Cruising With The Privateers In The North Seas On The West India Coastby William Dampier
The privateer on board which we went being now cleaned, and our Indian guides thus satisfied and set ashore, we set sail in two days for Springer’s Key, another of the Samballoes Isles, and about 7 or 8 leagues from La Sound’s Key. Here lay 8 sail of privateers more, namely:
English commanders and Englishmen: Captain Coxon, 10 guns, 100 men. Captain Payne, 10 guns, 100 men. Captain Wright, a barcolongo. 4 guns, 40 men. Captain Williams, a small barcolongo.
Captain Yankes, a barcolongo, 4 guns, about 60 men, English, Dutch and French; himself a Dutchman.
French Commanders and men: Captain Archemboe, 8 guns, 40 men. Captain Tucker, 6 guns, 70 men. Captain Rose, a barcolongo.
An hour before we came to the fleet Captain Wright, who had been sent to Chagra River, arrived at Springer’s Key with a large canoe or periago laden with flour, which he took there. Some of the prisoners belonging to the periago came from Panama not above six days before he took her, and told the news of our coming overland, and likewise related the condition and strength of Panama, which was the main thing they enquired after; for Captain Wright was sent thither purposely to get a prisoner that was able to inform them of the strength of that city, because these privateers designed to join all their force, and, by the assistance of the Indians (who had promised to be their guides) to march overland to Panama; and there is no other way of getting prisoners for that purpose but by absconding between Chagra and Portobello, because there are much goods brought that way from Panama; especially when the armada lies at Portobello. All the commanders were aboard of Captain Wright when we came into the fleet; and were mighty inquisitive of the prisoners to know the truth of what they related concerning us. But as soon as they knew we were come they immediately came aboard of Captain Tristian, being all overjoyed to see us; for Captain Coxon and many others had left us in the South Seas about 12 months since, and had never heard what became of us since that time. They enquired of us what we did there? how we lived? how far we had been? and what discoveries we made in those seas? After we had answered these general questions they began to be more particular in examining us concerning our passage through the country from the South Seas. We related the whole matter; giving them an account of the fatigues of our march, and the inconveniencies we suffered by the rains; and disheartened them quite from that design.
Then they proposed several other places where such a party of men as were now got together might make a voyage; but the objections of some or other still hindered any proceeding: for the privateers have an account of most towns within 20 leagues of the sea, on all the coast from Trinidad down to La Vera Cruz; and are able to give a near guess of the strength and riches of them: for they make it their business to examine all prisoners that fall into their hands concerning the country, town, or city that they belong to; whether born there, or how long they have known it? how many families, whether most Spaniards? or whether the major part are not copper-coloured, as Mulattoes, Mestizos, or Indians? whether rich, and what their riches do consist in? and what their chiefest manufactures? if fortified, how many great guns, and what number of small arms? whether it is possible to come undescribed on them? How many lookouts or sentinels; for such the Spaniards always keep? and how the lookouts are placed? Whether possible to avoid the lookouts, or take them? If any river or creek comes near it, or where the best landing; with innumerable other such questions, which their curiosities lead them to demand. And if they have had any former discourse of such places from other prisoners they compare one with the other; then examine again, and enquire if he or any of them are capable to be guides to conduct a party of men thither: if not, where and how any prisoner may be taken that may do it; and from thence they afterwards lay their schemes to prosecute whatever design they take in hand.
It was 7 or 8 days after before any resolution was taken, yet consultations were held every day. The French seemed very forward to go to any town that the English could or would propose, because the governor of Petit Guavres (from whom the privateers take commissions) had recommended a gentleman lately come from France to be general of the expedition, and sent word by Captain Tucker, with whom this gentleman came, that they should, if possible, make an attempt on some town before he returned again. The English, when they were in company with the French, seemed to approve of what the French said, but never looked on that general to be fit for the service in hand.
THEY GO TO THE ISLE OF SAN ANDREAS. OF THE CEDARS THERE.
At length it was concluded to go to a town, the name of which I have forgot; it lies a great way in the country, but not such a tedious march as it would be from hence to Panama. Our way to it lay up Carpenter’s River, which is about 60 leagues to the westward of Portobello. Our greatest obstruction in this design was our want of boats: therefore it was concluded to go with all our fleet to San Andreas, a small uninhabited island lying near the isle of Providence, to the westward of it, in 13 degrees 15 minutes north latitude, and from Portobello north-north-west about 70 leagues; where we should be but a little way from Carpenter’s River. And besides, at this island we might build canoes, it being plentifully stored with large cedars for such a purpose; and for this reason the Jamaica men come hither frequently to build sloops; cedar being very fit for building, and it being to be had here at free cost; beside other wood. Jamaica is well stored with cedars of its own, chiefly among the Rocky Mountains: these also of San Andreas grow in stony ground, and are the largest that ever I knew or heard of; the bodies alone being ordinarily 40 or 50 foot long, many 60 or 70 and upwards, and of a proportionable bigness. The Bermudas Isles are well stored with them; so is Virginia, which is generally a sandy soil. I saw none in the East Indies, nor in the South Sea coast, except on the Isthmus as I came over it. We reckon the periagos and canoes that are made of cedar to be the best of any; they are nothing but the tree itself made hollow boat-wise, with a flat bottom, and the canoe generally sharp at both ends, the periago at one only, with the other end flat. But what is commonly said of cedar, that the worm will not touch it, is a mistake, for I have seen of it very much worm-eaten.
All things being thus concluded on, we sailed from thence, directing our course towards San Andreas. We kept company the first day, but at night it blew a hard gale at north-east and some of our ships bore away: the next day others were forced to leave us, and the second night we lost all our company. I was now belonging to Captain Archembo, for all the rest of the fleet were over-manned: Captain Archembo wanting men, we that came out of the South Seas must either sail with him or remain among the Indians. Indeed we found no cause to dislike the captain; but his French seamen were the saddest creatures that ever I was among; for though we had bad weather that required many hands aloft, yet the biggest part of them never stirred out of their hammocks but to eat or ease themselves. We made a shift to find the island the fourth day, where we met Captain Wright, who came thither the day before, and had taken a Spanish tartane, wherein were 30 men, all well armed: she had 4 patereroes and some long guns placed in the swivel on the gunwale. They fought an hour before they yielded. The news they related was that they came from Cartagena in company of 11 armadillos (which are small vessels of war) to seek for the fleet of privateers lying in the Samballoes: that they parted from the armadillos 2 days before: that they were ordered to search the Samballoes for us, and if they did not find us then they were ordered to go to Portobello, and lay there till they had farther intelligence of us, and he supposed these armadillos to be now there.
We that came overland out of the South Seas, being weary of living among the French, desired Captain Wright to fit up his prize the tartane, and make a man-of-war of her for us, which he at first seemed to decline, because he was settled among the French in Hispaniola, and was very well beloved both by the governor of Petit Guavres, and all the gentry; and they would resent it ill that Captain Wright, who had no occasion of men, should be so unkind to Captain Archembo as to seduce his men from him, he being so meanly manned that he could hardly sail his ship with his Frenchmen. We told him we would no longer remain with Captain Archembo, but would go ashore there and build canoes to transport ourselves down to the Moskitos if he would not entertain us; for privateers are not obliged to any ship, but free to go ashore where they please, or to go into any other ship that will entertain them, only paying for their provision.
When Captain Wright saw our resolutions he agreed with us on condition we should be under his command as one ship’s company, to which we unanimously consented.
THE CORN ISLANDS, AND THEIR INHABITANTS.
