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 7 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 7 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

during the interval of the galleons and flotilla. For
this permission, the council of the Indies exacted a
very high premium. It had the effect of lessening the
extraordinary profits of the interloper, although it by no
means put a stop to the contraband. But as an exten-


sion of the regular trade it had a beneficial effect on the
Spanish colonies. The advantages which also resulted
to the crown by the augmentation of its revenues, was
such as to occasion the galleons and flotilla to be en-
tirely laid aside. , f^ > ^

Another very important change took place in the
year 1764, in the establishment of packet-boats to run
every month to the Havanna, Porto Rico, and La
Plata, with permission also to carry out a half cargo
of goods for those diflerent American markets. Here-
tofore Spain had always been the last to receive in-
formation from her colonies ; and this generally through
those nations who were engaged in the contraband, and
who contrived to be regularly informed of the state of the
American markets.

A step of much greater magnitude towards the dis-
enthralment of the American commerce, was taken in
the year following. The trade was laid open to all
the provinces of Spain to the windward islands. In
the year 1774, another innovation took place in the
system which regulated the mutual intercourse of the
colonies; the injudicious interdiction which had before
existed was removed. These rapid ameliorations,
finally, under the administration of Galves, led the
way to what has been called the decree of free trade,
which was passed in the year 1778. By this decree,
seven of the principal Spanish ports were freely per-
mitted to engage in trade with Buenos Ayres and the
ports of the South Sea. These measures had an in-
stantaneous and wonderful effect on the prosperity of
South America. When we consider the commercial
policy with which Spain sat out, this may be re-
garded as a vast revolution, though the work of ages ;
and yet there was still much wanting to attain the
same point with the English and French. In spite of


all these alleviations, the system was in itself still
wretched ; the restrictions remaining were so numerous,
the laws in their details were still so unfavourable to trade,
that amass of evils continued unredressed. The duties
in general, amounted to an average of thirty per cent.,
and the regulations of the custom house were exceed-
ingly vexatious. In general, the interloper was said to
have an advantage over the regular trader, of nearly
sixty per cent. Smuggling was therefore by no means
lessened.* The trade of South America, being in fact
virtually in other hands, and the Spanish commerce
merely an agent to carry it on, the only indemnification
was the establishment of considerable duties on mer-
chandise, which were multiplied with every new desti-
nation. During the last war between Spain and Great
Britain, licenses were frequently granted to neutral mer-
chants, to supply the wants of South America, but
these were not always treated with good faith. Much of
the trade was even carried on by her enemy, through the
means of a curious kind of special connivance, the sub-
ject of considerable complaint on the part of France.
The United States during that war, shared the contra-
band with the English, and from our situation, great ad-
vantages will always exist in our favour under similar
circumstances. • -

With respect to the internal trade between the dif-
ferent viceroyalties and provinces, it was never very
considerable; but in course of time it must be im-
mense, considering the vast variety of climates and
productions of the world. The tobacco and cocoa of

* " To load commerce with such enormous duties, is the same
thing as to deprive Spain of it, and to open it to all other nations."
Campillo, 172.


Venezula, is transported to Vera Cruz ; Paraguay sup-
plies Chili and Peru with its celebrated herb; Chili
furnishes wheat to Peru, while the trade of La Plata
consists in animals, and some kinds of coarse cotton
manufactures much in use with the Indians, savage and
half civilized. The monopolies of the king, in salt,
tobacco, and other articles of colonial production, cause
them to be neglected for the present. The foreign com-
merce of South America, exclusive of the Brazil, is esti-
mated by Torres, at one hundred millions of dollars ; and
as in every prosperous independent country, this forms
but a small proportion of the whole, the internal
trade will in time surpass that of any country on the

The view of Spanish America which I have given in
this Introduction, may serve in some measure, in solving
the question that so naturally presents itself, how Spain
has been enabled to establish and maintain this wonder-
ful empire, and why the South Americans have been
apparently so tardy and imsuccessful in the accomplish-
ment of their liberties?

