The Island of Hispaniola
A Description of Hispaniola.—Also a Relation of the French Buccaneers.
The large and rich island called Hispaniola is situate from 17 degrees to 19 degrees latitude; the circumference is 300 leagues; the extent from east to west 120; its breadth almost 50, being broader or narrower at certain places. This island was first discovered by Christopher Columbus, A.D. 1492; he being sent for this purpose by Ferdinand, king of Spain; from which time to this present the Spaniards have been continually possessors thereof. There are upon this island very good and strong cities, towns, and hamlets, as well as a great number of pleasant country houses and plantations, the effects of the care and industry of the Spaniards its inhabitants.
The chief city and metropolis hereof is Santo Domingo; being dedicated to St. Dominic, from whom it derives its name. It is situate towards the south, and affords a most excellent prospect; the country round about being embellished with innumerable rich plantations, as also verdant meadows and fruitful gardens; all which produce plenty and variety of excellent pleasant fruits, according to the nature of those countries. The governor of the island resides in this city, which is, as it were, the storehouse of all the cities, towns, and villages, which hence export and provide themselves with all necessaries for human life; and yet hath it this particularity above many other cities, that it entertains no commerce with any nation but its own, the Spaniards. The greatest part of the inhabitants are rich and substantial merchants or shopkeepers.
Another city of this island is San Jago, or St. James, being consecrated to that apostle. This is an open place, without walls or castle, situate in 19 deg. latitude. The inhabitants are generally hunters and planters, the adjacent territory and soil being very proper for the said exercises: the city is surrounded with large and delicious fields, as much pleasing to the view as those of Santo Domingo; and these abound with beasts both wild and tame, yielding vast numbers of skins and hides, very profitable to the owners.
In the south part of this island is another city, called Nuestra Sennora de Alta Gracia. This territory produces great quantities of cacao, whereof the inhabitants make great store of the richest chocolate. Here grows also ginger and tobacco, and much tallow is made of the beasts which are hereabouts hunted.
The inhabitants of this beautiful island of Hispaniola often resort in their canoes to the isle of Savona, not far distant, where is their chief fishery, especially of tortoises. Hither those fish constantly resort in great multitudes, at certain seasons, there to lay their eggs, burying them-in the sands of the shoal, where, by the heat of the sun, which in those parts is very ardent, they are hatched. This island of Savona has little or nothing that is worthy consideration, being so very barren by reason of its sandy soil. True it is, that here grows some small quantity of lignum sanctum, or guaiacum, of whose use we say something in another place.
Westward of Santo Domingo is another great village called El Pueblo de Aso, or the town of Aso: the inhabitants thereof drive great traffic with those of another village, in the very middle of the island, and is called San Juan de Goave, or St. John of Goave. This is environed with a magnificent prospect of gardens, woods, and meadows. Its territory extends above twenty leagues in length, and grazes a great number of wild bulls and cows. In this village scarce dwell any others than hunters and butchers, who flay the beasts that are killed. These are for the most part a mongrel sort of people; some of which are born of white European people and negroes, and called mulattoes: others of Indians and white people, and termed mesticos: but others come of negroes and Indians, and are called alcatraces. From the said village are exported yearly vast quantities of tallow and hides, they exercising no other traffic: for as to the lands in this place, they are not cultivated, by reason of the excessive dryness of the soil. These are the chiefest places that the Spaniards possess in this island, from the Cape of Lobos towards St. John de Goave, unto the Cape of Samana nigh the sea, on the north side, and from the eastern part towards the sea, called Punta de Espada. All the rest of the island is possessed by the French, who are also planters and hunters.
This island hath very good ports for ships, from the Cape of Lobos to the Cape of Tiburon, on the west side thereof. In this space there are no less than four ports, exceeding in goodness, largeness, and security, even the very best of England. Besides these, from the Cape of Tiburon to the Cape of Donna Maria, there are two very excellent ports; and from this cape to the Cape of St. Nicholas, there are no less than twelve others. Every one of these ports hath also the confluence of two or three good rivers, in which are great plenty of several sorts of fish very pleasing to the palate. The country hereabouts is well watered with large and deep rivers and brooks, so that this part of the land may easily be cultivated without any great fear of droughts, because of these excellent streams. The sea-coasts and shores are also very pleasant, to which the tortoises resort in large numbers to lay their eggs.
