Bibliography Texts

Cruise of the Potomac

Francis Warriner

The Galápagos chapter is given here. An asterisk (*) indicates an author's footnote; a “§” symbol is a footnote added to this online page. The illustration below is one of five unattributed woodcuts in the text.


Galapagos islands—Essex bay—Landing at Black Beach—Colony—Governor Villamil—Visit to an English resident—Excursion to Saddle point—Terrapins—Turtle doves—Departure for Guayaquil—Breakers—Island of Puna—Catholic ceremonies—Guayaquil—Buildings—Inhabitants—Pantheon—Visit to the ladies—General Flores—Rocafuerte.

A Whaling Scene

On the twenty-ninth of August [1833], we passed Chatham island, one of the Galapagos, and in the evening came abreast of another, called Hood's. The Galapagos are dreary, and scattered along the equator at the distance of two hundred leagues from the main land, almost uninhabited. They were formerly but little known and but seldom visited; but one of them, Charles island, has been recently settled by a small colony of convicts from Guayaquil, affording a place of rendezvous for whale ships. On approaching this island, we anchored on the thirty-first of August, in Essex bay,*§ which, with propriety might be called an open roadstead, seven miles from the colony. A mountain lay before us, bearing a few scattered trees, which on a nearer observation we found to be the prickly pear. This tree, which in our country is only of the size of a greenhouse plant, is here ten feet in height and ten or twelve inches in diameter, with the leaves proportionably large, and fruit not remarkably nutritious, of the size of a hen's egg. The tree is of the softest texture, and might be easily felled with a knife. It furnishes food for hogs and goats; We landed from one of the ship's boats, after a row of seven miles from our vessel, at a place called Black Beach. Our path led us up a gradual ascent towards the summit of a mountain, affording us no trace of human inhabitants, except a few huts at the distance of about three miles from the beach. The inhabitants here, desirous of establishing public worship, had built a church of rude construction. Wine had been furnished for the communion service, but the Padre drank it up and absconded. Passing three huts, our path soon turned to the right, suddenly disclosing to view a beautiful valley about five miles in length on the other side of the mountain, at a considerable elevation above the ocean. Here we saw a cleared spot of ground with a row of small habitations and cultivated gardens. This is the residence of the colony to which we have alluded, consisting of about one hundred and fifty persons of both sexes, and various colors, chiefly convicts, banished from the neighboring coast of the Eucador [sic, Ecuador], principally from Guayaquil.

* So named by Com. Porter, who touched here in 1814. Com. Downes was then his first lieutenant.

§ Now, Post Office Bay.

Villamil, a gentleman from the department of the Eucador, is constituted the governor and chief proprietor. In 1831 he obtained permission from Gen. Flores, to form them into a colony, for the purpose of providing supplies for whale ships passing along that part of the coast. The beautiful spot he has chosen for a village, has a rich volcanic soil; and a climate highly favorable to the production of every species of fruits and vegetables. Several crops may be raised annually from the same field, with little cultivation. There is generally a thick mist or rain in the valley in the morning, which is highly favorable to vegetation. We reached the place about noon, passing little patches of bananas, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and yuca, or cassada.* The habitations of the colonists are constructed somewhat after the manner of those we saw at the Sandwich islands, being formed of poles and bushes. The governor's house commands a fine view of the ocean, and be gave us a pleasing statement of his past success and future prospects. We slept that night at the house of an Englishman,§ who has taken up his residence there. His was the best building on the island. It was composed of a few upright posts, supporting horizontal poles, together with a thatched roof, rising to such a height as to seem the chief part of the building. It contained only three apartments, one of which was my lodging room. The weather during the day had been excessively hot, the night was damp and cold, and our lodgings, in consequence, were rather uncomfortable. My bedstead, probably the best on the island, had high posts and curtains, but was located upon a floor of earth. The most remarkable object I saw at the colony, was a spring of fine water issuing from an elevated rock. The water is distilled through it, as through a filtering stone, falling into a reservoir, discharging itself by a small but lively stream. On the left hand above the spring is a channel worn in the rocks, about twelve inches wide, very smooth and uniform, extending some distance up the hill, the origin of which it seems difficult to conjecture. The colonists say it has been worn by the terrapins or land tortoises, which in some parts of the island are still very numerous. They visited the spring in great numbers, and by rubbing their shells against the rock for centuries, are supposed to have given it its present appearance.

