Obrazy na stronie






EUROPE emerging from the dark ages which for centuries had shrouded the genius of her sons, was roused from her long lethargy at the close of the 15th century, one of those memorable epochs when the human mind bursts through the shackles of ignorance and prejudice, thinks for itself, and approximates yet closer to the maximum of intelligence allotted unto mortals. The invention of the art of printing, the discovery of the compass and astrolabe, the knowledge of gunpowder, &c. &c., all conduced at this period to stimulate men to investigate hypotheses heretofore neglected, and among the speculative opinions of the day was the possible existence of a Western Continent. The mastermind of Prince Henry of Portugal had already traced the African shores to the Cape Verd isles, and meditated a passage round the Southern cape to the rich kingdoms of the East ;-an obscure navigator, yet bolder, contemplated a shorter route across the wild and heretofore unknown waste

* I say invention and discovery as in common parlance, but it is more than probable that what were then termed discoveries was merely imported information from China and the eastern hemisphere, where printing, the compass, astrolabe, gunpowder, &c. were long known,


[blocks in formation]

of the western waters, where it had long been surmised a vast transatlantic territory gave rotundity and balance to the world. Then was the tradition remembered, that at a period of time indefinitely remote, there existed a vast insular territory, stretching beyond the coasts of Africa and Europe, which bore the appellative of Atlantis ; and that for three days this western land was shaken to its foundations by the incessant and hourly increasing concussions of an earthquake, when it at length yielded to the irresistible and unseen mysterious power, and sunk with its immense population beneath the bosom of the ocean !* Nor ware the chronicles of Wales forgotten-namely, that in 1170, Madoc son to Owen Quineth, Prince of Wales, seeing his two brethren at debate who should inherit, prepared certain ships with men and munition and left his country to seek adventures by sea: leaving ‘Ireland N. he sayled W. till he came to a land vnknown: returning home and relating what pleasant and fruitfull countries he had seene, without inhabitants, and for what barren ground his brethern and kindred did murther one another, he provided a number of ships, and got with him such men and women as were desirous to liue in quietnesse, who arrived with him in this new land, in the yeare


As if in confirmation of these statements, pieces of curiously

* This is the recorded tradition of Plato and the ancients, and on examining the geological features of the different West Indian islands, in the following pages there will be found a remarkable confirmation of the earthquake tradition : in particular vide' Bermudas' chapter.

+ I notice these events in order to induce the attention of the rising generation to the geography of our possessions, which is so little known cven in the highest quarters, that Berbice is marked (printed) in an official document in the House of Coinmons as an island, and placed among the Bahainas!

[merged small][ocr errors]

carved wood, large jointed reeds, and trees of a kind unknown in Europe, were picked up to the westward of Cape St. Vincent, and at the Azores after long continued westerly winds. At Flores the bodies of two human beings were washed ashore, whose colour and features were distinct from those of any heretofore seen men; and a singularly wrought canoe was also driven on the same coast. Several Portuguese navigators thought they had seen three islands when driven far to the westward, and the sons of the discoverer of Terceira perished in seeking them, while the legends of the Scandinavian voyagers told of a mysterious Vin-land, enveloped in danger, and surrounded by the awful superstitions of the northern mariners.* Urged by these and many other indications, as also by some sound geographical reasonings, Columbus, a Genoese seaman, of a hardy character, and chivalrous spirit-imbued with the religious enthusiasm of the times, and actuated by a lofty desire for fame, after in vain tendering his services to several European monarchs, finally engaged in the employ of the politic Ferdinand and magnanimous Isabella of Castile and Arragon, sailed from Palos with two barks or caravals and a decked ship, on the 3rd of August 1492, and on the 12th of Oct. set at rest a long agitated question by discovering and landing

* Among the visions and delusions of the day was that recorded of the inhabitants of the Canary isles, who imagined that from time to time they beheld a vast island to the westward, with lofty mountains and deep vallies. It was said to be distinctly seen in cloudy or hazy weather, or only for short intervals, while sometimes in the clearest atmosphere not a trace of it was visible. The Canary people were so convinced of the reality of the island, that they applied for and obtained permission from the King of Portugal to fit out various expeditions in search of it, but in vain ; the island, however, still continued to deceive the eye occasionally, and it was identified by many with the legendary isle alleged to have been discovered by a Scottish Priest St. Brandan in the 6th century, and was actually laid down in several old charts, as St. Brandan's or St. Borodon's isle.

[blocks in formation]

one of the Bahama islands, now in our possession, and called by its discoverer San Salvador.

Cuba was the next island of importance discovered; then Haiti or St. Domingo, where the Spaniards formed a colony, and gave the isle the name of Espanola (Hispaniola.) It would be out of place to detail the further progress of maritime adventure: in the three succeeding voyages of Columbus, the main land near Trinidad, and several islands were explored, and as years rolled on, the Spaniards extended their colonies to Jamaica, Cuba, Trinidad, Porto Rico, &c. and finally to Mexico and Peru, under adventurers such as Cortez.

For some years the Spaniards were left in almost undisputed possession of the West Indies; but the French and English* began to molest them, the former in 1536, the latter in 1565, under the command of Captain Hawkins; in 1572, by the celebrated Francis Drake; and in 1595, by Sir Walter Raleigh. The commencement of the 17th century saw the first British colonization on the West India islands, (the French and Dutch had been previously settling themselves on the main land at Guyana, and on several islands not occupied by the Spaniards,) and Barbadoes was occupied by the servants of Sir William Courteen, in 1624. (Vide chapter on Barbadoes.)

* The first English vessels seen in the West Indies, were two ships of war, under Sebastian Cabot and Sir Thomas Pert, vice admiral of England, in 1517. They touched at the coast of Brazil, and then proceeded to Espanola and Porto Rico. The first trading English vessel that visited the islands, arrived at Porto Rico in 1519, being, as was said by the captain, sent by the King to ascertain the state of those islands, of which there was so much talk in Europe. The Spaniards at St. Domingo fired on her, and compelled her to return to Porto Rico. The Governor blamed them for not sinking her, and preventing any dissemination in England of a knowledge of the West Indies.


For the next half century, the progress of English and French settlement in the West Indies was extremely rapid. Various disputes arose as to first location; in some instances the subjects of each nation resided on the same island, partitioning it between them, or alternately expelling each other, (vide Montserrat chapter), and as war raged in Europe between the chief nations, it was carried on in the West with a bitterness and fury outvying that waged in the Old World. The Revolution and subsequent Restoration in England, helped to people the Western isles, (vide Jamaica chapter), and freedom of commercial adventure, and a bold enterprize in unison with the spirit of the age, increased the wealth and European inhabitants of the New World. The close of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries, were marked by the most terrible European wars that ever devastated the earth; its effects extended to the colonies of the contending combatants ;—for eighteen years England waged against France and Spain the most destructive hostilities on the transatlantic shores, and in 1810, Britain had captured every West India island belonging to any Power at war with her in Europe.

At the downfall, in 1815, of that extraordinary meteor, who seems to have been sent on earth to teach a lesson to arbitrary rulers, and afford an example of the instability of all human greatness, a restoration and repartitioning of the West India Islands took place, and they have since remained under the government of the English, French, Spaniards, Danes, and Dutch-as marked on the Map prefixed to this volume.

This concise notice of the settlement and acquisition of the islands, will be found sufficiently amplified under each possession; but before directing the reader to the several chapters

« PoprzedniaDalej »