This island was formerly very well peopled, on the north side, with many towns and villages; but these, being ruined by the Hollanders, were at last, for the greatest part, deserted by the Spaniards.
The spacious fields of this island commonly are five or six leagues in length, the beauty whereof is so pleasing to the eye, that, together with the great variety of their natural productions, they captivate the senses of the beholder. For here at once they not only with diversity of objects recreate the sight, but with many of the same do also please the smell, and with most contribute delights to the taste; also they flatter and excite the appetite, especially with the multitudes of oranges and lemons here growing, both sweet and sour, and those that participate of both tastes, and are only pleasantly tartish. Besides here abundantly grow several sorts of fruit, such are citrons, toronjas, and limas; in English not improperly called crab lemons.
Beside the fruit which this island produces, whose plenty, as is said, surpasses all the islands of America; it abounds also with all sorts of quadrupeds, as horses, bulls, cows, wild boars, and others, very useful to mankind, not only for food, but for cultivating the ground, and the management of commerce.
Here are vast numbers of wild dogs: these destroy yearly many cattle; for no sooner hath a cow calved, or a mare foaled, but these wild mastiffs devour the young, if they find not resistance from keepers and domestic dogs. They run up and down the woods and fields, commonly fifty, threescore, or more, together; being withal so fierce, that they will often assault an entire herd of wild boars, not ceasing to worry them till they have fetched down two or three. One day a French buccaneer showed me a strange action of this kind: being in the fields a-hunting together, we heard a great noise of dogs which has surrounded a wild boar: having tame dogs with us, we left them to the custody of our servants, being desirous to see the sport. Hence my companion and I climbed up two several trees, both for security and prospect. The wild boar, all alone, stood against a tree, defending himself with his tusks from a great number of dogs that enclosed him; killed with his teeth, and wounded several of them. This bloody fight continued about an hour; the wild boar, meanwhile, attempting many times to escape. At last flying, one dog, leaping upon his back, fastened on his throat. The rest of the dogs, perceiving the courage of their companion, fastened likewise on the boar, and presently killed him. This done, all of them, the first only excepted, laid themselves down upon the ground about the prey, and there peaceably continued, till he, the first and most courageous of the troop, had ate as much as he could: when this dog had left off, all the rest fell in to take their share, till nothing was left. What ought we to infer from this notable action, performed by wild animals, but this: that even beasts themselves are not destitute of knowledge, and that they give us documents how to honour such as have deserved well; even since these irrational animals did reverence and respect him that exposed his life to the greatest danger against the common enemy?
The governor of Tortuga, Monsieur Ogeron, finding that the wild dogs killed so many of the wild boars, that the hunters of that island had much ado to find any; fearing lest that common substance of the island should fail, sent for a great quantity of poison from France to destroy tile wild mastiffs: this was done, A.D. 1668, by commanding horses to be killed, and empoisoned, and laid open at certain places where the wild dogs used to resort. This being continued for six months, there were killed an incredible number; and yet all this could not exterminate and destroy the race, or scarce diminish them; their number appearing almost as large as before. These wild dogs are easily tamed among men, even as tame as ordinary house dogs. The hunters of those parts, whenever they find a wild bitch with whelps, commonly take away the puppies, and bring them home; which being grown up, they hunt much better than other dogs.
