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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cidents of this contest in the provinces of Carthagena,
Santa Martha, Choco, Popayan, and Quito, are fami-
liar to most readers.* The blaze has subsided, but
the fire is not yet extinguished, nor v/ill be, until there
cease to be any combustible materials. The inci-
dents of the war in Venezuela, are also tolerably well
knowTi; but, excepting in the island of Margarita, the
contest still rages. On the plains of Calabozo and

* See " TJie Outline of the Revolution in South America" a work
written with great impartiality and regard to truth.



Caraccas, the bloody and exterminating war, it is feared,
will not soon be brought to a close. It is only in
the viceroyalty of La Plata, that the progress of in-
dependence has been firm and sure. It is true, this
mighty cause has been desperately contested in the
rugged mountains of the provinces on the heads of the
Paraguay and Amazon ; the theatre on which La Plata
has been struggling for liberty with various success
for the last eight years. Chili in close alliance with
this republic, may bid defiance to Spain : without this,
if we may judge from the past, the question is doubt-
ful. The only viceroyalty of South America, which
has remained quiet from the beginning of the contest,
is Peru ; the most feeble, and with the exception of its
mineral wealth, the least important of them all.* This
was the point first seized upon by Pizarro, and his
daring followers ; it was, therefore, the seat of govern-
ment for all the rest of South America, on their suc-
cessive discovery and conquest. From the reluctance
of Spain in the adoption of any new measures called
for by the exigence of circumstances, the inconve-
nience of this arrangement was felt long before the
remedy could be applied. Some of the provinces lay
two thousand miles from Lima, the residence of the
viceroy; and being separated by trackless deserts.

• It contains about a million of inhabitants, more than one Iialf
composed of the spiritless Indian peasantry ; of the other half the
greater part is made up of negroes and mulattoes. Scarcely a fifth
are whites, and the number of monks and nuns is greater than in
any other catholic country in the world, and may .iccount for the
slow progress of population and the dissoluteness of morals. The
staple manufactory of Peru, is priests; and of them, a sufficient
number is made to supply all South America.


the greatest inconvenience was experienced, from the
want of communication with the capital. It was not
until 1718, that New Grenada was erected into a vice-
royalty, nor until 1731 that the provinces of Vene-
zuela were placed under a separate government. Chili
was erected into a captain-generalship about the same
time. In the year 1778, La Plata was erected into
a viceroyalty, together with the upper provinces of
Peru, which have already been spoken of as the theatre
of war; and which, in point of wealth, and numerical
population, constitute by far the most important portion
of the viceroyalty.*

In the physical configuration of America, there are
many interesting peculiarities. The great traveller,
Humboldt, has exhibited the principal of these, in the
works already published by him ; in those which he is
still preparing for the press, the magnificent outline
will be filled up. The most striking features of the
new world, constituting the principal difference be-
tween it and the other quarters of the globe, are its
mountains and rivers. The chain of the Andes, is
undoubtedly the longest in the world, traversing both
North and South America, and in some points, (unless
we except the mountains of Thibet), the most elevated.
Beyond the Isthmus these mountains separate, and
traverse the continent in three distinct chains or
ridges. The first is the Cordilleras, which runs along
the Pacific, and is in fact a continuation of the rocky
mountains of North America. The second is the
chain which branches from the Cordillera in the pro-
vince of Quito, passes through -New Grenada towards

• See the report of Mr. Rodney, for a clear and succinct notice
of the establishment of the diflcrent colonial f^ovcrnmcnts.


