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.2) 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.2) → online text (page 18 of 25)
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minutes south latitude. I came into these soundings in
latitude twenty-one degrees twenty-five minutes, and car-
ried them in a north-easterly direction to latitude twenty-

Q 2


one degrees thirty-seven minutes, having from twenty-
nine to thirty-seven fathoms, and immediately after shoal-
ing to thirty-three fathoms, there was no bottom with one
hmidred and twenty fathoms of line. The wind then
drew round to an east-north-easterly direction, and blew
in tremendous squalls, with much rain ; and fearing as
I did, that if I continued on, bordering along the coast
until I came up with the Abrolhos shoals, which give
broken soundings at least two hundred miles off the land,
that the wind might come back to its natural point, the
south-east, and embay me, I reluctantly tacked to south-
east, and before I could make my easting, I was set to the
south of Cape Frio, by a strong current setting about
south-south-west or south-west. The wind continued
to blow from north to north-north-east, heading us up on
each tack for twelve days, which entirely disappointed
us in our prospect of a fine passage to St. Salvador."

During this unpleasant period of contrary winds, we
were driven nearly into the supposed latitude and longi-
tude of the island of Portuguese Ascension, whose ex-
istence is a subject of doubt among navigators ; a sin-
gular circumstance, considering how completely this sea
has been explored for the last hmidred years. A descrip-
tion and drawing is given of it by Frezier ; but the Rus-
sian navigator, Kreuzenstern, a few years ago, devoted
some time in search of it without success. From the
circumstance of seeing several land birds, at the distance
of five or six hundred miles from any known shore, we
were almost induced to believe, that we were near this
fabled island, as it is now supposed to be.

After a passage of twenty-five days from Rio L^ Plata,
we came in sight of San Salvador, or Bahia. " I found
in running in for this place, a strong north-easterly cur-
rent, setting at least one and a half knots the hour, pro-
duced, no doubt, by the south-south-west wind, which


had blown almost a gale for two or three days. My ship
was brought down to close reefed topsails and storm-
staysails, in standing off upon a wind, after having made
my run as nearly as prudence dictated, the night being
dark and weather very squally. I tacked at eight
o'clock, p. m. and stood off under easy sail, going with
a high head sea, two and a half knots the hour, until
four, a. m. when I tacked on west, and made more sail ;
and at six, a. m, saw the land, bearing north-west, supposed
to be the cape. I stood in until it was ascertained to be
so, and at eight o'clock, a. m. the weather looking very
bad and blowing hard, I stood off again until ten o'clock,
a. m. when the weather clearing and moderating in some
degree, I wore and stood in again, and at meridian ob-
served, in latitude thirteen degrees and nine minutes
south. Cape St. Antonio, bearing west-north-west three-
fourths west, distant four or five leagues, chronomoter
longitude, agreeing exactly with the chart, contained in
the East India Pilot, but our charts differing from it,
thirty miles, in laying down this cape ; I am at a loss
which to rely on.

" I continued standing in upon a wind heading from
west to west-south-west, sagging fast to leeward with
the current and sea, until the cape bore, or rather the
fortress, standing on the spit of the cape, nearly north,
when I perceived the colour of the water alter suddenly,
indicating soundings. I hove the lead with thirty-five
fathoms, and got no bottom. In a few minutes, got
eighteen fathoms; next cast fifteen, next twelve, and
then nine, when the ship was hove in stays, and luckily
came round, for there is no knowing how much water
a few minutes more might have given us. It was now four
o'clock. The fortress bore north half east, and we were
distant from it about two and a half leagues, while this
shoal is laid down in all my charts, at the distatice of

Q 3


four miles, with four fathoms. This apprehension, and
finding no attention paid to my signals for a pilot, I stood
off until four o'clock, a. m. when I tacked, and at an
early hour again made the land. The land to the north-
east of St. Salvador, cannot be mistaken. For ten
leagues there are no very prominent parts, although the
land is considerably elevated, and somewhat irregular
and broken ; but it may always be known from six to
ten leagues from the cape, by its white, spotted, chalky
appearance, somewhat resembling linen spread upon a
green sward to bleach."

