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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Next to the province of Rio Janeiro, on the coast,
comes that of St. Paul, which stretches along it about
four hundred miles, and is about five hundred in depth.
It is bounded to the west by the great river Parana,
which separates it from the Spanish province of Para-
guay. On the south it is bounded by the Iguazu, and
a line drawn from this river to the small river St.
Francisco, and down to its mouth. It is one of the
most fertile and delightful provinces of South America.
The great range of mountains which here runs close
along the coast, on the western side, is a vast inclined
plain, down which some of the largest branches of the
Parana flow into that immense river. The western



slope is so gentle as scarcely to be perceptible, and
although not level, it can hardly be considered hilly
or mountainous. On the eastern side, the ascent is
very steep ; the road from Santos to St. Paul, ascends
a mountain six thousand feet high, and is perhaps the
piost considerable work of this description in Brazil.
From this point, however, in following the mountains
to the southward, they gradually retire from the coast,
leaving a broken country between them and the sea,
through which the Paraiba of the south takes its
course. Between these mountains and the coast, an
extraordinary number of cataracts and cascades are
formed, by the waters which are precipitated down
the eastern side. The navigation of the rivers on the
western side, is also impeded by a great number of
falls and rapids; but the intervals between the portages,
are navigated by large perogues, such as are used
pn our western waters, made out of the single trunks
of trees, of which there is an abundance on their banks,
of a prodigious size. The river Tiete, which rises
near the city of St. Paul, is generally used as the
channel of communication to the mines of Matto
Grosso. After descending to the Parana, they continue
do\vn its stream to the mouth of the Pardo, which enters
from the west, and up this river to the foot of a chain
of mountains, which they cross to the river Taquari,
which flows into the river Paraguay, above the
Spanish possessions. The inhabitants of St. Paul took
^.dvantage of this route at an early period, for the pur-
pose of committing depredations on the numerous Indian
tribes settled on that river.

The climate is probably the most pleasant in Brazil.
Though nearer the equator than the provinces of La
Plata, the disadvantage is more than counterbalanced
by its height ; the commencement of the slope is six


thousand feet above the sea, and two thousand feet
^bove the inferior limit for the cultivation of European
grain. The thermometer descends as low as forty,
though it rarely rises above eighty. In the evenings, it
is sometimes so cold as to render necessary a change
of clothes, and to make use of brazeros.* In the vici-
nity of the capital, the tropical fruits are not in as great
perfection as they are on the sea coast, but in lieu of
these, all the European fruits, apples, grapes, peaches,
are uncommonly fine. This delightful country may
be considered as still in a state of wilderness, and in-
habited by a number of savage tribes towards the
Parana, who are continually at war with the Portuguese,
and retain the same ferocity as when the country was
first settled. They must finally disappear before the
march of civilization.

The principal port is Santos, said to be safe and
commodious, but being merely the entrepot to St. Paul,
as Laguira is to Caraccas, the town is inconsiderable.
The inhabitants of St. Paul are spoken of as the most
hospitable 2ind polished in Brazil, which may seem
somewhat extraordinary, considering their origin and
their character half a century ago. The history of
those people occupies one of the most conspicuous
pages in American annals ; their character has been
variously represented, and generally little to their ad-
vantage. Charlevoix, and all the Jesuits, represent
them in the most unfavourable light, and they have been
spoken of by most writers, as barbarians, possessing
enough of civilization to render them formidable, as
well as mischievous. They have been also represented, as

* A kind of pan tilled witli embers, used by Spaniards and
Portuguese, instead of fire-places and chimnics.


forming a kind of military republic, like that of early
Rome, composed of outcasts and adventurers from all
countries, under a nominal subjection to the Portu-
guese, in virtue of which, they paid a small tribute of
gold and diamonds. A Portuguese writer has under-
taken to vindicate their character from these im-
putations. Mawe, who is among the few English-
men who have visited their capital, speaks of them
in the highest tenns, and seems indignant at the
calumnies which have been circulated respecting them.
He places them above all the people he saw in
Brazil, for their highly polished manners, and manly
frankness of character, traits, by which they are every
where distinguished; but he does not reflect, that a
century, or even half a century, might produce a very
material change in their character.* The accounts
given of these people, as well as of their enemies the
Jesuits, by Southey, is certainly the most fair and