the Atlantic, and pursuing a course nearly parallel, is
interrupted by the Orpnoko, reappears in Guyana,
and approaches the Amazon, when it is in like man-
ner broken by the immense valley of this river. It
afterwards shews itself in Brazil, traversing it in the
whole extent, again subsiding in the highlands of
Maldonado, near La Plata. The third chain, called
the Eastern Cordillera of Peru, runs towards the tro-
pic, whence it takes an inclined direction, and termi-
nates in the south cast, in the plains of the Grand
Chaco. There are besides, a number of interior chains,
particularly those which separate the valleys of the
great rivers of Brazil. From the eastern ridges, there
is a gradual slope to the interior, while on the coast
their ascent is abrupt and steep. Their elevation
is considerably less than the Cordillera or Andes,
and they are more irregular and broken. The vast
track of country which stretches along the heads of
the Amazon and La Plata, upwards of three thou-
sand miles in length, and probably more than three
hundred in breadth, is one of the most rugged and
mountainous on the globe; it is a continued succes-
sion of deep vallies, of various dimensions, enclosed
by mountains whose summits, in general, are covered
with perpetual snows. In the northern part, there are
plains of such elevation as to afford all the advantages
of the most temperate and delightful climates ; to the
south, the vallies are in general lower, and although
extremely fertile, are more hot.

The land communication from one valley to another,
is exceedingly difficult ; which is not the case with the
water communication, although circuitous. The diffi-
culties of passing the mountains which separate these
vallies, as related to us by travellers, seem almost to
border upon the marvellous. If Jolmtjon had been


acquainted with this country, it ~ would have been unne-
cessary for him, in his beautiful story of Rasselas,
to have had recourse to invention. In tracing the
minute descriptions of Sobreviela, and the difficulties of
passing from one valley into another, I often thought of
the prison of the prince of Abyssinia. Although the
mountains of Brazil are not so elevated as the Andes,
they are much more so than the Alleghanies ; and their
ridges abound in mineral wealth.

The coast of the Atlantic differs, in several very im-
portant particulars, from that of the Pacific. Being in
general bold and rocky, and having the estuaries of the
great rivers, it affords a number of the finest harbors in
the world. The coast of Brazil especially, a length of
three thousand miles, is highly favored in this particular.
La Plata forms an exception, and it is probable, that
there are no very good harbours south of that river.
The whole extent of this coast is highly fertile, and
capable of sustaining the most crowded population.
The coast of the Pacific, on the opposite side of the
continent, is, with some interruptions, sterile and dreary ;
and as it never rains over a great proportion of it, there
are considerable tracks as barren as the deserts of Arabia.
These almost entirely inteiTupt the land communication
between Lima and Chili, and even form considerable
obstacles to the intercourse between the different dis-
tricts of the vice-royalty. It is somewhat surprising,
that jthe African camel has never been introduced for
the purpose of travelling over these sandy plains,
although in use in Mexico. The communication be-
tween different places on the Pacific, is therefore carried
on by water ; but there is great difference between the
voyage north, and that to the south ; the latter having to
encounter adverse Avindand current. Although the coast
of the Pacific is not so well furnished with commodious


harbors, as that of Brazil and Terra Firma, there are a
number which possess considerable advantages. It is
remarkable, that the same difficulties exist in the inter-
nal communication between different places on the oppo-
site sides of the continent, but for different reasons ; on the
Atlantic, the extraordinary mass of vegetation, which co-
vers the ground, opposes the most serious obstacle to the
opening of roads ; obstacles that in this country we can
scarcely conceive ; the thickest cane brakes in the southern
parts of the United States are trifling impediments com-
pared to them ; besides the facilities of navigation on that
delightful coast,where dangers by sea are almost imknown,
take away all inducements to any extraordinary labor
in making highways. Between the two great cities of
St. Salvador, and Rio Janeiro, there is no land commu-
nication, and much of the intermediate space is occu-
pied by ferocious and unsubdued Indians. To make
amends for the difficulties of internal intercourse by land,
there is no part of the world which possesses such a
number of fine navigable rivers as South America. An
elegant writer has observed, " that of all the portions of
the globe, America is that which is best watered,"*
there are at least fifty rivers, as large as the Rhine or
Danube, whose names are scarcely known, even to
those who may be considered as well informed respect-
ing South America. These, at some future day, will
afford the means of carrying on an internal trade, com-
pared to which that of China, so much boasted, will
appear insignificant. Those mighty rivers the Magda-
lena, Oronoko, the Amazon, the Plata, and their hundred
arms, stretching in every direction over the continent,
will afford facilities of intercourse between the remotest

Kurke's History of EuioiJcan Sgttlemcnts.


