Maturin Ballou.

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

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The wharf charges on foreign vessels are $1.50 for each 100 tons register.

The light-house duties, officers' fees, etc., vary at the different ports of the island, but are exorbitantly high in all. At Baracoa, for instance, the following is the tariff of exactions:

The actual expenses of discharging a foreign vessel of 160-4/95 tons, which remained a fortnight in the port of Havana, amounted to $900.


During the last year (1842), the imports from the United States were,

Exports to the United States for the same year,

The following table exhibits the exports from the principal towns in 1848:

Universities, Schools, etc.– Besides the Royal University at Havana, there are several other learned institutes, such as the Royal Seminary of San Carlos y San Ambrosio, founded in 1773; a seminary for girls, founded in 1691; a free school for sculpture and painting, which dates from 1818; a free mercantile school, and some private seminaries, to which we have before referred. The Royal Economical Society of Havana, formerly called the Patriotic Society, was established in 1793, and is divided into three principal sections, on education, agriculture, commerce and popular industry; a department of history has been added. Several eminent and talented men have given eclat to this institution.

The Medical School was organized in 1842.

The means of general education are very narrow and inadequate. No report on the state of education in the island has been published since 1836. At that time, there were two hundred and ten schools for white, and thirty-one for colored children. In 1842, the public funds for educational purposes were reduced from thirty-two thousand to eight thousand dollars. Nueva Filipina, in a rich tobacco-growing district, with a population of thirty thousand souls, had but one school for forty pupils, a few years since.

Charitable Institutions, Hospitals, etc.– There are several charitable institutions in Havana, with ample funds and well managed.

Such are the Casa Real de Beneficencia, the Hospital of San Lazaro and the Foundling Hospital, – Casa Real de Maternidad. In other parts of the island, there are eighteen hospitals, located in its chief towns.

Railroads.– The first railroad built in Cuba was that from Havana to Guines, forty-five miles in length, completed and opened in 1839. In 1848, there were two hundred and eighty-five miles of railroads on the island, and the capital invested in them has been computed at between five and six millions of dollars.

Climate.– The diversity of surface gives rise to considerable variation in temperature. On the highest mountain ridges, at four thousand feet above the level of the sea, ice is sometimes formed in mid winter, but snow is unknown.

The mean temperature of the hottest months (July and August) is about 83° Fahrenheit. The coldest months are January and December.


Retrospective thoughts – The bright side and dark side of the picture – Cuban institutions contrasted with our own – Political sentiments of the Creoles – War footing – Loyalty of the colony – Native men of genius – The Cubans not willing slaves – Our own revolution – Apostles of rebellion – Moral of the Lopez expedition – Jealousy of Spain – Honorable position of our government – Spanish aggressions on our flag – Purchase of the island – Distinguished conservative opinion – The end.

It is with infinite reluctance that the temporary sojourner in Cuba leaves her delicious shores, and takes his farewell look at their enchanting features. A brief residence in the island passes like a midsummer night's dream, and it requires a strenuous effort of the mind to arrive at the conviction that the memories one brings away with him are not delusive sports of the imagination. Smiling skies and smiling waters, groves of palm and orange, the bloom of the heliotrope, the jessamine, and the rose, flights of strange and gaudy birds, tropic nights at once luxurious and calm, clouds of fire-flies floating like unsphered stars on the night breeze, graceful figures of dark-eyed se?oritas in diaphanous drapery, picturesque groups of Monteros, relieved by the dusky faces and stalwart forms of the sons of Africa, undulating volantes, military pageants, ecclesiastical processions, frowning fortresses, grim batteries, white sails, fountains raining silver, – all these images mingle together in brilliant and kaleidoscopic combinations, changing and varying as the mind's eye seeks to fix their features. Long after his departure from the enchanting island the traveller beholds these visions in the still watches of the night, and again he listens to the dash of the sea-green waves at the foot of the Moro and the Punta, the roll of the drum and the crash of arms upon the ramparts, and the thrilling strains of music from the military band in the Plaza de Armas. The vexations incident to all travel, and meted out in no stinted measure to the visitor at Cuba, are amply repaid by the spectacles it presents.

