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

. (page 3 of 25)
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 3 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

commercial place, has experienced very severe trials.
Since the Banda Oriental has been in the possession of
the Portuguese, Buenos Ajres is the only sea port of the
patriots in the bay of La Plata- Something has been
said with respect to the town of Santa Fee, three him-
dred miles up the river, as a commercial rival. It is at
present but a small town without commercial capital,
and too high up the river for sea vessels to ascend with
facility, and has no peculiar advantag^es over other places
lower down, where towns might be established, particu-
larly Rosario, at the mouth of the Tercero. I notice it
at present, merely to refute the charge of a monopolizing
spirit alleged against Buenos Ayres, which in reality oc-
cupies a position on the river, similar to that of New
Orleans, on the Mississippi, while that of Santa Fee is
not unlike Natches. It would be proper also to remark,
that the provinces represented in the congress, do not
in every instance, send the number of representatives
to which they are entitled, according to their quota of
one for every fifteen thousand ; which arises from their
unwillingness to bear the expences of the full number, as
every province pays its own representatives. It is also
proper to state, that in the trade carried on across the
Andes of Chili, the two governments have mutually


agreed to exact no duties, by which, it is said that of
Buenos Ayres, is the gainer; and this circumstance,
which would otherwise have been taken for proof of
their being on the most friendly terms, has been laid
hold of by narrow minds, incapaple of any but partial
and party views, to prove the charge of a monopolizing
spirit in Buenos Ayres. That such a spirit does exist
I have no doubt, but it is the same that prevails in all
cities and in all countries.

I shall now proceed to speak of the celebrated pam-
pas of Buenos A^tcs, one of the most extensive tracks
of the kind perhaps in the world. It is a trapezium, or
irregular figure, of about two hundred thousand square
miles ; bounded on the east by the south Atlantic and thq
river La Plata, by the river Tercero and the frontiers of
Cordova on the north, on the west by the moimtains of
Cordova and the frontiers of San Luis, and on the south
by the Colorado. The longest line is from Cape St. An-
tonio to San Luis, about nine hundred miles ; from the
mouth of the Tercera to that of the Colorado, the dis-
tance is about six hundred miles. I have merely traced
the great body of the pampas, for it is to be observed,
that a great proportion of the territories of Santa Fee and
Cordova, consist of plains or pampas, possessing many
of the characteristics of this track : the same thing
may be said of the track between the Andes and the
chain of mountains I have before described, with this
difference, that there is a zone running north and souths
and extending even to Peru, called the Travesia, and,
on an average, a hundred miles in width, which is even
worse than the sandy deserts of Atacama, on the Pa-
cific. The whole of the track 1 have described, may
be regarded as a level plain, for there is no where an
elevation exceeding five hundred feet, but of a soil
astonishingly fertile. The great defect is the want of


water and running streams, and what water there
is, invariably brackish ; cisterns, however, might be
constructed, and in the season of rains, a sufficient
quantity could be well collected for ordinary use, and
even for the supply of cattle, at such times as the
water in the plains entirely fail.* The Salado, which
rises near the centre of the pampas, and said to be,
at times, connected mth the Rio Quinto, divides these
plains into two xmequal parts ; that to the north, which
is the least, is not so deficient in water, as it is tra-
versed by several smaller sti'eams that fall into La
Plata. On the borders of the Salado, there are some
elevated grounds, but this river receives no navigable
streams, and aflfords, itself, but little navigation; al-
though, after the heavy rains which fall in these plains,
it might be considered a large river. The plains on
the south side, extending to the Colorado, are not so
well known, but are ascertained to be without water,
excepting the salt lakes or ponds, which are eva-
porated in the season of drought, leaving immense
quantities of salt encrusted on the surface, similar to
the salines of the Arkansas. Several hundred carts
are often employed in transporting salt from these
places ; it is an article of some importance in the trade
of Buenos Ayres. The pampas Indians, formerly the
terror of the settlements, but at present perfectly harm-
less, inhabit the pampas, and carry on a small traffic
with the whites.

