H. M. (Henry Marie) Brackenridge.

Voyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) online

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Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeVoyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) → online text (page 1 of 29)
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A. COMMON complaint is, the want of infor-
mation on the subject of South America, but
the meaning of all who make it, is not pre-
cisely the same. By far the greater number,
having given but little attention to the geo-
graphy and history of that vast continent,
seem to think that the deficiency lies in the
stock of information already accumulated.
This, however, is a mistake ; for the works
already published, ancient and modern, are
sufficient to occupy years of study. The
writings of Robertson, and Raynal, are to
be procured almost every where ; although
the works of Herrera, Garcilasso, Oveido,
and others, are extremely rare, yet, they
have furnished materials for numerous com-
pilers. In times comparatively modern, the
writings of Ulloa, Humboldt, Depons, Mo-
lina, and Azara, contain a fund of informa-


tion with respect to the geography, statistics,
and history of New Spain, Venezuela, Peru,
Chih, and La Plata. Without naming any
others, it would require at least six months
to become master of all the information
laboriously collected by these authors.

It is not then altogether the deficiency in
the stock of information possessed by the
public, which furnishes a just cause of com-
plaint; the fault must, in some measure, be
attributed to those who complain, for not
availing themselves of what is within their
reach. The study of South American affairs,
has not yet become fashionable ; persons
who possess the most minute acquaintance
with the different countries of Europe, have
scarcely given themselves the trouble to
become familiar with the mere geographical
outlines of our great southern continent.
To what cause are we to attribute this want
of curiosity, with respect to the most im-
portant portion of the globe ? The works
on South America, it is true, are many of
them voluminous, but there is no want of
abridgements and compilations. Thompson's
Alcedo, Walton on the Colonies, Wilcox's
Buenos Ayres, and Bonnycasde's South
America, can, without difficulty, be procured


by those who are desh'ous of obtairiing a ■
general acquaintance with the subject. ^I'^
was more surprised at the number of excel- ■•
lent works on South America, than at the >
deficiency, although the field, far from being ^
exhausted, each day acquires new interest. 5

There are some, whose complaints of want
of information are much more limited; they ^
mean that there is no satisfactory account of I
the actual state of the different countries of \
South America, or of the nature and conse* *
quences of the dreadful wars, which, for the -
last ten years, have crimsoned its soil. Of *
the justice of this complaint, there can be no
doubt. The simple perusal of the small
volume entitled, an '' Outline of the Revo- '
lutions in South America," will satisfy any
one how much curious and interesting infor-'^
mation may be given. The reports of the '^
commissioners sent out by the United States, ^
at the same time that they add greatly to
what has already been obtained, show how
much is yet to be known ; and even these,
although very generally perused, have been
studied by few. Why then, it will be asked, »
do I swell the pile of unappropriated, ne-^^
glected information, by the addition of two-^
octavo volumes ? ^^


It is certainly not with the vain hope, of
being able to give a full and satisfactory
account of all things worth knowing, m rela-
tion to one half of the habitable world. Wha
is there that will be found so adventurous, as
to attempt the explanation of all things re-
lating to the geography, soils, sciences, and
institutions of Europe, in the compass of
two small volumes? Or, what should we
think of one who should attempt, in the
same limits, to give a full and satisfactory
account of these states ? Such a work, how-
ever excellent, would necessarily imply much
previous information in the reader, or at least
much subsequent study. I hope, therefore,
the reader will not condemn me for having
disappointed him in what he had no right to
expect. I do not propose to give an epitome
of every thing worthy to be known in the new
world ; an account of its topography, rivers,
provinces, towns, savages, civil and political
history, or the various incidents of the pre-
sent revolution, on twenty different san-
guinary theatres of war. 1 have undertaken
to give a narrative of a voyage of nearly
twenty thousand miles, with all that 1 saw
and heard, or could collect from authentic
sources, at the places where I touched. 1


considered it necessary to read much, and
with care, in order to direct my attention to
proper objects of observation, and to avoid
mistakino; crudities for new discoveries. Few
can tell, how many volumes the traveller,
who is anxious to discharge his task with
fidelity, must pore over, before he can ven-
ture to write down a few lines.

What is wanted at present, is not so much
a work embracing the necessary information
on the subject of South America generally,
as one that should create a desire to be in-
formed. I feel but too well my incapacity for
the discharge of such a task. I neither pos-
sess that grace and fascination of style, which
give interest to every subject, nor the lite-
rary reputation that can add importance to
whatever I may write. My ambition extends
no further than to make a fair and honest
statement of the facts that have come within
my knowledge, together with the inferences I
have drawn from them. 1 affect no humi-
lity, for the purpose of disarming criticism ;
I ask neither more nor less than the mea-
sure of justice, to which others are entitled.
To the American public, to whom / make
my report^ I address myself with confidence^


fully convinced that its sentence will be just,
even if against me.

