It was during the administration of Don E.S. de Liñan, governor of the island of Trinidad, that in April of 1749 a remarkable earthquake occurred. I had just entered the town of San José de Oruña, being on my way to pay my respects to Doña Marie Beatrice Bay. My mule Florencia seemed to stumble, while all around there could be heard such a rumble as the road appeared to undulate in a manner not dissimilar to ripples on a pond. I saw the steeple on the church move from side to side, thatch falling from its roof, while a large crack appeared in the adobe walls above the door. Within moments, it was over. Much damage was also done to the Government House. Florencia seemed rooted to the spot, and in her terror, she would not budge.
Permit me to introduce myself. I am Jacques d'Albuquerque, a direct descendant of the great d'Albuquerque who explored the coast of Africa in the days when Christofero Colon was experimenting with transatlantic navigation. Being possessed with the urge to travel, I ventured to this island from my native Lisbon, where, as a member of the nobility, I enjoyed from my childhood the privileges of that rank.
So impoverished are all the inhabitants of La Trinidad, who live in lowly estate in the mountains round San José, that their Cabildo called a special meeting to form a committee to tax the inhabitants in proportion to their means in order to thatch with palm leaf (carata) the Cabildo hall. A census of the inhabitants has been taken, and every free man's name was entered into the books of the Cabildo. It appears by this that there are 162 adult males on the island, out of these only 28 were white. The naturals, called Indians, are not considered inhabitants. No account is taken of the slaves. There are a few of them on the island. From these inhabitants, a revenue of 231 dollars was raised.
The earthquake has brought out the town's inhabitants. The sergeant Manuel Ximines is differing with the priest as to its cause, maintaining that is of natural consequence. The priest is convinced that, like the failure of cocoa crop a few years prior, the accumulated sins of the populace is to blame.
I, myself, am for Doña Beatrice Bay's house, a worthy widow, whose previous husbands practice of medicine I am about to assume. I am pleased that the town council were impressed by my certificates, which they were unable to read , and have appointed me "because he seemed to be a physician". both the Sergeant and the padre halt their heated argument on the vicissitudes of the weather and the merits of the confessional, as she opens her front window for me to climb through.
Her door, as a result of the weather or of the sins no longer opens.
I am here to collect a hammer, chisel and a ten-inch saw belonging to her former husband, in that I am to remove by amputation Señor Lezama's left leg, and as such I must also build a table. The medicinal services on this island are primitive.
Maria Beatrice, as the granddaughter of the last marquis de Soto y Xaraza, has the blood of the conquistador de Berrio. Possessing large tracks of land in the interior of the island. Maria Beatrice came to my attention at the governor's garden party, where she had appeared enlightened as the result of the thousands lightning bugs, or as they call them on this island, candle flies, sewed into the lace appliqués of her gown. There is a sense of levity about the place, absent in other Spanish colonies down the main. I suppose it is because the inquisition never sat in Trinidad.
This I read in a record book of the Illustrious Cabildo, as they call it. Governor Martin Mendoza de la Hoz y Berrio around 1641 refused permission to Padre Dionysio Misland, a French Jesuit, to introduce the inquisition in Trinidad. He had done this mainly because the powers of the colonial governors were circumscribed in colonies in which the inquisition operated.
His reason given was that the English and the Dutch Protestant settlers had little influence over the Caribs in Trinidad, and the inquisition was not needed. He urged Padre Misland to go to Guiana, where the English and Dutch were operating. Such are the origins of nations. I presume events as these shape and dictate the destinies of people yet unborn.
As we sample some of Doña Beatrice's rum, we discuss the consequence of the unborn. Florencia has come to watch us. The following day, I attend a general meeting of the inhabitants in my role as surgeon general. This meeting is to prevent the introduction of the smallpox, then raging on the continent. A "strong guard" is to be posted at the Bocas so as to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the country, as if this has ever worked. Contraband, alive and dead, move in and out of this island with impunity. But then we live in a barbaric age in a frontier environment. It is, after all, 1743. Who knows what the future will bring?