These imsheltered plains, are, at times, parched with
excessive heat, and at others, drenched with heavy

* In some parts of Louisiana, cistern water alone is used by the
inhabitants. The Red River and the Arkansas, at times, are both
brackish. The plains of the Arkansas, the salt prairies, are simi-
lar to those of the pampas,, but on a smaller scale.



rains. Excepting a few willows along the water
courses, or peach orchards that have been planted,
and an occasional umbu, they are entirely bare of
wood. They are clothed, however, with a most lux-
uriant herbage. It has been thought by the ignorant,
and those wanting enterprise, that forests cannot be
cultivated in this country; either because the winds,
or pamperos, are so powerful as to tear tliem up by
the roots, or because some one has fancied that the
soil is incumbent on a rock so near the surface, as to
prevent the roots from penetrating ; but actual expe-
riments are the best refutation of these absurd the-
ories. In a well->vTitten paper in the Seminario, the
affirmative is saisfactorily proved, and several im-
portant experiments are cited ; particularly that of D.
Juan Augustin Videla, near Magdalena; the first per-
son in the country who thought of planting trees,
and who had completely succeeded. Peach trees, wil-
lows, poplars, fruit trees of every kind, and the umbu,
a large and beautiful tree, are planted with success
every where; and there is no reason why the locust,
pride of China, and others of a similar kind, should
not succeed, even if the oak, hickory, and walnut, can-
not. Both Dr. Baldwin and Mr. Bonpland, were de-
cidedly of opinion that trees could be planted with
success.* Nothing but the want of national spirit.

• The following is an extract of a letter from Dr. Baldwin, in an«
swer to one on this subject: — ''With respect to the pampas, or exten-
sive naked plains, which stretch off in every direction from Euenos
Ayres, and which, it has been supposed by many, will not admit of
beings timbered, I have only to remark, that this opinion does not
appear to be well founded. As far as experiments have been fairly
made, they have been successful, and the olive, the Lombardy
poplar, and the pride of India (Mehia Azedarach,) already flourish
ihere. I am happy further to siaief that Mr. Bonpland, a naturalist


inseparable from colonies, lias hitherto prevented these
improvements from being carried on extensively. The
change produced by the cultivation of forests, or even
of orchards of smaller trees, is immense ; these fertile
plains might be made to support a population equal
to any country of the same extent, in the world ; and
instead of being, as they are at present, only occupied
by immense herds of horned cattle, droves of wild
horses, vast numbers of wild dogs, deer, ostrich, hares,
armadillas, and a variety of other animals, would
be filled with towns and villages, supported by agri-
culture. If in the hands of our countrymen, I enter-
tain no doubt that this would be effected ; that it should
not have been the case heretofore, is not at all sur-
prising, when the inhabitants of the countiy had no
certainty of being able to dispose of their surplus pro-
duce. Exact surveys and good maps mil be the first
thing to be executed, when the Americans, shall have
firmly fixed their independence ; and from its extent
of territory and capacity, I sincerely believe, that
the province of Buenos Ayres alone, iA the course
of half a century, would become a very considerable
nation. We have yet only seen these people in a war
for their existence ; it is therefore, premature to form
an opinion of them. The welcome reception of strangers
will, in time, free them from a thousand difficulties under
\\hicli they labour at present ; it is idle to talk of their
Hot being able to settle down in a sober and rational

and philosopher of the highest repute, agrees with me in opinion,
ia relation to the cultivation of forest trees upon those plains. With
respect to the quality of the soil, as far as I have had an opportunity
of observing, it is a'deep and rich allayial, and by no means inter-
rupted, (as you have Suggested,) by any stratum of indurated day of
the consistence of brick.*'


government, suited to their situations and exigencies,
although it may not be exactly like ours.

