John M. (John Milton) Niles.

History of South America and Mexico; comprising their discovery, geography, politics, commerce and revolutions (Volume 2) online

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some at 20,000, and by others at 25,000. The Molino, issuing
from the mountain of M. runs through the city. The Cauca runs
about three miles to the north ; the distance from Popayan to the
Pacific is 90 miles.

Guayaquil, the seaport of Quito, is situated in south lat. 2
12' on the river of the same name, which empties into the gulf or
bay of Guayaquil. The city stands about 18 miles up the river,
and contains a population of 20,000 souls. The streets are


broad and straight : the houses are built of wood, and are large
and beautiful. It is the principal naval station of the republic on
the Pacific, and enjoys an extensive and increasing commerce.
Guayaquil having recently changed its political condition, by the
spontaneous will of the people, almost without a struggle, its com-
mercial prosperity has scarcely been interrupted by the events of
the war. It may, therefore, be ranked among the richest cities
of the republic. The females of this city are distinguished for
the fairness of their complexions, and the social character of the
inhabitants is much commended by strangers. The town is de-
fended by three forts ; the river is navigable to the town for ves-
sels of any size,. and affords the best harbour on the coast. A
naval school has lately been established at this place.

Panama, the other important commercial town on the Pacific,
is the oldest city on the South Sea ; it was founded in 1518, and
is situated in N. lat. 8 57' 48" on a bay of the same name. The
town is built on a rocky peninsula, and is fortified. This place
has lost much of its commercial prosperity ; but, nevertheless,
enjoys a very commanding local position. Its population is about
10,000 ; a considerable portion of which are slaves : most of the
inhabitants have some knowledge of the English language, which
is acquired by their intercourse with the island of Jamaica. A
good road to Porto Bello, on the opposite shore of the gulf of
Mexico, would be an object of great utility, and the ground is said
to be very favourable for such an undertaking. Porto Bello, in
N. lat. 9 33 / has a beautiful local and commercial situation.
This town has shared the same fate as Panama, and has greatly
declined from its former prosperity, whilst the seat of the com-
merce of the galleons ; but still it maintains some trade, which is
supposed to be increased since the revolution. The confederate
congress was held at this place.

Chagres, a town situated on a fine bay, at the mouth of the
river of the same name, 44 miles west of Porto Bello, enjoys
some commerce. The most important commercial city on the
Atlantic sea board is Carthagena, which is the principal naval sta-
tion of the republic, on the Atlantic. This city is situated in N.
lat. 100 25 X 48", at the distance of 102 miles west of the rivei
Magdalena, and is divided into two parts ; the city proper, so
called, and Gimani. The city is surrounded by a thick, high
wall, and Gimani is built in a semicircular form ; it is fortified in
front by a strong wall, and united to the city by a bridge over the
ditch. The city is defended by a strong fort and batteries, on the
surrounding hills. Near the town is the lake Tesca, which is 3
miles in circumference, and communicates with the city and the
sea. The bay of Carthagena is 9 miles in extent ; its principal
entrance is defended by strong fortifications. The population of


the city is estimated at 16,000, and its commerce is considerable
and increasing. This town has partaken largely of the bitter fruits
of the revolution, having experienced two long and tedious sieges
during the last ten years. On the 5th of December, 1815, 2000
of its patriotic inhabitants emigrated in a body, embarking in
eleven armed vessels, being unable any longer to resist the sue
cessful efforts of the royalists under Morillo. A naval school has
recently been established at Carthagena.

Savanilla, a new commercial town, is on the Magdalena, 21 miles
from its mouth. Santa Martha, a considerable commercial town
of 5000 inhabitants, connected with the Magdalena by interior
navigation, lies 45 miles east of the Magdalena : 150 miles far-
ther east is Rio Hacha, which is also a place of considerable

Maracaibo, on the lake or gulf of the same name, is likewise a
considerable commercial town, the population of which was more
than 20,000 previous to the revolution ; but it is now much redu-
ced by the calamities of the war. This city, by its easy commu-
nication with the interior, possesses superior commercial ad-

Porto Cavello, the seaport of Valencia, has an excellent har-
bour with strong fortifications. This town has also suffered much
by the operations of the war, and has been considered a very im-
portant military position. It is the last in the whole territory of
the republic from which the royalists were expelled. It lies in
lat. 100 2<y N. and its population was estimated at 7500 before
the war.

