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FOR JUNE, 1811.
FROM THE EDINBURGH REVIEW.
Present State of the Spanish Colonies, including a particular Report of Hispaniola, or the Spanish Part of St. Domingo. By William Walton, junior, Secretary to the Expedition which captured the City of Santo Domingo from the French, and resident British Agent there. 2 vols. 8vo, London. 1810.
BEFORE we opened these volumes, we had a sort of presentiment that the author would begin with Columbus. And accordingly, his book sets off with the following sentence: “It was in the year 1492 that Columbus first undertook his projected discovery of a western hemisphere, and in his passage observed the variation of the compass.” And then Mr. Walton proceeds to tell us, that this discovery was founded on “cosmography, astronomy, and the theory of the antipodes 1’’ All the great booksellers keep beginnings ready for all subjects, with which authors like the present, little habituated to composition, are pleasingly accommodated. These beginnings are furnished from Westmoreland and the Scottish universities by the gross; and used up, as occasion requires, for the introduction of plain narrative, and the embellishment of homely sense. Having fairly landed Columbus, Mr. Walton enters upon his subject; dedicating his first volume to the Vol. v. 2 Z
description of St. Domingo, and his second to that of the Spanish settlements on the main. We will not pay Mr. Walton the compliment of saying, that we should have bestowed any extraordinary portion of time or attention on his book, were the subject less important than it really is; but, in proportion as the prospect becomes more gloomy in the old world, our attention is naturally excited by those little known and immense regions, which are slowly rising into power on the opposite side of the Atlantick. We must look to them for commercial resources; and we may be compelled to look to them for refuge from that tyranny, which is sedulously preparing the destruction of its last and most obstinate victim. Thus situated, we are happy to hear what Mr. Walton has to say upon these subjects. It is not very much, nor very excellent; but we are not in a state of knowledge to reject any contribution of this nature. We are glad to get any books now which relate to New Spain. We shall get better by and by. An oak tree must be first entered by a wedge, before it is fashioned by a chisel, or smoothed by a plane. The French division of Hispaniola contained, in the year 1790, 497,000 souls; which are reduced, by the wars of Rigaud, Toussaint, and the devastation of the French, to about 100,000. General Petion, like a king at chess, holds possessidn of the south side of the island, at the head of the brown colour; a man educated in Europe, of prepossessing manners, and mild disposition. His revenues arise principally from the rents of confiscated estates, though these are not inconsiderably aided by the export and import duties. By means of a general requisition of all males above fourteen years of age, he musters about 9000 men; and has lately increased his population, by collecting the people of colour who left Spanish St. Domingo. After such a draught of the male population, it may easily be imagined, that the harvest is left to be gathered by females; the prude, the coquette, the beldame, the beauty, all set to work; and the whole of one sex reaping, binding, and pulling; while the other is cutting, gashing, and charging. Christophe, the other king in this long contested game, is in possession of the north side, at the head of the black colour; and can bring into the field about 10,000 men. His fleet is also the most numerous, and consists of two corvettes, nine brigs, and a few schooners, commanded by a white admiral. He is now attempting to increase this formidable armament, by purchases in North America. Though Christophe is a ruffian in character, and fond of governing by the scymitar, the Spaniards seem to consider him as the lcast formidable neighbour; and a defensive treaty is said to be in agitation between them. , Kingship being in these times a fashionable profession, and larger
fortunes having been made in that line than in most others, there has recently sprung up a third monarch in St. Domingo; a certain Philiffe Dos, the elevé of Toussaint, late in the employment of Christofthe, but now at war both with Petion and him. Seated among the populous and fertile mountains of Mirbalais, in the centre of the island, and bordering upon the Spanish dominions, he has increased his numbers to more than 6000 persons; and hopes to increase them still more, by the nature of his defensive system; pledging himself never to invade his enemy, but only to call his subjects out when his lines are actually attacked. While the French division of St. Domingo is torn to pieces by the wars of their barbarous and semibarbarous chiefs, the Spanish part remains in the most profound peace and tranquillity.
