1628

The Spanish silver fleet from Mexico left again from Vera Cruz. Their force was reduced to 11 cargo ships and 4 galleons. The cargo of the ships that were left behind was dispersed under the other ships and also on the war ships. This meant that the warships were packed so full that the guns could just be partly served.

August 21th 1628

The Dutch fleet met 2 Spanish ship who thought that this was the fleet from New Spain. When they saw he mistake, skipper Marcus d’Almeida told that he was sailed out by order of the governor of Havana. He knows nothing from the position of the Spanish, or the Dutch fleet but had to warn them. He was captured during 29 days on the Dutch fleet. 

August 22nd 1628

 To verify the new information the ships went immediately to the North coast of Cuba because the Spanish fleet from Terra Firma or the fleet from new Spain were not here. 

August 24th 1628

 They arrived at Havana. The castle of El Morro was seen very clear but it seemed very difficult to sail in that region. The east orientated stream, that goes by the Great Antilles made the ships continuously drifting so they lost very soon Havana out of their viewing and saw a mountain, that seen from the sea, had the form of a bread and was called by the Spanish "Pan de Matanzas". While the main force was trying to fight the stream, what was difficult because of the stormy weather, Piet Heyn sent out some ships for look out. 

August 27th 1628

 Around this day they had a council because they were already 14 days overdue to the orders of the “Lords of 19”. There was proposed to stop the operation and to sail back to Europe. 

August 28th 1628

 Another Spanish ship was sighted. Witte de With asked to attack and got the permission. The ship with his 50men crew was overwhelmed. The prisoners were brought to the admiralship were they were questioned. This ship was also sent out by the governor of Havana to warn the Spanish fleet. Out of the questioning seemed that they were coming. So they didn’t left for Europe and thanks to De With the mission became successful. From the captured prisoners they also heard that the cruising Dutch fleet was seen by El Morro, that there were 400 to 500 men and 70 guns in the castle. In the 2 forts in front of the castle were 20 and 28 canons. So it was the plan to catch the fleet before they could arrive in the strong harbor. There was no danger for this because there were no warships in the harbor of Havana, only a just finished galley and one who was still under construction. Although hey were now very sure that the silver fleet could not escape, they didn't knew why the fleet was so late. 

September 2nd 1628

Piet Heyn send out his fastest ship, “De Vos” again in the direction of the Tortugas to know something about Banckerts, who’s fleet was still missing. They were not found there. 

September 7th 1628

In the morning at sunrise sails were seen at the horizon sailing towards the fleet. It seemed to be the squadron of Banckert; “Neptunus”, “De Goude Sonne”, “De Goude Leeuw”, the “Dolphijn” (dolphin) and the yacht “Postpaert”. Finaly the fleet was complete.

September 8th 1628


During the night the guard of the “Witte Leeuw” sighted down under their bow a Spanish merchant ship that was lost from the Spanish silver fleet. He shouted to stay away and the Spaniards answered "Que quiereis". The sloops were immediately manned and the Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion was captured. The captain of the ship was brought to the Dutch commander. When the sun came up, about 20 sails were sighted of which nine with some difficulty were captured. Afterwards it seemed that, without knowing of the Dutch presence, they followed the shooting of the enemy ships during the night. This seems to be cargo ships.

At a large distance were seen some numbers of big ships. Once they saw the Dutch they went to the coast, trying to reach the bay of Mantanza because Admiral Hendrick Loncq could cut off the way to Havana. The only reachable harbor for the Spaniards was now in the Bay of Matanza. But these waters were not known to the Spanish steersmen. Meanwhile there was a race going on. The Dutch did all efforts to overtake the Spaniards.


September 9th 1628

The next morning the Dutch fleet also entered the bay. (There is no agreement in the archives about the time that the Dutch fleet entered the bay ofMatanza. Netscher writes “the next day at 9 o clock”, other archives mentioned that Piet Heyn was close upon his heels of the Spaniards. Piet Heyn was probably not in the possession of good maps of the Cuban coast. Even those of the Spaniards were not accurate because some of their ship stranded on sand banks or other shoal that were not marked on the maps. This made it probably that the Dutch attack happened in the morning. The Spaniards also tried to unload their ships and trying to make an entrenchment on the shore, points into that direction. They wouldn’t have the time if Piet Heyn followed them close.) The evening before the Dutch tried in vain to cut of the way, although all sails were set and Piet Heyn even let them make wet to let them catch more wind. The whole Spanish fleet was confused when the Dutch arrived. Some ships were run aground when night fell and were lying in a way that the cannons that could be used couldn’t reach the entrance of the bay. The Dutch reached the bay in time. Some ship of them also ran aground. Piet Heyn had to handle quickly because the Spaniards planed to build a stronghold on land and defend the treasures there. When admiral Heyn anchored in the bay, he found already several boats around his ship that were set out by admiral Loncq and vice admiral Banckert to enter the ships. Heyn went on board of a sloop of the “Hollandsche Thuyn” and ordered to go first to the ship of the vice admiral Benavidez. The crew of the Spanish ship, who already partially left in panic, shoots some musket fire, but where talked by the “General”, that is how the Spaniards called Piet Hein. The same was done with the rest of the fleet. 