Before I i>roceed to speak of the province of Bue-
nos Ayres, I shall make some observations on Pata-
gonia. This vast tiack of country, the greater part
of which resembles the climate of our own, was de-
pendant on the viceroyalty ; and is properly to be con-
sidered a part of it. For two hundred years after the
establishment of the frontier by Garray, who rebuilt
the city, the line remained nearly stationary ; but since
the revolution, has been extended upwards of a hun-
dred miles. The Seminario, as early as 1802, recom-
mended the extension jas far as the Rio Negro ; which
could be defended with more ease than even the pre-
sent line, by seizing, and fortifying the passes through
which the southern Indians make their way into the
pampas, for the purpose of stealing cattle. The
writer states the number of Indians to the southward,
to be much less than is generally supposed; and that
since the treaty of 1784, the settlements have been
but little disturbed by them. This frontier would in-
clude a large track of country between the Colorado
and the Rio Negro ; which is but little known, but is
probably, in some degree, free from the defects of the
naked pampas. Beyond the last mentioned river, the
country is entirly unknown ; but it appears to be the
opinion of those who are best informed, that it by no
means deserves the character usually bestowed upon
it. It may be both well supplied with water and
wood, and its climate has been defended by Molina,
with learning and ingenuity, from the common impu-
tation; he satisfactorily proves, that the fact related
by Sir Joseph Banks and Dr. Solander, does not war-
rant the inference usually drawn from it, although
as a phoenomenon, it is not easily accounted for It


would certainly be very extraordinary that so sudden
a change should take place in the climate, from the
fortieth degree of south latitude, (which is well known
to agree with thirty-five of North America,) to the
fifty-fifth, as to be as cold as Norway. It is probable,
that where the continent suddenly narrows, and in the
neighbourhood of very high mountains, the country may
be subject to occasional snow storms at all seasons,
without extending a very considerable distemce to the

I have already said something of the province of Bue-
nos Ayres. Previous to the revolution, the city, beside
being the capital of the new viceroyalty, was the seat
of government of an inteudency, of which Monte Video,
Santa Fee, Corrientes, &c. were subordinate districts ;
but it is now, as the reader will have perceived, con-
fined to the immediate jurisdiction ef its own cabildo.
The population is variously estimated, from one hun-
dred and five to one hundred and twenty thousand souls ;
of whom, about one half reside in the qity. It con-
tributed formerly, as well as Santa Fee and Cordova,
to supply the upper provinces with mules, but has
been somewhat more agricultural ; and the inhabitants
of the country in the neighbourhood, are, probably,
better informed than those of the interior, from their
greater opportunities. There are many small land
holders and cultivators, rents are hardly known, and
the produce of their fields has generally increased in
value. They are greatly devoted to the cause of in-
dependence, and no people seemed to me more na-
tional. Industry is increasing with the introduction of
a variety of artificial wants, and the desire of imitat-
ing those who are settled among them. A serious evil
is, however, complained of in the want of inclosures,
»nd the consequent exposure of their crops to be de-


stroyed by the cattle. The'raising of stock has hitherto
occupied their chief attention, to the neglect of culture.
Nothing can surpass the fertility of the soil, and there
is no kind of doubt but that cotton and sugar can be
cultivated here, as well as on the banks ot^ the Missis-
sippi; these would at once, be sources of great agri-
cultural wealth. Some emigiation has already taken
place to this country from Europe ; every encourage-
ment is held out ; the sober, industrious German, espe-
cially, would do well here.

The town of Santa Fee is, in many respects, fa-
vourably situated for trade, but it is too high up to be
the emporium of the countries situated on the river,
and its branches ; the trade of the Parana, is carried on
by the means of small sloops ; but the difficulty of
ascending the river, is much less than is experienced
in the Mississippi. The principal trade at present, is
in the herb of Paraguay ; which is brought to this
place in order to be transported to the interior, on ac-
count of merchants in Buenos Ajres. The products
also of Cordova, and some of the interior districts, are
brought here and carried down to Buenos Ayres, to
be exported. Its situation is somewhat remarkable;
between two rivers that fall into the Parana ; and,
besides, fortified by art. The troops of the congress,
although in possession of the adjacent country, and
the whole of the district, as well as the village on the
opposite side of the river, have not been able to take
possession of the town.* The real cause of dissen-
tion between this city and the others, is stated by
Funes, to be a desire of independence from the colo-

• By the recent treaty, the troops of the United Provinces arc ta
1)0 withdrawn.

