Maturin Ballou.

History of Cuba: or, Notes of a Traveller in the Tropics

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At the same time the Spanish authorities have, while thus increasing the numbers of savage Africans reduced to a state of slavery, constantly endeavored to weaken the bonds of attachment between master and slave, and to ferment the unnatural hatred of races with the fearful design of preparing another St. Domingo for the Cubans, should they dare to strike a strenuous blow for freedom.

We have thus seen that the Spanish crown is directly responsible for the introduction of slavery into Cuba, and that crown officers, invested with more than vice-regal authority, have sanctioned, up to this day, the accumulation and the aggravation of the evil. It is now clearly evident that the slave-trade will continue so long as the island of Cuba remains under the Spanish flag. The British government have remonstrated again and again with Spain, against this long-continued infraction of treaties; but the dogged obstinacy of the Spanish character has been proof against remonstrance and menace. She merits the loss of Cuba for her persistent treachery and perfidy, leaving out of the account a long list of foul wrongs practised upon the colony, the enormous burthen of taxes placed upon it, and the unequalled rigor of its rule. The time has come when the progress of civilization demands that the island shall pass into the hands of some power possessed of the ability and the will to crush out this remnant of barbarism. That power is clearly designated by the hand of Providence. No European nation can dream of obtaining Cuba; no administration in this country could stand up for one moment against the overwhelming indignation of the people, should it be weak enough to acquiesce in the transfer of Cuba to any European power. The island must be Spanish or American. Had it been the property of a first-rate power, of any other European sovereignty but Spain, it would long since have been a cause of war. It is only the imbecile weakness of Spain that has thus far protected her against the consequences of a continuous course of perfidy, tyranny and outrage. But the impunity of the feeble and the forbearance of the strong have their limits; and nations, like individuals, are amenable to the laws of retributive justice.

The present condition of Spain is a striking illustration of the mutability of fortune, from which states, no more than individuals, are exempted. We read of such changes in the destinies of ancient empires, – the decadence of Egypt, the fall of Assyria, and Babylon, and Byzantium, and Rome; but their glory and fall were both so far distant in the recess of time, that their history seems, to all of us who have not travelled and inspected the monuments which attest the truth of these events, a sort of romance: whereas, in the case of Spain, we realize its greatness, and behold its fall! One reason why we feel so deep an interest in the fate of the Castilian power, is that the history of Spain is so closely interwoven with that of our own country, – discovered and colonized as it was under the auspices of the Spanish government.

We owe our very existence to Spain, and from the close of the fifteenth century our histories have run on in parallel lines. But while America has gone on increasing in the scale of destiny, in grandeur, power and wealth, poor Spain has sunk in the scale of destiny, with a rapidity of decadence no less astonishing than the speed of our own progress. The discovery of America, as before alluded to, seemed to open to Spain a boundless source of wealth and splendid power; triumphs awaited her arms in both North and South America. Cortes in Mexico and Pizarro in Peru added vast territory and millions of treasure to the national wealth. But we have seen how sure is retribution. One by one those ill-gotten possessions have escaped the grasp of the mother country; and now, in her old age, poor, and enfeebled, and worn out, she clings, with the death-gripe of a plundered and expiring miser, to her last earthly possession in the New World.

Moved in some degree by the same spirit that actuates the home government, the Cubans have heretofore viewed anything that looked like an attempt at improvement with a suspicious eye; they have learned to fear innovation; but this trait is yielding, as seen in the introduction of railroads, telegraphs, and even the lighting of the city of Havana by gas, – all done by Americans, who had first to contend with great opposition, and to run imminent risks and lavish energy and money; but when these things are once in the course of successful experiment, none are more ready than the Cubans to approve. This same characteristic, a clinging to the past and a fear of advancement, seems to have imparted itself to the very scenery of the island, for everything here appears to be of centuries in age, reminding one of the idea he has formed of the hallowed East. The style of the buildings is not dissimilar to that which is found throughout the Orient, and the trees and vegetable products increase the resemblance. Particularly in approaching Havana from the interior, the view of the city resembles almost precisely the Scriptural picture of Jerusalem. The tall, majestic palms, with their tufted tops, the graceful cocoanut tree, and many other peculiarities, give to the scenery of Cuba an Eastern aspect, very impressive to the stranger. It is impossible to describe to one who has not visited the tropics, the bright vividness with which each object, artificial or natural, house or tree, stands out in the clear liquid light, where there is no haze nor smoke to interrupt the view. Indeed, it is impossible to express fully how everything differs in Cuba from our own country, so near at hand. The language, the people, the climate, the manners and customs, the architecture, the foliage, the flowers and general products, all and each afford broad contrasts to what the American has ever seen at home. But a long cannon-shot, as it were, off our southern coast, yet once upon its soil, the visitor seems to have been transported into another quarter of the globe, the first impression being, as we have said, decidedly of an Oriental character. But little effort of the imagination would be required to believe oneself in distant Syria, or some remote part of Asia.