We stayed here about 10 days to see if any more of our fleet would come to us; but there came no more of us to the island but three, namely, Captain Wright, Captain Archembo, and Captain Tucker. Therefore we concluded the rest were bore away either for Boca Toro or Bluefield’s River on the Main; and we designed to seek them. We had fine weather while we lay here, only some tornadoes, or thundershowers: but in this isle of San Andreas, there being neither fish, fowl, nor deer, and it being therefore but an ordinary place for us, who had but little provision, we sailed from hence again in quest of our scattered fleet, directing our course for some islands lying near the Main, called by the privateers the Corn Islands; being in hopes to get corn there. These islands I take to be the same which are generally called in the maps the Pearl Islands, lying about the latitude of 12 degrees 10 minutes north. Here we arrived the next day, and went ashore on one of them, but found none of the inhabitants; for here are but a few poor naked Indians that live here; who have been so often plundered by the privateers that they have but little provision; and when they see a sail they hide themselves; otherwise ships that come here would take them, and make slaves of them; and I have seen some of them that have been slaves. They are people of a mean stature, yet strong limbs; they are of a dark copper-colour, black hair, full round faces, small black eyes, their eyebrows hanging over their eyes, low foreheads, short thick noses, not high, but flattish; full lips, and short chins. They have a fashion to cut holes in the lips of the boys when they are young, close to their chin; which they keep open with little pegs till they are 14 or 15 years old: then they wear beards in them, made of turtle or tortoiseshell, in the form you see in the illustration. The little notch at the upper end they put in through the lip, where it remains between the teeth and the lip; the under-part hangs down over their chin. This they commonly wear all day, and when they sleep they take it out. They have likewise holes bored in their ears, both men and women when young; and, by continual stretching them with great pegs, they grow to be as big as a milled five-shilling piece. Herein they wear pieces of wood cut very round and smooth, so that their ear seems to be all wood with a little skin about it. Another ornament the women use is about their legs, which they are very curious in; for from the infancy of the girls their mothers make fast a piece of cotton cloth about the small of their leg, from the ankle to the calf, very hard; which makes them have a very full calf: this the women wear to their dying day. Both men and women go naked, only a clout about their waists; yet they have but little feet, though they go barefoot. Finding no provision here we sailed towards Bluefield’s River, where we careened our tartane; and there Captain Archembo and Captain Tucker left us, and went towards Boca Toro.
BLUEFIELD’S RIVER, AND AN ACCOUNT OF THE MANATEE THERE, OR SEA-COW; WITH THE MANNER HOW THE MOSKITO INDIANS KILL THEM, AND TORTOISE, ETC.
This Bluefield’s River comes out between the rivers of Nicaragua and Veragna. At its mouth is a fine sandy bay where barks may clean: it is deep at its mouth but a shoal within; so that ships may not enter, yet barks of 60 or 70 tuns may. It had this name from Captain Bluefield, a famous privateer living on Providence Island long before Jamaica was taken. Which island of Providence was settled by the English, and belonged to the Earls of Warwick.
In this river we found a canoe coming down the stream; and though we went with our canoes to seek for inhabitants yet we found none, but saw in two or three places signs that Indians had made on the side of the river. The canoe which we found was but meanly made for want of tools, therefore we concluded these Indians have no commerce with the Spaniards, nor with other Indians that have.
While we lay here, our Moskito men went in their canoe and struck us some manatee, or sea-cow. Besides this Bluefield’s River, I have seen of the manatee in the Bay of Campeachy, on the coasts of Boca del Drago, and Boca del Toro, in the river of Darien, and among the South Keys or little islands of Cuba. I have heard of their being found on the north of Jamaica a few, and in the rivers of Surinam in great multitudes, which is a very low land. I have seen of them also at Mindanao, one of the Philippine Islands, and on the coast of New Holland. This creature is about the bigness of a horse, and 10 or 12 foot long. The mouth of it is much like the mouth of a cow, having great thick lips. The eyes are no bigger than a small pea; the ears are only two small holes on each side of the head. The neck is short and thick, bigger than the head. The biggest part of this creature is at the shoulders where it has two large fins, one on each side of its belly. Under each of these fins the female has a small dug to suckle her young. From the shoulders towards the tail it retains its bigness for about a foot, then grows smaller and smaller to the very tail, which is flat, and about 14 inches broad and 20 inches long, and in the middle 4 or 5 inches thick, but about the edges of it not above 2 inches thick. From the head to the tail it is round and smooth without any fin but those two before mentioned. I have heard that some have weighed above 1200 pounds, but I never saw any so large. The manatee delights to live in brackish water; and they are commonly in creeks and rivers near the sea. It is for this reason possibly they are not seen in the South Seas (that ever I could observe) where the coast is generally a bold shore, that is, high land and deep water close home by it, with a high sea or great surges, except in the Bay of Panama; yet even there is no manatee. Whereas the West Indies, being as it were one great bay composed of many smaller, are mostly low land and shoal water, and afford proper pasture (as I may say) for the manatee. Sometimes we find them in salt water, sometimes in fresh; but never far at sea. And those that live in the sea at such places where there is no river nor creek fit for them to enter yet do commonly come once or twice in 24 hours to the mouth of any fresh-water river that is near their place of abode. They live on grass 7 or 8 inches long, and of a narrow blade, which grows in the sea in many places, especially among islands near the Main. This grass grows likewise in creeks, or in great rivers near the sides of them, in such places where there is but little tide or current. They never come ashore, nor into shallower water than where they can swim. Their flesh is white, both the fat and the lean, and extraordinary sweet, wholesome meat. The tail of a young cow is most esteemed; but if old both head and tail are very tough. A calf that sucks is the most delicate meat; privateers commonly roast them; as they do also great pieces cut out of the bellies of the old ones.
The skin of the manatee is of great use to privateers for they cut them into straps which they make fast on the sides of their canoes, through which they put their oars in rowing, instead of tholes or pegs. The skin of the bull or of the back of the cow is too thick for this use; but of it they make horse-whips, cutting them 2 or 3 foot long: at the handle they leave the full substance of the skin, and from thence cut it away tapering, but very even and square all the four sides. While the thongs are green they twist them and hang them to dry; which in a week’s time become as hard as wood. The Moskito men have always a small canoe for their use to strike fish, tortoise, or manatee, which they keep usually to themselves, and very neat and clean. They use no oars but paddles, the broad part of which does not go tapering towards the staff, pole or handle of it, as in the oar; nor do they use it in the same manner by laying it on the side of the vessel; but hold it perpendicular, gripping the staff hard with both hands, and putting back the water by main strength, and very quick strokes. One of the Moskitos (for they go but two in a canoe) sits in the stern, the other kneels down in the head, and both paddle till they come to the place where they expect their game. Then they lie still or paddle very softly, looking well about them; and he that is in the head of the canoe lays down his paddle, and stands up with his striking-staff in his hand. This staff is about 8 foot long, almost as big as a man’s arm at the great end, in which there is a hole to place his harpoon in. At the other end of his staff there is a piece of light wood called bob-wood, with a hole in it, through which the small end of the staff comes; and on this piece of bob-wood there is a line of 10 or 12 fathom wound neatly about, and the end of the line made fast to it. The other end of the line is made fast to the harpoon, which is at the great end of the staff, and the Moskito men keep about a fathom of it loose in his hand. When he strikes, the harpoon presently comes out of the staff, and as the manatee swims away the line runs off from the bob; and although at first both staff and bob may be carried under water, yet as the line runs off it will rise again. Then the Moskito men paddle with all their might to get hold of the bob again, and spend usually a quarter of an hour before they get it. When the Manatee begins to be tired, it lies still, and then the Moskito men paddle to the bob and take it up, and begin to haul in the line. When the manatee feels them he swims away again, with the canoe after him; then he that steers must be nimble to turn the head of the canoe that way that his consort points, who, being in the head of the canoe, and holding the line, both sees and feels which way the manatee is swimming. Thus the canoe is towed with a violent motion, till the manatee’s strength decays. Then they gather in the line, which they are often forced to let all go to the very end. At length, when the creature’s strength is spent, they haul it up to the canoe’s side, and knock it on the head, and tow it to the nearest shore, where they make it fast and seek for another; which having taken, they get on shore with it to put it into their canoe: for it is so heavy that they cannot lift it in, but they haul it up in shoal water, as near the shore as they can, and then overset the canoe, laying one side close to the manatee. Then they roll it in, which brings the canoe upright again; and when they have heaved out the water they fasten a line to the other manatee that lies afloat, and tow it after them. I have known two Moskito men for a week every day bring aboard 2 manatee in this manner; the least of which has not weighed less than 600 pound, and that in a very small canoe, that three Englishmen would scarce adventure to go in. When they strike a cow that has a young one they seldom miss the calf, for she commonly takes her young under one of her fins. But if the calf is so big that she cannot carry it, or so frightened that she only minds to save her own life, yet the young never leaves her till the Moskito men have an opportunity to strike her.