Not being able to procure a pilot, the commodore
determined to run in by his charts, which he effected
without any accident. On our approach to this great
city, we descried a forest of masts, indicating its great
importance as a commercial place. The entrance to
the harbour is by no means as safe as that of Rio, and
from its width, not so easily fortified. The harbour is
one of the most spacious in the world, bordered by a
most beautiful picturesque country, in a high state of
cultivation in cotton, cocoa, coffee, and sugar. The
city is situated upon a hill, several hundred feet in
height, but a considerable part of it occupies the sides
of the hill, and the narrow strip of land at its base.
The upper, or new town, is much better built, euid has
an air of cleanliness, unusual in Portuguese towns.
The king touched here, on his arrival in the country,
atod a monument has been erected in one of the public-
g2Srdens, commemorative of the event. Mr. Hill, the
American consul, a gentleman of fine talents and agree-
able manners, came on board, and escorted us to his
house, where we were shewn every mark of attention
and hospitality. We called on the governor, the count
dos Palmaa, who succeeds the qount dos Arcos, lately
appointed prime minister.


On the fifth of June, having laid in every necessary
supply, the commodore resolved to make all sail for the
United States.* " About four o'clock, p. m. with the
ebb tide just making, we weighed anchor, and commenced
beating out of the harboiu*. At seven o'clock, it became
very dark and squally, with the wind right in, and the
pilot who had insisted on leaving us an hour before,
saying we were as far as he could take us, on finding his
canoe filling astern, he became so alarmed, as to be
quite useless. I sufiered him to depart,, although not
clear of the western shoal, which, runs off several
leagues, and as long as I could see the light-house on
the caistle of St. Antonio, I kept under way beating out;
but at length it became so dark and squally, that I de-
termined to come to an anchor,, and did so in thirteen
fathoms." The next day we^ ^succeeded in gaining the
open sea, and proceeded on our voyage. We had a de-
lightful run along the coast, passing between the conti-
nent and the island of Fernando de Naronka, thus short-
ening our distance considerably.

" On Sunday, the twenty-first of June, at nine o'clock,
p. m. my reckoning was out, and the ship had been pre-
viously put under her three topsails, double reefed,
steering down west from latitude observed at meridian,
eleven degrees twenty-four minutes north, the north-east
end of Tobago lying (by Bowditch) in eleven degrees
twenty-nine minutes. I continued to run down all night,
the moon shining quite bright, but saw no land. At day-
light, made all sail, and hauled up west by south, be-
lieving we had been deceived by the currents, we had al-

♦ 1 have omitted many interesting particulars, which I intended to
have stated, suflfering somewhat from indisposition, and being worn out
by continual application for several months. ? zb rr^


lowed by lunarsand our chronometer ; when at nine, a. m.
on Monday^ the island of Grenada was discovered bear-
ing west-south-west. I then discovered i by examining
the 'Personal Narrative' of Humboldt, (one of the most
accurate observers of latitude and longitudes that has
eveT written,) that the north-east end of Tobago, lies in
latitude eleven degrees seventeen minutes south, which
added to a strong current setting to the north-west, had
occasioned our passing Tobago without seeing it."

On Tuesday, the twenty-third, we anchored in
Pampatar roads'; the island of Margaritta, far famed
for its heroic repulse of Morillo, had the appearance
of a bleak and barren rock. The next day I went on
shore with an officer. We found the village, which
might at one time have contained several hundred souls,
in a state of ruin. I waited on the governor, a kind of
Indian about seven feet high. On inquiring for Gomes,
the governor of the island, he told me that he was at
the village of Assumption, some miles in the interior.
I then made arrangements for horses to ride over the
next day, in order to pay him a visit. Accordingly, early
the next morning, the commissioners, the commodore,
several officers of the ship, Mr. Read, and myself, went
on shore. After being detained some time, we were
mounted on some wretched animals, so small and poor as
to be just able to carry us. We passed through a poor
sandy country, bordered by high and naked hills, but as
we approached Assumption, its appeaiance grew some-
what better. Near the town, we were shown the valley
where Morillo had been defeated, with the loss of fifteen
hundred men. When we consider that this victory was
achieved by peasants, the greater part of whom were
aimed only ;with stones, it deserves to rank with those
of the days of William TeU, A breakfast « la fourchette,
was provided for us by Gomes, who i received u^j with


hospitality. He is a man of ^tem countenance, and
Herculean frame ; his complexion is very fair, which I
consider somewhat singular in a native of these islands.
There were fifteen or twenty officers, whose complexions
were not so fair, but who shone out well in their uni-
forms. I was much pleased with two young men, who
arrived to invite us to dine at Griego, with their father.
General Arismendi, who we now learned was in the
island. The invitation was accepted by Mr. Read,
Lieutenants Clack and Vorhees, but the commodore and
the commissioners declined on account of the excessive