* A root highly nutritious, having aome resemblance in size and shape to the parsnip.

§ Although Warriner does not give the man's name, it is no doubt Nicholas O. Lawson. See The Seven Year Search for Nicholas O. Lawson by Marcel Nordlohne for details about Lawson.

We were in want of a supply of fresh food, and having learned that there was a spot where terrapin might be obtained in great numbers, Commodore Downes determined that a little time should be devoted to the object. The expedition afforded a good deal of amusement. About one hundred of the crew, under charge of Lieut. Hoff, midshipmen Lewis, Hoban, and Adams, started from the ship in the whale boat, launch, and cutters, for a row of fourteen miles, to Saddle Point.§ The first and second cutters, with the launch, were anchored near the shore. The whale boat was fastened to one of them, and connected with a strong rope to the iron-bound precipitous bluff, which rises several hundred feet from the sea. The rocks were of volcanic origin, black, ragged, and misshapen. The men were all landed one by one, while the waves were continually swelling and subsiding, so that it required caution, activity, and strength, to secure one from losing his hold, or at least from getting plunged into the water. The steepness of the bluff rendered our footing precarious; while the high and almost perpendicular rocks were yet to be surmounted. These difficulties overcome, we attained the summit, where a pleasanter scene presented itself. On every side we saw the ocean surrounding us, with the island extending some ten or twelve miles distant, presenting a considerable variety of surface. The ground exhibited few signs of vegetation, except here and there a cluster of small trees and bushes, while the bare volcanic stones tinkled beneath our feet like metallic substances.* Not a human dwelling was to be seen. Our men divided into small parties, and set off in different directions. I started with one of the parties on a walk of five miles from the landing. The surface was a little undulated, and covered with grass and occasional clumps of bushes. No traces of human existence had met our eye, when the attention of my companion was suddenly arrested by a sound like that of a deep suppressed sigh, as from some fellow being in distress, which was not a little startling in so desert a place. He had almost trodden upon a terrapin, which, according to the custom of that sluggish race, waa lying quietly in the shade during the heat of the day. Its color had great resemblance to the stones of the island. I had hardly ceased laughing at my companion’s momentary symptoms of timidity, when I met with a similar surprise: for we had unconsciously arrived upon the borders of the terrapin region. I had well nigh set my feet upon one of the crawling tribe. At length we seized our prizes, and placed them upon our backs, which was the easiest way of transporting them. These creatures are perfectly harmless, and weigh from one to three hundred pounds, so that one of ordinary eize is a sufficient backload for a man, especially while performing a walk of five miles. The different parties of seamen came down to the bluff during the day, in odd processions, each with a terrapin upon his back, like the pack of a pedler, staggering under the weight of his burden. About noon we partook of a picnic dinner, consisting of biscuit, wine, &c. which had been brought from the ship, and turtle soup, which had been prepared by some of the sailors. The flesh of the animal was wholesome and delicious.

§ The modern Punta Saddle, coordinates 1.315828° S, 90.511343° W, and about 8½ (not 14) miles from Essex/Post Office Bay.

* We saw at another time on the margin of a hill an open cavity which had every appearance of an extinguished crater.

