Narrative of a Voyage to the West Indies and Mexico - Part 7

Part 7

[56] "The boats towed our ships, one after the other, through the midst of the sunken rocks, which makes this port one of the most dangerous that I have seen in all my voyages in the north or south seas.... We cast our anchors in the haven, but as they were not sufficient to a.s.sure our vessels in so dangerous a port, we added the a.s.sistance of many cables, which were fastened to great rings of iron, fixed expressly in the walls of the castle to guarantee ships thereby from the violence of the north wind."--Gage's _Voyage_.

The said port is only two hundred paces in width, and two hundred and fifty in length. The place is only kept for the convenience of the galleons which come, as it has been said, from Spain, to load with the merchandise, and gold and silver, which are drawn from New Spain.

On the other side of the castle, and about two thousand paces from it, on terra firma, there is a small, but very trading town, called Bouteron. At four leagues from the said Bouteron, there is also another town, named Vera-Crux, which is in a very fine situation, and two leagues from the sea.

Fifteen days after our arrival at the said St. Jean de Luz, I went, with the permission of our admiral, to "Mechique" (Mexico), distant from that place one hundred leagues, always going inland.

It is impossible to see or desire a more beautiful country than this kingdom of New Spain, which is three hundred leagues in length, and two hundred in breadth.

Making this journey to "Mechique," I admired the fine forests, filled with the most beautiful trees that one could wish to see, such as palms, cedars, laurel, orange, and lemon trees. Palmistes, gouiave, accoiates,[57] good Bresil,[58] and Campesche wood, which are all trees common to the country, with an infinity of other kinds, that I cannot recite on account of their diversity, and which give such contentment to the sight, with the quant.i.ties of birds of divers plumage, which are seen in the forests, that it is not possible to feel more. Next are met large level plains as far as the eye can see, with immense flocks of cattle, such as horses, mules, oxen, cows, sheep, and goats, which have pastures always fresh in every season, there being no winter, but an air very temperate, neither hot nor cold. It only rains twice in the year, but the dews are so heavy at night that the plants are sufficiently watered and nourished. Besides that, the whole of the country is ornamented with very fine rivers and streams, which traverse almost the whole of the kingdom, and which, for the greater part, are navigable for boats.

[57] See forward, pages 28 and 29.

[58] Brazil, or Bresil wood--Caesalpinia. Two species of Brazil wood are used in dyeing, Caes. Echinata (Lamarck), and Caes. Sappan (Linn.) The first is the Brazil wood, or Bresillet, of Pernambuco, a large tree growing naturally in South America, used in commerce for red dye. The second is indigenous in India, where it is used for the same purpose, and known in the trade as sappan wood; in France, "Bresellet des Indes."

The origin of the name "Brazil," or "Bresil," for this wood, was long a moot point, whether the country took its name from the tree, or the tree from the country. Many early writers (and some modern) have thought that it was derived from the country. The Sieur de Rochefort, in his "_Histoire Naturelle et Morale des Antilles d'Amerique_" (Rotterdam, 1658), says: "Le bois de Bresil est ainsi nomme a cause que le premier qui a este veu en Europe, avoit este apporte de la Province du Bresil, ou il croist en plus grande abondance qu'en aucun endroit de l'Amerique"; and Savary, in his _Dictionnaire du Commerce_, writes: "C'est un bois dont on se sert pour teindre en rouge, et qui est ainsi nomme puisqu'il est d'abord venu du Bresil, province de l'Amerique." I could cite more modern authorities, written and oral, for within the last month I heard the derivation of the country a.s.serted by a gentleman of no slight pretensions to learning.

Unfortunately for the above theory, the names "Bresil" and "Bresillet" are mentioned in an "ordonnance" of John, king of France, dated London, 16th September, 1358. "Nous avons entendu plusieurs marchants, Lombards et autres, qui ont trait, ou faict traire hors du dict Royaume,--guerdes, garances, '_Bresils_, et autres teintures.'"

Again, in the _Reglements pour le Mestier de Draperie de la Ville de Troyes_, 360: "Nous avons ordene, et ordenons que dores-en-avant, aucune teintures ne puisse ou doie taindre draps au laines en ycelle Ville de Troies, mais que de garde, de garance, de _Bresil_, et d'autres meilleures taintures," etc.

Also in the _Statuts et Reglements pour les Drapiers de la Ville de Rouen_, 4th December and 5th January, 1378, _Bresil_ is mentioned, and it is to be found in _Ordonnances_ of the years 1368, 1398, and 1400. In the very ancient MS. statutes of the town of Abbeville, _Bresil_ is named: "Que a Selle neuve, ne sait mis en oeuvre basenne _Bresille_." Finally, Muratori, in his _Antiq. Ital. Med. aevi_, vol. ii, cites a charter of the year 1193, in which "Brazil" appears. "Scilicet de omnibus drappis de batilicio, de lume zucarina, de _Brasile_," etc.

The antiquity of the name is thus clearly shown, the origin is most probably "brasa," red, flame-colour, incandescent.