Cumana and Barcelona are the principal cities on the eastern
coast of the republic. The former lies one mile south of the gulf
of Cariaco, on a sandy and dry soil, in lat. 10 37' N. and was
built in 1520 ; it contained before the revolution, 24,000 inhabit-
ants, chiefly Creoles, who were industrious and enterprising. The
climate is warm, but healthful. The population of Cumana was
much diminished by the revolutionary struggle. Barcelona, 60
miles from Cumana, was founded in 1634, and is built on a plain
on the left bank of the Neveri, three miles from its mouth, in N.
lat. 100 io x . Its population, which previous to the revolution was
14,000, is now much reduced. Thirty miles E. N. E. of Cumana
is situated the city of Cariaco, on a river of the same name,
which discharges its waters into the gulf of Cariaco.

La Guira, the port of Caraccas, is at present next to Cartha-
gena, the most important seaport on the Atlantic border. Its
population was 6000 before the revolution ; the road to Caraccas
is over a mountain 6095 feet high, and is very difficult and labo-
rious to travel during the wet season. The city of Angostura
the chief seat of commerce on the river Oronoco, with a popula-

VOL. II. 2


tion of 10,000 inhabitants, is situated about 270 miles from its
mouth. Angostura was wrested from the royalists in 1817, and
was for several years the seat of the Venezuelan republic, while
most of the country was in possession of the Spaniards. From
this place the gallant Bolivar led forth the little army of his own
creation, composed of foreigners and natives hastily collected to-
gether, and penetrating into the heart of New Granada with as-
tonishing celerity, emancipated that fine country from the Spanish
yoke, laying the foundation of a free, independent, and powerful

Coro, in lat. IQo 8' N. at the bottom of the gulf of the same
name, stands on 'a dry, sandy plain, with a population estimated
at 10,000 before the revolution, and is distant from Maracaibo
165 miles to the east. The province of Coro belonging to the
department of Zulia, is in many parts arid and steril.

Among the numerous interior towns that abound in every sec-
tion of the republic, is Valencia, situated on a beautiful lake of the
same name. This place was at one period the seat of govern-
ment for the Venezuelan republic, and is situated 24 miles south
of Porto Cavello, and 90 miles west of Caraccas. Cucuta, the
town where the constitution was formed, is situated in a valley of
the same name, about 300 miles to the northeast of Bogota ; near
Cucuta lies the superb valley of San Crystobal. Mompox, a mili-
tary position, is situated on an island in the Magdalena, 195 miles
from the mouth of the river, and 375 miles from Bogota. The
cities of Bariiias, Guanore, Araure, San Carlos, and San Fer-
nando de Apure, are situated in the department of Venezuela, and
were rapidly advancing previous to the war, which visited this pro-
vince with the full measure of its destructive fury. The province
of Barinas, which, with that of Caraccas, forms the department
of Venezuela, consists entirely of plains intersected by numerous
rivers, most of which are navigable, and descend into the Apure,
and thus communicate with the Oronoco. The banks of these
rivers are covered with noble forests, and when cleared, the soil
produces abundantly cocoa, indigo, cotton, sugar-cane, tobacco,
maize, rice, and other kinds of fruits and vegetables. The sa-
vannas support innumerable herds of cattle. The Cordillera of
Pamplona, Merida, and Truxillo, border on this province on the
west and north, and supply it with wheat and every other produc-
tion of temperate climates, even to the luxury of snow.

The city of Merida was founded in 1593, and is situated in a
valley 9 miles long, in lat. 8 10' N. ; its population was 11,500
previous to the revolution ; it is 240 miles from Maracaibo, and
420 S. E. from Caraccas. The province of Merida, now belong-
ing to the department of Zulia, possesses the advantages of a
delightful climate, and a fertile, though mountainous territory