One hundred terrapins upon the bluff, of all sorts and sizes, some upon their backs and some in a crawling condition, made a ludicrous appearance; and occasioned no little trouble to the sailors, who sought to keep them within the due bounds of propriety. Finally, each was suspended by a rope and let down the bluff. All were placed within the boats, when we embarked and rowed safely back to the ship with our booty. Similar excursions were made during the two following days, till we finally had no less than six hundred terrapins on board, which were destined to furnish us with many a rich repast, during the remainder of our cruise. Another party, under charge of the first lieutenant, the purser, and midshipman Sinclair, took a boat load of enormous size at Porter's island. The liver of the terrapin, which is very delicious, and the legs and eggs, are the only parts fit to be eaten. The legs were generally boiled for soup, while the livers were broiled. The eggs are nearly globular, and about three inches in diameter; By their aid, excellent pies were made for us from the fine pumpkins furnished at the colony. Those vegetables were remarkably prolific beyond everything else, if we might believe all the statements we heard. The governor said that twenty thousand had been raised from a single seed. I brought home three of the terrapins, one of which is still alive, feeding upon almost every species of vegetables that can be offered it.

The island abounds with turtle doves, so tame as to be easily knocked down with a club. One of the officers killed several hundred in a single day, which were added to our catalogue of eatables. Other birds of the island were equally tame. Two of the mocking bird species came and fed upon the crumbs whieh I held in my hand. Seals, red crabs, and iguanas, exist in abundance. The latter have some resemblance to long-tailed cats in a coat of mail. They possess a remarkably social disposition, herding together by thousands so closely as to cover the whole face of the rocks. Among the inhabitants of the Pacific, they form a favorite article of food.

Early in the morning of the tenth of September, we weighed anchor and stood out of Essex bay for Guayaquil, distant seven hundred miles. Passing Saddle point, where we had taken our terrapins, we soon lost sight of land.§ About nine o'clock I received a message from the Commodore, desiring me to read the burial service over the remains of one of the men, who had died the night previous. It excited in my mind melancholy feelings, to see one after another of our ship's crew leaving the world with all its hopes and joys behind them.

§ If the Potomac was bound for Guayaquil, it is unclear why the ship steered west and then south to pass Saddle Point.

In the evening, breakers were reported on the lee bow. All was agitation. The Commodore ordered the ship to be put about, but the wind was so light that she missed stays. She was soon put on the other tack, when the first lieutenant was sent off to examine into the cause of alarm. Soon after, to our great relief, he reported a shoal of fish! The white streak extended nearly half a mile, and was about six feet in width. On the evening of the next day, the vessel glided rapidly through the water, the waves foamed like the rushing of a cataract, and the sea around was one luminous mass, presenting a magnificent appearance, while shoals of porpoises were playing about, some of them occasionally darting across the bow of our ship. On the sixteenth of September, we anchored off the island of Puna, after having stopped the day previous, to bury the remains of another of our crew. There was something sad in the thought of leaving a fellow being in so lonely a spot as was the island where we buried him. Yet I could not but hope that angels would condescend to watch over his sleeping dust.

While rounding the point of land just at the entrance of the harbor, we were refreshed by the fragrance of the shrubs, and cheered by the music of the grasshoppers and tree toads, reminding me of many a scene in my native village.

The town of Puna, as seen from the ship, presents a wild and romantic appearance, The houses, about two hundred in number, are like little huts hoisted upon stilts, bearing them above the reach of snakes and reptiles, which formerly infested the place. It was here that Pizarro, three centuries ago, obtained the Indian Felipe as an interpreter to the Inca Atahualpa, then residing about a league from Caxamarca, on the borders of Peru.

During out stay here, I witnessed a Catholic procession, attended by most of the inhabitants of the town, which appeared very ridiculous. Several negroes, dressed with yellow satin jackets, pantaloons, and white silk stockings, with hideous masks on their faces, headed the procession, calling themselves diablitos, or devils, of which they might have been tolerable representatives. These were succeeded by a body of well dressed men, said to be actors for the evening. One among them appeared in full military uniform, while another wore a crown ornamented with feathers, with the view of personating Montezuma, the ancient cacique. These actors were succeeded by the image la Merced, the saint of the day, followed by the old Padre under a canopy of satin, attended by a number of females as flambeau bearers. Mass was then performed upon altars which had been erected in different parts of the town, when the firing of cannon and musketry, together with the shouts of the populace, closed the scene. The evening following was devoted to licentiouness and debauchery.

