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 15 of 29)
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river ; they were in a small vessel constructed from the wreck. One
of them, with whom I conversed, described the country as very plea-
sant, and without any inhabitants.


leased by the government of Buenos Ayres) and some
light vessels of war. We observed the patriot flag on
one or two small sloops. The trade of this place being
almost'knnihilated, induced us to believe, that the greater
part of the vessels we saw belonged to the Portuguese
invading force — the business of war having in this town
completely taken place of the peaceful pursuits of com-

Looking at the town from a distance, it seems to-
stand upon a projecting point, or promontory ; and a
point running out from the base of the hill before men
lioned, forms with the first, a spacious basin, but too
shoal to be considered a good harbour; and moreover,
not affording complete protection, from all the winds
that sweep across this vast country of plains. The
town is compactly built, exhibits no mean appear-
ance, and might contain fifteen or twenty thousand
inhabitants in the days of its prosperity. I was not a
little disappointed in finding such a place in the midst
of a vast region almost uninhabited, or at least not more
populous than the immense track which lies west of
St. Louis, on the Mississippi. The adjacent country
looks naked and desolate ; a few horses and honied cat-
tle, feeding on the extensive grassy plains, which stretch
out in every direction, are the only objects to be seen.
The surface of the country appeared, however, to be
pleasingly varied, but with the exception of the mount
before mentioned, no where rising into hills. We could
discern, with our glasses, the vestiges of a number of
fine seats and gardens beyond the town, as well as along
the bank below it. The hedges of prickly pear, or cactus,
are plainly visible. In fact, the whole country around,
appears to have been laid waste by the ravages of war.
The shore, or rather bank (for one is apt to forget that

N 2


this is a river) is not high or steep, but rock bound, and
the landing bad almost every where.

The next morning the commodore ordered a boat
to be manned, and a lieutenant to proceed to tHe city,
and in compliance with the usual etiquette, to wait on
the chief person in command, to state the object of our
visit, and to request permission to obtain such supplies
as the ship might require. Seeing Mr. Bland about
to take advantage of this opportunity, I determined to
accompany him. We had to pass round a long rocky
point, which makes out from the tongue of land on
which the town is built. The harbour is capacious,
but very shoal around it ; as the bottom is extremely
soft, vessels are often eight or ten inches in the mud. On
arriving at the stairs, or quay, constructed with the
dingy granite, of which all the rocks we have seen on
this river were composed, we found among the crowd
attracted by curiosity, several Englishmen, and a per-
son of the name of White, who informed us he was an
American, and made a tender of his services. Lieu-
tenant Clack inquired for the American consul, but was
informed that he resided at Buenos Ayres ; at the same
time suggested the propriety of first waiting on General
Lecor, the commanding officer, with whom he professed
to be intimately acquainted. He offered his services to
conduct us ; the lieutenant thanked him, observing that
this was his business on shore, and that he would accept
his offer.

We accordingly proceeded to the quarters of the Por-
tuguese general, who occupies one of the largest and
best houses in the city. We entered a spacious court
or varanda, with galleries all around it, through a
guard of black troops, with sleek and greasy looks, and
dressed in showy uniform. In these countries the


blacks are preferred as guards and centinels, about
the persons of officers of distinction. After going
through several apartments, passing centinels and offi-
cers on duty, exhibiting to us all the pomp and pa-
rade of the establishment of a great military chief,*
we entered an apartment where we were politely in-
vited to sit down. We had scarcely time to recover
from the reflections produced by this, to us unusual
scene, when the general himself made his appearance,
with which we were much struck. He is a remark-
ably fine figure, tall and erect, with a native unaffected
dignity of manners. His age is above fifty-five, his com-
plexion much too fair for a Portuguese ; indeed we
afterwards learned that he is of Flemish descent. The
character of this officer does not contiadict the fa-
vourable impression which his appearance is calculated
to make. His reputation is that of a brave and honour-
able soldier, and a polite and humane man. From all
accounts, however, he is not exclusively indebted for
these good qualities for his elevation from a low rank
in life. Mr. Bland introduced himself through White,
who acted as interpreter, and after some conversation,
in which he stated the motives of the visit, he accepted
a general invitation to dine the next day, the general
at the same time in the most obliging mamier tendering
his services. Arrangements having been made on the
subject of the salute, we took our leave. Mr. White
next conducted us to an inn in the great square or plaza,
fronting the cabildo.