The manner of striking manatee and tortoise is much the same; only when they seek for manatee they paddle so gently that they make no noise, and never touch the side of their canoe with their paddle, because it is a creature that hears very well. But they are not so nice when they seek for tortoise, whose eyes are better than his ears. They strike the tortoise with a square sharp iron peg, the other with a harpoon. The Moskito men make their own striking instruments, as harpoons, fishhooks, and tortoise-irons or pegs. These pegs, or tortoise-irons, are made 4-square, sharp at one end, and not much above an inch in length, of such a figure as you see in the illustration. The small spike at the broad end has a line fastened to it, and goes also into a hole at the end of the striking-staff, which when the tortoise is struck flies off, the iron and the end of the line fastened to it going quite within the shell, where it is so buried that the tortoise cannot possibly escape.
They make their lines both for fishing and striking with the bark of maho; which is a sort of tree or shrub that grows plentifully all over the West Indies, and whose bark is made up of strings, or threads very strong. You may draw it off either in flakes or small threads, as you have occasion. It is fit for any manner of cordage; and privateers often make their rigging of it. So much by way of digression.
When we had cleaned our tartane we sailed from hence, bound for Boca Toro, which is an opening between 2 islands about 10 degrees 10 minutes north latitude between the rivers of Veragne and Chagre. Here we met with Captain Yankes, who told us that there had been a fleet of Spanish armadillos to seek us: that Captain Tristian, having fallen to leeward, was coming to Boca Toro, and fell in amongst them, supposing them to be our fleet: that they fired and chased him, but he rowed and towed, and they supposed he got away: that Captain Pain was likewise chased by them and Captain Williams; and that they had not seen them since they lay within the islands: that the Spaniards never came in to him; and that Captain Coxon was in at the careening-place.
THE SAVAGES OF BOCA TORO.
This Boca Toro is a place that the privateers use to resort to as much as any place on all the coast, because here is plenty of green tortoise, and a good careening place. The Indians here have no commerce with the Spaniards; but are very barbarous and will not be dealt with. They have destroyed many privateers, as they did not long after this some of Captain Pain’s men; who, having built a tent ashore to put his goods in while he careened his ship, and some men lying there with their arms, in the night the Indians crept softly into the tent, and cut off the heads of three or four men, and made their escape; nor was this the first time they had served the privateers so. There grow on this coast vinelloes in great quantity, with which chocolate is perfumed. These I shall describe elsewhere.
HE TOUCHES AGAIN AT POINT SAMBALAS, AND ITS ISLANDS. THE GROVES OF SAPADILLOES THERE, THE SOLDIER’S INSECT, AND MANCHANEEL-TREE.
Our fleet being thus scattered, there were now no hopes of getting together again; therefore everyone did what they thought most conducing to obtain their ends. Captain Wright, with whom I now was, was resolved to cruise on the coast of Cartagena; and, it being now almost the westerly-wind season, we sailed from hence, and Captain Yankes with us; and we consorted, because Captain Yankes had no commission, and was afraid the French would take away his bark. We passed by Scuda, a small island (where it is said Sir Francis Drake’s bowels were buried) and came to a small river to westward of Chagre; where we took two new canoes, and carried them with us into the Samballoes. We had the wind at west, with much rain; which brought us to Point Samballas. Here Captain Wright and Captain Yankes left us in the tartane to fix the canoes, while they went on the coast of Cartagena to seek for provision. We cruised in among the islands, and kept our Moskito men, or strikers-out, who brought aboard some half-grown tortoise; and some of us went ashore every day to hunt for what we could find in the woods: sometimes we got peccary, warree or deer; at other times we light on a drove of large fat monkeys, or quames, curassows (each a large sort of fowl) pigeons, parrots, or turtle-doves. We lived very well on what we got, not staying long in one place; but sometimes we would go on the islands, where there grow great groves of sapadilloes, which is a sort of fruit much like a pear, but more juicy; and under those trees we found plenty of soldiers, a little kind of animals that live in shells and have two great claws like a crab, and are good food. One time our men found a great many large ones, and being sharp-set had them dressed, but most of them were very sick afterwards, being poisoned by them: for on this island were many manchaneel-trees, whose fruit is like a small crab, and smells very well, but they are not wholesome; and we commonly take care of meddling with any animals that eat them. And this we take for a general rule; when we find any fruits that we have not seen before, if we see them pecked by birds, we may freely eat, but if we see no such sign we let them alone; for of this fruit no birds will taste. Many of these islands have of these manchaneel trees growing on them.
Thus, cruising in among these islands, at length we came again to La Sound’s Key; and the day before having met with a Jamaica sloop that was come over on the coast to trade, she went with us. It was in the evening when we came to an anchor, and the next morning we fired two guns for the Indians that lived on the Main to come aboard; for by this time we concluded we should hear from our five men that we left in the heart of the country among the Indians, this being about the latter end of August, and it was the beginning of May when we parted from them. According to our expectations the Indians came aboard and brought our friends with them: Mr. Wafer wore a clout about him, and was painted like an Indian; and he was some time aboard before I knew him. One of them, named Richard Cobson, died within three or four days after, and was buried on La Sound’s Key.
After this we went to other keys, to the eastward of these, to meet Captain Wright and Captain Yankes, who met with a fleet of periagos laden with Indian corn, hog and fowls, going to Cartagena; being convoyed by a small armadillo of two guns and six patereroes. Her they chased ashore, and most of the periagos; but they got two of them off, and brought them away.
THE RIVER OF DARIEN, AND THE WILD INDIANS NEAR IT; MONASTERY OF MADRE DE POPA, RIO GRANDE, SANTA MARTA TOWN, AND THE HIGH MOUNTAIN THERE; RIO LA HACHA TOWN, RANCHO REYS, AND PEARL FISHERY THERE; THE INDIAN INHABITANTS AND COUNTRY.