Something is to be attributed to the situation of the
first settlers and conquerors, who stood in need of the
countenance of some European nation ; because they
themselves held millions of men in a state of subjec-
tion. They had not ceased to be Spaniards ; though
removed from Spain, they carried with them Spanish
opinions, customs, and prejudices. They willingly
submitted to a yoke, which their descendants have
found so galling, and who, in the course of time,
having forgotten the parent state, in memy respects be-
came identified in feeling with the Aborigines of America.
The dominion of Spain therefore rested partly on the
high notions of loyalty transmitted by the first con-
querors, but still more on the influence of a priest-


hood, under the immediate controul of the sovereign.
Partly also, on the apathy prevailing in the mass of
the population ; on the ease and indolence of the inha-
bitants of the new world, to which their situation in-
vited ; and on the uninterrupted calm of ages, by which
the human mind came to be deprived of its energy.
One part of America could be turned against another ;
and from the vast extent of the Spanish possessions,
and their separation by almost impassable boundaries,
there was little likelihood of their making a conunon
cause. Perhaps the most powerful auxiliary was,
the great number of European Spaniards, indepen-
dently of those in office, distributed throughout the
Indies. Another cause may be mentioned, which is,
that they required the protection of Spain from foreign
aggression; but they did not see that they were ex-
posed to this, chiefly on account of their connexion
with her, that whenever they have been molested, it has
been on account of quarrels between Spain and some
European power.

It is most truly observed by Mr. Rodney, " that
this state of things would long have continued but for
events in this country and changes in Europe.'' The
failure of the revolution in Caraccas in 1797, proves that
the great body of the people were not then prepared for
independence. They required the powerful excite-
ment of some event, whose shock would produce an
effect similar to that of galvanism to the apparently
dead, in order to awaken in them political life ; or, as
they express it themselves, to cause a regeneration.
Such a one was presented in the captivity of Ferdi-
nand, and the acts of that singular political drama,
when the Spanish monarchy seemed to be threatened
with dissolution. It was now seen, that there was no
want of susceptibility, and that all that was requisite


in the first instance, was some event of transcendant
interest. Their enthusiasm even exceeded that of
the Spaniards of Europe ; one would have thought that
the legions of Napoleon had planted their standards
on their shores. They assembled — they spoke — they
thought and acted. Loyalty gave the impulse, and
they flew to arms; but this loyalty was not pleasing
to the Europeans, who were alarmed at this sudden
transition from the calm of despotism, to the most ter-
rific energy. Not so with the enlightened native Ame-
ricans, in whose breasts the desire of independence,
had long burned, and who conceived new hopes, from
the political regeneration of their countrymen. All
that was now wanting, was to give a direction to the
torrent which had begun to flow ; this was the work of
genius and intelligence, aided by circumstances which
carried with them the justification of necessity. To
the cry of long live our King Ferdinand, it was not
long before that of viva la patria succeeded; and
South America became the theatre of one of the most
bloody civil wars recorded in history. In some places
it has been thought necessary by the Spaniards to put
to death all the intelligent and intrepid, so that the
revolution may have no leaders ; in others, shocking
to relate, the only remaining hope of regaining these
countries, is by indiscriminate extermination of the inha-
bitants. Can any mind, human or divine, wish success
to such a cause ?






Voyage from Norfolk to Rio Janeiro— -Description of Rio> — Corona-
iion—General desd'ipiion of Brazil.

