Paul V. Murray*
Veracruz and the Veracruzanos as Seen By English and American Travellers*
Ever since its foundation
the port of Veracruz has been the most important gateway into Mexico. Through it have
passed conquerors and viceroys, friars and bishops, immigrants and nobles, travellers and spies,
the slave and the free. Among those hundreds of thousands of men and women were many
Englishmen and Americans; and it is to them I have turned for some impressions of the
three-times heroic city as it appeared when they landed in or departed from there.
Naturally, I have looked into but a fraction of the hundreds of books written by
such travellers; for time and the exigencies of my work would not permit me to give to
the task all
of the energies and the research that it so richly deserves. However, I trust that
these lines will prove of interest to my audience and that they will serve
to call to the attention of others the rich materials that await the
historians and sociologists who are intent on recreating a true picture of the Mexican
As an American, I have
developed a conviction that the Mexican scene has too often been distorted
when seen through English and American eyes; and that Englishmen and Americans have
and sometimes adversely, influenced by the scores of books written by
their fellow countrymen. Therefore, the Mexican —and most especially the
Mexican scholar— who seeks to present his country in a different light to the
Anglo-American peoples can well afford to spend some time in a careful study of
the travel liter-
* Paper read in the
Congress of History
(held at Jalapa,
on July 26, 1951.
ature in English written about Mexico. Some of
it is very good and has a lasting value for us all. Too much of it is superficial, narrow, and
unfriendly — if not actually hostile. In this brief paper I have tried to
include many shades of opinion so that Mexicans in general and
Veracruzans in particular will be able to understand what the famous
Scottish poet, Robert Burns, had in mind when he wrote "On wad some power the
giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!"
I should like to make
one more point before beginning: I have confined myself to the port of Veracruz and
its environs, since any attempt to develop the impressions of my authors beyond
such bounds would make this paper almost interminable. Jalapa, Cordoba, Orizaba, Perote and
other towns and cities of Veracruz visited by Anglo-American travellers will have to
be studied at another time.
It would seem that
the first English-speaking person to give his countrymen a view of Veracruz was the
embittered English Dominican friar, Thomas Gage. Although his book was not published
1648, when he had already left the Roman Catholic Church, had married and
become a minister in the Anglican community, Gage came to New Spain in
1625. Despite the fact that all his writing is colored by his deep hatred of all
things Catholic and Spanish, he cannot forget the wondrous sights he saw in
America nor the sharp impression they made on his youthful mind. The Veracruz
his eye would seem to have had no more than three thousand inhabitants; and it
was far from substantially built, for Friar Thomas wrote of the
buildings: "... they are all, both houses, churches, and cloisters, built with boards
and timber, the walls of the richest men's houses being made but of boards, which with
the impetuous winds from the North hath been the cause that many times the
town has been
for the most part of it burnt down to the ground."1 Despite
of impressive buildings, however, Gage saw Veracruz as a wealthy community; and
in his quaint English he gives us a word
1 Thomas Gage, The
English American, A New Survey of the West, Indies, 1648 (London; The Broadway
Travellers and George Routledge and Sons.
Ltd., 1946), p. 35.
picture that makes one thrill to the meaning of what Spanish trade was like in the golden
age of Spain's overseas empire:
The great trading from Mexico, and by Mexico from the
East Indies, from Spain,
from Cuba, Sto. Domingo, Yucatán, Portables [sic], and by Portobello from Peru, from
Cartagena, and all the islands lying upon the North Sea, and by the River Alvarado going up to
Zapotecas, St. Ildefonso, and towards Oaxaca, and by the river Grijalva, running up to Tabasco, Los Zoques and
Chiapa de Indies, maketh this little town very rich and to abound with all the commodities of the continent land, and of all the East and
West Indies' treasures.2
Gage, in mentioning
the wind from the north, had touched upon one of the scourges of Veracruz that
seems never to have escaped mention by any traveller whose writings I have read.
He did not
fail to mention the other—insalubrity: "The unhealthiness of the place is the
reason for the paucity of inhabitants..."3 was the way he put it. Down
until very recent times this note has been struck by visitors and
natives, to most of whom el vómtlo remained a tenebrous mystery until it
was banished from the port by men and women trained in modern methods of public health
control. Before taking our leave of Friar Thomas, we should not fail to observe
that he included
in his chronicle a mention of cultural activities which did great credit to the
inhabitants of the little town. After visiting friends and bidding them farewell,
writes Gage, "seats were prepared for us in the cathedral church to sit and
see a comedy acted, which had been on purpose studied and prepared by the town
entertainment of the new Viceroy of Mexico." 4
* * *
My brief researches
yielded no further works by English and American travellers until after the Cura
Hidalgo had given "El Grito de Dolores" in 1810. Some six years later,
William Davis Robinson, an American merchant, came to New Spain with the expectation of
collecting some accounts owed him by insurgent leaders.
The new viceroy, the
de Serralvo, came out to
New Spain in
the same fleet as Gage. The English friar was accompanied by other Dominicans.