Some distance from Assumption, we crossed a rapid
stream, whose channel was well supplied with water,
and its borders shaded by trees of a prodigious size ;
after this we passed a number of small cabins and cul-
tivated patches along the road side, for two or three
miles, when we gradually began to ascend the mountains,
which are as high as the Alleghanies, and their sides,
until cleared for cultivation, covered with wood. We
saw a great number of small patches, a few acres each,
where the inhabitants cultivate manidioca, cotton, bana-
nas, and Indian com. We crossed the mountain through
what we should call a gap, an extremely narrow defile.
When at the summit, we descried a beautiful valley be-
low, about six miles long and three broad, running down
to the sea, hemmed in by mountains on the other
sides, but which presented innumerable clearings, and
small patches of cultivation, without any visible habita-
tions ; these were probably constructed of reeds, and
hid among the trees. The valley had been laid waste
by the Spaniards, and all the cocoa trees cut down.
The soil is good the whole distance to the village,
and the road bordered by huts very slightly constructed.

We found Arismendi a small man, rather taciturn, but


of an aspect firm and undaunted. His entertainment wa*
very far beyond any thing I could have expected at this
place ; several of the officers waited on the guests, and
they appeared to take pleasure in addressing each other
in the French style of citizen. Toasts were drank, ac-
companied with music and discharges of artillery. Our
horses having been turned out, we found ourselves eom^-
pelled to remain here all night. A ball was got up,, but
not in the most refined taste. Early the next morning we
took leave of Arismendi, and returned on board the Conr-

The island contains a population of twenty thousand
souls, who are chiefly peasantry, who subsist by culti-
vating small spots of ground. As we passed along in the
Cool of the morning, we saw a number at work in these
miniature fields. Their general dress is cotton panta-
loons and shirt, of their own manufacture. The island is
strongly fortified ; redoubts and forts are constructed on
every height, near which the enemy would have to pass.

The news of the victory of Maipu, which we brought,
produced great rejoicing, and we afterwards learned,
had important effects on the confederacy of Venezuela,
and even through the viceroyalty of New Grenada. Like
the shock of a tremendous earthquake, it will be felt
throughout the continent.

Before I venture to give a sketch of the ev6nts of the
revolution in this quarter, I shall make some observa-
tions on its geography and the character of the inha-
bitants. I'he captain-generalship of Caracas and the
vii^eroyalty of New Grenada, have been even more in-
timately connected in their struggle against the Spanish
power than La Plata and Chili. The progress of the
contest in the one has constantly reacted on the other ;
neither, or both must be independent of the kings of
Sl)ainf. With some shades of diftereace in the character


of the people, their feelings and opinions in relation to
the cause in which they are engaged, are the same. Even
in those districts where the revolution at first made the
slowest progress, and which have been almost continually
imder the influence of the Spaniards, revolutionary
principles have been silently but rapidly working their
way. If the Canadians on our continent had not been of
a different race, and repelled by their antipathies to the
JSostonaiSy there is little doubt but that they would have
joined us in the contest with Great Britain.