During a residence of four or five years in
Louisiana, part of the time as one of the
judges of the state, I had an opportunity of
becoming acquainted with the Spanish cha-
racter, laws, and government. I appUed my-
self a good deal to Spanish literature, hav-
ing previously acquired a knowledge of the
Spanish language as well as of the French ;
and living on the borders of New Spain, I
had an opportunity of forming an acquaint-
ance with several intelligent natives of that
country, who contributed much to remove
the prejudices, which, in common with many
of my countrymen, I had formed against every
thing Spanish, whether European or Ameri-
can. My feelings were thus at an early period
enlisted on the cause of South American
emancipation ; but I felt no other interest than
this : I was never either directly or indirectly
connected with the fortunes of any of the
chieftains, or other persons, actually engag-
ed in the patriot cause. I wished well to
those who directed the affairs of the patriots,
and judged of them chiefly by their suc-
cess, for I knew that anv other mode, at


this distance from the scene of action, could
not be much relied on. If, by any fatality,
I should have been enlisted in the private
views and interests, of any of these chiefs, I
would honestly avow myself a partisan^ and
leave to others to judge, whether my testu
mony could be impartiaL I have uniformly
condemned the whole scheme of privateer-
ing in the name of the patriot governments,
especially of those that have neither shipsy
seamen, nor even ports of their oicn. I con-
sider it as an abominable abuse, calculated
to bring the patriot cause into disrepute with
good men, tending to demoralize our mari-
ners, and to gratify a thirst for plunder, in
many who care for little else.

The sphere of my personal observations, I
own was extremely limited ; the reader must
judge whether my opportunities were ne-
glected. It is not by remaining a few months
in a strange city, or running full speed over
uninhabited plains, that much profound
knowledge is to be obtained ; such a tra-
veller can only speak with confidence of the
mere surface of things; he can see but
little, and must take his accounts from the
few whom accident, or their own officious-
ness, throws in his way. It is true the tra-


veller may interrogate those who are well
acquainted with the different parts of the
country, but he must do this skilfully, and
receive with caution every thing he hears.
" Do, sir, write me down what you have just
stated," is the usual request of inexperienced
travellers ; on their return, should they pub-
lish, their works are chiefly made up of these
indigested scraps. I carefully sought out
persons who had been in different parts of
South America, and endeavoured to extract
from them all the information I could ; at
the same time I carefully cultivated the
acquaintance of individuals in all classes of
society, the military, the clergy, the bar, and
the officers of government ; my situation as
secretary affbrding many facilities without
the trammels of ceremony and formality,
that would have been imposed on me by ap-
pearing in a different capacity.

Some men profess to be in search of truth,
while they believe they have already found it ;
others set out with theoretic frames, to which
every thing must conform, /?ar aut hnpar^ and
are as sensitive in their favourite notions as
the horns of a snail; but I know that we
must be often wrong before we can be right.


It is justly observed ffy a celebrated philoso-
pher, that the simplest ideas are those ivhich
suggest thefnselves last ; first thoughts in
matters of right and wrong are probably
the best, but not so in human science and

Almost from the first moment of my
arrival at Buenos Ayres, I diligently sought
after every printed paper, no matter of how
little apparent value, knowing that in coun-
tries struggling for political life, every thing
from the press should be examined, in order
to discover whether it bears the harsh stamp
of despotism, or breathes the fragrant breath
of liberty. I had the good fortune to make an
extensive collection of pamphlets, files of
newspapers, and political tracts ; with the
help of these, and the histories of Greece, of
Italy, of SAvitzerland, of Holland, and even of
the United States, I have ventured, though
not without hesitation, to risk some observa-
tions on their political transactions.

I have been politely favoured with the
perusal of the papers of commodore Sin-
clair, and have taken the liberty of occa-
sionally interweaving some of his observa-
tions, in the narrative of the voyage.


I have employed myself at different times
in translating interesting documents, and
state papers, of the South American govern-
ments, and intended to have inserted them
in the Appendix, but it will not be possible
to find room for more than two or three. I
could have desired the insertion of the pro-
visional constitution, translated with great
accuracy by Mr. Read, a gentleman of fine
taste and acquirements. I have inserted a
translation of the manifesto of independence
of La Plata ; the substance of that of Chili,
may be seen in the documents appended to
the report of Mr. Bland ; but from its pre-
serving the Spanish idiom, I should judge
the translation to have been executed by a
Spaniard ; it is, therefore, not surprising
that it should seem to be rather a tame pro-
duction. The English reader, for instance,
would mistake the following sentence for a
syllogism : " We want — we can — then we
ought to be free." But in the original it is
nothing more than a bold apostrophe. " We
resolve — we are able to be free — then we
shall be free/' It is a common sentiment
that nothing more is necessary for a people
to be free, than to will it — but if, in addition.


they exceed their oppressors in physical
strength, they may be said " to hold a bond
of fate."

