Rob Sequin | Havana Journal

The text below is from the George Alexander Cooke World Atlas dated 1822. This book is packed with maps of countries and descriptive text about them. The book is 5” thick!

I scanned the text about Cuba from the book, ran it through an optical recognition scanner, edited the text just a bit and posted the edited version below so people can see what was written about Cuba in 1822.

My words are in parentheses when needed. The incorrect or outdated spellings are from the original author.

Cuba as described in 1822

THIS island was discovered by Columbus in 1492. He had but a slight view of it, yet it proved fatal to the natives; for having presented him with gold, some pieces of which he carried into Spain, it occasioned an immediate resolution to settle in it, which was accordingly effected in 1511.

The island of Cuba extends in latitude from 20 (degrees) 20’ to the tropic of Cancer; and from 74 (degrees) to 85 (degrees) 15’ west longitude. It is about seven hundred miles in length from east to west, but very narrow in proportion, not being above seventy in breadth. It lies sixty miles to the west of Hispaniola, twenty-five leagues to the north of Jamaica, one hundred miles to the east of Jucatan (author spelling), and as many to the south of Cape Florida (Florida was not yet part of the United States). It commands the entrance of both the Gulphs of Mexico and Florida, and the Windward Passage: so that the Spaniards, who are the only possessors of it, may, with a tolerable fleet, not only secure their own trade, but annoy their neighbours.

In Cuba there are no winters; but in the months of July and August, when the sun is vertical, the rains and storms are great, otherwise the climate would be intolerably hot. The fairest season is when the sun is farthest off, and then it is hottest in the morning; for towards noon a breeze springs up, which blows pretty brisk in the evening. The trade-winds in these seas blow from the north-east. At the full and change of the moon, from October to April, there are brisk winds at north and north west, which in December and January, often turns to storms; though this is called the fair season.

(Image of Cuba map above was scanned from the same book. Click on the image to see a larger version.)

The country is well watered, and agreeably diversified with woods, lawns, and vallies. The soil is capable of producing, in the greatest plenty, every thing that grows in the other American islands; but the Cuba, commonly called the Havannah, (author spelling) tobacco is thought to excel that of all the world: and their sugar would equal their tobacco in goodness, had they industry to cultivate the canes. The other products are ginger, long pepper, and other spices ; casia, mastic, aloes, large cedars, and other odoriferous trees: oaks, pines, palm-trees, large vines, fine cotton trees, plantains, bananas, ananas, guavas, lemons, cocoas, and two sorts of fruit, called camilor, and guanavana; the first like a china-orange, and the other shaped like a heart, with a juice between sweet and acid.

The Spanish plantations are furnished by the mines of Cuba with a sufficiency of metal for all their brass guns. Gold dust is found in the sands of the rivers: but it is uncertain whether there are any gold or silver mines, the hopes of which occasioned the massacre of all the ancient inhabitants, who were either unable or unwilling to discover them. If there are any, they are not worked. A chain of hills runs through the middle of the island; but the land near the coast is generally a level champaign country. The interior parts lie quite uncultivated, and uninhabited.

The ports and harbours here are of great advantage to ships for passing the gulph in safety; but there are scarce any navigable rivers. Both the coasts and rivers abound with fish, and also with alligators. There are great conveniences for making salt, but the inhabitants avail themselves very little of them.

The cattle brought hither by the Spaniards have multiplied exceedingly, great numbers now running wild in the woods, of which many are killed chiefly for their hides and tallow, that are sent to Spain. Their flesh also, being cut into pieces and dried in the sun, serves to victual ships. These cattle are often so fat, that they die through the burden of their grease. Here are likewise abundance of mules, horses, sheep, wild boars, and hogs, together with wild and tame fowl, parrots, partridges, blue head, large tortoises, quarries of flint, and several fountains of bitumen, which is used instead of pitch, as well as for medicinal purposes. There are mines of excellent copper, which supply the other colonies with domestic utensils.