The points at which the two oceans may be con-
nected, have given rise to frequent speculation ; I shall
probably, in the course of this work, make some obser-
vations on the subject; at present, I will only remark,
that from every thing I have been able to learn, the
most eligible is that from Guasacualco Tehuantepec*
Should this Isthmus become the connecting point, it
will be a subject of great interest to the United States.
New Orleans or Havanna, will then probably be the
great mart of the East India trade. From the Balize
a steamboat would run down in a few days to Guasa-
cualco ; and at farthest, two days would suffice for the
transportation of merchandize to the Pacific. By this
means, a direct intercourse would be established be-
tween Europe and the United States, with the countries on
the Western ocean. The introduction of steamboats
on this coast, as well as on that of Brazil, and in the
Carribean sea, will no doubt follow in the course of
improvement, and will effect the most singular changes
in human affairs. Great difficulties oppose the passage
across the Isthmus of Darien or Panama; a proof of
which is, that Spain instead of sending troops to Lima
in this direction, prefers the circuitous voyage round
Cape Horn. It is true, however, that a very consider-
able trade has always been kept up between Porto
Bello and Panama, notwithstanding the ruggedness of
the passage. But the important trade of Spain with

* Humboldt seems to be of this opinion. (See his Essay on New
Spain.) The deadly nature of the climate of the Isthmus of Darien
is a serious consideration : from the proximity of the two oceans, the
clouds gathered by the trade winds are continually settling on its
lofty summits : the rainy season is said to continue during two thirds
of the year, which under a vertical sun must render it peculiarly


the East Indies, has been carried on from Acapulco,
the only good port of New Spain ; while the products
of Lima, and Guiaquill, have been transported across
the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. In the hands of an enter-
prizing nation, this wonderful country would be found
to possess facilities of communication approximating
remote parts, which at present can scarcely be imagined ;
at the same time, that there exists the most extraordi-
nary advantages for defence, when it should require
the interruption of that intercourse. At present, the
inhabitants north of the Oronoko, on account of the
uninhabitable wilderness of Amazonia, have no direct
communication with the provinces on the Plata; they
are almost as completely separated as if they were on
opposite sides of the ocean. The eastern ridges of the
Andes oppose a barrier scarcely less formidable.

II. Humboldt has remarked, that in no part of the
world, is the population so unequally distributed as
in Spanish America. This principally arises, from the
circumstance of the Spaniards occupying the same
seats, with the half-civilized Aborigines whom they
subdued. In Mexico, in the kingdom of the Incas in
Peru, and of the Zac of St. Fee de Bogota, the popu-
lation was veiy considerable, and in a state of civiliz-
ation, not much below that of the East Indies. In
these countries the Indians still constitute the great
mass of population; the lower class are an indolent,
harmless peasantry, and in the comforts of civilized
life, probably not below the boors of Russia, or even
the peasantry of Poland or Hungary. By a long and
systematic course of oppression, they have become
spiritless and submissive, although on a few occasions,
when roused by chiefs of their own origin, whom they
venerate, they have manifested acts of great dcspera-


tion; as in the instance of the insurrection of Tapac
Amaru, which broke out in the year 1783, in the upper
provinces of La Plata.

The number of female Spanish emigrants to South
America, compared to the males, especially in Mexico
and Peru, having always been very small, there were
many intermarriages between the Europeans and the
natives. There was less repugnance to this, than in any
part of our country, those natives being in some mea-
sure a civilized peoj)le. The Spanish conquerors will-
ingly contracted alliances with the principal families,
by which they acquired extensive possessions. Many
of the descendants of the native chiefs, are educated in
the same manner with persons of the first classes, and
enjoy wealth and consideration. There have even ap-
peared among the Indians, men distinguished for their
literary attainments ; Garcillaso and Torquemada, two
of the best historians of the new world, were of the
Aboriginal race; one a descendant of the Incas, the
other a citizen of the republic Tlascala, who availed
himself of the Roman alphabet, forty years after the
conquest, to Aviite a history of the important events
which had taken place. The preceptor of the celebrated
astronomer Velasques, was a Mexican Indian. In the
universities of Lima and Mexico, there are professor-
ships of the native languages, into which several works
have been translated. Tupac Amaru was a well
educated and accomplished gentleman; he was driven
to desperation, in consequence of his unavailing efforts
to obtain some alleviation in the treatment of the com-
mon people, the descendants of those who had been
the subjects of his ancestors. The lower class of the
Spaniards, think themselves superior to the Indian
peasantry ; but there is little or no distinction between
the higher classes of mixed blood, and the American