Here Captain Wright’s and Captain Yankes’s barks were cleaned; and we stocked ourselves with corn, and then went towards the coast of Cartagena. In our way thither we passed by the river of Darien; which is very broad at the mouth, but not above 6 foot water on a spring-tide; for the tide rises but little here. Captain Coxon, about 6 months before we came out of the South Seas, went up this river with a party of men: every man carried a small strong bag to put his gold in; expecting great riches there, though they got little or none. They rowed up about 100 leagues before they came to any settlement, and then found some Spaniards, who lived there to truck with the Indians for gold; there being gold scales in every house. The Spaniards admired how they came so far from the mouth of the river, because there are a sort of Indians living between that place and the sea who are very dreadful to the Spaniards, and will not have any commerce with them, nor with any white people. They use trunks about 8 foot long, out of which they blow poisoned darts; and are so silent in their attacks on their enemies, and retreat so nimbly again, that the Spaniards can never find them. Their darts are made of macaw-wood, being about the bigness and length of a knitting-needle; one end is wound about with cotton, the other end is extraordinary sharp and small; and is jagged with notches like a harpoon: so that whatever it strikes into it immediately breaks off by the weight of the biggest end; which it is not of strength to bear (it being made so slender for that purpose) and is very difficult to be got out again by reason of those notches. These Indians have always war with our Darien friendly Indians, and live on both sides this great river 50 or 60 leagues from the sea, but not near the mouth of the river. There are abundance of manatee in this river, and some creeks belonging to it. This relation I had from several men who accompanied Captain Coxon in that discovery; and from Mr. Cook in particular, who was with them, and is a very intelligent person: he is now chief mate of a ship bound to Guinea. To return therefore to the prosecution of our voyage: meeting with nothing of note, we passed by Cartagena; which is a city so well known that I shall say nothing of it. We sailed by in sight of it, for it lies open to the sea: and had a fair view of Madre de Popa, or Nuestra Senora de Popa, a monastery of the Virgin Mary, standing on the top of a very steep hill just behind Cartagena. It is a place of incredible wealth, by reason of the offerings made here continually; and for this reason often in danger of being visited by the privateers, did not the neighbourhood of Cartagena keep them in awe. It is in short the very Loreto of the West Indies: it has innumerable miracles related of it. Any misfortune that befalls the privateers is attributed to this lady’s doing; and the Spaniards report that she was abroard that night the Oxford man-of-war was blown up at the isle of Vacca near Hispaniola, and that she came home all wet; as belike she often returns with her clothes dirty and torn with passing through woods and bad ways when she has been out upon any expedition; deserving doubtless a new suit for such eminent pieces of service.
From hence we passed on to the Rio Grande, where we took up fresh water at sea, a league off the mouth of that river. From thence we sailed eastwards passing by Santa Marta, a large town and good harbour belonging to the Spaniards: yet has it within these few years been twice taken by the privateers. It stands close upon the sea, and the hill within land is a very large one, towering up a great height from a vast body of land. I am of opinion that it is higher than the Pike of Tenerife; others also that have seen both think the same; though its bigness makes its height less sensible. I have seen it in passing by, 30 leagues off at sea; others, as they told me, above 60: and several have told me that they have seen at once Jamaica, Hispaniola, and the high land of Santa Marta; and yet the nearest of these two places is distant from it 120 leagues; and Jamaica, which is farthest off, is accounted near 150 leagues; and I question whether any land on either of those two islands may be seen 50 leagues. Its head is generally hid in the clouds; but in clear weather, when the top appears, it looks white; supposed to be covered with snow. Santa Marta lies in the latitude of 12 degrees north.
Being advanced 5 or 6 leagues to the eastward of Santa Marta, we left our ships at anchor and returned back in our canoes to the Rio Grande; entering it by a mouth of it that disembogues itself near Santa Marta: purposing to attempt some towns that lie a pretty way up that river. But, this design meeting with discouragements, we returned to our ships and set sail to the Rio la Hacha. This has been a strong Spanish town, and is well built; but being often taken by the privateers the Spaniards deserted it some time before our arrival. It lies to the westward of a river; and right against the town is a good road for ships, the bottom clean and sandy. The Jamaica sloops used often to come over to trade here: and I am informed that the Spaniards have again settled themselves in it, and made it very strong. We entered the fort and brought two small guns aboard. From thence we went to the Rancho Reys, one or two small Indian villages where the Spaniards keep two barks to fish for pearl. The pearl-banks lie about 4 or 5 leagues off from the shore, as I have been told; thither the fishing barks go and anchor; then the divers go down to the bottom and fill a basket (which is let down before) with oysters; and when they come up others go down, two at a time; this they do till the bark is full, and then go ashore, where the old men, women, and children of the Indians open the oysters, there being a Spanish overseer to look after the pearl. Yet these Indians do very often secure the best pearl for themselves, as many Jamaica men can testify who daily trade with them. The meat they string up, and hang it a-drying. At this place we went ashore, where we found one of the barks, and saw great heaps of oyster-shells, but the people all fled: yet in another place, between this and Rio La Receba, we took some of the Indians, who seem to be a stubborn sort of people: they are long-visaged, black hair, their noses somewhat rising in the middle, and of a stern look. The Spaniards report them to be a very numerous nation; and that they will not subject themselves to their yoke. Yet they have Spanish priests among them; and by trading have brought them to be somewhat sociable; but cannot keep a severe hand over them. The land is but barren, it being of a light sand near the sea, and most savannah, or champaign; and the grass but thin and coarse, yet they feed plenty of cattle. Every man knows his own and looks after them; but the land is in common, except only their houses or small plantations where they live, which every man maintains with some fence about it. They may remove from one place to another as they please, no man having right to any land but what he possesses. This part of the country is not so subject to rain as to the westward of Santa Marta; yet here are tornadoes, or thundershowers; but neither so violent as on the coast of Portobello, nor so frequent. The westerly winds in the westerly-wind season blow here, though not so strong nor lasting as on the coasts of Cartagena and Portobello.
When we had spent some time here we returned again towards the coast of Cartagena; and, being between Rio Grande and that place, we met with westerly winds, which kept us still to the eastward of Cartagena 3 or 4 days; and then in the morning we descried a sail off at sea, and we chased her at noon: Captain Wright, who sailed best, came up with her, and engaged her; and in half an hour after Captain Yankes, who sailed better than the tartane (the vessel that I was in) came up with her likewise, and laid her aboard, then Captain Wright also; and they took her before we came up. They lost 2 or 3 men, and had 7 or 8 wounded. The prize was a ship of 12 guns and 40 men, who had all good small arms. She was laden with sugar and tobacco, and 8 or 10 tuns of marmalett on board: she came from St. Jago on Cuba, and was bound to Cartagena.
We went back with her to Rio Grande to fix our rigging which was shattered in the fight, and to consider what to do with her; for these were commodities of little use to us, and not worth going into a port with. At the Rio Grande Captain Wright demanded the prize as his due by virtue of his commission: Captain Yankes said it was his due by the law of privateers. Indeed Captain Wright had the most right to her, having by his commission protected Captain Yankes from the French, who would have turned him out because he had no commission; and he likewise began to engage her first. But the company were all afraid that Captain Wright would presently carry her into a port; therefore most of Captain Wright’s men stuck to Captain Yankes, and Captain Wright losing his prize burned his own bark, and had Captain Yankes’s, it being bigger than his own; the tartane was sold to a Jamaica trader, and Captain Yankes commanded the prize-ship. We went again from hence to Rio la Hacha, and set the prisoners ashore; and it being now the beginning of November we concluded to go to Curacao to sell our sugar, if favoured by westerly winds, which were now come in.
DUTCH ISLE OF CURACAO, ETC.
We sailed from thence, having fair weather and winds to our mind, which brought us to Curacao, a Dutch island. Captain Wright went ashore to the governor, and offered him the sale of the sugar: but the governor told him he had a great trade with the Spaniards, therefore he could not admit us in there; but if we could go to St. Thomas, which is an island and free port belonging to the Danes, and a sanctuary for privateers, he would send a sloop with such goods as we wanted, and money to buy the sugar, which he would take at a certain rate; but it was not agreed to.
