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

. (page 21 of 29)
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 21 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

abroad. The fashion of dress, in both sexes, I am
informed, has undergone great improvement, since their
free intercourse with strangers. The old Spaniards, of
whom there are considerable numbers, are easily dis-
tinguished by their darker complexion, the studied
shabbiness of their dress, and the morose and surly
expression of countenance : this arises, from their being
treated as a sort of Jews, by those whom they were
wont to consider as greatly their mferiors. They are
also distinguished by not mounting the blue and white
cockade, which is universally worn by the citizens of
the republic. The same number of Chinese, could
scarcely form a class more distinct from the rest of the

8 2


community. There can hardly be a greater aflfront
offered to an Americano del Sud, than to call him a
Spaniard. A young fellow told me, in a jesting way,
that the monks, friars, and Spaniards, were generally
old, and would soon die off, which he said was a great

I went round to several of the churches, of which
there are ten or fifteen throughout the city. I shall not
trouble the reader with a description of them, as by re-
fening to books he can learn their names, and the years
in which they were founded. All 1 shall say is, that
those I saw, were immense masses of buildings, parti-
cularly the cathedral, which of itself covers almost a
whole square. The internal decorations are generally
rich and splendid, and the pomp of catholic worship is
displayed here, pretty much as it is in other parts of
the world. My attention was more attracted, by the
crowds of beautiful women, going and coming to the
churches, and the graceful elegance of their carriage.
They walk more elegantly than any women I ever
saw. They are seen usually in family groups, but ac-
cording to the custom of the country, seldom attended
by gentlemen. There are usually a few beggars about
the church doors, all blind, or decrepid with age. I
am informed, there are two convents in the city, but I
did not go to see them, as I was told the nuns were all
old and ugly.

A very animated and martial scene was presented
to me, by the exercising of the regular troops, and civic
militia. The black regiments made an uncommonly
fine appearance, and seemed to be in a very high state
of discipline. The civic militia is said to be fully as
well trained as the regulars. I saw several very fine
bands of music. A battalion of slaves, consisting of
five or six hundred men, was also mustered, and then


marched to one of the churches. With all these things
going on, the city exhibited one of the most animating
scenes I had ever witnessed. They are certainly a
more enthusiastic, and perhaps warlike people, than
we are ; if they possessed, with these qualities, by
way of ballast, something of our steady habits, and
general stock of information, I think they would nearly
equal us.

In the afternoon, in company with Dr. Baldwin, and
a gentleman with whom I became acquainted, I re-
solved, if possible, to breathe the air outside of the
city ; and being pedestrians, we resolved to take it on
foot, though horses might have been had, either to bui/,
or hire for the trip ; the difference in price for these
two modes of obtaining them, does not quite bear the
same proportion as with us. It would have cost us,
probably, one dollar and an half, or two dollars, for
the hiring, while a very good hackney might be bought
for ten ; but then it would cost, at the livery stable,
three or four dollars a week to keep him.

"We directed our course up the river ; the doctor was
very anxious to reach the open fields, for the purpose
of pursuing his botanical researches, and I was equally
desirous of reaching some high ground, whence I
might have a better view of the city and its environs.
We passed through a large square, the greater part of
which is occupied by an extensive circus, open at the
top, called the toro, or place for bull fighting. It is
capable of containing a vast concourse of people. But
I was glad to hear that this barbarous amusement is
fast going into disrepute, and that few of the respecta-
ble people now attend it. It is not surprising, that it
should have been a place of fashionable resort, when
it was attended by the viceroy and his court, with
much show and parade. Under the revolutionary go-

S 3


veimnents, it has been discountenanced, and should
any member of the government attend it, he mingles
in the crowd of citizens. But there may be a still
better reason ; these are amongst the contrivances of
monarchy, to withdraw the attention of its subjects
from things that really concern them. The minds of
these people are now turned upon much more impor-
tant objects than bull fights. But the custom still
prevails, and it would be imprudent at once to abolish
it; in this, as in other matters, the reformer should go
to work with a cautious hand. As lent is now nearly
over, I am informed that the circus and the theatre,
are to open next week. I will here mention another
instance of reform, which does honour to the present
director. This is in abolishing the silly custom which
prevailed here, as well as at Rio, of throwing wax
balls filled with water, at people in the street, during
three days, at the end or commencement of the carni-
val, I do not recollect which. He efiected it by a sim-
ple appeal through the medium of the newspapers, to
their good sense, and their regard for those manners,
which distinguish a polite from a barbarous people.