The celebrated republic of St. Paul, as it is usually
denominated, had its rise about the year 1531, from a
very inconsiderable beginning. A mariner of the
name of Ramalho, having been shipwTCcked on this
part of the coast, was received among a small Indian
tribe called the Piratininga, after the name of their
chief. Here he was found by De Sousa, some years
afterwards, and, contrary to the established policy, of
peimitting no settlement excepting immediately on the

* The author of ihc Corographia comes nearer the truth. As
Paulistas de hoje passam por uma boa yente ; mas sens avcengos
nao o for am certameule. The Paulistiis of the present day, pass for
a very good people, \\hich was certainly not the case with respect to
their ancestors.


sea coast, he allowed this man to remain, on account
of his having intermarried and having a family. The
advantages of this establishment were such, that per-
mission was soon after given to others to settle here,
and as the adventurers intermarried with the natives,
their numbers increased rapidly. Romalho also al-
lied himself with one of the chief of the Goaynazes by
marrying his daughter ; for it seems he had conformed
to the Indian custom of polygamy. A mixed race
was formed, possessing a compound of civilized and
uncivilized manners and customs. The Jesuits soon
after established themselves with a number of Indians
they had reclaimed, and exerted a salutary influence
in softening and humanizing the growing colony. In
1581, the seat of government was removed from St.
Vincent on the coast to St. Pauls ; but its subjection
to Portugal was little more than nominal ; cut of from
all communication, and almost inaccessible, but little
notice was taken of it. The mixture produced an im-
proved race ; " the European spirit of enterprise," says
Sou they, " developed itself in constitutions adapted to
the country.'* But it is much more likely, that the free
and popular government which they enjoyed, produced
the same fruits here as in every other country ; a rest-
less spirit of enterprise and emulation among each
other ; the mother of great qualities, but without a well
ordered government, the good was not likely to out-
weigh the bad. They soon quarrelled with the Je-
suits, on account of the Indians whom they had reduced
to slavery. The Jesuits declaimed against the prac-
tice; but as there were now many wealthy families,
ambng the Paulistas, the greater part of whose for-
tunes consisted in their Indians, it was not heard with
patience. The Paulistas first engaged in war against
the enemies of their allies, and afterwards on their


own account, on finding it advantageous. They esta-
blished a regular trade with the other provinces whom
they supplied with Indian slaves. They by this time
acquired the name of Mamelukes, from the peculiar mili-
tary discipline they adopted, bearing some resemblance
to the Mamelukes of Egypt.

The revolution in Portugal, when Philip II. of
Spain placed himself on its throne, cast the Paulistas
in a state of independence, as they were the only set-
tlement of Brazil, which did not acknowledge the new
dynasty. From the year 1580, until the middle of
the following century, they may be regarded as a re-
public, and it was during this period they displayed
that active and enterprising character for which they
were so much celebrated. They discovered and worked
the gold mines of Jaragua near St. Pauls; they es-
tablished colonies in the interior at the numerous mines
which they discovered; and their exploring parties
were sometimes absent for years, engaged in wander-
ing over this vast country. While a Spanish king
occupied the throne of Portugal, they attacked the
Spanish settlements on the Paraguay, alleging that the
Spaniards were encroaching on their territory, 2ind de-
stroyed the Spanish towns of V^illa Rica, Ciudad Real,
and Villa de Xerez, besides a number of smaller set-
tlements. They attacked the Jesuit missions, which by
the most extraordinary perseverance, after repeated
trials during a hundred years, had been at last established.
As they had fixed themselves east of the Parana, the
Paulistas laid hold of this as a pretext. They carried
away upwards of two thousand of their Indians into
captivity, the greater part of whom were sold and dis-
tributed as slaves. The Jesuits complained to the king
of Spain and to the pope ; the latter fulminated his ex-
communication. The Paulistas attacked the Jesuits in


their college, and put their principal to death, expelled
the remainder, and set up a religion of their own; at
least no longer acknowledged the supremacy of the
pope. In consequence of the interruption of the Afri
can trade during the Dutch war, the demand for Indian
slaves was very much increased. The Paulistas re-
doubled their exertions, and traversed every part of the
Brazils in armed troops, to the great terror of the In-
dians ; who were on some of the principal rivers numer-
ous, and established in villages. The foundation was
laid of enmity to the Portuguese, which continues to
this day, although a complete stop was put to the in-
famous practice in the year 1756.