Curacao is the only island of importance that the Dutch have in the West Indies. It is about 5 leagues in length, and may be 9 or 10 in circumference: the northermost point is laid down in north latitude 12 degrees 40 minutes, and it is about 7 or 8 leagues from the main, near Cape Roman. On the south side of the east end is a good harbour called Santa Barbara; but the chiefest harbour is about 3 leagues from the south-east end, on the south side of it where the Dutch have a very good town and a very strong fort. Ships bound in thither must be sure to keep close to the harbour’s mouth, and have a hawser or rope ready to send one end ashore to the fort: for there is no anchoring at the entrance of the harbour, and the current always sets to the westward. But being got in, it is a very secure port for ships, either to careen or lie safe. At the east end are two hills, one of them is much higher than the other, and steepest towards the north side. The rest of the island is indifferent level; where of late some rich men have made sugar-works; which formerly was all pasture for cattle: there are also some small plantations of potatoes and yams, and they have still a great many cattle on the island; but it is not so much esteemed for its produce as for its situation for the trade with the Spaniard. Formerly the harbour was never without ships from Cartagena and Portobello that did use to buy of the Dutch 1000 or 1500 Negroes at once, besides great quantities of European commodities; but of late that trade is fallen into the hands of the English at Jamaica: yet still the Dutch have a vast trade over all the West Indies, sending from Holland ships of good force laden with European goods, whereby they make very profitable returns. The Dutch have two other islands here, but of little moment in comparison of Curacao; the one lies 7 or 8 leagues to the westward of Curacao, called Aruba; the other 9 or 10 leagues to the eastward of it, called Bonaire. From these islands the Dutch fetch in sloops provision for Curacao to maintain their garrison and Negroes. I was never at Aruba, therefore cannot say anything of it as to my own knowledge; but by report it is much like Bonaire, which I shall describe, only not so big. Between Curacao and Bonaire is a small island called Little Curacao, it is not above a league from Great Curacao. The king of France has long had an eye on Curacao and made some attempts to take it, but never yet succeeded. I have heard that about 23 or 24 years since the governor had sold it to the French, but died a small time before the fleet came to demand it, and by his death that design failed.
COUNT D’ESTREE’S UNFORTUNATE EXPEDITION THITHER.
Afterwards, in the year 1678, the Count D’Estree, who a year before had taken the isle of Tobago from the Dutch, was sent thither also with a squadron of stout ships, very well manned, and fitted with bombs and carcasses; intending to take it by storm. This fleet first came to Martinique; where, while they stayed, orders were sent to Petit Guavres for all privateers to repair thither and assist the count in his design. There were but two privateers’ ships that went thither to him, which were manned partly with French, partly with Englishmen. These set out with the count; but in their way to Curacao the whole fleet was lost on a reef, or ridge of rocks, that runs off from the isle of Aves; not above two ships escaping, one of which was one of the privateers; and so that design perished.
ISLE OF BONAIRE.
Wherefore, not driving a bargain for our sugar with the governor of Curacao, we went from thence to Bonaire, another Dutch island, where we met a Dutch sloop come from Europe, laden with Irish beef; which we bought in exchange for some of our sugar.
Bonaire is the eastermost of the Dutch islands, and is the largest of the three, though not the most considerable. The middle of the island is laid down in latitude 12 degrees 16 minutes. It is about 20 leagues from the Main, and 9 or 10 from Curacao, and is accounted 16 or 17 leagues round. The road is on the south-west side, near the middle of the island; where there is a pretty deep bay runs in. Ships that come from the eastward luff up close to the eastern shore: and let go their anchor in 60 fathom water, within half a cable’s length of the shore. But at the same time they must be ready with a boat to carry a hawser or rope, and make it fast ashore; otherwise, when the land-wind comes in the night, the ship would drive off to sea again; for the ground is so steep that no anchor can hold if once it starts. About half a mile to the westward of this anchoring-place there is a small low island, and a channel between it and the main island.
The houses are about half a mile within land, right in the road: there is a governor lives here, a Deputy to the governor of Curacao, and 7 or 8 soldiers, with 5 or 6 families of Indians. There is no fort; and the soldiers in peaceable times have little to do but to eat and sleep, for they never watch but in time of war. The Indians are husbandmen, and plant maize and guinea-corn, and some yams, and potatoes: but their chiefest business is about cattle: for this island is plentifully stocked with goats: and they send great quantities every year in salt to Curacao. There are some horses, and bulls and cows; but I never saw any sheep, though I have been all over the island. The south side is plain low land, and there are several sorts of trees, but none very large. There is a small spring of water by the houses, which serves the inhabitants, though it is blackish. At the west end of the island there is a good spring of fresh water, and three or four Indian families live there, but no water nor houses at any other place. On the south side near the east end is a good salt pond where Dutch sloops come for salt.
ISLE OF AVES, THE BOOBY AND MAN-OF-WAR-BIRD.
From Bonaire we went to the isle of Aves, or Birds; so called from its great plenty of birds, as men-of-war and boobies; but especially boobies. The booby is a waterfowl, somewhat less than a hen, of a light grayish colour. I observed the boobies of this island to be whiter than others. This bird has a strong bill, longer and bigger than a crow’s and broader at the end: her feet are flat like a duck’s feet. It is a very simple creature and will hardly go out of a man’s way. In other places they build their nests on the ground, but here they build on trees; which I never saw anywhere else; though I have seen of them in a great many places. Their flesh is black and eats fishy, but are often eaten by the privateers. Their numbers have been much lessened by the French fleet which was lost here, as I shall give an account.
The man-of-war (as it is called by the English) is about the bigness of a kite, and in shape like it, but black; and the neck is red. It lives on fish, yet never lights on the water, but soars aloft like a kite, and when it sees its prey it flies down head foremost to the water’s edge very swiftly, takes its prey out of the sea with its bill, and immediately mounts again as swiftly, and never touching the water with his bill. His wings are very long; his feet are like other land-fowl, and he builds on trees where he finds any; but where they are wanting, on the ground.
This island Aves lies about 8 or 9 leagues to the eastward of the island Bonaire, about 14 or 15 leagues from the Main, and about the latitude of 11 degrees 45 minutes north. It is but small, not above four mile in length, and towards the east end not half a mile broad. On the north side it is low land, commonly overflown with the tide; but on the south side there is a great rocky bank of coral thrown up by the sea. The west end is, for near a mile space, plain even savannah land, without any trees. There are 2 or 3 wells dug by privateers, who often frequent this island, because there is a good harbour about the middle of it on the north side where they may conveniently careen. The reef or bank of rocks on which the French fleet was lost, as I mentioned above, runs along from the east end to the northward about 3 mile, then trends away to the westward, making as it were a half moon. This reef breaks off all the sea, and there is good riding in even sandy ground to the westward of it. There are 2 or 3 small low sandy keys or islands within this reef, about 3 miles from the main island.
THE WRECK OF D’ESTREE’S FLEET, AND CAPTAIN PAIN’S ADVENTURE HERE.
The Count d’Estree lost his fleet here in this manner. Coming from the eastward, he fell in on the back of the reef, and fired guns to give warning to the rest of his fleet: but they supposing their admiral was engaged with enemies, hoisted up their topsails, and crowded all the sails they could make, and ran full sail ashore after him; all within half a mile of each other. For his light being in the main-top was an unhappy beacon for them to follow; and there escaped but one king’s ship and one privateer. The ships continued whole all day, and the men had time enough, most of them, to get ashore, yet many perished in the wreck; and many of those that got safe on the island, for want of being accustomed to such hardships, died like rotten sheep. But the privateers who had been used to such accidents lived merrily, from whom I had this relation: and they told me that if they had gone to Jamaica with 30 pounds a man in their pockets, they could not have enjoyed themselves more: for they kept in a gang by themselves, and watched when the ships broke, to get the goods that came from them, and though much was staved against the rocks, yet abundance of wine and brandy floated over the reef, where the privateers waited to take it up. They lived here about three weeks, waiting an opportunity to transport themselves back again to Hispaniola; in all which time they were never without two or three hogsheads of wine and brandy in their tents, and barrels of beef and pork; which they could live on without bread well enough, though the newcomers out of France could not. There were about forty Frenchmen on board in one of the ships where there was good store of liquor, till the after-part of her broke away and floated over the reef, and was carried away to sea, with all the men drinking and singing, who being in drink, did not mind the danger, but were never heard of afterwards.