On the nineteenth, a party composed of Lieutenants Wilson, Hoff', and Terrett; Doctors Jackson and Foltz; Midshipmen Hoban, Hart, Stanley, and Lincoln, prepared to pay a visit to Guayaquil, forty miles distant. Don Sanchez Pino, accompanied us, with dispatches for the Colombian government. We left the ship about four o'clock in the morning, in our first cutter, which was rigged up like a schooner for the occasion, and were soon under way. We had a pleasant sail up the river. The scenery is fine, resembling in some respects that of the Connecticut, though more richly luxuriant. The shrubbery is composed of sugarcane, cocoa, plantains, and the trees extend to the water's edge. The river is about a mile and a half in width and very crooked. About six miles from the city, a magnificent prospect opened to our view. The high hills in the background contrasted finely with the low flats along the banks of the river. We arrived at the city about ten o'clock, and were received with the greatest cordiality and kindness by the American residents. The city is built on a beautiful plain, on the westerly side of the river. There is something peculiar in the plan of the buildings in Guayaquil, and different from any thing I have seen elsewhere. The town is laid out in squares. All the buildings upon a square are constructed upon a uniform plan, and have the appearance of having been erected at one time. The upper stories project so from the street as completely to shelter the sidewalks. A foot passenger has, therefore, a convenient covered passage before him wherever he goes, with a row of columns on one hand, on which the two upper stories of the house are supported. These columns as I was informed, are little less substantial than iron, being made of lignum vitae, while the houses are all of wood. This general plan of construction is not confined to any particular square, nor to any single quarter of the city, but is universal. You may therefore walk wherever you please, with almost equal convenience, whether round a square, or through any of the streets. Such an arrangement is peculiarly adapted to the climate, where the heat is so continually oppressive during the summer, and the rains so tedious during the winter. The inhabitants of Guayaquil seem to have a custom peculiar to themselves; that of assigning different stories of their dwellings to the different classes in society. The first floors are occupied by the common people; the second, by a more elevated class, while the “top of the town” live literally at the top of their houses. The city presents a general aspect of decay. The buildings, including the churches and their clumsy belfries, constructed of wood, appear as if they might have been whitewashed many years ago, and neglected ever since. The brown weatherbeaten surface is every where conspicuous. There are no public buildings of any importance in the place. The streets are extremely filthy, and contain multitudes of entirely naked children. The generality of the people, however, are dressed much like the citizens of our own country.

Most of the traffic of the city takes place in the evening. Large quantities of fruit are brought down the river upon rafts and in canoes, for the supply of the market; such as pineapples, melons, oranges, bananas, and plantains. The latter, a species of the banana, are used by the people instead of bread.

Within a short distance from the town is a shady wall, which forms a dividing line between the salt and fresh water. This is similar to the mill dam at Boston, though on a smaller scale. At the extremity of this dam is the Pantheon, in the shape of a parallelogram, with a chapel of rude appearance in the centre. The niches in the walls resemble ovens. Nearby we saw a breastwork, with half a dozen mounted guns, which had been placed there twelve months previous, in anticipation of an invasion from the Indians. This was the only place where the city could be attacked from the land. The road from this point winds up a high hill, whieh commands an extensive prospect. In one direction was to be seen the city spread out at our feet; in another, the river studded with beautifully green islands, while distant hills and mountains covered with the richest verdure, gave a charming variety to the landscape. While we were enjoying the prospect, numbers of parrots and parroquets flew over our heads, filling the air with their screams. We saw here one specimen of the “maderia negro,” a tree bearing large yellow bell-shaped flowers, while entirely destitute of leaves. Returning to the town by a different road, we visited the bull circus, a temporary building, formed of split bamboo. Here we were saluted by a Padre, who said “no esta bueno” [it is not good]. I imagined for a moment that he was censuring this relic of barbarism, till he gave us to understand that if we wished to see anything grand, we must go to Quito. The profits of this circus were to be appropriated to the erection of a hospital, in anticipation of the cholera. The same day, about one o'clock, headed by the Commodore, we made several calls upon the ladies who had sent us their cards on our arrival; a custom, it seems, which is peculiar to the place. 0ne of the houses in particular was spacious, airy and well furnished. The lady of the mansion soon made her appearance, neatly dressed in white, with a beautiful crape shawl hanging loosely over her shoulders. Her countenance was engaging, her manners were graceful, and her conversation easy and agreeable. The ladies of Guayaquil have long been celebrated for their beauty. They bear a nearer resemblance to the ladies of the United States, than those of any other part of South America that I visited. After a short but interesting visit to this city, we put off in our schooner rigged cutter, for the ship, accompanied by Col. Wright, of the Colombian service, an intelligent Irish gentleman, who had placed himself under our protection to escape the vengeance of Gen. Flores, the president of Eacudor. The Colonel had been exposig the base conduct of Flores through the government papers, and just as we were to sail, an order had been issued for his apprehension. We had a fine sail down the river, and anchored abreast of the ship about sunset of the twenty-first.