But let us recur for one moment to the subject of the slaves from which we have unwittingly digressed. On the plantations the slaves have some rude musical instruments, which they manufacture themselves, and which emit a dull monotonous sound, to the cadence of which they sit by moonlight and sing or chant, for hours together. One of these instruments is a rude drum to the beating of which they perform grotesque dances, with unwearying feet, really surprising the looker-on by their power of endurance in sustaining themselves in vigorous dancing. Generally, or as is often the case, a part of Saturday of each week is granted to the slaves, when they may frequently be seen engaged at ball, playing a curious game after their own fashion. This time of holiday many prefer to pass in working upon their own allotted piece of ground and in raising favorite vegetables and fruits, or corn for the fattening of the pig hard by, and for which the drovers, who regularly visit the plantations for the purpose, will pay them in good golden doubloons. It is thought that the city slave has a less arduous task than those in the country, for he is little exposed to the sun, and is allowed many privileges, such for instance as attending church, and in this the negroes seem to take particular delight, especially if well dressed. A few gaudy ribbons, and nice glass beads of high color are vastly prized by both sexes of the slaves in town and country. In the cities some mistresses take pleasure in decking out their immediate male and female attendants in fine style with gold ornaments in profusion. There was one beautiful sight the writer particularly noticed in the church of Santa Clara, viz: that before the altar all distinction was dropped, and the negro knelt beside the Don.

The virgin soil of Cuba is so rich that a touch of the hoe prepares it for the plant, or, as Douglass Jerrold says of Australia, "just tickle her with a hoe and she laughs with a harvest." So fertile a soil is not known to exist in any other portion of the globe. It sometimes produces three crops to the year, and in ordinary seasons two may be relied upon, – the consequence is that the Monteros have little more to do than merely to gather the produce they daily carry to market, and which also forms so large a portion of their own healthful and palatable food. The profusion of its flora and the variety of its forests are unsurpassed, while the multitude of its climbing shrubs gives a luxuriant richness to its scenery, which contributes to make it one of the most fascinating countries in the world. Nowhere are the necessities of life so easily supplied, or man so delicately nurtured.

The richest soil of the island is the black, which is best adapted to the purpose of the sugar-planter, and for this purpose it is usually chosen. So productive is this description of land that the extensive sugar plantations, once fairly started, will run for years, without the soil being even turned, new cane starting up from the old roots, year after year, with abundant crops. This is a singular fact to us who are accustomed to see so much of artificial means expended upon the soil to enable it to bear even an ordinary crop to the husbandman. The red soil is less rich, and is better adapted to the planting of coffee, being generally preferred for this purpose, while the mulatto-colored earth is considered inferior, but still is very productive and is improved by the Monteros for planting tobacco, being first prepared with a mixture of the other two descriptions of soil which together form the richest compost, next to guano, known in agriculture.

Coal is fortunately found on the island, of a bituminous nature; had this not been the case, the numerous steam engines which are now at work on the plantations would have soon consumed every vestige of wood on the island, though by proper economy the planter can save much by burning the refuse cane. The soil is also rich in mineral wealth, particularly in copper, iron and loadstone. Gold and silver mines have been opened, and in former times were worked extensively, but are now entirely abandoned. The copper mines near Sagua la Grande in 1841 yielded about four millions of dollars, but the exactions of the government were such that they greatly reduced the yield of the ore. An export duty of five per cent. was at first imposed upon the article: finally the exportation was prohibited altogether, unless shipped to old Spain, with a view of compelling the owners to smelt it in that country. These arbitrary measures soon reduced the profit of the business, and the working of the mines from producing in 1841 four millions, to about two by 1845, and finally they were abandoned.