The captain generalship of Venezuela or Caracas is
composed of the provinces of Venezuela, Maracaibo,
Varinas, Guiana, and the island of Margaretta. The
coast from the province of Santa Martha of New Gre-.
nada, do^vn to the mouths of the Oronoko (which are as
numerous as those of the Nile or Mississippi) is in ge-
neral bold and in some places mountainous. The rivers
which discharge themselves into the Caribbean sea along
this coast are generally inconsiderable, on account of a
ridge of mountains which branches off from the Cordil-
lera 6f Santa Martha, passes round the celebrated lake of
Maracaibo and there runs with the coast at the distance
of forty or fifty miles. The valley of Caracas is formed
by this mountain and 'the river Tuy, which waters it^
flows along the ridge of the coast for some distance
before it finds a passage to the sea. Between the two
ridges of mountains just mentioned, the land is elevated
like those of Peru, though on a smaller scale, and of a
less elevation, but sufficient to afford a perpetual spring
within the tropics. There are other elevated positions
in various parts of the captain generalship, affording the
same temperature, while the plains of the south towards
the Oronoko are excessively hot. The rivers which flow
to the interior, and which are tributary to the Apure, or
other western branches of the Oronoko, pass over a-


much more extensive country than those of the coasts,
and are of greater magnitude. The main trunk of the
great river just mentioned, on examining the map, will
be seen to hold a course for several hundred miles from
west to estst, enclosing a parallelogram with the coast,
the main branches of the Apure rising in the neighbour-
hood of the lake of Maracaibo. This track is about five
hundred miles long by two hundred in breadth, and
with the exception of the province of Guiana^ which lies
on the south side of the Oronoko, it comprises all the
provinces of the captain generalship ; but the province
of Guiana is at least a third greater in magnitude than
all the rest put together, although it may be regarded
as an uninhabited and even unexplored wilderness.*
Venezuela has two remarkable natural boundaries ; the
mouths of the Oronoko on the east, and the lake of
Maracaibo on the west ; on this side it is also separated
by high mountains extremely difficult to cross, from the
viceroyalty of New Grenada.

To the south Venezuela is traversed in its breadth by
the tributaries of the Apure and Oronoko, as has been
stated ; but the surface of the track of country, for more
than four hundred miles in length, and one hundred and
fifty in width, is a plain almost as level as the pampas
of La Plata, and in some respect resembling them; but
in general essentially different. The streams which
water this track of country, take their rise either in

• It borders on the Portuguese, English, Dutch, and French pos-
sessions. This vast region is known under the name of New Andalu-
sia, and is unquestionably one of the finest portions of Spanish Ame-
rica. Few countries are mote delightfully watered, and being in
part composed of extensive plains and high mountains, {assesses
every variety of climate.


the ridge which runs along with the coast, or in the
mountains in the vicinity of Lake Maracaibo, and, dur-
ing the seasons of rains, which in this climate are pro-
digious, they pass over the banks and inundate the adja-
cent plains to a great distance. There are also nume-
rous channels of cross communication, in consequence
of which, in the rainy season, the surface of the country
presents the appearance of a vast inland sea, and the
courses of rivers are only marked by the tops of the
forest trees on their borders. During the other portion
of the year the streams shrink within their channels,
leaving immense plains which are soon covered with
luxuriant herbage, and sustain numerous herds of cattle,
until the approach of the dry season, when the grass is
burnt up by the heat of the sun, the water evaporated, the
plains present the appearance of naked deserts, and the
cattle perish by thousands for want of food and water.
Such is the country which has been the principal theatre
of war between the Spanish General Morillo, and ]^the
patriots under Bolivar, since the capture of Angostura.
Their campaigns have been constantly interrupted by
the return of the rainy season, and during the period fa-
vourable to their military operations, the nature of the
country and the climate are such as render it almost impos-
sible for European constitutions to withstand the priva-
tions and fatigues to which they must unavoidably be ex-
posed. These causes both operate in favour of the natives ;
delay occasioned by the interruption in their campaigns
enables them to increase in strength, while the cause of
Spain grows weaker, and from habit, the sultry heat of
the plains, to which they are accustomed, like Arabs,
can be better withstood than by their enemies.