Wheat, tobacco, and the fruits and grams of temperate climates,
are raised abundantly in the high lands ; while the low, warm,
vallies produce sugar-cane, cocoa, and all tropical fruits ; coffee
could be cultivated to great advantage on the mountains. The
city of Truxillo is situated in lat. 8 4Q / N. 60 miles from Meriua,
with a population of 7600. The district of Truxillo differs little
from that of Merida, except that its mountains are steeper, and
its vallies more confined. Barquisimeto is situated in lat. 9 44'
N. on an elevated plain, which is open to every breeze : it has a
population of 11,000 : it was founded in 1552, and is 450 miles
N. N. E. from Bogota. Tocuyo lies 45 miles S. W. of Barqui-
simeto, in lat. 90 35' N. in a valley of the same name, with a
population estimated at 10,000, before the revolution. There are
several towns near the southern border of the republic : among
which is the city of Cuenea, with a population of 20,000 in-

The island of Margaritta, which belongs to the department oi
Oronoco, is situated 24 miles north of the peninsula of Araya, in
Cumana. The island consists of two peninsulas connected by a
narrow isthmus, and lies between lat. 10 50 X and 11 10' N.
The surface of the island is uneven, consisting of hills and dales.
The soil is sandy, producing cotton, sugar, and other tropical
productions. The capital of the island is Assumption, situated
near its centre. There are several other villages in the vallies.
The principal port is Bampater, which is fortified. The popula-
tion of this island is estimated at 20,000 inhabitants, who are dis-
tinguished for their bravery and patriotism ; particularly for their
gallant deeds in the month of November, 1816, when every citi-
zen became a soldier, and with desperate bravery, defeated, in ten
pitched battles, the formidable hosts of general Morillo ; and
also, for the memorable defence made in July, the following year,
when 3500 Spanish troops, under the same commander, were
forced to retire in disgrace, with the loss of 1000 men.

J\fines. The gold, which has heretofore been obtained in Co-
lombia, has been found mingled with the soil, near the surface,
from which it is separated by repeated washings. This service
was formerly performed by negro slaves, who cannot bear the
cold air of the mines in Mexico, but are more able than the In-
dians to perform labour in the field. The metal has been found
in some districts in large grains, particularly near Pamplona,
where single labourers have collected in one day, the value of
750 dollars. A mass of fine gold was found of the value of more
than 3000 dollars, which was sent to Spain by the governor. Gold
is very generally dispersed in the town of Rio Hacha ; it is found
in the sand washed down from the declivities ; but the provinces
of Antioquia and Choco, now included in the departments of Cun-


dinamarca and Cauca, where gold, silver, and platina abound, are
the most distinguished for their mineral wealth. Gold is not only
found mixed with the soil, which has been washed down from the
declivities of mountains, but also in the beds of rivers : emeralds
are likewise found in the beds of rivers, particularly in a smnll
stream, about sixty miles from Bogota, where almost every stone
contains an emerald. There are unworked mines of silver in
Mariquita, arid probably undiscovered mines in various parts of
Colombia, as the mines here have been an object of less atten
tion than in Mexico or Peru; and for the want of capital arid ma
chinery, have not been worked to the same extent. But little at
tention has been paid to mining in Colombia, compared with the
attention given to it in Mexico and Peru ; and it has generally
been supposed that the precious metals were less abundant in the
former, than in the latter countries ; but according to the opinion
of the late Manuel Torres, Charge des Affairs from Colombia to
the United States, the precious metals in Colombia are not inferi-
or to those of Mexico or Peru, with the advantage of their dis-
covery being more easy and less expensive.* Since the com-
mencement of the nineteenth century, the product of the mines
in the departments now composing the Colombian republic, have
been 2,990,000 dollars. The revolution cannot fail of having a
most favourable influence on the mining operations, by the intro-
duction of foreigners and foreign capital, the reduction of the du-
ties, and the patronage of a liberal and enlightened government.
When adequate machinery and scientific skill are applied to the
mining operations in Colombia, the immense treasures which
now lie bedded in the bowels of the earth will be developed, and
prove an inexhaustible source of wealth and of national prosperity.
Mints are established at Popayan and Bogota, where the gold
and silver is coined. Formerly a considerable part of the gold
was not coined in the country, but was smuggled into the West

On the coast between Rio Hacha and Maracaibo, is a pearl
fishery, carried on by the Indios Bravos, or wild tribes who in-
habit the country ; but the profits of the fishery, probably, are
chiefly realized by their more civilized neighbours, who trade with
them. The pearls are much superior to those of the east. By
a decree of congress in August, 1823, all the pearl fisheries of
Colombia were granted to a company on certain conditions.

