Most of Spanish America achieved independence in the early 1800s.The movements for independence sparked several debates in Europe, including the one between Abbé de Pradt, a diehard French royalist, and the Spaniard Santiago Jonama who disguised himself as “An Indian of South America” so that he could play both sides against one another, but he too was a royalist and, therefore, no friend of the insurgents.

Argentina was the first colony to achieve de facto independence, beginning with the assumption of the reigns of government by the town council of Buenos Aires in May 1810. Northern South America had a much harder time of it, however, and campaign conditions were anything but pleasant as recounted by the young Englishmen and officer in Bolívar’s army, Captain C. Brown in his 1819 Narrative of the expedition to South America. The War of Independence in Mexico was also long and hard fought until Spain’s last viceroy Juan O’Donojú realized the mother country’s cause was lost and capitulated to Iturbide in August 1821.

Despite her losses in North America, Great Britain had no difficulty retaining its holdings in the Caribbean. Bryan Edwards, a staunch supporter of the slave trade, argued that this was because the English treated their Negroes well. The British also established footholds in Guiana and Belize. Displayed here is the 1826 almanac of British Honduras, printed on what was probably Belize’s first printing press.

Achieving an easy crossing of the Isthmus of Panama was an international venture from the beginning. Although the project sponsored by Bolívar to realize a combination canal and rail crossing came to naught, the plans produced by the British engineer commissioned to determine the most feasible way to cross Panama provide an accurate depiction of the topography of the Isthmus.

 

 
 

L’ABBÉ DE PRADT: SPIN DOCTOR

Pradt, M. de. Dominique Georges Frédéric, 1759-1837. Examen du plan présenté aux Cortès pour la reconnaissance de l’indépendance de l’Amérique Espagnole. (Paris, 1822). [B07-76]

The Abbé de Pradt was a diehard royalist and a consummate spin doctor. His Examen du plan is not an examination but a rebuttal of the proposal before the Cortes or Parliament of Spain to recognize the independence of the Spanish American colonies, already achieved but not yet recognized by the mother country in the cases of Mexico, Central America, Gran Colombia, Chile, and Argentina (then the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata). Although Pradt opposed the French Revolution and the Napoleonic takeover of Spain as well as the Spanish American Revolution, he was so personable that he survived all of the turmoil in France and managed to amass a considerable fortune in the meantime.

 

“UN INDIGÈNE DE L’AMÉRIQUE DU SUD” VS. L’ABBÉ DE PRADT

Jonama, Santiago (1780–1823). Cartas al Sr. Abate de Pradt, por un indigena de la América del Sur. (Madrid, 1829). [B07-348]

This Spanish version of Lettres à M. l’abbé de Pradt, (Paris, 1818) nominally refutes Pradt’s Des colonies et de la révolution actuelle de l’Amérique (Paris, 1817). Pradt (1759-1837) was a French cleric, an ultraconservative, and a royalist, who opposed the revolutions in Spanish America. Upon close examination it becomes clear that the author, Santiago Jonama, a Spanish writer, lexicographer, diplomat, and journalist, also favored retention of the colonies by the mother country. Furthermore, he hoped to be able to dissuade Spanish Americans to change their errant course. Jonama assumed the identity of “a native of South America” so that he could deny any involvement with the movements for independence in Spanish America should the political climate change in Spain, which it did several times during those heady years. His Cartas al Sr. Abate de Pradt went through four contemporary editions, the first in French, and the other three in Spanish (Caracas, 1819; Madrid, 1820 and 1829). Somewhat of a classic, it has been reprised in a modern critical edition (Madrid, 1992).

 

IN GLORIOUS SERVITUDE

Brown, C. Narrative of the expedition to South America, which sailed from England at the close of 1817, for the service of the Spanish Patriots. (London, 1819). [B07-71]

C. Brown was a young English officer and gentleman who briefly served in South America, where he switched sides to fight for the “Independents” without ever having taken up service with “the Spanish Patriots.” Brown soon became disillusioned with just about everything and everybody in Bolivar’s nascent Gran Colombia and returned home shortly thereafter. In this account the “late Captain of the Venezuelan Brigade of Light Artillery” endeavored to persuade his readers not to even think about going to South America, a land fraught with dangers, including man-eating tigers and crocodiles.