In a short time after this great shipwreck Captain Pain, commander of a privateer of six guns, had a pleasant accident befall him at this island. He came hither to careen, intending to fit himself very well; for here lay driven on the island masts, yards, timbers, and many things that he wanted, therefore he hauled into the harbour, close to the island, and unrigged his ship. Before he had done a Dutch ship of twenty guns was sent from Curacao to take up the guns that were lost on the reef: but seeing a ship in the harbour, and knowing her to be a French privateer, they thought to take her first, and came within a mile of her, and began to fire at her, intending to warp in the next day, for it is very narrow going in. Captain Pain got ashore some of his guns, and did what he could to resist them; though he did in a manner conclude he must be taken. But while his men were thus busied he spied a Dutch sloop turning to get into the road, and saw her at the evening anchor at the west end of the island. This gave him some hope of making his escape; which he did by sending two canoes in the night aboard the sloop, who took her, and got considerable purchase in her; and he went away in her, making a good reprisal and leaving his own empty ship to the Dutch man-of-war.
LITTLE ISLE OF AVES.
There is another island to the eastward of the isle of Aves about four league, called by privateers the little isle of Aves, which is overgrown with mangrove-trees. I have seen it but was never on it. There are no inhabitants that I could learn on either of these islands, but boobies and a few other birds.
Whilst we were at the isle of Aves we careened Captain Wright’s bark and scrubbed the sugar-prize, and got two guns out of the wrecks; continuing here till the beginning of February 1681/2.
We went from hence to the isles Los Roques to careen the sugar-prize, which the isle of Aves was not a place so convenient for. Accordingly we hauled close to one of the small islands and got our guns ashore the first thing we did, and built a breast-work on the point, and planted all our guns there to hinder an enemy from coming to us while we lay on the careen: then we made a house and covered it with our sails to put our goods and provisions in. While we lay here, a French man-of-war of 36 guns came through the keys or little islands; to whom we sold about 10 tun of sugar. I was aboard twice or thrice, and very kindly welcomed both by the captain and his lieutenant, who was a cavalier of Malta; and they both offered me great encouragement in France if I would go with them; but I ever designed to continue with those of my own nation.
THE ISLES LOS ROQUES, THE NODDY AND TROPIC-BIRD, MINERAL WATER, EGG-BIRDS; THE MANGROVE-TREES, BLACK, RED, AND WHITE, ISLE OF TORTUGA, ITS SALT PONDS.
The islands Los Roques are a parcel of small uninhabited islands lying about the latitude of 11 degrees 40 minutes about 15 or 16 leagues from the Main, and about 20 leagues north-west by west from Tortuga, and 6 or 7 leagues to the westward of Orchilla, another island lying about the same distance from the Main; which island I have seen, but was never at it. Los Roques stretch themselves east and west about 5 leagues, and their breadth about 3 leagues. The northernmost of these islands is the most remarkable by reason of a high white rocky hill at the west end of it, which may be seen a great way; and on it there are abundance of tropic-birds, men-of-war, booby and noddies, which breed there. The booby and man-of-war I have described already. The noddy is a small black bird, about the bigness of the English blackbird, and indifferent good meat. They build in rocks. We never find them far off from shore. I have seen of them in other places, but never saw any of their nests but in this island, where there is great plenty of them. The tropic-bird is as big as a pigeon but round and plump like a partridge. They are all white, except two or three feathers in each wing of a light grey. Their bills are of a yellowish colour, thick and short. They have one long feather, or rather a quill about 7 inches long, grows out at the rump, which is all the tail they have. They are never seen far without either Tropic, for which reason they are called tropic-birds. They are very good food, and we meet with them a great way at sea, and I never saw of them anywhere but at sea and in this island, where they build and are found in great plenty.
By the sea on the south side of that high hill there’s fresh water comes out of the rocks, but so slowly that it yield not above 40 gallons in 24 hours, and it tastes so copperish, or aluminous rather, and rough in the mouth, that it seems very unpleasant at first drinking: but after two or three days any water will seem to have no taste.
The middle of this island is low plain land, overgrown with long grass, where there are multitudes of small grey fowls no bigger than a blackbird, yet lay eggs bigger than a magpie’s; and they are therefore by privateers called egg-birds. The east end of the island is overgrown with black mangrove-trees.
There are three sorts of mangrove-trees, black, red and white. The black mangrove is the largest tree; the body about as big as an oak, and about 20 feet high. It is very hard and serviceable timber, but extraordinary heavy, therefore not much made use of for building. The red mangrove grows commonly by the seaside, or by rivers or creeks. The body is not so big as that of the black mangrove, but always grows out of many roots about the bigness of a man’s leg, some bigger some less, which at about 6, 8, or 10 foot above the ground join into one trunk or body that seems to be supported by so many artificial stakes. Where this sort of tree grows it is impossible to march by reason of these stakes, which grow so mixed one amongst another that I have, when forced to go through them, gone half a mile, and never set my foot on the ground, stepping from root to root. The timber is hard and good for many uses. The inside of the bark is red, and it is used for tanning of leather very much all over the West Indies. The white mangrove never grows so big as the other two sorts, neither is it of any great use: of the young trees privateers use to make loom, or handles for their oars, for it is commonly straight, but not very strong, which is the fault of them. Neither the black nor white mangrove grow towering up from stilts or rising roots as the red does; but the body immediately out of the ground, like other trees.
The land of this east end is light sand which is sometimes overflown with the sea at spring tides. The road for ships is on the south side against the middle of the island. The rest of the islands of Los Roques are low. The next to this on the south side is but small, flat, and even, without trees, bearing only grass. On the south side of it is a pond of brackish water which sometimes privateers use instead of better; there is likewise good riding by it. About a league from this are two other islands, not 200 yards distant from each other; yet a deep channel for ships to pass through. They are both overgrown with red mangrove-trees; which trees, above any of the mangroves, do flourish best in wet drowned land, such as these two islands are; only the east point of the westermost island is dry sand, without tree or bush. On this point we careened, lying on the south side of it.
The other islands are low, and have red mangroves and other trees on them. Here also ships may ride, but no such place for careening as where we lay, because at that place ships may haul close to the shore; and, if they had but four guns on the point, may secure the channel, and hinder any enemy from coming near them. I observed that within among the islands was good riding in many places, but not without the islands, except to the westward or south-west of them. For on the east or north-east of these islands the common trade-wind blows, and makes a great sea: and to the southward of them there is no ground under 70, or 80, or 100 fathom, close by the land.