We continued our walk about two miles beyond
the town, but appeared to be no nearer the open fields,
being completely enclosed on all sides, by what are
here called quintas, which are large gardens of seve-
ral acres, with abundance of fruit trees and vegetables.
Many of these are owned by the inhabitants of the
city, but they chiefly belong to people, who make a
living by attending the market. There are very few
of those neat dwellings which are seen about our cities;
the houses here are chiefly small, and built of very
indifferent brick. The grape vine, however, with which
they are fond of adorning their houses, had to me a
very pleasing appearance, particularly when loaded


with their exquisite fruit. We stepped into one, where
our friend was acquainted, and were received with
much politeness and civility by the inhabitants ; their
countenances seeming to brighten up, when told we
were Americans of the north. They treated us with
fine peaches, pears, grapes, and melons. Instead of
pales, or fences, hedges~of the prickly pear are inva-
riably used, which are planted on the mound of earth,
thrown up in digging the ditch on the outside. The
soil is like that of our best river bottoms, and its par-
ticles are so fine, that the road at this season of the year
is intolerably dusty.

On our way back to town, our friend induced us to
stop at a spacious mansion, where there resided a gen-
tleman whom he knew, named La Rocca. This gen-
tleman's establishment forms a prominent exception
to what I have just been describing; his grounds are
surrounded by a brick wall; his buildings, gardens,
&c. all upon a more extensive scale. We entered
through a lofty gate-way, into a spacious court. The
servant informed us that his master, with several other
gentlemen, was on the terrace at the top of the house,
and af our request conducted us up. I was glad of
the occasion, as I was told that there wafi a very fine
view from this place. We were treated by La Rocca
with great attention, and we found him a man of libe-
ral and enlightened mind. He is a native of old Spain,
but has been naturalized, and has taken an active part
in the revolution. He pointed out to us a beautiful
grove of olives, which he had planted after the Spa-
nish system, which forbade the cultivation of this in-
valuable plant, had been abolished. The other gen-
tlemen who were \^ith him, were his nighbours, na-
tives of the country, and were sensible and w^ell in-
formed. I learned from them, that our arrival had ex-

264 "^ VOYAGE TO

cited great interest throughout the city, and that many
conjectures as to our object were afloat. They seemed
all to agree, that nothing of an unfriendly nature could
be expected from our government, and seemed to be
very much hurt at the unfavourable impressions
which had been made in the United States as to the
state of things in this country, by publications in the
newspapers. They said that they had no right to
expect any friendship or sympathy from us, if their
institutions were really so vile as had been represented.
They said, it was natural to expect, that as their
enemies were not able to subdue them, they would en-
deavour to ruin their character; and for this purpose,
they would seize and magnify every real, or alleged
error, or misconduct. La Rocca here drew an ani-
mated comparison between the state of things in Spain,
and in this country, highly favourable, as may be sup-
posed, to the latter. He told me it was their intention
to establish a government as nearly resembling that
of the United States, as circumstances would permit.
He inquired, mth a considerable earnestness, as to
the truth of a report of our government having endea-
voured to obtain a cession of territory from the king of
Naples, and laid great stress on the circumstance of
our having no colonies, and from the nature of our
constitution, not being permitted to have any. He
said it was impossible for them to repose full confi-
dence in the friendship of nations holding colonies, and
they were sorry to see us deviating in the slightest
degree from what they understood was with us a
fundamental maxim. If we could have colonies in
Italy, we might have them in America, in Africa, and
in Asia.