Unfortunately for him, he was captured
by Spanish soldiers and accused of being Dr. John Hamilton Robinson, a fellow
countryman who had come into
the country to fight on the side of the insurgents. Neither identification papers nor explanations were sufficient to convince the Spanish authorities that they had not
captured the Yankee soldier whose
activities had so annoyed them. The poor merchant was confined in many places in Mexico and eventually was shipped off to a Spanish prison, from whence he
escaped. One can hardly describe him as either a traveller or a visitor during his stay in Veracruz because the
unhappy man was a prisoner for eleven long months in the dark dungeons of San Juan Ulua. It is little wonder, then, that after his arrival in the city
on February 3, 1817, William Davis
Robinson found no time to admire the port and commit to memory his impressions for the book he was
to write three years later. He does
tell us of the kindness showed him by a certain Don Lorenzo Murphy and of a
visit paid him in prison by a Lieut. Porter
of the U. S. brig "Boxer" (in September, 1817). And it is fully understandable why he could write of San Juan
Ulua and Omoa: ". . .it must be understood that there are not to be found such mansions of horror in any other part of the
Four years after Mr. Robinson
had sailed away from his dank prison, another American came ashore at Veracruz to open a
in Mexican history that still gives rise to long discussion and heated debate.
Joel Roberts Poinsett, destined to be the first diplomatic representative
of his country sent to Mexico, cast a keen eye over his surroundings and began to
gather material for those Notes on Mexico6 which are so helpful
to those of us who have studied the activities of a man whose influence has
been felt here for generations. The South Carolinian commented upon the fact
still faced Mexicans in battle array across a narrow stretch of water when he
5 William Davis
Robinson, Memoirs of the Mexican Revolution (Philadelphia: Lydia R. Bailey, Printer, 1820),
xv. See vi-xiv for his adventures until he was jailed in Veracruz.
6 There is a Mexican edition entitled Notas sobre México (1822),
(México: Editorial Jus. 1950), translated by Pablo
Martínez del Campo with notes by Eduardo Enrique Ríos. The edition in English
was published in Philadelphia in 1825 and I do not think it was ever reprinted. Not
having it at hand I have had to re-translate from the Mexican edition the portions
used in this paper.
It is a strange
state of affairs since the city is in the hands of the new government and the castle is held by the old. When the independence
forces.took Veracruz, about eighteen months ago, the royalists retired to the castle of San Juan de Ulúa, from where they dominate the entrance to the port and find it easy to cannonade the city at any time. It is a strong fortress with a garrison of 600 men, mounts more than a hundred pieces
of heavy artillery and is provided with supplies and ammunition sufficient to withstand a prolonged siege. During the day there is constant communication between the city
and the castle and at night they watch
each other jealously. The governor of the castle allows merchant ships to enter but he imposes a tax of eight per cent on the prices of the cargo bills.7
It is probable that Poinsett was the first writer in English to attempt a description of a man whose name resounded through Mexican politics for more than three decades. This was his impression of the military governor of the city:
Santa Anna is a man of some thirty years of age, of a thin
but symmetrical build,
with an expressive and intelligent face; but it is evident that be suffers from fatigue and the
effects of an unhealthy climate. He is surrounded by officers who wear, like him, the insignias of the new Imperial orders. The welcome
which they gave us was courteous and cordial; and when we stood up to go he insisted that we should return to dine with him.8
Gage before him and most others after him, Poinsett reported on the unhealthiness of
the city. Unlike many others, however, he sought a reason for this and
called upon his experiences as a traveller to supply the answer. A walk
about Veracruz showed him that "It is well and compactly built; it is so
extremely clean and neat that from an examination of the interior.... alone it
would be difficult to explain the causes of the pestilential illnesses which has given it
such unhappy renown."9 This American traveller knew little or
nothing of diseases caused by insects but experience and perhaps
intuition evidently caused him to make this observation:
The city is surrounded by dunes and pools of stagnant
water, which in the tropics
is sufficient to produce the black vomit and bilious fever. The inhabitants and those accustomed
to the climate arc not exposed
8 Ibid., p.
9 Ibid., p.
to the first of these diseases; but all
foreigners, even those from Havana and the West Indies, are subject to this contagion.
whatsoever will protect the stranger from this fatal illness and many have died in
Jalapa who merely passed through the city of Veracruz.10
Poinsett was a good
judge of human nature and a capable student of military tactics. He reveals this in his
account of a conversation held with Santa Anna just before leaving Veracruz for the
Anna confided to him his plans for the conquest of the castle: "He proposes to
blockade it by water, construct a battery at each end of the port to
impede the passage to the docks and set out who knows how many mortars to throw balls
into the fort." The governor explained that the batteries would be
protected by the houses in the city and "because they are mostly the property of
European Spaniards he does not believe that they will be the target of fire from the castle."11 The American
was not at all in agreement but he avoided expressing
the opinion which he afterwards recorded in his Notes: "The castle is very strong; in the winter,
because of the violent, frequent and
tremendous winds, it will not be possible to establish the blockade of the entrance; the batteries can be
destroyed at the will of the commandant of the castle and it is not
probable that respect for the properties of
his compatriots will lead him to sacrifice the security of the post with which he has been charged."12
months later—on December 11, 1823— there landed in the port an English gentleman
who formed part of His Britannic Majesty's Commission to Mexico. His name was
Ward, and if on this occasion he arrived in the country later than Mr. Poinsett, he was
hardly ever again to be outdistanced by that clever fellow. For H. G. Ward
eventually became the first British minister to Mexico; and during his term of
office he proved himself a worthy diplomatic opponent of Don Joel. His two-volume
the country entitled Mexico in 1827 13 is of interest not
only be cause
of its historical content, travel notes, and personal opinions but also because of
the mass of information concerning mines that Mr. Ward obtained in his long and
arduous journeys through the land.