Spaniards. In fact, in all parts of South America, with
the exception of Caraccas, Chili and the Provincias
Internas, the American Spaniard contains more or less
mixture with the native races. In the declamatory
writings and speeches of the patriots, when they cry out
against their having been oppressed for three hundred
years, one would suppose they had no Spanish blood
in their veins, but were the very people who had been
subdued by Cortes and Pizarro. They continually
identify themselves with the Aborigines, and in this
manner have generally succeeded in bringing them over
to their side. The distinction therefore, is not so much
in blood, as in condition; there is no deep rooted
enmity to prevent them from uniting in a common cause.
In the insurrection of 1783, the Indians at first, made a
distinction between the American and European Spa-
niards, until the former declared against them ; and in
the present contest, wherever the Indians have taken
a side at all, it has generally been in favour of the Ame-
ricans. The unsubdued Indians on the borders of the
settlements have shewn no particular inclination to either
side, except in very few instances; but they can con-
tribute but little in either scale.

The American Spaniards are next in point of numbers,
but they are much more important, in consequence of
their possessing greater privileges, better education and
more general wealth. Although they are the great land-
holders of the countiy, their influence is less than it might
be, on account of their careful exclusion from participa-
tion in the government ; it being the policy of Spain, to
keep them in a state of idleness and vice, as the surest
means of retaining her sway in these distant countries ;
they have, therefore, been deprived of nearly all those in-
centives which tend to elevate the character of a people.
The same policy, but a very erroneous one in this in


stance, has induced her to foster enmities between the
European Spaniards and the Americans ; * the dreadful
consequences of which, have been manifested in the in-
cidents of the present revolutions. There is some di-
versity in the character of the Americans, in different
parts of Spanish America ; produced principally, by the
circumstances of the countries which they inhabit. It is,
perhaps, in Chili alone, that the Spanish race in America,
may be considered pure and unmixed; which may be
attributed to the constant hostilities in this quarter with
the Araucanians, the only Indian nation in their neigh-
bourhood, with which they could have mingled. La Plata
may be placed next in rank ; but here, there is some
mixture of Indian race, increasing from the middle to
the lower classes of society. Perhaps, the most re-
markable and peculiar class of population in Spanish
America, are the herdsmen, or shepherds, who are met
with chiefly in New Spain, in Venezuela, and on the
La Plata. There is probably a considerable resemblance
between the shepherds of these different districts, sepa-
rated by such vast distances, but where the habits of
life are much alike. These men, who have made a re-
trogade step from civilization, are every where repre-
sented as possessing powerful and athletic frames, and
bold independent minds, but extremely rude and unin-
formed. If there be any difference in the herdsmen
inhabiting the countries just mentioned, I am inclined to
think that those of La Plata are more savage and fe-
rocious ; which may arise from their leading a more
solitary life, and having fewer of the comforts of civi-
lization.f No political change can produce much al-

* For this, I have the respectable authority of Humboldt, 2 vol.
t Sec the accounts of Ma we and Azara.


teration in the situation and habits of this class of men .
and yet, none has manifested more active devotion to
the cause of indexDendence. The difficulty has been
under all governments to bring them under any kind of
subordination. War is their natural element — if Spain
should ever succeed in subduing her colonies, these men
will be the last to yield. It is not, therefore, so much
from reflection, on the advantages to America, that they
have shown this devotedness to the cause of independ-
ence ; for one of its efibcts will necessarily be, to convert
as much as possible of those countries now occupied by
solitary shepherds, into the seats of agiiculture. The
first step towards improving their condition will be, to
bring them back to the sober and settled life, from which
they have strayed. 1 can scarcely imagine any other
mode of improvement; for they must remain in their
present state of barbarism, as long as they continue the
same habits and pursuits, without being much susceptible
of being rendered better or worse.