A HE civil war which continues to rage between
Spain and the different provinces of South America,
had long attracted the attention of the people of the
United States. Whatever our wishes might be, it
became us to maintain a perfect neutrality between
the contending parties. The ability manifested by
the South Americans to maintain the contest, the im-
portant successes obtained by them, the declining
state of the Spanish resources, and the probable ter-
mination of the contest, in the independence of South
America, rendered it necessary that preparations
should be made for the establishment of peace and
amity with the new states, in case their struggle
should be ultimately crowned with success. This
and other motives, induced the president to send a
friendly mission to the different governments of South
America, to give them assurances of our determina-


tion to maintain a perfect neutrality in the contest,
considering them as engaged in a civil war with the
king of Spain, and therefore on a footing of equality
as to neutral rights. With a view also of ascertaining
the kind of relations it might be proper hereafter
to establish with the South American states, or for the
purpose of regulating our present intercourse, it was
desirable to obtain the best information as to their cha-
racter and resources. The objects of the mission are
thus stated by the president, in his message to Congress :
" To obtain correct information on every subject, in
which the United States are interested ; to inspire just
sentiments in all persons in authority, on either side,
of our friendly disposition, so far as it may comport
with an impartial neutrality ; and to secure proper re-
spect to our commerce in every port, and from every
flag, it has been thought proper to send a ship of war
with three distinguished citizens, along the southern
coast, with instructions to touch at such ports as they
may find most expedient for these purposes. With the
existing authorities, with those in the possession of, and
exercising the sovereignty, must the communication be
held; from them alone can redress for past injuries,
committed by persons acting under them be obtained ;
by them alone can the commission of the like, in future,
be prevented."

The mission was composed of the following gentle-
men, Caesar A. Rodney, John Graham, and Theodo-
rick Bland, commissioners, and H. M. Brackenridge,
secretary. William T. Reed, and Thomas Rodney,
(son of the commissioner,) accompanied the mission*
The commissioners arrived at Norfolk in the steam-
boat, on the 28th of November, 1817, where the frigate
Congress, commanded by commodore Arthur Sinclair,
who had been selected for this purpose, was ready


to receive them on board. Owing to some delay in
transmitting the orders for sailing, the mission did not
embark until the third of December. In the mean
time, we were treated with every mark of attention
and civility by the people of Norfolk, who do not
yield to the rest of Virginia in that elegant hospitality
for which the state is justly celebrated. The differ-
ence in the climate between this place and Baltimore
is very sensible. We had just escaped the skirts of
winter ; the warmth of the sun, the softness of the air,
and the appearance of vegetation, seemed to carry us
back to the middle of autumn — that season, which may
be styled the glory of the American skies.

On the 4th, the Congress weighed anchor and put
to sea. Commodore Sinclair had taken pains to ren-
der our accommodations as comfortable as possible
for a long and tedious voyage. It is very certain, that
the voyage could not be made under more agreeable
circumstances; in a noble frigate, manned by an ex-
cellent crew, and commanded by officers of experi-
ence and skill. There were several lieutenants, and
a number of midshipmen on board, beyond the usual
complement; the voyage being considered an interesting
one, it was a desirable object among the naval gentle-
men to engage in it. To me, the little world to which
I found myself transferred, continually presented a
thousand objects to instruct and amuse. The order
and cleanliness which prevailed in every part of the
vessel, excited my admiration; every thing seemed to
move like clock work, and although there were four
hundred souls on board, we appeared to be no way
crowded or encumbered. Every pains were taken by
the commander, to preserve the health of his crew; in
having to cross both tropics and the equinoctial line,
no precautions could be thought superfluous. There


was but one circumstance calculated in any way to
lessen the satisfaction felt by every one at the auspi-
cious commencement of the voyage ; the term of enlist-
ment of the greater part of the crew, would probably
expire before the voyage could be completed ; the con-
sequence to be feared would be at the least, a discon-
tent and a want of inclination to the performance of
their duty. The commodore, aware of difficulties which
had arisen under under similar circumstances, mustered
all hands on the evening previous to our sailing ; gave
them a short address ; in which he told them, that the
cruise they were about to make, would be in a mild £ind
delightful climate, where they would escape the northern
winter ; that their return might possibly be delayed a
few months longer than their term of service, but that
this would be more than compensated by the agreeable-
ness of the cruise ; that they would be no losers even if
they were disposed to enter into the merchant service,
as seamen's wages were at this time extremely low ; he
concluded by promising them every reasonable indul-
gence at the places at which he should touch. The
address was received with three cheers, and each one
seemed to repair to his duty with alacrity.