There is something extremely painful in the contem-
plation of scenes of recent and rapid decay. The

* The government of the place may be considered for the present
entirely military.



sufferers in the havoc and desolation are brought
near to us, and we cannot but sympathise in their mis-
fortunes. Ancient ruins are associated with beings
who in the course of nature and time, would long since
have passed away at any rate, but we unavoidably
share in the miseries of our cotemporaries, where wc
are surrounded by their sad memorials. At ever^' step
I found something to awaken these reflections. Traces
of the most rapid decline of this lately flourishing and
populous to\Mi, every where presented themselves. The
houses, for the greater part, were tumbling do\vn or
unoccupied, whole streets were uninhabited excepting
as barracks for the soldiery. In the more frequented
streets, few were seen but soldiers, or perhaps a so-
litary female dressed in black, stealing along to some
chapel to count her beads. There seemed to be little
or no business doing any where, not even at the pul-
perias or shops. The town, in fact, looked as if it had
experienced the visitation of the plague. During the
latter part of our walk, it being the commencement of
the siesta, (about one o'clock) the silence in the city
was in some measure to be attributed to this circum-
stance. We observed a number of the lower classes of
people, lying across the footways flat on their backs, in
the shady side of the houses, with their poncho or rug
spread under them ; we were obliged to pass round,
being unwilling to step over them, from the same kind of
apprehension we should feel from a fierce mastiff or
bull-dog. Happening to peep into a meat-shop, I ob-
served a kind of Indian lying on his poncho on the
earthen floor, in the midst of myriads of flies, who co-
vered his bare legs, face, and hands, without causing
him the slightest uneasiness. These people of whom
I have been speaking, appeared to have a considerable
mixture of Indian race, judging from their complexion


and their lank black hair, which is almost as coarse as
the mane of a horse.

The town still retains every proof of having once
been flourishing. The streets are laid off at right
angles, and are much more spacious than those of Rio,
as well as less filthy, although little or no attention is
paid to them ; the buildings are also in general, erected
in much better taste. The streets are paved, but
the footways narrow and indifferent. Monte Video
may be considered, comparatively a new to^n; for
within the last century, Spain has laid the foundation
of much fewer colonies or cities, than during the for-
mer period of her dominion in America. At the same
time, such cities as have been built, are much more
elegant and convenient. The rapid growth of this
place, is to be ascribed to the circumstance of its
possessing a much better harbour than Buenos Ayres,
if the latter place can be said to have any harbour
at all. The harbour of Monte Video, is in fact, the
only one on the river, which deserves the name. This
city came to be the emporium of what is called the
Banda Oriental, a vast track of country, lying between
the river Uruguay on the west, the Portuguese domi-
nions on the north, the ocean on the east, and the
river La Plata on the south, and containing about
the same number of square miles as the states of Mis-
sissippi and Alabama. Its position on the Plata, is
not unlike that of the countries just mentioned, between
the Tennessee, the Mississippi, and the gulf of Mexico.
The principal exports of this city and province, consisted
of hides, salted meat, tallow, &c. to a very considerable

In July, 1806, when Buenos Ayres was taken by
General Beresford, and Sir Home Popham, Monte
Video was merely blockaded, these officers having de-