And now is it to be wondered at that the Creoles should groan under the load of oppressions forced upon them as depicted in the foregoing pages? No! On the contrary we feel that they are too forbearing, and look to the enervating influence of their clime as an excuse for their supineness under such gross wrongs. Their lovely climate and beautiful land are made gloomy by the persecutions of their oppressors; their exuberant soil groans with the burthens that are heaped upon it. They are not safe from prying inquiry at bed or board, and their every action is observed, their slightest words noted. They can sing no song not in praise of royalty, and even to hum an air wedded to republican verse is to provoke suspicion and perhaps arrest. The press is muzzled by the iron hand of power, and speaks only in adulation of a distant queen and a corrupt court. Foreign soldiers fatten upon the people, eating out their substance, and every village near the coast of the island is a garrison, every interior town is environed with bayonets!

A vast deal has been said about the impregnable harbor of Havana, the "Gibraltar of America" being its common designation, but modern military science acknowledges no place to be impregnable. A thousand chances might happen which would give the place to an invading force; besides which it has been already twice taken; and though it may be said that on these occasions it was not nearly so well garrisoned as now, neither so well armed or manned, the reply is also ready that it has never been besieged by such a force as could now be brought against it, to say nothing of the vast advantage afforded by the modern facilities for destruction.5353
  "It is as well secured as it probably could be against an attack from the harbor, but could still be assailed with effect in the same way in which the French succeeded against Algiers, by landing a sufficient force in the rear." —Alexander H. Everett.

Were not the inaccessible heights of Abraham scaled in a night? and how easily the impregnable fortress of San Juan de Ulloa fell! Havana could be attacked from the land side and easily taken by a resolute enemy. With the exception of this one fortress, the Moro, and the fort in its rear, the Cabensas, the island is very poorly defended, and is accessible to an invading force in almost any direction, either on the east, west, or south coast. Matanzas, but sixty miles from Havana, could be taken by a small force from the land side, and serve as a depot from whence to operate, should a systematic effort be organized. Cuba's boasted strength is chimerical.

Steam and the telegraph are revolutionizing all business relations and the course of trade. A line of steamers, one of the best in the world, runs between New York and Havana, also New Orleans and Havana. By this means all important intelligence reaches Cuba in advance of any other source, and through this country. By the telegraph, Havana is brought within three days' communication with New York and Boston. All important advices must continue to reach the island through the United States, and the people must still look to this country for political and commercial information, and to the movement of our markets for the regulation of their own trade and commerce. New Orleans has become the great centre to which their interests will naturally tend; and thus we see another strong tie of common interest established between the island of Cuba and the United States.

Naturally belonging to this country by every rule that can be applied, the writer believes that Cuba will ere long be politically ours. As the wise and good rejoice in the extension of civilization, refinement, the power of religion and high-toned morality, they will look forward hopefully to such an event. Once a part of this great confederacy, Cuba would immediately catch the national spirit and genius of our institutions, and the old Castilian state of dormancy would give way to Yankee enterprise, her length and breadth would be made to smile like a New England landscape Her sons and daughters would be fully awakened to a true sense of their own responsibility, intelligence would be sown broadcast, and the wealth of wisdom would shine among the cottages of the poor.

In the place of the rolling drum and piercing fife, would be heard the clink of the hammer and the merry laugh of untrammelled spirits. The bayonets that bristle now on every hill-side would give place to waving corn, and bright fields of grain. The honest Montero would lay aside his Toledo blade and pistol holsters, and the citizen who went abroad after sunset would go unarmed. Modern churches, dedicated to pure Christianity, would raise their lofty spires and point towards heaven beside those ancient and time-eaten cathedrals. The barrack rooms and guard stations, in every street, town or village, would be transformed into school-houses, and the trade winds of the tropics would sweep over a new Republic!


Area of Cuba – Extent of cultivated and uncultivated lands – Population – Proportion between the sexes – Ratio of legitimate to illegitimate births – Ratio between births and deaths – Agricultural statistics – Commerce and commercial regulations – Custom-house and port charges – Exports and imports – Trade with the United States – Universities and schools – Education – Charitable institutions – Railroads – Temperature.