The island of Cuba is pleasant, and its present state is flourishing, the Spaniards having every year, for a considerable time past, added something to its improvement. Formerly its exportations never equaled those of the small British Island of Antigua. The reason of this, next to the indolence of the Spaniards, was the great facility with which the inhabitants got their money, by means of the galleons and the flota, and the very great contraband trade carried on here, in defiance of their laws, and even with the connivance of the government of the island.

The civil government of Cuba is dependent on that of St. Domingo, or Hispaniola. Its bishop, whose see is at St. Jago (Santiago de Cuba), though he commonly resides at the Havannah, is suffragan to the archbishop of St. Domingo. The east part of the island is under the government of St. Jago, and the west under the governor of the Havannah. There are several large towns in the island; but the most considerable are the two above-mentioned.

The Havannah, the capital, is situated on the north-west coast of the island, fifty leagues from Cape Antonio, its westernmost point; four hundred and ninety miles west from St. Jago; forty-one leagues south of the Cape of Florida, the gulph of which it commands, by being situated at its mouth; and two days sail from the Straits of Bahama. The town itself, distinct from the fortifications, is about two miles in circuit. The port is one of the finest and most secure in the world, yet the narrowness of its passage has rendered it so difficult of access, that the galleons have often been insulted, and taken within sight of it, without receiving any assistance from the fortifications.

The churches are conceivably magnificent, and rich in plate and ornaments; the streets clean and straight, but narrow; and the houses, which are of stone, make a good appearance, but are badly furnished.

The inhabitants, in general, are said to be more sociable and conversable than those of the other Spanish dominions in America.

The city, which is one of the richest in America, especially when the galleons are here, stands in the most fruitful part of the island, on the west side, along the shore, which rounds so much, that above half of it is washed by the sea, and the rest by two branches of the river Lagida. There is a fine square, with uniform buildings in the middle of it.

This city is of greater importance to the Spaniards than any other in America, being the place of rendezvous for all their fleets, in return from that quarter of the world to Old Spain, and lying at the mouth of the Gulph of Florida, through which they are all obliged to pass. They justly give it the appellation of the Key of all the West Indies, to lock or open the door of entrance thereto; and, indeed, no ships can pass that way without leave from this port. Here is generally a squadron of Spanish men of war; and here, in September, meet the galleons, flota, and other ships, from several ports, both of the continent and islands, to take in provisions and water, with great part of their lading, and for the convenience of returning to Old Spain in a body.

A continual fair is kept till their departure, which is generally before the end of the month, when a proclamation is made, forbidding any that belong to the fleet to stay in the town, on pain of death ; and, upon firing a warning gun, they all go on board. The value of the cargo is seldom less than seven hundred thousand pounds sterling: so that it may be well imagined, that a place of so much importance is in a condition both to defend itself, and to protect the ships that frequent it.

This city, after a long and obstinate defence, was surrendered, with all its forts and dependencies, to his Britannic Majesty’s arms, by capitulation, on the 12th of August, 1762, but was restored by the peace of the following year. The Spaniards have taken care to repair the damages which the fortifications received during the siege by the English, and added new ones, besides using every other precaution to secure it, for the future, from all attempts of an enemy. There is a governor-general, and eighteen jurisdictions are governed by distinct magistrates.

St. Jago stands at the bottom of a large bay, about two leagues from the sea, on the south-east side of the island. It is distinguished from St. Jago, in Chili (authors spelling, not an error), by the addition of Di Cuba, as the other is by that of Di Chili. Since the unsuccessful attempt made by the English, under Admiral Vernon and General Wentworth, the fortifications have been repaired, and the town has recovered some degree of its former splendour, carrying on a good trade with Old and New Spain, and, above all, with the Canaries.

The other towns of note are Santa Cruz, which has a tolerable harbour, and stands about one hundred and sixty-three miles east of the Havannah; Porto del Principe, situated on the coast, about three hundred miles south-east of the Havannah; and Baracoa, situated on the north-east part, which has a small harbour.