“To convey an idea of the aspect of this country,” says Mr. Walton, “would rather require the fancy of the poet, or of the painter, than the narrative of the traveller; for, to mix the beautiful with the sublime; to depict shores lined with the mangrove, often bending under adhering oysters; scattered fields of luxuriant cof. fee, bearing flowers to rival the white jessamin, and berries the coral cherry; the cocoa grove; the light coloured came and guinea grass patch, intermixed with the useful plantain, waving bamboo, and cocoa nut; the orange walk, bounded by tufts of palmettoes; wild shrubbery, in perpetual green, confined by the aloes hedge, or shut in by native forests, covered with flowering woodbines of various tints and continual odour, and watered with the gushing rills, that fall in natural cascades from the mountains, crowned with deep, overhanging woods, interspersed with plains and natural meadows, grottoes and abrupt precipices. These diversified, yet harmonizing features of nature, might all equally swell the scene; but bid defiance to the numbers of the one, or the canvass of the other.” I. 82, 83.
Rains in St. Domingo are periodical, as in the other islands. Hurricanes are seldom experienced. The thermometer rises in the plains to $6°; standing at the same time in the mountains at 72°, 6000 feet above the level of the sea. The vegetable productions of St. Domingo are, the mahogany, a tall, straight, beautiful tree, with red flowers, and oval, lemon-sized fruit. When this tree grows in a barren soil, the grain of the wood is beautifully variegated; upon rich ground, it is pale, open, and of little value. The manchineel tree affords, for furniture, slabs interspersed with beautiful green and yellow veins, like marble; but the dust of this wood is of so acrid and poisonous a nature, that the sawyers and carpenters are forced to work with gauze masks, to protect them from its injurious effects. St. Domingo produces fustick, lignumvitae, the bark of whoch the natives use for soap; the capa, impervious to worms; the dwarfpine, used for candles; braziletto wood; the cotton tree, of which beds and hats are made; the cedar; the sandbox tree, the fruit of which explodes with the noise of a pistol; the palm tree, which fattens hogs, and supplies timber houses, hats, and baskets; the palmetto tree, growing seventy feet high, with a cabbage at the top; the dwarf palmetto, the berries of which are used for low spirits; sugar, cotton, coffee, cocoa; the calabash, which supplies the place of Wedgewood’s ware; the plantain, the staff of life in the West Indies; the varilla, quassia, simarouba, sarsaparilla, indigo; tobacco, turmerick, ginger, and rice plants.
“The European, on landing, is struck with the novel and variegated foliage of a tropical hemisphere. The orange, or golden apple of the Hesperides; the shaddock grove, and alcoves covered with the creeping granidillo, in flower and bearing fruit, form, at noon, a delightful shade to enhance the conviviality of a dinner party. The pomegranate, the sweet smelling acacia, the red and white franchipane, equally ornament the prospect, and perfume the air.
“As a matter of curiosity, I cannot but mention, that, in travelling along the road,
the horse sometimes steps on a spreading bed of the sensitive plant, that instantly droops, as does the loaded corn to a gust of wind, with the suddenness of magical influence. The tea plant runs wild, but is only used as an excellent pectoral. The almond shrub has the peculiarity of perfectly affording the taste of that kernel, on mastication; and is used in distilling, to give to cordials its rival flavour. The aloes serve only for fences.” I. 104, 5.
Eight leagues from the capital are the gold mines, known by the name of Buona Ventura. It was here that Garay and Diaz found that wonderful grain of gold, which weighed 3600 pesos, equal to 200 ounces. It was found by an Indian woman, and purchased by governour Bobadilla for the king; but it went down, with the ship that contained it, to the bottom of the sea. To the south are the mines of Giraba, where several persons have enriched themselves without touching a tool. The Maroons, who occupy the hills of the latter place, procure, with the gold they collect, part of their clothing, for they have no other trade. Mr. Walton once purchased a square bottle of grains from them, containing 45 ounces. All these mines have been closed by a royal decree, and men stationed at the mouths of the mines; and all enterprising chrysophilists threatened with the most exemplary punishment. St. Domingo produces also silver, quicksilver, the loadstone, jasper, porphyry, agates, antimony, red ochre, and amethysts. In old times, says Mr. Walton, from Herrera, the mines of La Vega and Buona Ventura produced annually 460,000 merks of gold, besides what was sent away in OrnamentS.
“Even now, after the great successive ravages and pillages the country has undergone, it is not unusual to see a grazier or woodcutter come down from the mountains, with massive buckles, a pound each, two gold watch chains, and perhaps a poor, silver watch to one, a rosary, large, double buttons, hat buckle, &c. which he parades as ornament, and thinks
Is not this picture a little overcharged Upon referring to the reports and tables of the bullion committee, we find that this grazier, who comes skipping down from the mountains with a pound weight on each foot, carries upon his whole body golden ornaments to the value of 130l. or 140l. sterling. And yet we must say, in justice to Mr. Walton, that there are graziers in St. Domingo who own 12,000 head of cattle, which they often sell in herds at six and eight dollars a piece. The graziers on the Spanish Main, whose flocks (and, therefore, probably, whose buckles) are still larger, take great pride in paving their halls with the kneepans of horned cattle, slaughtered from their OWn estates.