Notwithstanding, this dreadful malady has come to visit this island and is committing terrible ravages amongst the poor Indians—all this despite the vigilance of the strong guard. I have bathed Doña Maria Beatrice in a solution of chamomile, braced with lavender, with a teaspoon of rum. Much to her benefit. It is not clear whether the contagion was imported, wafted here by air, or finally whether it rose spontaneously.
The smallpox has also thinned the monkeys to an astonishing degree. There is to be a petition so as to protect the island, and for other purposes that His Majesty would be pleased to send a guard of fifty men, in addition to the twenty stationed at the Caroni River: further that he should be pleased to pay in coin, the same as in Puerto Rico and at San Domingo, in order that it may circulate amongst the inhabitants. Such is the origin of commerce in these distant islands.
Again, as the number of women greatly exceed that of men, the former might choose husbands amongst the soldiers, whom His Majesty should be please to send, so that the practice of family planning may be commenced among the inhabitants. It is embarrassing to relate, but at this time the Cabildo had but one pair of small clothes between the whole of the members. This petition is signed by J.E. Farfan, Diego Arriesta, Josef M. Farfan and J. Ximenes, members of the Cabildo
It was during a period of digestion that Doña Maria Beatrice and I heard the report of a violent dispute between the Cabildo and the military commander. It appears that the governor had left the island for Cumana without formally announcing his intention to the Cabildo, as by the law required. The military commander wishes to make himself governor. This is opposed by the Cabildo. As much as I have little interest in this, Doña Maria Beatrice, her immediate dependencies and myself repair to live in a rustic manner at her "Palisio" overlooking Las Cuevas.
Upon our return to San José, I hear that a stormy meeting has taken place, at which was debated whether the military commandant, Major Espinoza, or the Alcaldes, Dons J. Lazado and H. Soto, should take command. It was decided that in the absence of the governor, the Alcaldes ought to represent him and therefore had a right not only to the civil but to the military command. The major dissented from this decision and ordered all the inhabitants to assemble at Port of Spain with their arms at the firing of the cannon. I myself enjoy an entirely different point of view with regard to a call to arms. Doña Maria Beatrice and I await the return of the inhabitants of San José. It would appear that the civil authority has carried the day. In fact, the Cabildo seemed to have carried all things with a high hand over the military. The soldiers appeared to have done nothing but smoke cigars. At a further meeting, the members of the Illustrious Cabildo evoking "the laws of the Indies", remonstrated the military commander.
Upon the return to the colony of the governor, they carry their audacity much further. By raising a general outcry against him, they allege that the governor has abused his authority by oppressing and ill-treating them. The little colony was now amusing itself with revolt on a small scale.
As we can all attest, amusement is a most necessary diversion in that it dispels monotony, banishes boredom and fires the imagination. Doña Maria Beatrice and I were disturbed to hear that the inhabitants, whose exasperation has been raised against the governor, have risen upon him and placed him in the Casa Real in Port of Spain. They have put him in chains with two pairs of irons on his feet. Kept two sentinels over him night and day, in order that he might be narrowly watched and at the same time laid an embargo on his property.
Such is the manner that the inhabitants of Trinidad treat their governors. He was to stay in confinement for the next six months.
This revolt, it would appear, was carried on with the full support of the soldiers. The inhabitants in general and the Cabildo in particular have decided that the governor was an "intruder". They first declared him no governor, and then ordered him to be suspended as governor. Doña Maria Beatrice remarked to me during siesta that it was astounding what a group of men who had but one pair of drawers between them could do.
The governor appears to have remained chained and imprisoned until the 4th December, when the viceroy of the new kingdom of Granada sent here Don Felix Espinosa de la Monteros with sufficient force to quell the insurrection. He released the governor, whose health had suffered from his long and severe confinement. He therefore solicited and obtained permission to leave the colony—he has left de la Monteros as his successor.