The provinces of Eacudor, Venezuela, and New Granada were formerly united under one president, and called the United States of Colombia, but they now constitute separate governments. Santander is the president of Venezuela; Gen. Paez, of New Grenada; and Gen. Flores of Eacudor. Flores is very unpopular, and deservedly so. His sole aim is self aggrandizement in the pursuit of wealth and power. He seems perfectly reckless of the public interests in relation to the means and measures he is employing. One of the earliest acts of his administration was to appropriate to himself the best hacienda, or landed estate in the country, and compel some of the natives to cultivate it as his tenants. Another act was to buy up all the reals then circulating in the country, at a reduction of fifty per cent ; and subsequently circulating them at their full value. Too many of the presidents of South Ameriuca have borne a similar character. Few real patriots are to be found. The Eacudor seems thus far to have gained nothing by the revolution. Of five thousand foreigners who entered the Colombian service, only fifteen individuals remained at the time we were there. Some had fallen in battle, others had been assassinated, and many had left the service. Rocafuerte and others had been engaged in exposing through the medium of a Quito paper, then under the charge of Col. Wright, the corrupt administration of government. Flores, in consequence, assumed extraordinary powers, and undertook to put a stop to the liberty of the press. Yet Rocafuerte, as a member of congress, was placed beyond the reach of his influence. It is a subject for rejoicing that there are some true patriots in the country, and among them we know of no one whose character is more justly to be admired than that of Rocafuerte. This is the same gentleman who was formerly Mexican envoy to London, and passed several years in that city. He is of the liberal party, and an enlightened advocate of civil and religious freedom. He is an ornament to his country, and highly respected for his talents and gentlemanly deportment. Though in the minority, he has written and spoken with the utmost firmness against the abuses of power, and conducted himself in such a manner as reflects great honor upon himself and country. There could not remain a question but that Gen. Flores was a tyrant at heart, aspiring for regal titles and honors; and Rocafuerte did not hesitate to tell him so. He animadverted upon the members of Congress as a body, denouncing them as the dupes and servile subjects of a tyrant; at the same time declaring to them that they were actuated by no noble or patriotic principles, but were the veriest slaves of avarice and despotism. He compared Flores to Robespierre, and the members of Congress to his accomplices. The barbarous manner in which things were then conducted, might have sufficiently warranted him in drawing such a comparison. Flores, in retaliation, placed himself above the laws of his country, deprived Rocafuerte of his seat in Congress, and threatened that his head should be severed from his body, placed upon a spear, and borne through the streets of Quito. Rocafuerte's speech in reply, was distinguished for its eloquence of style and energy of diction, and was every way worthy of its author. He declared that be had an undoubted right to use the liberty of speech, and would employ it, that he had been governed solely by pure and patriotic motives, and that he was prepared even to die in his country's cause. Other gentlemen were associated with Rocafuerte in exposing the abuses of government. Some of them in consequence were declared outlaws, and others were conveyed in chains to Guayaquil.