After we had filled what water we could from hence we set out again in April 1682 and came to Salt Tortuga, so called to distinguish it from the shoals of Dry Tortugas, near Cape Florida, and from the isle of Tortugas by Hispaniola, which was called formerly French Tortugas; though, not having heard any mention of that name a great while, I am apt to think it is swallowed up in that of Petit Guavres, the chief garrison the French have in those parts. This island we arrived at is pretty large, uninhabited, and abounds with salt. It is in latitude 11 degrees north, and lies west and a little northerly from Margarita, an island inhabited by the Spaniards, strong and wealthy; it is distant from it about 14 leagues, and 17 or 18 from Cape Blanco on the Main: a ship being within these islands a little to the southward may see at once the Main, Magarita and Tortuga when it is clear weather. The east end of Tortuga is full of rugged, bare, broken rocks which stretch themselves a little way out to sea. At the south-east part is an indifferent good road for ships, much frequented in peaceable times by merchant-ships that come thither to lade salt in the months of May, June, July, and August. For at the east end is a large salt pond, within 200 paces of the sea. The salt begins to kern or grain in April, except it is a dry season; for it is observed that rain makes the salt kern. I have seen above 20 sail at a time in this road come to lade salt; and these ships coming from some of the Caribbean Islands are always well stored with rum, sugar and lime-juice to make punch, to hearten their men when they are at work, getting and bringing aboard the salt; and they commonly provide the more, in hopes to meet with privateers who resort hither in the aforesaid months purposely to keep a Christmas, as they call it; being sure to meet with liquor enough to be merry with, and are very liberal to those that treat them. Near the west end of the island, on the south side, there is a small harbour and some fresh water: that end of the island is full of shrubby trees, but the east end is rocky and barren as to trees, producing only coarse grass. There are some goats on it, but not many; and turtle or tortoise come upon the sandy bays to lay their eggs, and from thence the island has its name. There is no riding anywhere but in the roads where the salt ponds are, or in the harbour.
ISLE OF BLANCO; THE IGUANA ANIMAL, THEIR VARIETY; AND THE BEST SEA-TORTOISE.
At this isle we thought to have sold our sugar among the English ships that come hither for salt; but, failing there, we designed for Trinidad, an island near the Main, inhabited by the Spaniards, tolerably strong and wealthy; but, the current and easterly winds hindering us, we passed through between Margarita and the Main, and went to Blanco, a pretty large island almost north of Margarita; about 30 leagues from the Main, and in 11 degrees 50 minutes north latitude. It is a flat, even, low, uninhabited island, dry and healthy: most savannah of long grass, and has some trees of lignum-vitae growing in spots, with shrubby bushes of other wood about them. It is plentifully stored with iguanas, which are an animal like a lizard, but much bigger. The body is as big as the small of a man’s leg, and from the hindquarter the tail grows tapering to the end, which is very small. If a man takes hold of the tail, except very near the hindquarter, it will part and break off in one of the joints, and the iguana will get away. They lay eggs, as most of those amphibious creatures do, and are very good to eat. Their flesh is much esteemed by privateers, who commonly dress them for their sick men; for they make very good broth. They are of divers colours, as almost black, dark brown, light brown, dark green, light green, yellow and speckled. They all live as well in the water as on land, and some of them are constantly in the water, and among rocks: these are commonly black. Others that live in swampy wet ground are commonly on bushes and trees, these are green. But such as live in dry ground, as here at Blanco, are commonly yellow; yet these also will live in the water, and are sometimes on trees. The road is on the north-west end against a small cove, or little sandy bay. There is no riding anywhere else, for it is deep water, and steep close to the land. There is one small spring on the west side, and there are sandy bays round the island, where turtle or tortoise come up in great abundance, going ashore in the night. These that frequent this island are called green turtle, and they are the best of that sort, both for largeness and sweetness of any in all the West Indies. I would here give a particular description of these and other sorts of turtle in these seas; but because I shall have occasion to mention some other sort of turtle when I come again into the South Seas, that are very different from all these, I shall there give a general account of all these several sorts at once, that the difference between them may be the better discerned. Some of our modern descriptions speak of goats on this island. I know not what there may have been formerly, but there are none now to my certain knowledge; for myself, and many more of our crew, have been all over it.
MODERN ALTERATIONS IN THE WEST INDIES.
Indeed these parts have undergone great changes in this last age, as well in places themselves as in their owners, and commodities of them; particularly Nombre de Dios, a city once famous, and which still retains a considerable name in some late accounts, is now nothing but a name. For I have lain ashore in the place where that city stood; but it is all overgrown with wood, so as to leave no sign that any town has been there.
THE COAST OF CARACAS, ITS REMARKABLE LAND, AND PRODUCT OF THE BEST COCOA-NUTS.
We stayed at the isle of Blanco not above ten days, and then went back to Salt Tortuga again, where Captain Yankes parted with us: and from thence, after about four days, all which time our men were drunk and quarrelling, we in Captain Wright’s ship went to the coast of Caracas on the mainland. This coast is upon several accounts very remarkable: it is a continued tract of high ridges of hills and small valleys intermixed for about 20 leagues, stretching east and west but in such manner that the ridges of hills and the valleys alternately run pointing upon the shore from south to north: the valleys are some of them about 4 or 5, others not above 1 or 2 furlongs wide, and in length from the sea scarce any of them above 4 or 5 mile at most; there being a long ridge of mountains at that distance from the sea-coast, and in a manner parallel to it, that joins those shorter ridges, and closes up the south end of the valleys, which at the north ends of them lie open to the sea, and make so many little sandy bays that are the only landing-places on the coast. Both the main ridge and these shorter ribs are very high land, so that 3 or 4 leagues off at sea the valleys scarce appear to the eye, but all look like one great mountain. From the isles of Los Roques about 15, and from the isle of Aves about 20 leagues off, we see this coast very plain from on board our ships, yet when at anchor on this coast we cannot see those Isles; though again from the tops of these hills they appear as if at no great distance, like so many hillocks in a pond. These hills are barren, except the lower sides of them that are covered with some of the same rich black mould that fills the valleys, and is as good as I have seen. In some of the valleys there’s a strong red clay, but in the general they are extremely fertile, well-watered, and inhabited by Spaniards and their Negroes. They have maize and plantains for their support, with Indian fowls and some hogs.
THE COCOA DESCRIBED AT LARGE, WITH THE HUSBANDRY OF IT.
But the main product of these valleys, and indeed the only commodity it vends, are the cocoa-nuts, of which the chocolate is made. The cocoa-tree grows nowhere in the North Seas but in the Bay of Campeachy, on Costa Rica, between Portobello and Nicaragua, chiefly up Carpenter’s River; and on this coast as high as the isle of Trinidad. In the South Seas it grows in the river of Guayaquil, a little to the southward of the Line, and in the valley of Colima, on the south side of the continent of Mexico; both which places I shall hereafter describe. Besides these I am confident there’s no places in the world where the cocoa grows, except those in Jamaica, of which there are now but few remaining, of many and large walks or plantations of them found there by the English at their first arrival, and since planted by them; and even these, though there is a great deal of pains and care bestowed on them, yet seldom come to anything, being generally blighted. The nuts of this coast of Caracas, though less than those of Costa Rica, which are large flat nuts, yet are better and fatter, in my opinion, being so very oily that we are forced to use water in rubbing them up; and the Spaniards that live here, instead of parching them to get off the shell before they pound or rub them to make chocolate, do in a manner burn them to dry up the oil; for else, they say, it would fill them too full of blood, drinking chocolate as they do five or six times a day. My worthy consort Mr. Ringrose commends most the Guayaquil nut; I presume because he had little knowledge of the rest; for, being intimately acquainted with him, I know the course of his travels and experience: but I am persuaded, had he known the rest so well as I pretend to have done, who have at several times been long used to, and in a manner lived upon all the several sorts of them above mentioned, he would prefer the Caracas nuts before any other; yet possibly the drying up of these nuts so much by the Spaniards here, as I said, may lessen their esteem with those Europeans that use their chocolate ready rubbed up: so that we always chose to make it up ourselves.