" – It is a goodly sight to see
What Heaven hath done for this delicious land!
What fruits of fragrance blush on every tree!
What goodly prospects o'er the hills expand!"

If it were possible to contemplate only the beauties that nature has so prodigally lavished on this Eden of the Gulf, shutting out all that man has done and is still doing to mar the blessings of Heaven, then a visit to or residence in Cuba would present a succession of unalloyed pleasures equal to a poet's dream. But it is impossible, even if it would be desirable, to exclude the dark side of the picture. The American traveller, particularly, keenly alive to the social and political aspects of life, appreciates in full force the evils that challenge his observation at every step, and in every view which he may take. If he contrast the natural scenery with the familiar pictures of home, he cannot help also contrasting the political condition of the people with that of his own country. The existence, almost under the shadow of the flag of the freest institutions the earth ever knew, of a government as purely despotic as that of the autocrat of all the Russias, is a monstrous fact that startles the most indifferent observer. It must be seen to be realized. To go hence to Cuba is not merely passing over a few degrees of latitude in a few days' sail, – it is a step from the nineteenth century back into the dark ages. In the clime of sun and endless summer, we are in the land of starless political darkness. Lying under the lee of a land where every man is a sovereign, is a realm where the lives, liberties, and fortunes of all are held at the tenure of the will of a single individual, and whence not a single murmur of complaint can reach the ear of the nominal ruler more than a thousand leagues away in another hemisphere. In close proximity to a country where the taxes, self-imposed, are so light as to be almost unfelt, is one where each free family pays nearly four hundred dollars per annum for the support of a system of bigoted tyranny, yielding in the aggregate an annual revenue of twenty-five millions of dollars for which they receive no equivalent, – no representation, no utterance, for pen and tongue are alike proscribed, – no honor, no office, no emolument; while their industry is crippled, their intercourse with other nations hampered in every way, their bread literally snatched from their lips, the freedom of education denied, and every generous, liberal aspiration of the human soul stifled in its birth. And this in the nineteenth century, and in North America.

Such are the contrasts, broad and striking, and such the reflections forced upon the mind of the citizen of the United States in Cuba. Do they never occur to the minds of the Creoles? We are told that they are willing slaves. Spain tells us so, and she extols to the world with complacent mendacity the loyalty of her "siempre fielissima isla de Cuba." But why does she have a soldier under arms for every four white adults? We were about to say, white male citizens, but there are no citizens in Cuba. A proportionate military force in this country would give us a standing army of more than a million bayonets, with an annual expenditure, reckoning each soldier to cost only two hundred dollars per annum, of more than two hundred millions of dollars. And this is the peace establishment of Spain in Cuba – for England and France and the United States are all her allies, and she has no longer to fear the roving buccaneers of the Gulf who once made her tremble in her island fastness. For whom then is this enormous warlike preparation? Certainly for no external enemy, – there is none. The question answers itself, – it is for her very loyal subjects, the people of Cuba, that the queen of Spain makes all this warlike show.

It is impossible to conceive of any degree of loyalty that would be proof against the unparalleled burthens and atrocious system by which the mother country has ever loaded and weighed down her western colonists. They must be either more or less than men if they still cherish attachment to a foreign throne under such circumstances. But the fact simply is, the Creoles of Cuba are neither angels nor brutes; they are, it is true, a long-suffering and somewhat indolent people, lacking in a great degree the stern qualities of the Anglo-Saxon and the Anglo-Norman races, but nevertheless intelligent, if wanting culture, and not without those noble aspirations for independence and freedom, destitute of which they would cease to be men, justly forfeiting all claim to our sympathy and consideration. During the brief intervals in which a liberal spirit was manifested towards the colony by the home government, the Cubans gave proof of talent and energy, which, had they been permitted to attain their full development, would have given them a highly honorable name and distinguished character. When the field for genius was comparatively clear, Cuba produced more than one statesman and man of science, who would have done honor to a more favored land.