We steered from the capes on an east half south
course with a leading wind, the weather cold and un-
pleasant. The entrance into the gulf stream, is easily
ascertained by the diflference of temperature between the
air and water. On soundings about fifty-five miles
east of Cape Henry, the air was forty degress of Faren-
heit, while the water was fifty-nine degress. The air
soon afterwards rose to forty-three, and the water sud-
denly to sixty-eight. The air then continued to vary
from forty to forty-five, and the water from seventy-two
to seventy-five until we had run upon the same course,
the [wind at north west, eighty-seven miles; when the


water fell to seventy-one and continued between that
and sixty-eight, until the air rose to the same tempera-
ture. " Thus," says commodore vSinclair, " I computed
the distance of the gulf stream east from Cape Henry,
to be about one hundred and twenty miles, and the body
of it in the same direction about ninety miles across, but
in steering east there is no doubt that the influence of
the stream is felt for several hundred miles ; as from
Cape Hatteras, where the gulf alters its north east
to an easterly direction, to the latitude of Cape Henry,
it inclines as much off as east north east, and expands
its width as it loses its strength." During winter there
are continual vapors, arising from the troubled waters
of the gulf stream; the atmosphere appears dark and
heavy, and the sea looks wild and frightful. The effect,
of this immense river of warm water flowing directly in
front of our continent, must necessarily be very great on
the American climate. May not this be one of the causes
of those sudden changes in the temperature of which we
hear so many complaints ?

Nothing material occurred until the 17th, when about
latitude twenty-nine degrees thirty minutes, a severe
gale set in, which lasted forty-eight hours. Storms
have been described by so many writers, and so much
better than I can describe this one, that I think it unne-
cessary to say any thing further than that the descrip-
tions are much more agreeable than the reality. The
spectacle was indeed sublime, but it is probable I should
have enjoyed it more, if there had been less of the terri-
fic. The ship was stripped of her sails, excepting her
main-top sail, which was close reefed, and her storm
stay sail ; her top gallant masts, and her principal yards
were lowered, her jibboom rigged in, and a variety of other
precautions were taken, such as housing the guns and
carrying the shot below. The ship was then laid to, and

Vol. I. '""V Q


rode out the storm with ease and safety. During this
unpleasant time I did not venture on deck, for such was
the violence of the wind and the motion of the ship,
that it was almost impossible to stand up : even the sai-
lors required the help of ropes stretched along on each
side of the ship. The rapidity and order with which
every thing was conducted during this time was admira-
ble ; there was no noise or bustle among them. Except-
ing now and then the shrill whistle of the boatswain,
nothing was heard but the rushing of the furious ele-
ment through the shrouds, and the tumbling and roaring of
the sea around us. The appearance of the sun and the
gradual subsiding of the tempest was a reason of
joy to me ; but the hardy mariners, accustomed to all
weathers, scarcely considered it a circumstance of suffi-
cient importance to produce any alteration in their

The wind continued baffling, with occasional squalls
and a great deal of rain ; and as it continued to hang
to the east and north east, we were delayed in getting
our easting until about the 27th. In the latitude of
twenty-four degrees north, and longitude thirty-three
degrees thirty minutes west, we took a fresh trade from
the east. We now fell into the track of vessels bound
from Europe to the West Indies. Several of these
vessels were spoken by us ; one of them had been sixty-
three days from Bremen and was bound to Hav^nna.
The extraordinary length of this passage, is to be attri-
buted to the excessive caution of Dutch navigator^,
who lay to on the slightest occasion, and always carry
but little sail. The Americans are probably the boldest
navigators in the world, and yet are universally adiiiiitted
to be the most fortunate. A timid precaution in avoid-
ing every visible danger, very often exposes lis to stlH
greater dangers which we do not foresee.