termined to proceed at once against the capital, under
a mistaken idea, that, if once in possession of it, the
rest of the country would willingly throw off the Spgmish
yoke, and acknowledge obedience to the govern-
ment of Great Britain. But, in the month of May, of
the year following. General Achmuty, who commanded
the van-guard of the second British expedition
against this country, after some resistance, took pos-
session of Monte Video. During this time, it expe-
rienced a momentary flush of prosperity, from the in-
creased demand for its produce, and the immense quan-
tities of British goods thrown in, and which the owners
were compelled to sacrifice. This was soon after
succeed by a series of reverses, with little or no in-
termission until the present time. The British, under
Whitlock, having been defeated at Buenos Ayres, the
troops of that city laid siege to Monte Video, and com-
pelled the captors to evacuate it. In the troubles
which afterwards ensued, these two cities were soon
found engaged in opposite interests. The people of
Buenos Ayres having deposed the Spanish viceroy
Sobremonte, on account of his incapacity, elected
Liniers in his stead; but at Monte Video, the Euro-
pean Spaniards, who were more numerous in propor-
tion, combining with the Spanish naval officers, pre-
vailed over the native Americans, who, although the
majority, were by no means so well directed. A
junta was formed attached to the Spanish interests, de-
termined to follow the varying temporary governments
of Spain, and therefore, in opposition to that which had
been set up by Buenos Ayres. The year after, the
British had been expelled from this country, Cisneros
was sent out as viceroy from Spain, Liniers was super-
seded, and peace between the two cities for a short
time restored. But when this viceroy was deposed by


the people of Buenos Ayres, in 1810, the Spanish in-
terest was once more successful in Monte Video, after
an unavailing effort of the Creoles, to follow the ex-
ample of the capital. Open hostilities now ensued.
The government of Buenos Ayres having excited the
people of the Band a Oriental to revolt, laid siege to
this city, but which they were compelled to abandon
and again resume, accordingly as they were successful
or otherwise, in the struggle with the Spaniards in
the upper provinces, until the close of the year 1814,
when Buenos Ayres finally succeeded in capturing the
city.* During all this time, the intercourse between it
and the country was almost entirely suspensed, and
its trade of course declined. The effects of a protracted
siege, on its prosperity, may be easily imagined. The
matter was still worse, when Buenos Ayres came to
get possession of the city, as Artigas, with his fol-
lowers, had previously deserted the cause, and was in
arms against his countrymen. A few months after-
wards, the inhabitants of Monte Video having esta-
blished a government, set up a press, opened colleges
and schools, the town was evacuated by the troops of

» a

The garrison of Monte Video had received supplies and rein-
forcements from Spain; and although they had been defeated in a
sortie against the besieging army, it was apprehended that a junc-
tion might be effected at Santa Fee, of the victorious army of Lima
with the disposable force at Monte Video. The royal squadron
having the command of the river La Plata, rendered this move-
ment very probable."— Mr. Poinsett's Report, p. 86. An attempt
was actually made in the fall of 1813, to take possession of a point
on the Parana, by a body of Spanish troops; they were attacked near
San Lorenzo, by San Martin, and entirely defeated. This was consi-
dered a brilliant affair in the then sinking fortunes of the republic,
though in itself of but of little moment, compared to the subsequent
achievements of this celebrated general.


Buenos Ayres, who had employment enough in the
upper provinces.* The place soon after fell under
the sway of this barbarian, who continued from that
time in open hostility to Buenos Ayres, contrary to the
wishes of the intelligent and respectable part of the
community, which he is enabled to disregard, in con-
sequence of his having at his command, the singular
kind of force, composed of the wild herdsmen, who
are so much attached to him as their leader. The
Portuguese, taking advantage of the defection of
Artigas, took possession of Monte Video, imder the
pretext, that their own safety required it. They allege,
that Artigas had committed hostilities on the adjoining
provinces of Brazil, and that the state of anarchy
which he had occasioned, held out a dangerous ex-
ample to the herdsmen of their provinces, whose habits
and propensities are similar to those of the herdsmen
of the Banda Oriental. The marching of their divi-
sions, amounting in the whole to ten thousand men,
has proved destructive to the settlements or villages of
the countiy; and the occupation of this city by Ge-
neral Lecor, >vith the principal division, consisting of
five thousand men, which has since been reinforced,
may be considered as giving it the finishing blow.
Within eight years, the population has been reduced
at least two-thirds, many of the principal inha-
bitants have removed, property to an immense amount
in the delightful suburbs, which contained a greater
population than the town, has been destroyed, and
the value of what remains, reduced to a mere trifle.