But these cheering rays of light were soon extinguished, and the fluctuating policy of Spain settled down into the rayless and brutal despotism which has become its normal condition, and a double darkness closed upon the political and intellectual prospects of Cuba. But the people are not, and have not been the supine and idle victims of tyranny which Spain depicts them. The reader, who has indulgently followed us thus far, will remember the several times they have attempted, manacled as they are, to free their limbs from the chains that bind them. It is insulting and idle to say that they might have been free if they had earnestly desired and made the effort for freedom. Who can say what would have been the result of our own struggle for independence, if Great Britain, at the outset, had been as well prepared for resistance as Spain has always been in Cuba? Who can say how long and painful would have been the struggle, if one of the most powerful military nations of Europe had not listened to our despairing appeal, and thrown the weight of her gold and her arms into the scale against our great enemy? When we see how – as we do clearly – in a single night the well-contrived schemes of an adroit and unprincipled knave enslaved a brilliant and warlike people, like the French, who had more than once tasted the fruits of republican glory and liberty, who had borne their free flag in triumph over more than half of Europe, we can understand why the Cubans, overawed from the very outset, by the presence of a force vastly greater in proportion than that which enslaved France, have been unable to achieve their deliverance. Nay, more – when we consider the system pursued by the government of the island, the impossibility of forming assemblages, and of concerting action, the presence of troops and spies everywhere, the compulsory silence of the press – the violation of the sanctity of correspondence, the presence of a slave population, we can only wonder that any effort has been made, any step taken in that fatal pathway of revolution which leads infallibly to the garrote.

If Cuba lies at present under the armed heel of despotism we may be sure that the anguish of her sons is keenly aggravated by their perfect understanding of our own liberal institutions, and an earnest, if fruitless desire to participate in their enjoyment. It is beyond the power of the Spanish government to keep the people of the island in a state of complete darkness, as it seems to desire to do. The young men of Cuba educated at our colleges and schools, the visitors from the United States, and American merchants established on the island, are all so many apostles of republicanism, and propagandists of treason and rebellion. Nor can the captains-general with all their vigilance, exclude what they are pleased to call incendiary newspapers and documents from pretty extensive circulation among the "ever faithful." That liberal ideas and hatred of Spanish despotism are widely entertained among the Cubans is a fact no one who has passed a brief period among them can truthfully deny. The writer of these pages avers, from his personal knowledge, that they await only the means and the opportunity to rise in rebellion against Spain. We are too far distant to see more than the light smoke, but those who have trodden the soil of Cuba have sounded the depths of the volcano. The history of the unfortunate Lopez expedition proves nothing contrary to this. The force under Lopez afforded too weak a nucleus, was too hastily thrown upon the island, too ill prepared, and too untimely attacked, to enable the native patriots to rally round its standard, and thus to second the efforts of the invaders. With no ammunition nor arms to spare, recruits would have only added to the embarrassment of the adventurers. Yet had Lopez been joined by the brave but unfortunate Crittenden, with what arms and ammunition he possessed, had he gained some fastness where he could have been disciplining his command, until further aid arrived, the adventure might have had a very different termination from what we have recorded in an early chapter of this book.

Disastrous as was the result of the Lopez expedition, it nevertheless proved two important facts: first, the bravery of the Cubans, a small company of whom drove the enemy at the point of the bayonet; and, secondly, the inefficiency of Spanish troops when opposed by resolute men. If a large force of picked Spanish troops were decimated and routed in two actions, by a handful of ill-armed and undisciplined men, taken by surprise, we are justified in believing that if an effective force of ten thousand men, comprising the several arms, of cavalry, artillery, and infantry, had been thrown into the island, they would have carried all before them. With such a body of men to rally upon, the Cubans would have risen in the departments of the island, and her best transatlantic jewel would have been torn from the diadem of Spain.

That the Spanish government lives in constant dread of a renewal of the efforts on the part of Americans and exiled Cubans to aid the disaffected people of the island in throwing off its odious yoke, is a notorious fact, and there are evidences in the conduct of its officials towards those of this government that it regards the latter as secretly favoring such illegal action. Yet the steps taken by our government to crush any such attempts have been decided enough to satisfy any but a jealous and unreasonable power. President Fillmore, in his memorable proclamation, said, "Such expeditions can only be regarded as adventures for plunder and robbery," and declaring Americans who engaged in them outlaws, informed them that "they would forfeit their claim to the protection of this government, or any interference in their behalf, no matter to what extremity they might be reduced in consequence of their illegal conduct." In accordance with this declaration, the brave Crittenden and his men were allowed to be shot at Atares, though they were not taken with arms in their hands, had abandoned the expedition, and were seeking to escape from the island.