Vol. II. D


nial government, to which it was subject, as well as
from the king of Spain; a kind ot anarchy much
dreaded, and which has done more than any thing
else to retard the revolution. The same reasoning
which justified independence from the king of Spain,
was made use of by the local demagogues to produce
a dissolution of every tie. What would be the effect,
we may readily conceive, by supposing every county,
town, or village, to have set up for itself in our country,
dming our struggle for independence. To satisfy by
reasoning, that such a course was wiong, was not
easy, when in opposition to what was so flattering to
their pride. Here is the great obstacle the patriots
have uniformly encountered, and must continue to en-
counter; and which arises, not from the character of
the people, or the want of disposition to join in the
cause, but from the nature of the colonial system. If
Spain could have foreseen the effect of these little in-
dependent sovereignties, she w^ould have augmented
them, for they have been of more service to her than
all her armies : if she ever conquers America, it must
be by piece-meal, by breaking up and dividing the
viceroyalties, intendencies, and the subordinate dis-

For nearly two hundred miles before the Parana
enters the bay, or river La Plata, it is separated into
several charmels, forming large islands, which are
covered with wood, and said to be overflown in the sea-
son of the floods ; but excepting on some of the low
grounds, the banks of the river are above their reach.
The entrance of the Uruguay is more spacious, and was
mistaken by Solis for the main river. From the
city to the mouth of the southern entreince, which is,
properly, the Parana, the ground is tolerably high.
The villages of San Isidro, and Las Conchas, are a


good deal resorted to during the summer season. At
the latter place, there is a tolerable harbour for the
smaller vessels employed in tlie tiade of the river;
these, and the ox carts, are, at present, the means by
which the internal trade is carried on. It is observed
by Azara, that the south-west side of the river is much
safer during the pamperos than the other ; vessels hav-
ing some shelter from the land, and not so much in
danger of being driven on shore ; he mentions an in-
stance of a Spanish frigate which rode out the storms
during nine successive years ; with good ground tack-
ling, there is but little danger. While I was at Buenos
Ayres, some of the smaller craft were blown ashore
by the south-east winds ; but they may be placed in
perfect safety on the Riachuelo ; a small stream just
below the town. They are quite as safe as the
river craft at New Orleans, but they have by no
means the same convenience in lading and unlading,
on account of the shallowness of the water in front of
the town.

The southern coast has been very little explored;
there is still kept up a small establishment in Patago-
nia, where criminals are sometimes sent ; and whither,
during the early part of the revolution, some of those
who happened to fall under the popular displeasure,
were banished. I am not acquainted with its exact po-
sition. The country of the Tuyiis, forms a very im-
portant exception to the general description of the
pampas south of Buenos Ayres. On the other side
of the Salado, there is a range of hills, which when
compared to the dead level around them, have been
called mountains ; it runs towards the Andes, and by
some, is thought to be one of its spurs, although it
subsides towards the centre of the pampas ; per-
haps it might be traced to the mountains of Cor-



dova. The valleys are watered by numerous brooks^
and there is some wood ; there is a resemblance in
this country to that of Monte Video ; it is said to be
highly susceptible of improvement. The climate cannot
be surpassed.

Buenos Ayres, from its local advantages, which are
similar to those of New Orleans, (with the exception
of its harbour,) near the mouth of a vast river, which,
with its branches, traverses a country capable of sup -
porting fifty millions of souls, must become, some day
or other, a great city. There is no other town in
South America, whose position is in any way to be
compared with it. Besides its advantages as a great
emporimn for the interior provinces, it is favourably
situated for a trade with Brazils, the West Indies,
Europe, the Cape of Good Hope, and Asia. The asser-
tion of M. Dupradt, that neither Tyre, nor Carthage,
nor Rome, had higher destines than this city, is not
exaggerated. This place, for nearly tv\^o hundred
years from its foundation, being completely denied its
natural advantages, by the wretched policy of Spain,
and harrassed by the incursions of the pampas Indians,
continued to be of little importance. In fact, its growth
can be dated little further back than forty years, when
these provinces, with the addition of those in Upper
Peru, were erected into a viceroyalty, of which it be-
came the capital, and the commercial restrictions, im-
posed by Spain, were slackened in many important par-
ticulars. From that time, Buenos Ayres becoming the
deposit of the valuable products of Peru, of Paraguay,
and, also, the seat of an important branch of the East
India trade, increased in population and in wealth with
unexampled rapidity ; but within the last ten years, its
advantages have been incalculably diminished ; having
been compelled to support a bloody and expensive war