♦ Mr, Poinsett thinks it was a capital error on tbc part of the
government of Buenos Ayres, not to have destroyed the fortifications
of Monte Vi<leo, lo as to prevent an enemy from taking advnntage
of them.


It is in fact, nothing but a garrison, with a few starved
inhabitants, who are vexed and harassed by the
military. I am told, that notwithstanding this misery,
there is a theatre here, and that the evenings are
spent in balls and dances, perhaps for want of other
employments; the outward actions are not always
the certain index of the heart. When we consider
the stagnation of business, the depreciation of property,
and the deficiency of supplies, we may easily con-
jecture what must be the condition of the people.
There is little doubt, that had this place remained
attached to the government of Buenos Ayres, the Por-
tuguese would not have molested it; but the revolt
of Artigas and his disorganizing system, furnished too
fair an opportunity for making themselves masters of a
territory they had coveted for more than a century and
an half.

On our return to the hotel, we found Mr. Graham,
who had come on shore, and it was agreed to remain
all night. General Carrera proposed to us a ^ide early
the next morning, and politely offered to procure us
horses ; the proposal was gladly acceded to. Accord-
ingly, the next morning, we sallied forth at one of the
gates, to take a view of the country outside of the
walls, and within the Portuguese lines, which extend
around about three miles. It would not be considered
safe to go beyond them, lest we should fall in with the
Gauchos, the name by which the people of Artigas are
designated, and who might take a fancy to our clothes.
The general observed, that with respect to himself, he
would have nothing to fear, as he was known to them ;
but he was not certain that he could afford protection
to those who were with him. I do not suppose they
are quite as ferocious as they are generally represented
to be; but I presume they are very little better than


the Missouri Indians. We soon found ourselves in
the midst of ruins, whose aspect was much more me-
lancholy than those of the city itself. Nearly the
whole extent which I have mentioned, was once co-
vered with delightful dwellings, and contiguous gar-
dens, in the highest cultivation; it is now a scene of
desolation. The ground scarcely exhibits traces of
the spots where they stood, or of the gardens, excepting
here and there, fragments of the hedges of the prickly
pear, with which they had formerly been enclosed.
The fruit trees, and those planted for ornament, had
been cut down for fuel, or perhaps through wanton-
ness. Over the surface of this extensive and fertile
plain, which a few years ago contained as great a po-
pulation as the city itself, there are, at present, not
more than a dozen families, upon whom soldiers are
billeted, and a few uninhabited dilapidated buildings.
This is the result of the unhappy sieges which have
reduced the population of this city and suburbs, from
upward of thirty thousand to little more than seven
From this, some idea may be formed of the havoc
which has been made. We found, however, in riding
along the basin above the town, a fine garden, which
had escaped the common wreck. We alighted, and
were hospitably received by the o>vner, who led us
through his grounds, and showed us his fruit trees,
and vegetables. It is from this spot that Lecor's ta-
ble is supplied. The fruits, peaches, grapes, figs,
oranges, apples, &c. are exceedingly fine. In this en-
chanting climate, (with the exception of a few of the
tropical fruits,) all the fruits that are most esteemed,
ripen in the open air, in great perfection. In fact, I
believe that the climate is surpassed by none in the
world, not even by that of Italy or the south of France.
It experiences neither the sultry heat of summer, nor


the chilling blast of winter. The air so pure, that pu-
trefaction can scarcely be said to take place ; we ob-
served the remains of several dead animals, which
seemed to have dried up, instead of going to decay.
Flesh wounds are said to heal with difficulty, from the
same cause.