New Spain
 

THE END OF MEXICO’S WAR FOR INDEPENDENCE

New Spain. Viceroy (1821 : O’Donojú). Oficio del excelentísimo señor don Juan O-Donojú, dirigido al Sr. gobernador de la plaza de Veracruz. ([México, 1821]). [B07-563]

Juan O’Donojú (1762-1821) was New Spain’s sixty-third and last viceroy. Upon arriving in Veracruz on 3 Aug. 1821, the new viceroy found that most of Mexico was in Agustín de Iturbide’s hands. A pragmatist and a Liberal, O’Donojú realized that Spain’s cause was lost. Therefore, he signed the Treaty of Córdoba with Iturbide on 27 Aug. 1821, as communicated in this “oficio” to the Spanish governor of Veracruz, announcing the cessation of hostilities between Old and New Spain, thus bringing Mexico’s War of Independence to an end. O’Donojú remained in office just long enough to enter Mexico City one month later (on 26 Sept.) in order to oust Francisco Novella, who had usurped the viceregency, and to deliver the capital to Iturbide the following day. Iturbide rewarded O’Donojú by making him a member of the new government, but the last viceroy of New Spain did not live long enough to enjoy the benefits of his new position.

Cabildo
 

ARGENTINA’S QUASI-DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

Buenos Aires (Argentina). Cabildo. [Bando (1810 May 23)]. En la muy noble y muy leal ciudad de la Santisima Trinidad Puerto de Santa Maria de Buenos-Ayres á veinte y tres de mayo de mil ochocientos diez. ([Buenos Aires, 1810]). [B07-676]

This edict communicated the decision of the General Assembly of 22 May 1810 to depose the Viceroy of the Río de la Plata, Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros, and to reestablish government in the hands of the Cabildo or Town Council of Buenos Aires until such time as a junta could be formed “to govern in the name of Ferdinand VII.” The Rio de la Plata, however, never returned to its status as a colony even though it did not formally declare independence from Spain until 1816. This document, therefore, constitutes Argentina’s quasi-declaration of independence and the beginning of Argentine self-rule.

Spain
 

A PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN PUERTO RICAN IMPRINT

Spain. [Reglamento del Consejo de Regencia (1813)]. La Regencia del Reyno se ha servido dirigirme el decreto que sigue. ([Puerto Rico, 1813]). [B07-643]

Here are the 1813 Rules governing the Council of Regency, created in 1810 to replace the Junta Suprema Central y Gubernativa del Reino. The Consejo de Regencia governed Spain and its colonies until Ferdinand VII was restored in 1814. It was one of the first items published by the recently established press in Puerto Rico.

Bryan Edwards
 

REALISM OR PROPAGANDA: SLAVES AT PLAY

Edwards, Bryan. List of maps and plates for the history, civil, and commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies, in two volumes. (London, 1794). [B07-171]

Bryan Edwards (1743–1800) was an English politician and historian. His history of the British colonies in the West Indies is based on many years of residence in Jamaica, where he owned plantations. The JCB holds the original edition of Edwards’s History (London, 1793), and the third edition, The history, civil and commercial, of the British colonies in the West Indies (London, 1801) in three volumes. The added volume corresponds to his previously published Historical survey of the French colony in the Island of St Domingo (London, 1797). The “Negro festival drawn from nature” and other idyllic scenes that illustrate Edwards’s work should be interpreted as hyperbole inasmuch as he was a staunch supporter of the slave trade and maintained that slaves were happier and better off than in their “natural state,” when properly treated.