The character of the other classes of Spanish Ame-
ricans, is represented by most travellers, in a very fa-
vourable point of view; their vices, and defects, are
almost entirely attiibuted to the influence of a bad go-
vernment, and bad education. The inequality in the dif-
ferent ranks of society, is more nominal than real. The
lower class of Spanish America, attached to the soil by
the pursuits of agriculture, are uniformly represented as
a most kind, hospitable people, and susceptible of every
improvement in their condition ; the descendants of
Europeans in this class, I will venture to say, are esti-
mable throughout all An^erica. Humboldt has remarked
that in no country of the world, is property so unequally
distributed as in Ncav Spain ; and yet there cannot be
said to be any gorgeous display of wealth. The owners
of mines who possess the greatest fortunes, are continually


expending immense sums in the pursuit of new disco-
veries ; and even where this is not the case, there seems
to be something in the very air of America, which for-
bids that extravagant display and pomp, so natural in
the other hemisphere. After the owners of mines, are
ranked those who possess immense landed estates, witli
Indian vassals or dependants, whose condition formerly
was similar to that of the Russian boors or English
villeins ; but which has been gradually improving since
the time of the first conquerors. In Mexico, there never
was any other kind of slavery, and to the endeavours of
the Spanish monarchy to alleviate the condition of this
unfortunate race, are to be attributed those mild and
salutary laws, in favour of the slave, which have justly
placed the Spanish character in this respect above other
European nations. Through the animated representation
of Las Casas, the oppression practised on the Indians
was attempted to be remedied by various decrees, which
had well nigh produced a revolt on the part of the con-
querors, who were supported by powerful influence at
court. On account of this resistance of the great land-
holders, the decrees were repealed, and the minister
Gasca, who was sent to conciliate, received for instruc-
tion, that provided the country remained to the king,
the devil might have the government. Although the em-
peror could not abolish the repartiraientos and encomi-
endas, many of the largest of these estates were gradually
incorporated \\\i\\ the crown, but few, if any, having
been granted in perpetuity.

Throughout all America, with the single exception
of La Plata, there was an established nobility. In
Mexico, Peru, Caraccas and Chili, there was an abun-
dance of counts and marquisses ; but the Spanish tra-
veller Azara, expresses great doubts, whether they
derive much consideration from these titles ; and seemi,

Vol, I. C


to think they owe their distinction, whatever it may be,
not to this circumstance, but to their wealth and ex-
tensive family connexion. A variety of reasons may
be given, why an American nobility does not occupy
the same space in society, as the nobility of Europe ;
the principal, probably is, the want of that veneration
for remote ancestry, arising from peculiar circumstances
in Europe, but which cannot be transferred to the new
continent : another not less powerful is, that they do
not surround a throne. The revolution, however, has
been much affected by feuds between great and rival fa-
milies, in nearly all those viceroyalties where nobility
existed ; it was the case at St. Fee, in Chili, and Ca-
raccas ; the rock on which the revolutions of these se-
veral countries have uniformly split, has been the dis-
sensions of two or more powerful families, who by their
ambition of ruling, afforded an opportunity to the com-
mon enemy of subduing them. Much greater injury to
the cause has proceeded from this rivalry, than from
the circumstance of the different casts or classes of po-
pulation. The latter is generally considered the great
drawback. In the progress of the contest, experience
however has shown, in more instances than one, that
it is rather apparent than real ; all of them have re-
peatedly united against the Spaniards ; and should they
ultimately succeed, it would be found less difficult per-
manently to reconcile their different interests, than is
generally imagined. The prejudice with respect to 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 2 of 29)