The cocoa-tree has a body about a foot and a half thick (the largest sort) and 7 or 8 foot high, to the branches, which are large and spreading like an oak, with a pretty thick, smooth, dark green leaf, shaped like that of a plum-tree, but larger. The nuts are enclosed in cods as big as both a man’s fists put together: at the broad end of which there is a small, tough, limber stalk, by which they hang pendulous from the body of the tree, in all parts of it from top to bottom, scattered at irregular distances, and from the greater branches a little way up; especially at the joints of them or partings, where they hang thickest, but never on the smaller boughs. There may be ordinarily about 20 or 30 of these cods upon a well-bearing tree; and they have two crops of them in a year, one in December, but the best in June. The cod itself or shell is almost half an inch thick; neither spongy nor woody, but of a substance between both, brittle, yet harder than the rind of a lemon; like which its surface is grained or knobbed, but more coarse and unequal. The cods at first are of a dark green, but the side of them next the sun of a muddy red. As they grow ripe, the green turns to a fine bright yellow, and the muddy to a more lively, beautiful red, very pleasant to the eye. They neither ripen nor are gathered at once: but for three weeks or a month when the season is the overseers of the plantations go every day about to see which are turned yellow; cutting at once, it may be, not above one from a tree. The cods thus gathered they lay in several heaps to sweat, and then, bursting the shell with their hands, they pull out the nuts which are the only substance they contain, having no stalk or pith among them, and (excepting that these nuts lie in regular rows) are placed like the grains of maize, but sticking together, and so closely stowed that, after they have been once separated, it would be hard to place them again in so narrow a compass. There are generally near 100 nuts in a cod; in proportion to the greatness of which, for it varies, the nuts are bigger or less. When taken out they dry them in the sun upon mats spread on the ground: after which they need no more care, having a thin hard skin of their own, and much oil, which preserves them. Salt water will not hurt them; for we had our bags rotten, lying in the bottom of our ship, and yet the nuts never the worse. They raise the young trees of nuts set with the great end downward in fine black mould, and in the same places where they are to bear; which they do in 4 or 5 years’ time, without the trouble of transplanting. There are ordinarily of these trees from 500 to 2000 and upward in a plantation or cocoa-walk, as they call them; and they shelter the young trees from the weather with plantains set about them for two or three years; destroying all the plantains by such time the cocoa-trees are of a pretty good body and able to endure the heat; which I take to be the most pernicious to them of anything; for, though these valleys lie open to the north winds, unless a little sheltered here and there by some groves of plantain-trees, which are purposely set near the shores of the several bays, yet, by all that I could either observe or learn, the cocoas in this country are never blighted, as I have often known them to be in other places. Cocoa-nuts are used as money in the Bay of Campeachy.
CITY OF CARACAS.
The chief town of this country is called Caracas; a good way within land, it is a large wealthy place, where live most of the owners of these cocoa-walks that are in the valleys by the shore; the plantations being managed by overseers and Negroes. It is in a large savannah country that abounds with cattle; and a Spaniard of my acquaintance, a very sensible man who has been there, tells me that it is very populous, and he judges it to be three times as big as Corunna in Galicia. The way to it is very steep and craggy, over that ridge of hills which I say closes up the valleys and partition hills of the cocoa coast.
LA GUAIRE FORT AND HAVEN.
In this coast itself the chief place is La Guaira, a good town close by the sea; and, though it has but a bad harbour, yet it is much frequented by the Spanish shipping; for the Dutch and English anchor in the sandy bays that lie here and there, in the mouths of several valleys, and where there is very good riding. The town is open, but has a strong fort; yet both were taken some years since by Captain Wright and his privateers. It is seated about 4 or 5 leagues to the westward of Cape Blanco, which cape is the eastermost boundary of this coast of Caracas. Further eastward about 20 leagues is a great lake or branch of the sea called Laguna de Venezuela; about which are many rich towns, but the mouth of the lake is shallow, that no ship can enter.
TOWN OF CUMANA.
Near this mouth is a place called Cumana where the privateers were once repulsed without daring to attempt it any more, being the only place in the North Seas they attempted in vain for many years; and the Spaniards since throw it in their teeth frequently, as a word of reproach or defiance to them.
VERINA, ITS FAMOUS BEST SPANISH TOBACCO.
Not far from that place is Verina, a small village and Spanish plantation, famous for its tobacco, reputed the best in the world.
But to return to Caracas, all this coast is subject to dry winds, generally north-east, which caused us to have scabby lips; and we always found it thus, and that in different seasons of the year, for I have been on this coast several times. In other respects it is very healthy, and a sweet clear air. The Spaniards have lookouts or scouts on the hills, and breast-works in the valleys, and most of their Negroes are furnished with arms also for defence of the bays.
THE RICH TRADE OF THE COAST OF CARACAS.
The Dutch have a very profitable trade here almost to themselves. I have known three or four great ships at a time on the coast, each it may be of thirty or forty guns. They carry hither all sorts of European commodities, especially linen; making vast returns, chiefly in silver and cocoa. And I have often wondered and regretted it that none of my own countrymen find the way thither directly from England; for our Jamaica men trade thither indeed, and find the sweet of it, though they carry English commodities at second or third hand.
While we lay on this coast, we went ashore in some of the bays, and took 7 or 8 tun of cocoa; and after that 3 barks, one laden with hides, the second with European commodities, the third with earthenware and brandy. With these 3 barks we went again to the island of Los Roques, where we shared our commodities and separated, having vessels enough to transport us all whither we thought most convenient. Twenty of us (for we were about 60) took one of the vessels and our share of the goods, and went directly for Virginia.
OF THE SUCKING FISH, OR REMORA.
In our way thither we took several of the sucking-fishes: for when we see them about the ship, we cast out a line and hook, and they will take it with any manner of bait, whether fish or flesh. The sucking-fish is about the bigness of a large whiting, and much of the same make towards the tail, but the head is flatter. From the head to the middle of its back there grows a sort of flesh of a hard gristly substance like that of the limpet (a shellfish tapering up pyramidically) which sticks to the rocks; or like the head or mouth of a shell-snail, but harder. This excrescence is of a flat and oval form, about seven or eight inches long and five or six broad; and rising about half an inch high. It is full of small ridges with which it will fasten itself to anything that it meets with in the sea, just as a snail does to a wall. When any of them happen to come about a ship they seldom leave her, for they will feed on such filth as is daily thrown overboard, or on mere excrements. When it is fair weather, and but little wind, they will play about the ship; but in blustering weather, or when the ship sails quick, they commonly fasten themselves to the ship’s bottom, from whence neither the ship’s motion, though never so swift, nor the most tempestuous sea can remove them. They will likewise fasten themselves to any other bigger fish; for they never swim fast themselves if they meet with anything to carry them. I have found them sticking to a shark after it was hauled in on the deck, though a shark is so strong and boisterous a fish, and throws about him so vehemently for half an hour together, it may be, when caught, that did not the sucking-fish stick at no ordinary rate, it must needs be cast off by so much violence. It is usual also to see them sticking to turtle, to any old trees, planks, or the like, that lie driven at sea. Any knobs or inequalities at a ship’s bottom are a great hindrance to the swiftness of its sailing; and 10 or 12 of these sticking to it must needs retard it as much, in a manner, as if its bottom were foul. So that I am inclined to think that this fish is the remora, of which the ancients tell such stories; if it be not I know no other that is, and I leave the reader to judge. I have seen of these sucking-fishes in great plenty in the Bay of Campeachy and in all the sea between that and the coast of Caracas, as about those islands particularly I have lately described, Los Roques, Blanco, Tortugas, etc. They have no scales, and are very good meat.
THE AUTHOR’S ARRIVAL IN VIRGINIA.
We met nothing else worth remark in our voyage to Virginia, where we arrived in July 1682. That country is so well known to our nation that I shall say nothing of it, nor shall I detain the reader with the story of my own affairs, and the trouble that befell me during about thirteen months of my stay there; but in the next chapter enter immediately upon my second voyage into the South Seas, and round the globe.