Roads and internal communications. Colombia, like every
part of what was formerly Spanish America, is deplorably defi-
cient in these advantages. This country is not like Mexico, des-
titute, in a great measure, of internal water communications ; its
natural advantages are almost unrivalled ; but from the want of
* See his letter to the Secretary of State, Nov. 30th, 1821.


mechanic arts, and of science, the country has not yet enjoyed
the benefit of them. The Oronoco, the Magdalena, the lake
Maracaibo, and the river Zulia which empties into it, particularly
afford resources for extensive lines of internal navigation, which
only need to be improved. The Oronoco, by means of its large
branches, the Apure and the Meta, opens a communication with
the whole level country, to within about 150 miles of Bogota, ex-
tending more than 600 into the interior. From the mouth of the
Magdalena to Honda, the head of boat navigation, about 550
miles, the current is very rapid. The internal navigation is rude
and unimproved, consisting of canoes poled up and down the
rivers by the bogas or boatmen, of which there is a great number
on all the navigable streams. It is said that there are ten thou-
sand of this class of men on the Magdalena ; their principal resi-
dence is at Mompox. From the rapidity of the current of the
Magdalena, thirty miles a day is reckoned a good day's journey
hi ascending ; and from the various delays which usually occur,
the voyage from the mouth of the river to Honda is seldom per-
formed in less than thirty days, and captain Cochrane, who lately
ascended this river, was forty-six. The lake Maracaibo is the
most beautiful expanse of water in the world, extending 150 miles
into the interior, and with the river Zulia, its principal tributary
water, affords extensive advantages for internal navigation.

In this age of improvement, when " unconquerable streams
has wrought such a revolution in river and coast navigation, and
under the auspices of a free and enlightened government, it can-
not be doubted that this simple and rude navigation of some of
the noblest rivers in the world, will soon be superseded by steam
boats : or, if there should be found any difficulty in the use of
these, by some other improved plan of internal navigation. The
congress have directed their attention to this object, and at their
session, in 1822, granted patents, on certain conditions, to James
Hamilton and John Elbers, for the privilege of running steam
boats on the Oronoco and the Magdalena. Steam navigation
has subsequently been introduced into Colombia ; in the fall of
1825, a steam boat made the first passage up the Magdalena to
Honda. From the many difficulties attending the first attempt,
the passage was unexpectedly protracted to eighty days. This
experiment not only led to a knowledge of the river, but suggest-
ed several improvements, so that it was expected the second trip,
which was commenced the last of November, would be made in
thirty days. Several steam boats, one named Bolivar, designed
for internal navigation in Colombia, have been built in the United
States. Perhaps no country is better accommodated with great
natural canals, than Colombia ; the Oronoco and its branches,
lake Maracaibo, the Zulia, Palma, and its other tributaries, to-

VOL. II. 2*


gether with the Magdalena, the Cauca, and the Atrato, afford an
extent of interior navigation unrivalled. The advantages of these
interior waters will be increased a hundred-fold by the introduc-
tion of steam navigation ; and probably the time is not far distant,
when there will be as many steam vessels on these great inland
canals, as there are now on the Mississippi, the Ohio, and the

In respect to roads, they are scarcely known in Colombia.
Throughout the whole republic there is not a road passable for
any considerable distance with wheel carriages, nor scarcely for
mules, without exposure of life or limbs. Travelling and transpor-
tation of every kind by land is done by mules : the conveyance is,
consequently, tedious and expensive ; so that the bulky produce
of the 'nterior will not bear transportation to the coast ; and the
expense of carriage, on the more heavy and bulky articles of im-
portation, raises them to a high price in the interior. Whilst the
Spaniards possessed Porto Cavello, the cocoa, coffee, and cotton,
raised in the vicinity of Valencia, would scarcely bear the expense
of transportation to Caraccas. The want of good internal com-
munications is most seriously felt in Colombia, and greatly de-
presses the agricultural interests in the interior. These disad-
vantages will probably soon be partially overcome, by improving
the navigation of rivers, and opening turnpike or artificial roads.

