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British travelogues of independence-era Spanish America

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Maria Graham

“This event brings us within a very few years of the period when the South American colonies of Spain began to claim, first, equal privileges with the mother country; and, finally, that independence as a right, of which they prepared to assert their possession as a fact, which the fleets and armies of Old Spain were in no condition to controvert. The emancipation of North America had produced an effect, at first unnoticed, but which broke out from time to time in impatient and impotent struggles, both in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies. As the courts of Europe became either more feeble, or more deeply engaged in the momentous concerns of the long revolutionary war, their western settlements came to feel not only that they were strong enough to protect themselves, but that they might eventually be forced to do so, if they wished to evade subjection to a power, whose manners, habits and language were foreign, and consequently hateful to them. The period during which they were thus, in a manner, left to themselves, taught them to discover and to depend on their own resources; and the constant demands for money supplies from a distant government, which could afford in return little aid or protection, disgusted the natives with so distant and expensive a monarchy.

The influence of the church, too, which had hitherto been almost omnipotent in favour of the ancient order of things, began to be exerted, perhaps unintentionally, in the cause of independence. To prevent South America from falling into the hands of the French, a nation without an inquisition and tolerant alike of Jew, heretic, and infidel, became a serious object with the priests; and hence, while the revolutionists proceeded at first cautiously, and only professed to hold the country for the legitimate sovereign, resisting the French usurpation, the priests were always to be found on the patriot side. They began to discover the necessity of more education among themselves; hence, books long proscribed and placed on the interdicted lists, were sought after, and read with eagerness. Persons were sent even to England to purchase these; and though, in the first heat of the moment, good and bad were taken together, and systems of all kinds mingled and confused, yet all tended to produce an anxious longing for independence, a serious determination to cast off the yoke of the mother country.”

Source: Maria Graham, Journal of a Residence in Chile, during the year 1822. And a Voyage from Chile to Brazil in 1823, London, 1824, pp. 12-13

General Monagas’ Army

“These squalid troops presented a very motley group. They were of every age, from eight years to fifty, or even more. Some were completely naked; some had a hair rope bound round their body, to which was attached a piece of cloth, behind and before, which passes between the thighs, called Yayuco, or Guayuco; some had a jacket; some, a kind of short pantaloons, of very coarse linen; some a cap; some, an old hat; some, a hat made of straw; but none of them were completely clothed; while all of them had a knife or dagger hid about some part of their body. They were all furnished with muskets.

[…] Many of these men, and not a few of their officers, had never before been on board a ship: and, of course, to such men everything seemed strange and even unaccountable. - - -

The action of the helm, in regulating the vessel, attracted much of their attention, and one of their own officers endeavoured to explain it to them. He said that, on horseback, the bridle pulled the horse towards the hand of the rider; but, when the helm of a ship was pulled, the vessel veered to the opposite side. They saw the fact and believed it, but still could not understand the principle.”

Source: James H. Robinson, English Surgeon in the Venezuelan Service, Journal of an expedition 1400 miles up the Orinoco and 300 up the Arauca; with an account of the country, the manners of the people, military operations &c., London, 1822, pp. 138-139.

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The origins of the independence movement
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