This little republic like all others, was continually
distracted by internal factions. Two families, the Pira-
tiningo and the Thaubatenos, were continually strug-
gling for a monopoly of power, and at one time ac-
tually engaged in a civil war ; but a reconciliation was
brought about by the interposition of some ecclesiastics,
who proposed that the governor should be alternately
elected from the members of the rival families. This
continued for nearly a century. When the house of Bra-
ganza in 1640, ascended the throne, the Paulistas in-
stead of acknowledging him, conceived the idea of
electing a king for themselves.* They actually elected

* Every thing facilitated suoh a revolution. Their habits of obe-
dience to any legitimate authority hung loosely about them and might
easily be shaken off. There was but one road whereby they could
be attacked, and this, which was difficult for a single traveller, for an
army would be inaccessible- Tfiey might defend themselves merely
by rolling down stones if they were attacked; while on the other
hand the whole interior was open to their enterprise. The promo-
ters of this scheme easily induced the people to join in it with enthu-
siasm, and if they could have found a leader to their wish, it is more


a distinguished citizen of the name of Bueno, who per*
sisted in refusing to accept, upon which, they were in-
duced to acknowledge Joam IV. It was not until long
afterwards, that they came under the Portuguese govern-
ment. The history of these people is doubtless re-
plete with interesting incidents ; such is always the
case with an independent nation, and especially if re-
publican. The important part they have acted in South
America, and their connexion with the history of La
Plata, have induced me to take this notice of them.

The next province to St. Paul is that of Rio Grande.*
It is about five hundred miles in length, and three
hundred in depth, according to the treaty of 1778, which
excludes the Banda Oriental, but which is claimed in
Portuguese books of geography. The Uruguay has its
sources in the province to the west of St. Catherine's,
and flows several hundred miles through it before enter-
ing the Banda Oriental. It is an inclined plain like the
province of St. Paul, but more level ; it has a consider-
able ridge of mountains which separates the waters of
the Rio Negro, the main branch of the Uruguay, from
the streams which fall into the lake dos Patos. The
climate is mild, but during winter a good deal exposed
to the south west winds. The greater part of the country
to the southward, bordering on the Banda Oriental, con-
sists of extensive grassy plains, and is almost exclu-
sively devoted to pasturage. Agriculture is compara-
tively but little attended to, although the soil is extremely
well adapted to grain of every kind.

than probable that the Paiilistas would have become an independent
people, who would soon have made themselves the most formidable
in South America.'' — Southei/, vol. %p. 327.

t St. Catherine is usually considered a distinct province, but


The island of St. Catherine, in the northern part of
this district, is a place of considerable note. The har-
bour is one of the best along- the coast. The town con-
tains about ten thousand inhabitants, and is beautifully
situated. The surrounding country is very fine, and
in a better state of cultivation and improvement, than
is usual in Brazil. From the abundant supply of
wood, water, and stores of every kind, it is a very
common stopping place. Few places ofier greater ad-
vantages for ship building. The country and cli-
mate are so delightful, that many persons come here
from other provinces, in order to regain their health ;
and gentlemen of fortune sometimes choose it as an
agreeable residence. Formerly there was a very im-
portant whale fishery here ; but of late years the whales
have very much diminished in numbers along this coast.
Commodore Porter, who touched at this place in his
cruise, speaks of it in the following manner : — " The
houses are generally neatly built, and the country
at the back of the town in a state of considerable im-
provement. But nothing can exceed the beauty of
the great bay to the north, formed by the island of St.
Catherine's and the continent ; there is every variety
to give beauty to the scene ; handsome villages and
houses built around ; shores which gradually ascend
in mountains, covered to their summits with trees which
remain in constant verdure; a climate always temperate
and healthy ; small islands scattered here and there,
equally covered with verdure ; the soil extremely pro-
ductive; all combine to render it in appearance the most
delightful country in the world."