Government. The natural, but mistaken apprehension of a
union among states similarly situated, and having a common in-
terest, of which history affords so many examples, has been strik-
ingly illustrated in Colombia. When the country threw off the
Spanish yoke, not only Venezuela and New Granada, which had
been separate governments, but many of the provinces of each,
formed juntas for themselves, declared their independence, and
raised military forces to maintain it, not only against the authority
of Spain, but that of the general governments established by the
revolutionists claiming jurisdiction over them. In New Grana-
da, the congress, composed of deputies from a number of the pro-
vinces, was obliged to make war upon the provinces of Cundani
marca and Carthagena, to force them into a union, or to compel
obedience to its decrees. Although these contentions disparaged
and greatly injured the provinces, yet it is not improbable that the
existence of so many independent governments, was, on the whole,
serviceable in the prosecution of the war. Hostilities were car-
ried on by the general governments of Venezuela and New Gra-
nada, and also by the governments of many of the provinces at
the same time, in conjunction or separately, and sometimes in
the latter mode, wnen they were at war with each other. When
the patriots we-e overcome in one province, they kept up resist
ance in anofner and when the armies of the congress were de-


feated, and the government itself overthrown ; still the provin-
cial juntas would keep alive the spirit of resistance. When the
cause was prostrated in Venezuela, it was maintained in New
Granada, and the former again liberated by troops, furnished by
the latter. The existence of so many independent separate go-
vernments, all of whom were engaged in carrying on the war, dis-
tracted the attention of the Spanish chiefs, and greatly embarrass-
ed their operations ; but on the other hand, it prevented the con-
centration of power, and the establishment of an energetic and^f-
ficient government, as well as occasioned almost constant dissen-

It required, however, a long course of fatal experience to over-
come the apprehensions and prejudices which existed against a
consolidated government, embracing all the provinces composing
the present territory of Colombia ; and it is probable that it could
not have been effected, at least in a peaceable manner, except
for the great influence of Bolivar. The government established in
Venezuela, in 18 11, was a confederacy similar to that of the
United States, and at that time, and long after, was almost uni-
versally popular, both in Venezuela and New Granada. General
Miranda, by favouring a more concentrated and energetic govern-
ment, gave great offence, and occasioned himself to be viewed
with suspicion. The province, (now department) of Cundani-
marca, in 1814, could not be induced to unite, under the most ur-
gent circumstances, with the other provinces, with which it had
formerly been connected, and the employment of troops, and the
capture of Bogota, its capital, only, could compel it to join the
confederation. When these circumstances are considered, it is
apparent that the revolution, in the public mind, must have been
great, which should have led to the union of Venezuela and New
Granada, an event not apparently even thought of at the time of
which we have been speaking ; and to the establishment of a go-
vernment, which is not a confederacy of provinces, but an entire
consolidation of them into one state, with a unity of authority.
The first of these events took place in December, 1819, when, af-
ter the overthrow of the royal power, by the great victory of Boy-
aca, a congress was convened at Angostura. Bolivar delivered
to the congress an elaborate speech, in which he showed that he
had studied profoundly the principles of government, their forms,
and their spirit. The object of this speech was to produce a con-
viction of the importance of a union of Venezuela and New Gra-
nada, and the establishment of an efficient government. On the
17th of the month, a fundamental law was passed, which united,
in one state, Venezuela and New Granada, to be called the Re-
public of Colombia. This was followed by the appointment of a
committee to prepare a constitution ; and one having been report-


ed, it was considered and adopted by the general congress assem-
bled at Cucuta on the 30th of August, 1821, and has ever since been
in operation, although the government was not organized under it
for some time.* Its strength and merits have borne the test of se-
veral year's trial, during which, the government founded on it, has
been administered with regularity, firmness, and success.

The principles of this constitution are those of a representative
democracy or republic, but not on the federative plan. One su-
preme national legislature is recognized, but no subordinate ones.
There is a complete unity of authority, or government ; conse-
quently, in this important particular, the system differs essentially
from that of the United States. The departments are only the
civil divisions of the state, and do not possess any subordinate
powers of government, not so much as the town corporations in

Online LibraryJohn M. (John Milton) NilesHistory of South America and Mexico; comprising their discovery, geography, politics, commerce and revolutions (Volume 2) → online text (page 2 of 26)