But here the curious reader may perhaps inquire how so many wild dogs came here. The occasion was, the Spaniards having possessed these isles, found them peopled with Indians, a barbarous people, sensual and brutish, hating all labour, and only inclined to killing, and making war against their neighbours; not out of ambition, but only because they agreed not with themselves in some common terms of language; and perceiving the dominion of the Spaniards laid great restrictions upon their lazy and brutish customs, they conceived an irreconcilable hatred against them; but especially because they saw them take possession of their kingdoms and dominions. Hereupon, they made against them all the resistance they could, opposing everywhere their designs to the utmost: and the Spaniards finding themselves cruelly hated by the Indians, and nowhere secure from their treacheries, resolved to extirpate and ruin them, since they could neither tame them by civility, nor conquer them with the sword. But the Indians, it being their custom to make the woods their chief places of defence, at present made these their refuge, whenever they fled from the Spaniards. Hereupon, those first conquerors of the New World made use of dogs to range and search the intricatest thickets of woods and forests for those their implacable and unconquerable enemies: thus they forced them to leave their old refuge, and submit to the sword, seeing no milder usage would do it; hereupon they killed some of them, and quartering their bodies, placed them in the highways, that others might take warning from such a punishment; but this severity proved of ill consequence, for instead of fighting them and reducing them to civility, they conceived such horror of the Spaniards, that they resolved to detest and fly their sight for ever; hence the greatest part died in caves and subterraneous places of the woods and mountains, in which places I myself have often seen great numbers of human bones. The Spaniards finding no more Indians to appear about the woods, turned away a great number of dogs they had in their houses, and they finding no masters to keep them, betook themselves to the woods and fields to hunt for food to preserve their lives; thus by degrees they became unacquainted with houses, and grew wild. This is the truest account I can give of the multitudes of wild dogs in these parts.
But besides these wild mastiffs, here are also great numbers of wild horses everywhere all over the island: they are but low of stature, short bodied, with great heads, long necks, and big or thick legs: in a word, they have nothing handsome in their shape. They run up and down commonly in troops of two or three hundred together, one going always before to lead the multitude: when they meet any person travelling through the woods or fields, they stand still, suffering him to approach till he can almost touch them: and then suddenly starting, they betake themselves to flight, running away as fast as they can. The hunters catch them only for their skins, though sometimes they preserve their flesh likewise, which they harden with smoke, using it for provisions when they go to sea.
Here would be also wild bulls and cows in great number, if by continual hunting they were not much diminished; yet considerable profit is made to this day by such as make it their business to kill them. The wild bulls are of a vast bigness of body, and yet they hurt not any one except they be exasperated. Their hides are from eleven to thirteen feet long.
It is now time to speak of the French who inhabit great part of this island. We have already told how they came first into these parts: we shall now only describe their manner of living, customs, and ordinary employments. The callings or professions they follow are generally but three, either to hunt or plant, or else to rove the seas as pirates. It is a constant custom among them all, to seek out a comrade or companion, whom we may call partner in their fortunes, with whom they join the whole stock of what they possess towards a common gain. This is done by articles agreed to, and reciprocally signed. Some constitute their surviving companion absolute heir to what is left by the death of the first: others, if they be married, leave their estates to their wives and children; others, to other relations. This done, every one applies himself to his calling, which is always one of the three afore-mentioned.
The hunters are again subdivided into two sorts; for some of these only hunt wild bulls and cows, others only wild boars. The first of these are called bucaniers, and not long ago were about six hundred on this island, but now they are reckoned about three hundred. The cause has been the great decrease of wild cattle, which has been such, that, far from getting, they now are but poor in their trade. When the bucaniers go into the woods to hunt for wild bulls and cows, they commonly remain there a twelvemonth or two years, without returning home. After the hunt is over, and the spoil divided, they commonly sail to Tortuga, to provide themselves with guns, powder, and shot, and other necessaries for another expedition; the rest of their gains they spend prodigally, giving themselves to all manner of vices and debauchery, particularly to drunkenness, which they practise mostly with brandy: this they drink as liberally as the Spaniards do water. Sometimes they buy together a pipe of wine; this they stave at one end, and never cease drinking till it is out. Thus sottishly they live till they have no money left. The said bucaniers are very cruel and tyrannical to their servants, so that commonly they had rather be galley-slaves, or saw Brazil wood in the rasphouses of Holland, than serve such barbarous masters.