During one week they were working of transferring the cargo of the captured ships to the Dutch fleet. They had not much confidence in the seaworthy of the Spanish ships. They hurried up because they feared that the fleet of Terra Firma showed up. But this fleet was lying save and well in the harbor of Cartagena. When making inventory of the booty, it consisted 177.000 pound silver, some gold (some chains and a crown), skins, chests with sugar,…etc. The Spanish galleons were partially unloaded. He took 4 Spanish galleons (Santa Anna Maria, Santa Gertrudis, San Juan Bautista and the Nuestra Senora de la Antigua) and one new smaller ship with the same name. All other ships were burned or sunk on site. The Galleon Senora de la Antigue was renamed to Santa Lucia.The Smaller ship Senora de la Antigue was renamed to Medemblik.


September 17th 1628

Two hours before sunrise Piet Heyn's fleet left the bay on their way back. The governor from Havana sent out two ships to the street of Florida to watch for the Dutch fleet, one in the north and one in the south. It was sent 140 miles west of the Bermudas. It was given to the yachts "Ooievaar" and "Vos".

September 26th 1628

On his way back admiral Heyn wrote the Lords of 19 a letter of the event. It is dated September 26th 1628.

September 30th 1628

The Spanish ships signaled Piet Heyn's fleet passing the passage of Florida.

October 25th 1628

During the night the Santa Gertrudis lost his foremast and the stem of the ship.

October 31st 1628

After installing a new mast she was seen the 31st for the last time. In a short time the admiral had left only 14 ships. Afterwards some ships rejoined the convoy.

November 14th 1628

The "Ooievaar" arrived in Rotterdam with the news of the captured fleet. Due to many storms the master fleet had it very hard.

December 4th 1628

Further they lost a lot of men by scurvy. The main fleet arrived at the island Wight were the met Jan Evertsen with 3 warships. The Santa Gertudis, full with sick men, arrived in the harbor of Falmouth in sinking condition and was sold there for 200 pound.


 Dutch shipslist (31)

  • Amsterdam - admiral-general Hein
  • Hollandse Tuin - admiral Lonck
  • Neptunus - viceadmiral Banckert
  • Utrecht - scout-by-night Cornelis Claeszoon Melckmeyt
    • Hollandia 
    • Gelderland
    • Provincie Utrecht
    • Witte Leeuw
    • Zwarte Leeuw
    • Rode Leeuw
    • Vergulde Valk
    • Haarlem
    • Pinas
    • Tijger
    • Gouden Zon
    • Dordrecht
    • Monnickendam
    • Griffioen
    • Gouden Leeuw


    • Muiden
    • Naarden
    • Eenhoorn
    • Zwarte Ruiter
    • Langebark
    • Postpaard
    • Oud-Vlissingen
    • Tijger
    • Ooievaar
    • Dolfijn
    • Vos


    Spanish shipslist (21)

  • Santa Anna Maria - Admiral Juan de Benavides y Bazan
  •      Stranded on the south-east coast of Ireland. The captain Pieter Franz knew to save the crew and guns.
  • Santa Gertrudis - Baltasar de Amezquita
  •      Arrived sinking in England and was sold
  • San Juan Bautista - Alonso de Ayspuru
  •      Called "Platluys" due to the insects on board. Was put on fire in full sea.
  • Santa Lucia de van Guerra

        Arrived as troffe on the Schelde. It was Renamed "Middelburg" and have served for some years   

  • Nuestra Senora de la Antigua - Francisco Ortuno
    • Nuestra Senora de la concepcion
    • Nuestra Senora de la Antigua(new ship)
    • unknown yet
  •  The San Juan Baustiste was declared as lost and destroyed on the way back.

     The Santa Ana Maria sank on the way back home before the Irisch coast.

  •  I have the full report, published in 1629, translated and put with original pictures in my English books : Conquest of paradise.