In addition to the statistical information incidentally contained in the preceding pages, we have prepared the following tables and statements from authentic sources, giving a general view of the resources, population, wealth, products and commerce, etc., of the island, with other items of interest and importance.

Area of Cuba.– Humboldt states the area of the island to be 43,380 geographical square miles. Mr. Turnbull puts it at 31,468, and, adding the areas of its dependencies, namely, the Isle of Pines, Turignano, Romano, Guajaba, Coco, Cruz, Paredon Grande, Barril, De Puerto, Eusenachos, Frances, Largo, and other smaller islands, makes the total 32,807 square miles.

Slaves, 183,290 males, and 103,652 females, = 286,942. Total colored, 393,436. Excess of colored over white population, 82,305.

Proportions between the sexes.– In 1774 the white males formed 58 per cent., and the females 42 per cent., of the population; free colored, males, 52, females, 48; male slaves, 65, females, 35. Total, males, 58 per cent., females, 42.

In Paris, the ratio is 54.5 per cent. males, to 45.5 females; in England, 50.3 per cent. males, and 49.7 per cent. females, and in the United States, 51 per cent. males, and 49 per cent. females.

The ratio of legitimate to illegitimate births, deduced from the observations of five years, is as follows:

2.1136 to 1 among the whites;
0.5058 to 1 among the colored;
1.0216 to 1 in the total.

That is to say, establishing the comparison per centum, as in the proportion of the sexes, we have:

No capital or people of Europe, Stockholm alone excepted, offers so startling a result, nearly one half the number of births being illegitimate.

Taking the average from the statements of births for five years, we find that in every 100 legitimate whites there are 51.1 males, and 48.9 females; and in an equal number of illegitimate, 49 males, and 51 females. Among people of color, in 100 legitimate births, 50.6 males, and 49.4 females; and in the illegitimate, 47.2 males, and 52.8 females. And finally, that, comparing the totals, we obtain in the legitimate, 51.6 males, and 48.4 females; and in the illegitimate, 47.1 males, and 52.9 females. Consequently these observations show that in Cuba, in the illegitimate births, the number of males is much less than that of females, and the contrary in the legitimate births.

Ratio between the Births and Deaths for five years.

Agriculture.– The total number of acres comprising the whole territory is 14,993,024. Of these, in 1830, there were used

Leaving over 13,000,000 of acres uncultivated. Some of these uncultivated lands are appropriated to grazing, others to settlements and towns; the remainder occupied by mountains, roads, coasts, rivers and lakes, – the greater part, however, wild.

The different products of cultivation were valued as follows:




Import duties.– The rate of duty charged on the importation of foreign produce and manufactures in foreign bottoms is 24? and 30? on the tariff valuation of each article, while the same articles in Spanish bottoms, from a foreign port, pay 17? and 21? per cent.

Export duties.– Foreign flag for any port, 6? per cent. on tariff valuation.

Spanish flag for a foreign port, 4? per cent. on tariff valuation.

Spanish flag for Spanish port, 2? per cent. on tariff valuation; except leaf tobacco, which pays 12?, 6? and 2? per cent., according to the flag and destination.

An additional per centage, under various pretexts, is also levied on the total amount of all duties.

Foreign flour is subject to a duty that is nearly prohibitory.

Gold and silver are free of import duty, but pay, the former 1? and the latter 2? per cent., export.

Every master of a vessel, on entering port, is obliged to present two manifests of his cargo and stores, – one to the boarding officers, and the other at the time of making entry and taking both the oaths, twenty-four hours after his arrival, with permission of making any necessary corrections within the twelve working hours; and every consignee is required to deliver a detailed invoice of each cargo to his, her or their consignment, within forty-eight hours after the vessel has entered port, and heavy penalties are incurred from mere omission or inaccuracy.

The tonnage duty on foreign vessels is 12 rials, or $1.50, per register ton.

On vessels arriving and departing in ballast or putting in in distress no duty is levied.

Besides the tonnage duty, every foreign square-rigged vessel entering and loading incurs about $85 expenses, besides $5.50 for each day occupied in discharging. Foreign fore-and-aft vessels pay about $15 less port charges.

The tonnage duties and port charges are very high. Foreign vessels pay $8.50 per ton. In the port of Havana an additional duty of 21-7/8 cents per ton is levied on all vessels for the support of the dredging machine.

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