We had at length reached the yawning estuary of
La Plata, whose width estimated from the Cape St.
Mary's to Cape St. Antonio on the southern side, is
one hundred and fifty miles. It would perhaps be


more proper to give this great opening the name of bay
or gulf. Its waters though not fresh, are much dis-
coloured, but not much affected by the tides above
Buenos Ayres. Except the isle of Lobos, which can
hardly be considered in its channel, there are no
islands but that of Goriti, which forms the harbour of
Maldonado, and the isle of Flores about fifty miles
above. There are, however, a considerable number
of islands above Buenos Ayres, where the river pro-
perly begins ; at the mouth of the Uruguay there is
the island of Martin Garcia, and at the entrance of
the Parana there are a great many islands of various
sizes. Rio La Plata here loses its name ; it is in fact,
properly speaking but a bay or gulf, into which the
Uruguay and Parana discharge themselves. It was
originally called the river of Solis, from the name of
its first discoverer ; but was changed by Cabot, who de-
feated a party of Indians on its borders, and among
whom he found some silver ornaments, from which he
was induced to believe, that there were mines of this
metal in the vicinity. The entrance of this river was
formerly considered extremely dangerous and difficult,
but since it has been frequented by the English, it has
become much better known, and the dangers have in
consequence diminished as far as an acquaintance with
the situation and nautical skill can diminish them.
But there are still serious dangers to be encountered,
and which are beyond the power of man to obviate.
The principal, perhaps, is the south-west wind, which
blows during the winter months. May, June, July,
and August, with dreadful violence, while the harbours
on its shores afford but a very imperfect security.
On the north side, the shore is rocky and dangerous ;
GD. the south it is flat, and the water extremely shoal ;
the channel is therefore on the north side, between


what is called the English bank and the island of
Flores, about ten miles in width ; the largest vessels
may pass with little danger unless the wind be very
violent. Between Monte Video and Buenos Ayres,
the navigation is still more difficult on account of
what is called Ortiz banks, which render the channel
narrow and intricate. These banks consist of hard
sand, and it is almost as dangerous for vessels to
strike upon them as to strike upon a rock; but the
channel is generally of soft mud, in which a vessel
may sink several inches without experiencing any

The afternoon of the 20th the anchor was weighed,
and the Congress proceeded up the river, but came to
anchor about ten o'clock at night, being apprehensive
of approaching too near the island of Flores on the one
hand, and the English bank on the other. We made
sail at day-light, but the wind slackening and a strong
current setting downwards, we again anchored within a
few miles of Flores. On the main land from Maldo-
nado to this place, we were continually in sight of a
range of high hills, in places rising to considerable
peaks, but not deserving the name of mountains.
With our spy-glasses we could discover a vast number
of seals moving about on the island, or lying upon the
naked rocks, by which it is surrounded. As it was

* The pami)hlet of Captain Haywood, an English officer, contains
mzny excellent obsenations. While the commissioners were at
Buenos Ayres, Commodore Sinclair and the officers of the Congress,
occupied themselves in acquiring an acquaintance with the dangerous
navigation of this river, in which so many vessels have been wrecked.
I have in my possession a copy of a memoir, accompanied with aT
chart, drawn up by Commodore Sinclair, wbichr would be highly^
wsefn! to persons navigating this river.