We have the quaint authority of Barros as to the origin of the name of the country, Brazil. "This country had at first the name of Santa Croce, Holy Cross, on account of that which was raised there; but the demon, who loses by this standard of the cross the empire which he had over us, and which had been taken from him by the mediation of the merits of Jesus Christ, destroyed the cross, and caused the country to be called Brazil, the name of a red wood. This name has entered into the mouth of every one, and that of Holy Cross is lost, as if it was more important that a name should come from a wood used to dye clothes, rather than from that wood which gives virtue to all the sacraments--means of our salvation--because it was dyed with the blood of Jesus Christ spilled upon it."

Thus it is evident that the name Brazils was given to the country by the Portuguese, subsequently to Cabral's discovery, from the quant.i.ty of the red wood abounding there.

The first known "Brasilium," or "Bresil," would be the Indian variety (Caesalpinia Sappan), introduced into Europe, most probably, by the Venetians or Genoese, and obtained by them from the Levant, brought there by caravans, or by the Persian and Arabian Gulfs.

"Campesche," or Campeachy wood, "Haematoxyllum Campechianum"


The land is very fertile, producing corn twice in the year, and in as great abundance as can be desired, and, whatever season it may be, there are always very good and fresh fruits on the trees; for when one fruit arrives at maturity, others come, and thus succeed one to the other; and the trees are never devoid of fruit, and are always green.

If the king of Spain would permit vines to be planted in this kingdom, they would fructify like the corn; for I have seen grapes produced from a stock which some one had planted for pleasure, of which every grain was as large as a plum, as long as half the thumb, and much better than those of Spain.

[Ill.u.s.tration: A SILVER MINE.]

But all the contentment that I had felt at the sight of things so agreeable, was but little in regard of that which I experienced when I beheld that beautiful city of Mechique, which I did not suppose to be so superbly built, with splendid temples, palaces, and fine houses; and the streets well laid out, where are seen the large and handsome shops of the merchants, full of all sorts of very rich merchandise.

I think, as well as I can judge, that there are in the said city, twelve thousand to fifteen thousand Spanish inhabitants, and six times as many Indians, who are Christians, dwelling there, besides a great number of negro slaves.

This city is surrounded almost on every side by a lake, with the exception of one part, which may be about three hundred paces in length, which can be cut and fortified. On this side only is there anything to be feared, as on all the other sides it is more than a league to the borders of the lake, into which fall four great rivers from far inland, and navigable for boats. One is called the river of Terra-Firma; another the river of Chile; another the river of Cacou; and the fourth, the river of Mechique, in which great quant.i.ties of fish are caught, of the same kind as we have with us, and very good.

Along this river are a great number of fine gardens, and much arable land, very fertile.

Two leagues from the said Mechique there are silver mines, which the king of Spain has farmed out for five millions of gold a year, and he has reserved also the right of employing a great number of slaves, to get from the said mines as much as he can, for his profit; and he draws besides the tenth part of all that the farmers get, so that these mines are a very good revenue to the said king of Spain.

A great quant.i.ty of cochineal is gathered in this country, which grows in the fields as peas do elsewhere. It comes from a fruit the size of a walnut which is full of seed within.[59] It is left to come to maturity until the said seeds are dry, and then it is cut like corn and beaten to have the seed, of which they sow again so as to have more. It is the king of Spain alone who has the said cochineal sown and collected; and the merchants must buy it of his appointed officers, for it is merchandise of high price, and is esteemed as gold and silver.

[59] "Cactus Opuntia." The belief that the cochineal was the seed of a plant, was prevalent for a very long period after the conquest of Mexico. In a drawing which Champlain gives of the plant, the "seeds" are shown exactly as the insects fix and feed on the leaves. The jealousy of the Spanish government, and the severe monopoly of this production, prevented the true nature and mode of propagation from being known, and gave rise to a variety of fables and conjectures.

There is a tree in the said country which is cut like the vine, and from the place where it is cut there distils an oil, which is a kind of balm, called oil of canima, from the name of the tree which is so called.[60] This is a singular oil for all sorts of wounds and cuts, and for removing pains, of gout. The wood has the odour of fir-tree wood. An ounce of the said oil is worth and sells for two crowns.

[60] I am at a loss to find what tree it is that Champlain designates thus, unless it is "Canica"--Myrtus pimenta.

There is another tree, which is called cacou,[61] the fruit of which is very good and useful for many things, and even serves for money among the Indians, who give sixty for one real; each fruit is of the size of a pine-seed, and of the same shape; but the sh.e.l.l is not so hard; the older it is the better; and to buy provisions, such as bread, meat, fish, or herbs, this money may serve for five or six objects.

Merchandise for provision can only be procured with it from the Indians, as it is not current among the Spaniards, nor to buy often other merchandise than fruits. When this fruit is desired to be made use of, it is reduced to powder, then a paste is made, which is steeped in hot water, in which honey, which comes from the same tree, is mixed, and a little spice; then the whole being boiled together, it is drunk in the morning, warm, as our sailors drink brandy, and they find themselves so well after having drunk of it, that they can pa.s.s a whole day without eating or having great appet.i.te.[62]

[61] The brown cacao (Linn.)