for its existence ; it has had nothing but its present free
and unshackled trade with all the world, to counter-
balance the privation of those advantages, to which it
owed its rise. With Paraguay and the provinces of Peru,
an intercourse and trade can scarcely be said to exist;
and with Chili, for some years, there was none at all.
Under these circumstances, it was not to be expected
that Buenos Ayres should do any thing more than re-
main stationary. It does not appear as prosperous and
flourishing as Rio ; but I observed no striking marks of
decay; on the contrary, the town is full of people,
though not overflowing, and business appears to be brisk.
"VYhen we consider the efi'orts and sacrifices which the
city has made, it is only surprising that it should not
wear more the appearance of exhaustion. I am informed,
that within a few years past, its population has even in-

The history of Buenos Ayres from its second establish-
ment in 1580, contains very little worth recording, ex-
cepting its wars with the Indians, and the local disputes
between the bishops and the clergy on one side, and on
the other the governors and others entrusted with the
civil government, unavoidably arising from the unfor-
tunate mixture of civil and ecclesiastical authority. The
former were accustomed, from the first, to participate
in the measures adopted for the welfare ot the colony,
while they exerted a powerful influence over the minds
of a superstitious people, by their power to excommuni-
cate offenders of the church. In these squabbles, which
were experienced more or less in all the colonies, the peo-
ple were frequently enlisted. Buenos Ajtcs was erected
into a bishoprick in 1620, but increased very slowly until
raised to the dignity of a viceroyalty, in the year 1776,
with an audiencia, composed of five auditors and two
commissioners. From this period, its growth was ex-

V 3


tremely rapid ; and when taken by the British, its po-
pulation was estimated at sixty thousand souls.

The emancipation of the Spanish colonies, is said to
have been a favourite idea of the celebrated William
Pitt. He had frequent conferences, we are told, with
the Jesuit Viscardi Gusman, a native of Peru, and an
enthusiast in the cause of South American liberty ; and
by whom an eloquent appeal was afterwards published.
This document may be seen in the appendix to the
second volume of Walton on the Colonies,* and is said

• In a collection of documents on the subject of the South Ame-
rican emancipation, published in 1810, with notes and an introduc-
tion, by J. M. Antepara, a native of Guayaquil, it is stated, tliat there
■was an understanding- on the subject, about the year 1798, between
our government and that of Great Britain. The same thing is men-
tioned in Brown's American Register. The conquest of Mexico was
to have been effected conjointly ; and the twelve regiments raised by
lis, at that period, were destined for this service. Nothing but our
subsequent settlement of differences with France and Spain, it is
said, arrested the enterprise. The greater part of these documents
are collected in Walton's address to the Prince Regent- The fol-
lowing letter of Alexander Hamilton to Miranda, may be a curiosity
to most readers.

Letter from General Hamilton to General Miranda,

New-York, August 22, 1798.

Sir, — I have lately received, by duplicates, your letter of the

6th of April, with a postcript of the 9th of June. The gentleman

you mention in it, lias not made liis appearance to mo, nor do I

know of his arrival in this country ; so that I can only divine the ob-

j ect from the hints in your letter.

The sentiments I entertain with regard to that object, have been
long since in your knowledge ; but I could personally have no partici-
pation in it, unless patronised by the government of this country. It
was my wish that matters had been ripened for a co-operation in the
course of this fall, on the part of this country ; but this can now
scarce be the case. The winter,. however, may mature the project,


to have beeu addressed to Mr. King, our minister, then at
the court of London, and who, in the senate of the United
States, has on several occasions, avowed his sentiments
in terms honourable to the patriot and the statesman.
The proclamation of General Picton, is said to have
been furnished by Lord Melville, and it expressly declared
that it was intended merely to enable them to maintain
their commercial independence, " without any desire on

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 3 of 25)