In speaking of the marine productions of St. Domingo, Mr. Walton has a curious anecdote of the land crab:
“The land crabs found here are of an immense size, burrow in the sands, and at night issue in great numbers. It is on record amongst the natives, that on the above occasion, in the still of the night, the English landed an ambuscade to surprise the Spanish camp, which, being unprepared, and consisting of irregulars, had it been pushed, must have certainly fallen. The advanced line from the first boats had already formed, and were proceeding to take post behind a copse, when they heard the loud and quick clatter of horses’ feet, and, as they supposed, of the Spanish lancemen, who are dexterous, and whose galling onset they had experienced the day before. Thus believing themselves discovered, and dreading an attack before their comrades had joined, they embarked precipitately, and abandoned their enterprise. But the alarm proved to be these large land crabs, which, at the sound
of footsteps, receded to their holes; and the noise was occasioned by their clattering over the dry leaves, which the English soldiers mistook for the sound of cavalry. In commemorating this defeat, considered highly miraculous, the inhabitants solemnly celebrated la Fiesta de los Congrejos, or the feast of the crabs, held on the anniversary of the day, when an immense solid gold land crab was carried about in procession, equal in size to the head of a drum. This valuable and curious piece of plate, collected principally from the devotion of the people to this feast, and in celebration of their supernatural release, long held an undisturbed place in the sanctuary of the cathedral; but its massive weight was too tempting to the French, when they arrived, who soon took off its hallowed character, by passing it through the crucible.” I. 39, 41.
These animals, we have heard, have also been met with on the coast of Ferrol, and at the Helder Point; and are fatal to commanders unacquainted with this piece of natural history.
Spanish St. Domingo contains at present 103,000 persons, of which 30,000 are slaves; the rest, all colours under heaven. But the European Spaniards are few, and principally Catalans, who come out in search of fortunes. Their largest city, St. Domingo, contains about 20,000 persons. In the cathedral church of this city were buried the remains of Columbus, removed from the Carthusian convent of Seville, together with the chains which were put upon him, and which he wore in his passage home. When the island was ceded to the French, his descendants directed the brass coffin, in which the whole was contained, to be removed to the Havanna; which ceremony was performed on the 19th of January, 1796. The ashes of this great man were carried down to the harbour in procession, and, under the fire of the forts, put on board a brig, which conveyed them to the capital of Cuba, where they now lie, but without a monuIslent.
“I cannot forbear,” says the author, in
speaking of this cathedral, “to notice a peculiarity of Don Pedro de Prado, long a venerable dignitary of this cathedral, the more striking, as, in the habits of intimacy I enjoyed with him, I had an opportunity of remarking it. Unlike the other clergy at the cession of the island, this aged pastor would not leave the flock which God had committed to his early care; though on the main, where he was born, and had all his relations, much greater dignities and preferments were offered him. With a degree of enthusiastick foresight, even in presence of the French commanders, he would continually say, that, though then old, he was confident he should live to see that sacred spot devolve to its ancient and rightful owners; and, on the triumphant entry of the combined armies, though too infirm personally to sing the Te Deum, in congratulating the British general on the capture of the city, he cried out in ecstacy, that he that day saw realized, the prayer he had unceasingly made for twelve years; and in the words of Simeon in the temple, on receiving the Messiah into his arms, he emphatically exclaimed: “Nunc dimittis servum tuum secundum verbum tuum in pace,” &c. that he could then de
part in peace, he had not a wish on this side the grave. It is remarkable that he died a fortnight afterwards, aged 78 years; and, to redress in some measure the cruelties of the French, in which he had been at once a sufferer and an eyewitness, he left what he possessed to his fellow victims in the siege, particularly thirteen houses, the annual rents of which are distributed to the poor in daily sums.” I, 146, 147.
In the Dominican convent of this town, the amiable Las Casas took refuge from the persecution of his enemies, and died.
The French possessed, under the old monarchy, about one fourth part of the island of St. Domingo; inferiour, in natural fertility, to the Spanish possessions in the same island. What the value of the whole settlement would be in the hands of that active, able, and unprincipled people, we may judge from the immense resources which this small portion of it afforded to old France.
Merchandise landed in the various Ports of France, from the Island of Santo Domingo, in the Year 1789.