As the house stood upon ground somewhat more
elevated than the city, and not more than three hundred


yards from the river, there was a very extensive hori-
zon in every direction. In a clear day, Colonia, on
the opposite side of the river, is visible from this place ;
but at present, as the atmosphere was somewhat ob-
scured, and a stiff north-easter blowing, nothing was
presented to the eye but a vast expanse of water, the
Mosqueto fleet of sloops, and small coasting vessels,
tossing about below us, and those of a larger kind
anchored in the outer roads ; the whole having a very
dreaiy appearance. On the land side, we seemed to
look over the city, which covers an extent of ground
nearly as great as Philadelphia, with quintas up and
down the river, whose variety of fruit trees, with here
and there a Lombardy poplar intermixed, exhibited a
very lively and pleasing appearance ; while to the
westward, at the distance of a few miles, there seems
to be a boundless waste of pampas, or grassy plains,
without a tree or slirub. The whole population of the
country is not greater than that of the city. In fact, the
real limits of the province are exceedingly circum-
scribed. About forty miles north of this, is a large
village called Luxan, at which the road branches off
for Cordova and Mendoza, there commences a line of
presidios, extending southerly across the Salado to the
river Colorada, which marks the southern boundary
of the province. This line of posts was originally es-
tablished for the purpose of protecting the settlements
from the incursions of the wild pampas Indians, who
were then a most dangerous and formidable enemy.
But of late years, they have ceased to be dreaded,
and their incursions have only for their object,
stealing cattle and horses. While I am upon this
subject, I will say something as to the manner in
which the population is distributed in this country,


intending to enlarge on the subject on some future

Under the viceroyalty, a line of two hundred and
fifty miles north and south, and a hundred miles east
and west, would have included the whole population
of the province ; but this was distributed in a manner
singularly unequal ; some parts being as thickly inha-
bited as the neighbourhood of Philadelphia, and the
rest as wild as the plains of the Missouri. Since the
revolution, the frontier has been considerably extended,
and this province, as well as the others of the union,
which have been exempt from the immediate devas-
tations of war, have had a considerable increase of in-
habitants. The city of Buenos Ayres, and its vicinity,
probably ten miles square, contains about seventy
thousand inhabitants; the villages of Luxan, Ense-
nada. Las Conchas, and a few others, with their cir-
cumscribed vicinages, may contain from two to five
thousand, and as the whole population does not exceed
one hundred and five thousand, all the remainder of
the province is left for the rest, not exceeding fifteen
or twenty thousand in number. Immediately around
the towns and villages, are the quintas of which I
have spoken, chiefly appropriated to the raising of
vegetables and fruits ; next come the larger farms, or
chacras, where wheat, Indian coip, and barley, are
raised as with us ; but according to a very difierent,
and as far as I can learn, a very inferior system of
agriculture. These have not the same aversion to
neighbourhood, as the old Virginia planter, who de-
clared, he never would wish to live so near as to hear
the barking of his neighbours' dogs. The mode of
cultivating the earth, of enclosing their grounds, and
their rural economy in general, would furnish many


curious topics ; but these 1 must waive for the present.
The soil is, undoubtedly, the finest in the world ; but
they labour under great disadvantages from a defi-
ciency of water, as the streams, which are not nume-
rous, are apt to go dry in summer. They are therefore
compelled to make reservoirs for the reception of rain
water, when at too great a distance from the river.
Their crops are, notwithstanding, superior to ours,
and are rarely known to fail. In the uncultivated
waste which spreads around these specks of civi-
lization, are what are called the estancias, or grazing
farms, which constitute the principal fortunes of the
rich, and are of various dimensions, some as large as
our townships, or even counties. They have from
twenty to sixty thousand head of cattle, on one of
these estates. Before the revolution, they were va-
lued at about one dollar for every head of cattle;
for the land was scarcely taken into the account.
Since that period, the value of both has more than
doubled. From this, it \d\\ be seen, that a grazing
farm in the Opeloussa, of ten or fifteen thousand head,
valued at ten dollars each, is worth as much as an
estancia here of fifty thousand. The care of these
is consigned to those half horse half men, of whom
I have already spoken, under the appellation of