After leaving this place we continued our ride in a
different direction; the air cool and refreshing. The
ground gradually rises on retiring from the town.
I was reminded of the magnificent scite of our capital,
the city of Washington. But nothing occasioned so
much surprise as the amazing fertility of the soil. It
is a light, rich, black mould, superior even to our best
river bottoms ; and this is its general character over the
whole country. Cotton, the sugar cane, Indian com,
and grain of every kind, would be equally congenial
to this soil and climate, where pasturage has hitherto
been almost the exclusive employment, and which ren-
ders it impossible for a country to be populous. This
province alone is capable of containing a population
as great as France, and yet the number of its inhabi-
tants, at no time exceeded sixty or seventy thousand.
We remarked, as we rode along, growing about on the
plains or commons, great quantities of a species of
thistle, which is cut down, dried, and made into fag-
gots, for fuel, in consequence of the scarcity of wood.
Dried animals, horses, sheep, &c. are made use of for
the same purpose, particularly in burning bricks. It
is this which has given rise to the story of their throw-
ing animals alive into the flames, for the purpose of
keeping up their fires. Many of the extravagant stories
related by travellers have had no better origin. I re-
marked several very beautiful shade trees, scattered
here and there over the plain. I was unable to account
for these having escaped the general ravage, but was


informed that this tree, which is called the umbu, is so
very soft and porous, and contains so much sap or more
properly water, that it will not bum even after having
been long cut. A gentleman told me that on first com-
ing to this country, he was surprised one day at seeing a
woman trying to split up the skull of an ox for fuel,
while a log of wood was lying along side of her, which
she did not seem to think of applying to this purpose ;
but this log was of the incombustible umbu. Amongst
the curious things that attracted my attention, was the
remains of an enclosure formed entirely of dry ox heads,
piled on each other ; from which we may form some
idea of the vast number of cattle slaughtered in this
neighbourhood, when the commerce of the city was

On arriving at the high ground near the lines, the
prospect was truly delightful ; the city and harbour, the
shipping, the frigate Congress with her glorious flag,
distinguishable at a greater distance than that of any
other nation, the mount, the expanse of this vast river,
at this place at least seventy miles wide, spread out
below me ; from this point the ground sloping to the
interior, presented an enchanting landscape; the sur-
face of the country waving like the Attakapas or Opa-
lousas, with here and "there some rising grounds, and
some blue hills at a great distance. Along a beau-
tiful winding stream, which flowed through a valley
before us, there were more trees and shrubbery than I
bad expected to have seen ; but this terrestrial para-
dise, was silent and waste — man had not fixed here his
" cheerful abode."

Wild animals, such as are common to this country,
the deer, the wolf, the ostrich, and even the tiger,
abound every where in these plains. The tiger of this
country is a powerful and ferocious animal, little inferior


m strength to that of Africa. It is not manyyears since
three of them swam across the basin and entered the
town of Monte Video, to the great terror of its inha-
bitants, several of w horn were killed, or mangled, before
the monsters were destroyed.

We were told that the interior of the country for
hundreds of miles, possessed the same beauty of sur-
face, and fertility of soil ; and although generally well
supplied with tine streams, a small proportion of it
can be said to be hilly or mountainous ; and that in
general, there is an abundance of wood along the
water courses. On examining the map of Azara, it
will appear to be abundantly supplied with fine rivers ;
it is bounded in its whole extent eight or nine hundred
miles on the east by the river Uruguay, which may bear
a comparison even with the Rhine or Danube of Europe.
This river has also a number of important navigable
tributaries, the principal of which are the Ubicuiy, and
the Rio Negro, together with several other rivers which
discharge themselves either into the Atlantic or La

While we were gazing with mingled pain and plea-
sure on this scene, our attention was suddenly attracted,
by the report of several muskets, and by the appear-
ance of some horsemen galloping at a distance of about
half a mile beyond the lines. These we soon recog-
nized to be a party of gaiichoSy such is the name given
to the country people in general, and by which is here
understood the partisans of Artigas, as the gauchos are
almost to a man on his side. The party was endeavour-
ing to drive off some Portuguese horses, and this they
executed with wonderful dexterity; they first started
into a gallop the horses which they meant to drive ofi*,
and then seemed to give them the direction they pleased,
by riding sometimes on one side and sonjetimes on the


other, or driving before them. The animals on which
these half horse, half men, were mounted, seemed to be
directed more by the inclination than by the hand of the
rider; so excellent is their horsemanship. This scene
we were informed was repeated almost every morning,
and appeared to be on the part of the gauchos, more a

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 15 of 29)