[62] The supporting and stimulating properties of chocolate were discovered very early, and were particularly valuable in a country where the animal food gave but little nourishment. Gage says, that "Three or four hours after a repast of three or four dishes of beef, kid, turkey, and other game, his and company's stomachs were overcome with weakness and ready to faint, so that they were obliged to support and fortify them with a gla.s.s of chocolate," etc. This "strangeness" was attributed to the little nourishment in the meats, although in appearance as fine as those of Europe, owing to the extreme dryness of the pasturage.

This tree bears numbers of thorns, which are very pointed; and when they are torn off, a thread comes from the bark of the said tree, which they spin as fine as they please; and with this thorn, and the thread which is attached to it, they can sew as well as with a needle and other thread. The Indians make very good, fine, and delicate thread of it, and nevertheless so strong, that a man cannot break two fibres of it together, although they may be as fine as hairs; the pound of this thread, called thread of Pitte[63], is worth in Spain, eight crowns, and with it, lace, and other valuable works are made. From the bark of this tree vinegar is made, as strong as that from wine; and taking the heart of this tree, and pressing it, there comes out very good honey: then drying the pith thus pressed in the sun, it serves to light fires.

Moreover, in pressing the leaves of this tree, which are like those of the olive tree, there proceeds from them a juice, of which the Indians make a beverage. This tree is of the size of an olive tree.

[63] Champlain has here evidently the description of the cacao tree and the "Metl," or Maguey (Aloes Pitta, Aloes disticha, Agave Americana), to which nearly all the latter part of his description applies, save the "leaf like that of an olive tree."

I have before spoken of a tree which is called Gouiave,[64] which grows very commonly in this country, and bears a fruit also called Gouiave, of the size of an apple of Capendu,[65] of a yellow colour, and the inside like to that of green figs; the juice is pretty good.

[64] "Psidium" (Linn.) "Sa qualite est de resserrer le ventre, estant mange vert, dont aussi plusieurs s'en servent contre le flux de sang; mais estant mange meur il a un effet tout contraire."--De Rochefort, _Hist. des Antilles_, etc., 1658.

[65] A kind of apple common in Normandy, in the "Pays de Caux"

more particularly.

This fruit has the property, that if a person should have a flux of the belly, and should eat of the said fruit, without the skin, he would be cured in two hours; and on the contrary, if a man be constipated, and eat the skin only, without the inside of the fruit, it would incontinently loosen his bowels, without need of other medicines.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Acoyates]

There is also another fruit called Accoiates,[66] of the size of large winter pears, very green outside: and when the skin is taken off, a very thick flesh is found, which is eaten with salt, and has the taste of kernels or green walnuts; there is a stone in it, of the size of a walnut, of which the inside is bitter. The tree (branch) on which grows the said fruit, is here figured, together with the fruit.

[66] "_Ahuacahuitl_," native name, by corruption called "Aguacat"; by the Spaniards, "Avorat," "Avogade," and "Avocat"--the Avogada pear.

"Shaped like a pear, sometimes like a lime, green without, green and white within, with a large kernel in the middle. It is eaten cooked or raw, with salt. All travellers agree that no fruit in Europe can compare with it."--Clusius.

Also there is a fruit, which is called Algarobe,[67] of the size of plums of Apt, and as long as bean-pods; the sh.e.l.l of it is harder than that of ca.s.sia, and is of a chesnut colour; a small fruit like a large green bean is found in it, which has a kernel, and is very good.

[67] Algaroba, or Algarova, the name given by the Spaniards to some species of acacia of the New World, from their resemblance to the algarobe, caroubier, St. John's bean, or carob tree, of which the pods form excellent food for cattle.

I saw also another fruit called Carreau, of the size of the first:[68]

the skin is very tender, and of an orange colour; the inside is red as blood, and the flesh like that of plums; it stains where it touches, like mulberries: the taste is very good, and it is said to be excellent for curing the bite of venomous creatures.

[68] The fruit of a variety of Cactus Opuntia--the "Nuchtli" of the Mexicans, and called "Raquette" by the French, from the shape of the leaves. "Ce que nos Francois appellent Raquette a cause de la figure de ses feuilles: sur quelques unes de ces feuilles, longues et herissees, croist un fruit de la grosseur d'une prune-datte; quand il est meur, il est rouge dedans, et dehors comme de vermillon. Il a cette propriete, qu'il teint l'urine en couleur de sang aussi tost qu'on en a mange, de sorte que ceux qui ne savent pas ce secret, craignent de s'estre rompu une veine, et il s'en est trouve qui, aians apperceu ce changement, se sont mis au lit, et out creu estre dangereus.e.m.e.nt malades."--De Rochefort, _Voyage aux Antilles_, etc., 1658.

This should be the same fruit of which Gage writes (1625-26): "There is another sort of this fruit, 'Nuchtli,' which is red, and is not esteemed as the others, although not of bad taste, but on account of its staining with the colour of blood, not only the mouth and the linen of him who eats it, but also his urine."

There is also another fruit, which is named Serolles,[69] of the size of the plum, very yellow, and has the taste of muscatel pears.