Since the revolution there has been a much greater
disposition to settle in the country than formerly;
arising, no doubt, from the enhanced price of the
produce of the soil ; and also from the greater safety
from Indian depredations. Whether the people con-
sider themselves more secure in their titles, I shall not
take, upon me to say ; but I am assured that no un-
easiness, or fear, prevails as to their safety from
Spanish invasion. La Rocca, and liis friends, inquired


with considerable eagerness about the European emi-
gration to the United States, which they looked upon
as an increase of wealth and strength, the acquisition
of which they appeared to envy us. They said that
every inducement was held out by the government £ind
people of this country, to Europeans who were disposed
to emigrate ; that lands were offered gratis, with oxen
and the implements of husbandry, to those who wish to
cultivate the earth. In reply, I told them, that there
was little or no emigration to the United States duiing
our revolutionary war, and even for some time after-
wards, in consequence of the country being engaged in a
war for national existence, the success of which was
doubtful ; and even after it was ho longer so, our ene-
mies persisted in believing that we could not establish a
government. I told them that if they could satisfy the
world on these two points, as we had done, they would
have as many emigrants as they could desire, as their
soil and climate held out even greater inducements than

On the Monday after our arrival, it was determined,
on the part of the commissioners, that I should wait on
Mr. Tagle, the secretary of state, and request an inter-
view on their behalf.

I accordingly went in company with our consul,
Mr. Halcey. We found at the entrance of the fort,
a centinel, and a guard of a few men ; although every
person is permitted to pass without being questioned.
To me, as an American, the circumstance of seeing
bayonets stationed every where, was far from being
agreeable. In our happy country we stand in no
need of such barbarous usages. This military show
about the director's residence and the offices of govern-
ment is, however, but a remnant of the pageantry of the
viceroys. There is, indeed, much more of it dis-


played, as I have myself frequently witnessed, by the
Spanish or Portuguese governor of some trifling dis-

In going to the office of the secretary of state, we
had to pass through several others, in which a num-
ber of clerks were engaged ; the appearance of system
and regularity, which prevailed, would not lose by a
comparison with ours. We found the secretary
immersed in business, at his desk. I stated to him
the occasion of my visit, and at the same time pre-
sented a newspaper, containing the president's message,
in which the objects of the mission were succinctly
set forth. I stated to him, that the commissioners were
desirous of waiting on him, and wished to be in-
formed at what time it would be convenient for him
to receive them. He replied, in the style of Spanish
politeness, that he was always at their disposal, and
insisted upon my naming the time at which he might
be honoured with their visit ; the Wednesday following
was therefore named by me. He is a small well set
man, about forty years of age, of a dark com-
plexion, with a keen penetrating eye. He has the
reputation of considerable abilities ; he is considered
a very able and eloquent lawyer, and has been a
judge of the chamber of appeals. Judging from his
physiognomy, I should say that he possesses great
native sagacity, and quickness of discernment. He
came into office under Alvarez, and has continued in it
ever since. r

Our arrival produced a great sensation through the
city in all classes of people ; it was every where the
subject of conversation, and gave rise to much sur-
mise ; for some days it in fact engrossed all the public
attention. A small incident will sometimes speak


more than things of a thousand times greater import-
ance. In passing by the pyramid, in the great square,
I observed, that some preparations had been making
for an approaching illumination, on account of the -de-
claration of independence by Chili; I asked a little
boy who was playing about it, what was the meaning
of these preparations? " Par la funcion ;" " que
funcion T* ^' Lafuncion de los dijmtados," said he pet-
tishly, as if surprised at my ignorance, " de los diputados
que han llegado de la America del norte."* I have no
doubt, the government and the people, will make the
most of the mission, and it will certainly have a most
powerful moral influence on the cause of South America.
And what is this moral effect ? History and experience
sufficiently shew that it is great, whatever may be the
cause. Man is a moral agent, governed by intelli-
gence, and urged forward by the impulse of his feel-
ings and passions. This is the fountain and secret of
his strength and power. All the worth and value of
man, in society, is made up of honour, character, esti-
mation, and opinion.