The second sort hunt nothing but wild boars; the flesh of these they salt, and sell it so to the planters. These hunters have the same vicious customs, and are as much addicted to debauchery as the former; but their manner of .hunting is different from that in Europe; for these bucaniers have certain places designed for hunting, where they live for three or four months, and sometimes a whole year. Such places are called deza boulan; and in these, with only the company of five or six friends, they continue all the said time in mutual friendship. The first bucaniers many times agree with planters to furnish them with meat all the year at a certain price: the payment hereof is often made with two or three hundredweight of tobacco in the leaf; but the planters commonly into the bargain furnish them with a servant, whom they send to help. To the servant they afford sufficient necessaries for the purpose, especially of powder and shot to hunt withal.
The planters here have but very few slaves; for want of which, themselves and their servants are constrained to do all the drudgery. These servants commonly bind themselves to their masters for three years; but their masters, having no consciences, often traffic with their bodies, as with horses at a fair, selling them to other masters as they sell negroes. Yea, to advance this trade, some persons go purposely into France (and likewise to England, and other countries) to pick up young men or boys, whom they inveigle and transport; and having once got them into these islands, they work them like horses, the toil imposed on them being much harder than what they enjoin the negroes, their slaves; for these they endeavour to preserve, being their perpetual bondmen: but for their white servants, they care not whether they live or die, seeing they are to serve them no longer than three years. These miserable kidnapped people are frequently subject to a disease, which in these parts is called coma, being a total privation of their senses. This distemper is judged to proceed from their hard usage, and the change of their native climate; and there being often among these some of good quality, tender education, and soft constitutions, they are more easily seized with this disease, and others of those countries, than those of harder bodies, and laborious lives. Beside the hard usage in their diet, apparel, and rest, many times they beat them so cruelly, that they fall down dead under the hands of their cruel masters. This I have often seen with great grief. Of the many instances, I shall only give you the following history, it being remarkable in its circumstances.
A certain planter of these countries exercised such cruelty towards one of his servants, as caused him to run away. Having absconded, for some days, in the woods, at last he was taken, and brought back to the wicked Pharaoh. No sooner had he got him, but he commanded him to be tied to a tree; here he gave him so many lashes on his naked back, as made his body run with an entire stream of blood; then, to make the smart of his wounds the greater, he anointed him with lemon-juice, mixed with salt and pepper. In this miserable posture he left him tied to the tree for twenty-four hours, which being past, he began his punishment again, lashing him, as before, so cruelly, that the miserable wretch gave up the ghost, with these dying words: "I beseech the Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, that he permit the wicked spirit to make thee feel as many torments before thy death, as thou hast caused me to feel before mine." A strange thing, and worthy of astonishment and admiration! Scarce three or four days were past, after this horrible fact, when the Almighty Judge, who had heard the cries of the tormented wretch, suffered the evil one suddenly to possess this barbarous and inhuman homicide, so that those cruel hands which had punished to death his innocent servant, were the tormentors of his own body: for he beat himself and tore his flesh, after a miserable manner, till he lost the very shape of a man; not ceasing to howl and cry, without any rest by day or night. Thus he continued raving mad, till he died. Many other examples of this kind I could rehearse; but these not belonging to our present discourse, I omit them.
The planters of the Caribbean islands are rather worse, and more cruel to their servants, than the former. In the isle of St. Christopher dwells one named Bettesa, well known to the Dutch merchants, who has killed above a hundred of his servants with blows and stripes. The English do the same with their servants; and the mildest cruelty they exercise towards them is, that when they have served six years of their time (they being bound among the English for seven) they use them so cruelly, as to force them to beg of their masters to sell them to others, though it be to begin another servitude of seven years, or at least three or four. And I have known many, who have thus served fifteen or twenty years, before they could obtain their freedom. Another law, very rigorous in that nation, is, if any man owes another above twenty-five shillings English, if he cannot pay it, he is liable to be sold for six or eight months. Not to trouble the reader any longer with relations of this kind, I shall now describe the famous actions and exploits of the greatest pirates of my time, during my residence in those parts: these I shall relate without the least passion or partiality, and assure my reader that I shall give him no stories upon trust, or hearsay, but only those enterprises to which I was myself an eyewitness.