Dons J. M. Farfan, A. Ramaro and G. Infant were banished for ten years. They went to Havana. A large proportion of the male population have fled the island in order to avoid being prosecuted for their revolt. It has been a bloodless revolt, but one that has affected the economy in that there are now so few men.
The treasury of the island, counted by the proper official, has been found to contain $ 1,216. Yet, strange to say, this year the church at San José was ordered to be thatched and the Cabildo said they had no funds to do it. The way the treasury of this island is managed has always been singular.
The illustrious Cabildo has petitioned the Kind on the worn-out subject of the failure of the cocoa crop and, can you imagine, the scarcity of fish. They should have said, their sheer laziness to take it! They say that the recent troubles have so reduced the population that they pray that His Majesty would be pleased to pardon all those implicated, so that they may return to the bosom of their families.
Doña Maria Beatrice and I enjoy a delicious paella, the recipe for which is as follows: fry some chicken, wild meat and rabbit in some good oil, add thyme and garlic and some carrot and tomato, add some water and bring to a boil. When the broth is nicely cooked, add fish, fish heads and tails, and seafood. Let the broth simmer for a moment and cool overnight. The following day, fry some rice in some good oil, add the broth and the meats, sprinkle with saffron, add some little green peas and pour into a pan. Sprinkle with olive oil and bake in the oven until the rice is golden and tender.
On the 11th April, 1751, many of the late insurgents were allowed to return. The governor de la Monteros has been struck with palsy. The Cabildo has assumed the government. The governor has asked permission to leave the island for Cumana for the benefit of his health. This the contentious Cabildo has refused to grant. A legal battle ensues, where the law of the Indies is both quoted and misquoted. In the end, the governor escapes. The vicar general wrote privately to the Cabildo, requesting permission to deport the island on a visit to the mainland. He was forbidden to do so and a long war against the priests was commenced by way of variety.
The dilapidation and the lack of population in the city of San José de Oruña has forced many of the inhabitants to remove themselves to Port of Spain. The Cabildo is presently amusing itself by preventing Don Gabriel Infanta to leave the island on the grounds of his charitable disposition.
Doña Maria Beatrice has pointed out that for more than 100 years, there never was a Cabildo without one person, at least, of the name of Farfan. Don Pedro de la Moneda, the new governor, has proposed a new government house at Port of Spain, and the filing of the holes and ditches at San José. On this, the inhabitants remonstrated in the most lugubrious manner, stating that they had no time, that they had to mount a guard at the Caroni, there being but ten soldiers on the island. They declared that it would take all the inhabitants one entire year to fill all the holes in San José, that so unsuccessful was the fishing that they were often obliged to go without food for a whole day. They further alleged that the house could not be built because there is but one carpenter in the island. He, upon attempting to leave, was captured and returned. The dispute with the priests continues. The vicar apostolic is once more under fire, because it was recollected that he had been in the island several years without showing his credentials. excommunication and representations, anathema and protests, were banded about for a long time. The church was closed, and the inhabitants kept in a state of disorder, for which they appeared to have had a particular taste.
The Illustrious Cabildo, after receiving a representation of the procurator syndic Farfan that a schoolmaster be appointed to instruct the children of the island at the following rates of remuneration: teaching the alphabet 1/2 real per month, reading 1 real, writing and arithmetic 1 1/2 reals. As such, the marvels of the educated mind is introduced to this island for the first time.
In an effort to put the medieval times behind them, the Illustrious Cabildo has ordered that all the inhabitants of the colony come out of the bush, woods and high forest, where they have been living "au natural" for want of proper clothes and other amenities. They are now required to build houses in San José, live in them and plant gardens near. All this in an attempt to make the city habitable.
The one aspect of these new mandates that is of special interest to both myself and Doña Maria Beatrice is that rum is now forbidden to be made by hand mills. The method being that a hole is made in a tree and a lever is introduced in this hole; the cane is put in and expressed by means of the lever. Of course, the liquor so expressed must undergo a process of fermentation before it could be distiller.
I must now close this correspondence with heartfelt felicitations from Port of Spain, La Trinidad, 1750. Jacques d'Albuquerque.