" By oppression's woes and pains !
By your sous in serrile chains !
We will drain our dearest \cms,
But theif shall he free !" — Burns.

I cannot flatter myself with the hope that
these volumes are free from errors in point
of fact and inference — there must neces-
sarily be many, and J hope they will be cor-
rected by those who possess better informa-
tion. My ambition will be gratified, if my
work shall be found to aid in producing a
spirit of inquiry. The fact that we pay too
little attention to South America, ought to
be repeated again and again, until we shall
be roused from our state of apathy. On the
part of the United States, as well as of Great
Britain, it would be inexcusable to be inat-
tentive to what is going forward, in that
quarter of the world. They are capable of
defending themselves, of governing them-
selves, and of being free, in spite of all that
may be said by narrow minded self-suffi-
cient men. They expect friendship and
good will from us, and have a right to expect
it. If we cannot speak favourably of them,



at least we ought not studiously to display,
what we conceive to be their foibles and
faults. What people more sensitive than we,
to the slanders of such men as Weld or
Ashe, and yet we sometimes venture sneers
and ill-natured taunts against people who
believe they are following our glorious ex-
ample ! These are regarded by them as
" the unkindest cuts of all." They are
keenly and deeply felt by the patriots of the
South, and I fear they have produced dis-
gust that will not easily be removed ; but I
will venture to say to them, in the name of
my country, and the government of my
country, that such sentiments are dis-
claimed BY BOTH.

To the many inaccuracies, and inelegan-
cies of composition, I plead guilty, and sub-
mit to the sentence of the public, alleging
in mitigation, that authorship in this country
is not a profession, that it has been engaged
in by me at the expense of the occupation
by which I must earn my bread. I have
had no time to polish and correct ; having
been obliged, in general, to keep pace with
the printer.



Preface • • • • vii


Importance of Spanish America — Remarks on the popula-
tion — State of learning and information — Spanish colo-
nial government and policy — System of finance — Com-
mercial policy — Obstacles to the revolution, ••••••••••/ 1


Passage from Norfolk to Rio Janeiro — Description of Rio —

Coronation — General description of Brazil, 77


Departure from Rio — Provinces of St. Paul, St. Catherine,
and Rio Grande — Island of Flores — arrival at Monte
Video, 155


Passage from Monte Video to Buenos Ayres — Description
of Buenos Ayres — Interview with the supreme director, 231


The commissioners visited by the principal inhabitants-
Celebration of the independence of Chili — The bull-
lights and theatre, 277


Documents referred to in the president's message at the
commencement of the second session of the fifteenth

Mr. Rodney to the Secretary of State, .........••• 1

Mr, Graham to the Secretary of State, • • • 28

. . n


■Ad')li. i;ini.

. -i'jl/

-!!.i.: ') •


Importance of Spanish America — Remarks on the Population — Slate of
Learning and Information — Spanish (Jolonial Government and
Policy — System of Finance — Commercial Policy — Obstacles to the

X^ERHAPS no sovereigns ever possessed an empire of
such vast extent and importance, as that of the kings of
Spain in America. The South American continent alone,
when considered with relation to its capacities and fu-
ture destinies, is probably equal to all the rest of tJie
habitable globe. Its geographical surtace is less, indeed,
than that of Africa, but when we consider how small
a part of that continent is capable of sustaining human
life, how bad its climate, and how deficient in rivers,
the veins and arteries of the earth, it sinks in the scale
far below the new world. Of Europe, much is given up
to excessive cold ; and of Asia, immense portions are
barren and uninhabitable. Internal seas, lakes, and
marshes, occupy a much greater proportion than in New
Spain, or South America. The steppes, or grassy plains
of Asia, are of much greater extent than those of the
American continent. The plains of New Spain are
better supplied with water, and consequently more
fertile ; the pampas of La Plata, it is true, wear a more
unpromising appearance; but I am inclined to think.
Vol. I. B


that when they shall become more perfectly kri0^vn, they
will be fomid deserving of a better character. They
have advantages of climate and soil, which place them
far above the immense steppes in the north of Asia. But
that part of South America, by some called Amazonia,
(from the wonderful river by which it is watered, with
its numerous branches, indicating the fecundity of the
soil they traverse), has nothing equalling it in any other
quarter of the world. The imagination is lost in con-
templating the future destiny of this immense region,
still inhabited by hundreds of unknown tribes, and
where the labour and enterprize of civilized man, will
have full scope for thousands of years.