Belize almanac
 

FIRST KNOWN ALMANAC OF BELIZE

The [British] Honduras almanack, for the year of Our Lord 1826, being the second after bissextile or leap year. (Belize, 1826). [B07-452]

This, the first known almanac of Belize, includes a brief account of the history, commerce, and administration of this former British colony, a directory of its civil and military authorities, commercial houses, sworn measurers, and surveyors, sailing “directions for making the coast of Honduras and the harbour of Belize,” rates of pilotage, and a schedule of taxes, customs duties, and other sources of revenues of “the British settlement at Honduras.” One of the earliest imprints of Belize, printing having been introduced to British Honduras only four years before in 1822.

Panama Canal
 

CROSSING THE ISTHMUS OF PANAMA THE EASY WAY

Lloyd, John Augustus. Account of levellings carried across the Isthmus of Panamá, to ascertain the relative height of the Pacific Ocean at Panamá and of the Atlantic at the mouth of the river Chagres. ([London, 1830]). [B07-606]

The Liberator Simón Bolívar was a visionary in more ways than one. Realizing that a rapid, safe, and comfortable means of crossing the Isthmus of Panama would promote trade between Gran Colombia and Europe, and perhaps also promote immigration from Europe, Bolívar commissioned the British engineer John Augustus Lloyd to conduct a feasibility study for the construction of a railroad from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Lloyd proposed digging a canal from the Bay of Limón on the Atlantic side of the isthmus to the Río Chagres and the establishment of a steam launch shuttle upriver as far as the intersection with the Río Trinidad, and from there to the Pacific a rail line, either to Panama City or the Pacific Ocean. He personally surveyed both routes between 1828 and 1829. Whether anything would have come of Lloyd’s proposal had Bolívar not died in 1830 is moot, but at least Lloyd left an accurately drawn to scale cross-section of the Isthmus of Panama, together with a plan of the city. Safe transit of the isthmus would have to wait until the early twentieth century when the present-day Panama Canal was dug. Meanwhile travel between Portobello and Panama City continued to be as tedious and fraught with danger as attested by travel accounts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Suriname
 

FRENCH GUIANA, SURINAME, AND SAINT DOMINIQUE IN THE 1770s

Malouet, Pierre-Victor. Collection de mémoires et correspondances officielles sur l’administration des colonies, et notamment sur la Guiane française et hollandaise. (Paris, 1802). 5 vols. [B07-52]

This set constitutes an exceptionally rich collection of documents on virtually every aspect of life and administration in France’s Caribbean colonies and Suriname, especially during the 1770s. Baron Malouet (1740-1814) had been an “administrateur des Colonies et de la Marine.” Volumes 1–3 contain contemporary plans for colonizing French Guiana, Malouet’s reports and correspondence regarding his service in Cayenne, and an account of his trip to Suriname. Volume 4 surveys the society, institutions, commerce, defenses, administration, finances, and religion of Saint Dominique with proposals for reforms submitted by Malouet in 1775. Volume 5 is a treatise on slavery in which the Baron justifies the slave trade but pleads for more humane treatment of slaves.

Jean Noyer
 

AN EXCEPTIONALLY RARE ACCOUNT OF FRENCH GUIANA AND SURINAME

Noyer, Jean Antoine-Alexandre. Mémoire sur la Guyane Française. (Cayenne, 1824). [B07-265]

This is a scarce account of the natural history, geography, peoples, history, and politics of what are now French Guiana and Suriname in the early 1800s. It is known to be held by only one other library, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

Venezuela
 

VENEZUELA ON THE EVE OF INDEPENDENCE

Pons, François Joseph de. Voyage à la partie orientale de la Terre-Ferme, dans l’Amérique Méridionale fait pendant les années 1801, 1802, 1803 et 1804. (Paris, 1806). 3 vols. [B07-47]

This is a comprehensive account of the economy, polity, and society of Venezuela on the eve of its War of Independence by a distinguished French attorney and historian, who was posted to Caracas between 1801 and 1804, as an agent of the French government. It is one of the most extensive early nineteenth-century descriptions of any of the Spanish American colonies. Pon’s Voyage was recognized immediately as an invaluable source, among other reaons for its detailed maps. It appeared in two separate English versions within two years of its original publication. The New York edition was partially translated by Washington Irving. The London edition is an abridgement.

    Exhibition prepared by Michael T. Hamerly.
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