176 -^ VOYAGE TO

now a perfect calm, and the weather delightful, a num-
ber of us resolved to make an attack upon the island,
and possess ourselves of a few of the skins of its in-
habitants, not as warlike trophies, but for the purpose
of making caps, saddle housings, or stuffing them for
museums. Our approach to shore was attended with
some difficulty on account of the surf which never
ceases to dash upon the rocks. The roaring of the
sea, was emulated by the noise of the seals, of which
we now discovered astonishing numbers. The hoarse
roaring of the males, and the bleating of the females
and younger seals, bore resemblance to the mingled
concert of domestic cattle, cows, calves, and the ac-
companiment of bleating sheep. Besides thousands
upon the shore, there were still greater numbers in the
water, some as far out as thirty or forty yards.
They were in continual motion, their heads appearing
and disappearing, while they incessantly kept up a
dreadful noise. As soon as we landed, the seals
exerted themselves as fast as they could to get into the
water; and considering that they have nothing but a
pair of fins a little below the breast, and a long unwieldy
body and tail to drag after them, they made very con-
siderable speed. Some of our sailors got between
them and the water with clubs, which they had pro-
vided, and knocked down a number, a slight blow on
the end of the nose being sufficient for this purpose. In
those places where water was standing in the hollows ot
the rock, there were great numbers of young seals hud-
dled together, resembling young whelps, though much
larger. The sailors who had been laying about
them with indiscriminate fury, assailed these poor
creatures, who seemed in a most piteous manner to
implore for mercy. Seeing the harmless and inof-
fensive nature of this race, we were seized with


compassion, hastened to put a stop to the carnage,
and resolved to select only a few of those that we
thought suited to our purposes. The smell was so
offensive, that we were compelled in a short time to re-
turn to our boats.

These are of the species called the ursine seal.
The males are called lions, from the resemblance of
the head and mane to that animal, as well as from
their hoarse noise. They are often seen with several
of their favourite females around them, basking on the
rock, but as soon as discovered, they roll themselves
into the water. Some of their habits are singular.
Each lion, like a grand sultan, has forty or fifty fe-
males. They live in distinct families of several hun-
dred. Each family occupies a particular part of the
island, upon which none of the others are suffered to
encroach ; bloody battles sometimes ensue between dif-
ferent families, which frequently involve the whole
tribe. A combat sometimes takes place between two
males ; the one who is vanquished, is abandoned by all
his wives, who join the conqueror. The female is de-
licately formed, with a long tapering neck, and beau-
tiful silvery skin, which glisten on coming out of the
water. The old ones, although very uneasy for the
safety of their young, will not venture out of the
water to their assistance. I observed, in the fissures of
the rock, thousands of a small fish about a foot in
length, swimming among the young seals, probably
attracted by them, and fed upon. The skins of this
kind are not of much value ; but those of the fur kind on
the island of Lobos, fifty miles below, are much es-
teemed.* The island is about a mile and a half long;

• In the Semanario of 1802, there is a notice of the number of
skins obtained on the isle of Lobos, by the company authorised by

Vol. I. N


the sea, when much agitated, dashes over it. We
supposed there might be about twenty families on the
Island, of two hundred each. A lion killed by the
commodore, measured ten feet six inches from the nose
to the end of the tail, was six feet four inches in
girth, and probably weighed at least one thousand

The calm continued until the afternoon of the next
day, when a breeze springing up, the anchor was
weighed, and we proceeded up the river. It was not
long before we discovered the hill above the town, which
gives its name to the place. We next discovered the
town at a distance, and the cathedral, the most conspi-
cuous object in it. The frigate came to anchor in four
fathoms water, soft mud, the fort on the top of the
mount, bearing, by compass, north-west ; the cathedral
north-east by north. Point Brava, east by north, distant
from land a league or upwards.

We could discern a number of vessels lying in the
harbour, but chiefly of a small size, excepting a Portu-
guese frigate, an Indiaman, (which had lately been re-

the king. The season is from the middle of May until the Sd of
November. A complaint is made that the English and Americans,
who pursue the sealing business along the coast of Patagonia, pay no
attention to the season, in consequence of which the seals are exter-
minated. The produce of the island, which is not more than a league
in length, was seventeen thousand skins, and «ix hundred barrels
of oil.

Our countrymen still pursue the business along the coast. A New
England vessel engaged in it, was dashed to pieces by a gale, and the
crew arrived at Buenos Ayres about the time of our entering the

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 14 of 29)