From the nature of the track already described, ex-
tending across the Apure into New Grenada on the
south, opposes a natural barrier to the communication


with the populous districts of that viceroyalty ; for even
when not covered with water, it is a vast and almost
trackless desert, interspersed with morasses and marshes
extremely difficult to pass. Our enterprising country-
man, Macau LEY, was one of the first to cross from Ca-
labozo to Santa Fee de Bogota, where he commenced his
short but brilliant career in the cause of South Ame-
rican emancipation.* The greater part of the comitiy
which stretches from the left bank of the Oronoko, is
composed of immense plains, subject to inundation.
The inhabitants resemble those of Banda Oriental or
La Plata, and the subjugation of these herdsmen in their
widely expanded wastes, will be equally difficull. They
are possessed of prodigious bodily strength, and, like
those of the south, are capable of sustaining extra-
ordinary fatigue, contrary to the opinion usually enter-
tained of the inhabitants of warm climates. They will,
in fact, bear almost with indifference what exposes the
European soldier to the severest sufferings. Although
their habits are in general indolent and slothful, they can
suddenly pass from this state to one of the most vigour-
ous energy; like the furious boar of their plains, so
finely described by Humboldt, which basks its list-
less length in the sun, until excited by the sight of its
prey, when it instantly displays a power of motion
truly terrific.
Tiie population of Venezuela has been estimated at eight

•;^ * The recent march of Bolivar, Jis a military achievement, has ft/ever
l>ecn surpassed. He set off at the commencement of the rainy sea-
son, when his antagonist, Morillo, expected that he retired into quar-
ters. None but the troops of the country could ever have accom-
plished this undertaking ; his men were for weeks literally to the
waist in mud and water. Of the English troops which accompanied
hiiDt but a IwDdful appeiur to have sunrived.


hundred thousand souls, but the devastating war which
has been carried on, has diminished the number very
much, especially in the provinces of Caracas, Cumana,
and Guiana : but that of Margaritta has been increased
by emigration from the union. The province of Mara-
caibo has suffered less than any, although it has been
put under heavy requisitions by Morillo for the support
of wax ; without the assistance he has drawn from this
quarter and from New Grenada, it would have been im-
possible tor him to have maintained the contest. The de-
lightful valley of Caracas has been almost laid waste, and
the beautiful plantations of cocoa, cotton, sugar, coffee,
and indigo, formerly so celebrated, have been in a great
measure destroyed : should the conquest terminate in fa-
vour of the royalists, great speculations will be made
by the populace of these estates. The European Spa-
niards have greatly diminished in number in all those
districts which have felt the storm of the revolution:
many have perished, some have fled, and few have emi-
grated from Spain to supply their places ; hence one of
the most powerful of the Spanish auxiliaries has been de-
stroyed. The course of the revolution has had a ten-
dency to do away the prejudices and antipathies between
certain casts, in parts of the country where they exist ;
but this is an evil much exaggerated by those who merely
reason from what prevails in the West Indies.

The uncivilized Indians of the neighbouring moun-
tains and plains have, in general, regarded the contest
with indifference. The Indians of the plains in the
rainy season pass from one point of high land to an-
other ijn their canoes, and often remain many days in

• These recourses are now cut off by the recent successes of


succession on the water ; and the circumstance of the ir
sleeping in hammocks, suspended bet)veen branches,
has given rise to the story of their living in the tops
of trees.

The kingdom of new Grenada is probably the most
important Spanish feudatory in South America. It is
equal in extent to the United States west of the Mis-
sissippi, and capable of containing a greater population.
In most respects it resembles Peru, lying chiefly be-
tween the two Cordilleras, which begin near the sea
coast in San la Martha, and which form the valley of
the great river Magdalena, on which is situated Santa
Fee de Bogota. This kingdom is probably one of the
most diversified in its surface in the world ; but its most
remarkable characteristic is, its mountainous aspect.
Excepting by the channel of the Magdalena, or by the
way of Peru, there is no way in which an army can be
sent by Spain to subdue its inhabitants in their inac-
cessible mountains. But for a series of causes of a most
peculiar nature, Morillo, even with the assistance of the
troops from Peru, and all the old Spaniards, then in the
country, never could have put down the revolution as
he did. - ' '

Intending hereafter to give a more detailed account
of the situation of things in this quarter, I shall at pre-
sent simply state the position of the military force. The
commander-in-chief, Bolivar, as has already been stated,
is master of New Grenada, and probably at this time of
the province of Maracaibo, while Paez, 6n the opposite
side, with his terrible cavalry, is constantly harassing
him. In the army of Paez there is a corps of British troops,
seven hundred strong, under Colonel Pigot, a brave and

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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.2) → online text (page 18 of 25)