On the 2d of January, we found ourselves by the
chronometer within sixty milCvS of the island of Brava,
one of the Cape de Verds. An indication still more
certain, was the great number of birds flying about us,
principally the species called the man of war bird,
which is rarely seen at greater distance than a degree
from land. For an account of these islands I must
refer the reader to Macartney's Embassy to China. To
many persons it is not known why vessels bound to
parts of South America beyond the equator, should
thus be compelled to stretch over to the coast of Africa,
although the subject is very familiar to navigators. On
casting the eye upon the map it will be seen that Cape
St. Jloque, the most eastern point of South America,
projects into the Atlantic as far east as thirty-three <5r
thirty-four degrees west longitude, and thus foims in fact
the entrance of a vast gulf, of which that of Mexico is
properly nothing more than the bottom, or rece&s. A
powerful north-west cunent constantly sets into this re-
cess, with which, as well as with the south-east trade
winds, vessels must contend in attempting to double the
cape too near the American continent. Vessels happen-
ing to be driven too far to the westward, must try to
regain the point where they lost the variable winds, so
as to enable them to make their easting. Dreadful
shipwrecks have been known in consequence of cross-
ing the line too far to the west, and being thus driven
on the coast. Here is a great drawback on the inter-
course between the United States and the West Indies,
with those parts of South America which lie to the
windward, especially beyond Cape St. Jloque. Navi-
gators do not agree, however, as to the exact point at
which the equator should be crossed ; for a too near
approach to the African coast is equally to be avoided.
Instead of the trade winds which constantly refresh the

G 2


shores of the American continent, the opposite coast of
Africa, is the region of calms more dreadful than tem-
pests or hurricane. From ten degrees north to the line,
and between thirteen and twenty-three degrees west
longitude, there is a region of endless calm, but not
such as we fancy to ourselves from the meaning of the
word ; it is a succession of thunder storms, heavy rains
and whirlwinds, with dreadful intermission of close and
suffocating heat. To find a middle course is the aim of
navigators. Much has been said and written as to the
best mode of avoiding this scylla and charybdis, but it
is pretty generally agreed, that it should be crossed
between the twenty- seventh and twenty- third degrees
of longitude. Commodore Sinclair resolved to take the
mean between these two extremes.*

We did not gain the regular north-east trade winds
until after passing the islands before mentioned, and
we had a great run until we reached the seventh degree
of north latitude, when they gradually left us. From
the 3lst of December until the 5th of January, we
made upwards of nine hundred miles ; after this a most
distressing calm set in, which continued until the 17th of
the month. In the mean time, we were drifted by an
easterly current nearly two hundred miles ; that is, from
about twenty-three to nineteen degrees west. This was
one of the most disagreeable periods of my life. It
appeared as if we had been condemned to perish in this
4ismal region : a black sea around us, and above us a

* Commodore Porter in bis cruise crossed the equator in twenty-
eight degrees forty-five minutes, without experiencing any calm.
His object, however, was to fall into the track of vessels bound to
Europe ; it is therefore probable that if his intention had been to pro-
ceed directly south, he would not have passed so near the American
continent. In the journal of this intrepid and skilful navigator, there
are many interesting remarks on this subject.


gloomy sky ; dark shapeless clouds continually gather-
ing as if to contend with the sun, whose fierce vertical
rays, occasionally bursting forth, seemed almost to burn.
The arch of the horizon was diminished in a most
surprising manner, as if presaging a dreadful storm.
The decks were kept wet and continually covered with
awning. An expression of despondency was seen in
the countenances of all, while the vessel was rolling
about on the heavy sullen waves. We were continually
watching every quarter of the compass, and endeavour-
ing to catch once more a glimpse of hope from every
breath of air, scarcely sufficient to cause the sails to flap
against the masts. I called to recollection the cele-
brated description of a calm at sea by Marmontel.*

We were at length favoured with occasional light
winds, which drifted rather than wafted us towards the
equator. Commodore Sinclair observes, " Had I been
aware of circumstances which occurred, and "^ which
were beyond human wisdom to foresee, I am under a
belief that I could have shortened my passage fifteen or
twenty days. I was in the first instance straining every
nerve to gain easting before leaving the variables, which

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 7 of 29)