Still it is asked, what this moral effect can be?
I am surprised that any one should not be able to
conceive it, and it is one of those things that we
feel impatience in analysing. None but saints and
savages are absolutely beyond the sphere of this
moral influence. In being noticed by a respectable
nation, these people are led to think, that their arduous
contest is at last drawing to a close, and that the world

• " For the celebration :" " What celebration ?" " The cele-
bration of the deputies — the deputies who have arrived from North


begins to look upon their cause as just. And in the
language of Shakespeare,

** Thrice is he armed, who hath his quarrel just."

In a word, it tends to rouse the despondent, to fix the
wavering, and dispose all to contribute more cheer-
fully to the preservation of that which has been thus
enhanced in value. They will be more proud of what
they have done, they will be more watchful of the
character of their country, and they will make infi-
nitely greater sacrifices and exertions for its future
preservation. Such is the importance which these
people attach to the simple acknowledgment of their
government, that I sincerely believe, that there is
hardly a man among them, who would not give half
he is worth, that it should take place. And yet, un-
accompanied by aid and assistance, one would sup-
pose it would do them but little good, but they think
otherwise ; they think it places them upon higher
ground, and strengthens their cause ; that opinion itself
is strength.

The commissioners, on the day appointed, paid
their respects to the secretary of state, and Mr. Rodney,
after stating the objects of the mission, expressed
the wishes of himself and associates, to wait on the
supreme director. The secretary stated, that the go-
vernment was highly gratified by this notice, from a
nation of so high a character as ours, and he ofiered his
services to accompany the commissioners on their visit
to the chief magistrate.

Accordingly, the next day, about noon, we set oflf
to pay this visit of ceremony. On approaching the
fort, we found several hundred of the most respect-
able citizens drawn together by the interest of the oc-
casion, their dress, appearance, and demeanour, was


like that of persons of the same rank of society in the
United States. Nothing I had yet seen gave me so
high an opinion of the population. We found also,
considerable numbers inside the fort, and crowding
the entrance to the director's apartments. I can give
no idea of the pleasure which seemed to be depicted in
their countenances. They all bowed to us as we
passed, and said more by their smiles and their looks,
than they could have said, if each one had pronounced
an oration. In passing through the diflPerent offices,
to that of the secretary of state, we saw a great num-
ber of civil officers and functionaries, drawn together
by what appeared to be no common holiday, and who
showed us the same marks of respect. The secretary
now joined us, and led us up stairs, to the apart-
ments occupied by the director. We passed through
a large hall, where we saw fifty or sixty officers, of
the regular and civic troops, all in splendid uniforms.
They arose as we entered, forming a line on each
side, through which we passed. In the adjoining
apartment, we were met by the director, who, with the
ease and affability of a polished gentleman, advanced
to meet us, and requested us to be seated. He seemed
to be upwards of forty years of age, his stature
about the middle size, a little inclining to corpulency,
and upon the whole, his appearance commanding and
dignified. His address and manners were those of a
person accustomed to the best society, equally re-
moved from coarseness and affectation. It was easily
discoverable, that he was a man, who had been long
accustomed to act a distinguished part in life. He
certainly looked like a person who might be chosen
by a nation for its magistrate, and no stranger could
be surprised at seeing such a man at its head.
Though a native of this place, his father was a Swiss>


who settled in this country as a merchant in early
youth. His complexion is fair, with blue eyes; his
countenance expressive of intelligence and humanity.
He has the character of great application to business,
and of that temperate energy, so essential in revolu-
tionary times. Some, with no better opportunities of
judging than myself, but possessing much deeper pene-
tration into the secret workings of the human heart,

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 21 of 29)