I. The countries watered by the Amazon, the Parana,
the great rivers of Brazil, the Rio Negro of Patagonia,
and by the Oronoko, may be regarded as still in a state
of nature. In North America, the interior of Guatimala
is yet scarcely known. Honduras, and Yukatan, may
be considered as uninhabited forests. The seats of
civilization in South America, are but specks on its
vast surface ; and even these, (with the exception of a
few districts), scarcely contain a hundredth part of the
population they are able to support. The whole South
American population has been estimated at nineteen
millions ; it probably does not exceed that of the island
of Great Britain ; while the mildness of the American
climate, and the fertility of its soil, are such, as to
enable ten times the number of people to subsist, on
a given space of the same extent. An estimate of the
capacity of South America for the subsistence of popu-
lation, would fill any one with amazement who has not
reflected on the subject. It would not be hazardous to
assert, that if all the inhabitants of Europe and Asia
could be transported to the new world, its fruitful bosom


could furnish subsistence for them all. The whole
of the Spanish possessions may be said to enjoy a tem-
perate climate ; lying between thirty-eight degrees north,
and fifty-four degrees south, they never experience
extreme cold ; and between the tropics, even under the
equator, the heats are not greater than in some of the
temperate climates of Europe.*

The position of South America as relates to the
United States, to Europe, Africa, and Asia, holds out
the most singular advantages for commerce. When
the commerce of the east comes to receive that direction
which seems to be pointed out by nature, through the
Carribean sea and the gulf of Mexico, America will
then be the acknowledged centre of the earth. There
are scarcely any of the vegetable, or animal productions
of the other parts of the world, which may not be easily
naturalized here, not to speak of a variety found no
where else. Of the precious metals, America may be
considered the treasury of all civilized nations ;t and,
therefore, as possessing the power to regulate their
activity and enterprize. In spices, gums, and in articles
useful in the materia medica, she equals, if not sur-

* The climate of Rio Janeiro has been compared by an English
writer to that of Naples. During the time we were in South
America, we experienced at no time so great a degree of heat, as
that which we felt in the month of July, near Norfolk, on our

t The quantity of gold and silver annually sent by the new con-
tinent into Europe, amounts to more than nine-tenths of the pro-
duce of the whole mines in the known world. Tlie Spanish colonies,
for example, furnish annually three millions and a half marks of
silver, (2,370,046 troy weight), Avhile in the whole of the European
states, including Asiatic Russia, the total annual produce of the
mines scarcely exceeds three hundred thousand marks, (230,130
pounds troy.)



passes, the East Indies. Possibly, the time may come,
when the attraction which has so long drawn the nations
of Europe to China and Hindostan, will be much dimi-
nished. In time, almost every thing that the earth can
produce, will be found in America.

All the commercial nations of Europe, have mani-
fested at different periods, a desire to obtain a foot-
hold in South America. The attempts of the Dutch
to wrest the Brazils from the Portuguese, gave rise to
one of the most bloody wars ever known on this side
of the Atlantic. The English never for a moment re-
linquished their designs on the new world. Although in
a great measure, masters of its commerce, they were also
ambitious of being masters of its soil. Scarcely any
part of South America, has escaped the daring enter-
prize of this nation. Their capture of Carthagena, and
of Cuba, the possession of which they afterwards re-
signed, and their subsequent attempts on La Plata,
are well known. England in every mode has occa-
sioned the greatest annoyance to Spain of any other
nation; she was almost the only one from whom she
had any thing to fear ; and but for the extraordinary
occurrence which converted these natural enemies
into allies, there is no telling how far England would
have taken advantage of the decrepitude of the Spa-
nish monarchy. It is probable, however, that in-
stead of open attempts at conquest, she would have
resorted to the arts of seduction to withdraw the Ame-
ricans from allegiance to Spain, holding out to them
a feigned guardianship and protection.^ However this
may be, the only possessions of Great Britain at pre-

* I allude to the proclamation of Pictori, and the otlier plans on
foot in 1797.


sent on the southern continent, are those of Esequibo
and Demerara, inconsiderable colonies near the equator,
taken from the Dutch. The French and Dutch colo-
nies of Guyana, are comparatively of little importance.
South America may therefore be considered as divided
between Spain and Portugal ; the former including the
provinces which have gained, or are struggling for inde-

Spanish America is distributed into four viceroyal-
ties ; New Spain, New Grenada, Peru, and Rio de la
Plata; and into the captain-generalships of Yukatan,
Guatimala, Venezuela, Chili and Cuba. The islands
belonging to, or claimed by Spain, are Cuba, Porto-
Rico, Margarita, and St. Andrews. In the Pacific,
she possesses the Archipelago of Chiloe, and the
island of Juan Fernandez, with some others on the
coast of Chili. With the exception of Peru, (some-
times called Lima from its capital), all Spanish Ame-
rica has been the theatre of revolutionary strugglesy
or is now actually in possession of the patriots. The
viceroyalty of Grenada, a territory more extensive
than our old thirteen states, was for several years the
scene of a bloody contest for independence. The in-

Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeVoyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) → online text (page 1 of 29)