In a similar spirit the present chief magistrate alluded to our relations with Spain in his inaugural address, in the following explicit terms: —

"Indeed it is not to be disguised that our attitude as a nation, and our position on the globe, render the acquisition of certain possessions, not within our jurisdiction, eminently important, if not, in the future, essential for the preservation of the rights of commerce and the peace of the world. Should they be obtained, it will be through no grasping spirit, but with a view to obvious national interest and security, and in a manner entirely consistent with the strictest observance of national faith."

A recent proclamation, emanating from the same source, and warning our citizens of the consequences of engaging in an invasion of the island, also attests the determination to maintain the integrity of our relations with an allied power.

No candid student of the history of our relations with Spain can fail to be impressed by the frank and honorable attitude of our government, or to contrast its acts with those of the Spanish officials of Cuba. A history of the commercial intercourse of our citizens with the island would be a history of petty and also serious annoyances and grievances to which they have been subjected for a series of years by the Spanish officials, increasing in magnitude as the latter have witnessed the forbearance and magnanimity of our government. Not an American merchant or captain, who has had dealings with Cuba, but could furnish his list of insults and outrages, some in the shape of illegal extortions and delays, others merely gratuitous ebullitions of spite and malice dictated by a hatred of our country and its citizens. Of late instances of outrage so flagrant have occurred, that the executive has felt bound to call the attention of Congress to them in a message, in which he points out the great evil which lies at the bottom, and also the remedy.

"The offending party," he says, "is at our doors with large power for aggression, but none, it is alleged, for reparation. The source of redress is in another hemisphere; and the answers to our just complaints, made to the home government, are but the repetition of excuses rendered by inferior officials to the superiors, in reply to the representations of misconduct. In giving extraordinary power to them, she owes it to justice, and to her friendly relations to this government, to guard with great vigilance against the exorbitant exercise of these powers, and in case of injuries to provide for prompt redress."

It is very clear that if, in such cases as the seizure of a vessel and her cargo by the port officers at Havana, for an alleged violation of revenue laws, or even port usages, redress, in case of official misconduct, can only be had by reference to the home government in another part of the world, our trade with Cuba will be completely paralyzed. The delay and difficulty in obtaining such redress has already, in too many cases, prompted extortion on the one hand, and acquiescence to injustice on the other. The experience of the last four years alone will fully sustain the truth of this assertion.

In 1851 two American vessels were seized off Yucatan by the Spanish authorities on suspicion of being engaged in the Lopez expedition; in the same year the steamship Falcon was wantonly fired upon by a Spanish government vessel; in 1852 the American mail bags were forcibly opened and their contents examined by order of the captain-general; and less than two years ago, as is well known, the Crescent City was not allowed to land her passengers and mails, simply because the purser, Smith, was obnoxious to the government of the island. The Black Warrior, fired into on one voyage, was seized lately for a violation of a custom house form – an affair not yet, it is believed, settled with the Spanish government. More than once, on specious pretexts, have American sailors been taken from American vessels and thrown into Spanish prisons. In short, the insults offered by Spanish officials to our flag have so multiplied of late that the popular indignation in the country has reached an alarming height.

It is difficult for a republic and a despotism, situated like the United States and Cuba, to live on neighborly terms; and to control the indignation of the citizens of the former, proud and high spirited, conscious of giving no offence, and yet subjected to repeated insults, is a task almost too great for the most adroit and pacific administration. When we add to this feeling among our people a consciousness that Cuba, the source of all this trouble, is in unwilling vassalage to Spain, and longing for annexation to the United States, that under our flag the prosperity of her people would be secured, a vast addition made to our commercial resources, an invaluable safeguard given to our southern frontier, and the key to the Mississippi and the great west made secure forever, we can no longer wonder at the spread of the conviction that Cuba should belong to this country, and this too as soon as can be honorably brought about. Had she possessed more foresight and less pride, Spain would have long since sold the island to the United States, and thereby have relieved herself of a weighty care and a most dangerous property.

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