11 Ibid., pp. 54-55.
12Ibid., p. 55.
13(London: Henry Colburn, 1828), II, pp. 171-172. The book is illustrated with etchings done by Mrs. Ward, who shared all
the dangers and difficulties of the journeys with her husband.
Ward did not find the
city to be as attractive as Poinsett had reported; in fact, it seemed deserted.
Going ashore on December 12, he discovered that the officer in charge was
none other than General Guadalupe Victoria who, naturally enough, was celebrating
his saint's day. The party of Englishmen was invited to the fiesta, and Ward recorded that many
toasts were drunk to the "happy coincidence of our arrival having taken
place upon the day sacred to the Patroness of Mexico and of
Guadalupe Victoria..."14 As we know, San Juan de Ulúa was still
held by the Spaniards. Ward, with the Englishman's dry sense of
humor, tells us how Victoria's men, wishing to send the members of
the commission back to their ship with due honors, fired a volley from their
guns. It seems, however, that the guns were not only loaded but "directed
against the castle, which immediately opened its batteries in return,
so that for some time we had the pleasure of finding ourselves between
two fires.." 15 Because of the difficulty of obtaining mules and
supplies, the commission could not leave for the capital as soon as desired
and again the general opened his house and offered food and drink to its
members (December 14). During the course of the evening a violent norte blew
up and Victoria offered a lodging for the night as well, since it was
impossible for the Englishmen to return to their ship. Two days later everything
was in order and they bade farwell to the city and their host. 16
It is quite probable
that no Englishman or American —perhaps no Mexican either— has told us so much
about the city of Veracruz as it was in the first decade of independence as
Captain G. F. Lyon, of the Royal Navy, whose stout little two-volume work
deserves to be better known than it is. It has, as the Mexicans would say, a
"kilometric title": Journal of a Residence and Tour in the
Republic of Mexico in the Year of 1826 with Some Account of the
Mines of that Country. " Capt. Lyon, unlike the
travellers we have quoted so far, arrived in the city after seven months
in the interior so that his first view of the city was from the landward side:
"A strong norther was blowing, and a heavy surf broke along the
line of the coast, while the island castle of San Juan de Ulua and a cluster of
14 Op. cit., p.
175. It is well known that the general's name was Félix Maria Fernández,
"Guadalupe Victoria" being the nombre de guerra be had taken
during the war
15 Ibid., p.
17 (London: John Murray, 1828).
shipping beneath its walls, with the
city of Vera Cruz terminating the long yellow line of sand, formed an extremely pretty
picture of about four miles in depth."16 Entering on November 8, the
on until December 4 when he embarked for New York and home.
Since the author
devotes some eighteen pages of his Journal to the city of Veracruz
alone, it is not possible to give all his impressions in detail so I have selected
some of those which are most revealing—of the city and of the author as well. He
passed his first night in "a nasty Meson. . . the worst. . . I had seen,
which is saying a great deal" but the next day he was happier because he found an inn "in which
was a coffee-room, a public table, and the first civilized comforts I have
enjoyed out of a private house."19 He reports bathing in the sea on
November 10, although "the natives are not much addicted to ablutions
of any kind. . ."; and later on he attended the funeral of a young
Englishman who "had just been carried off by the Vómito." The
body was buried in some bushes outside the Campo Santo "which could not, of
course," writes the Captain rather bitterly, "afford repose to the body of a
heretic. . ." He took grim satisfaction in the thought that the bodies
inside the cemetery were not much better protected, at least from the elements,
than the young Englishman as ". . .a peep through the ruined door. . ."
discovered ". . .hundreds of whitened skulls scattered at random upon the
the usual troops of familiar carrion vultures..." roamed "...undisturbed
amidst the crumbling bones."20
Captain Lyon enjoyed
his walks along the Mole, watching the "Crowds of Negro porters. . . .in constant
motion" and the "noisy concourse of cart-men scrambling and
quarrelling for the chance of employment; their pay, as well as that of porters, is very
high, many of them earning five and six dollars in a day." 21
He described the two-wheel carts as being drawn by "three mules abreast, the driver riding on the near
one. . ."; viewed men and boys fishing "either with casting-nets or simple
rods and lines. . . for Mojarra, Rouco, Barbudo, and Xurel" (though the
captain contends he never saw them catch any!); reported "150 Presidiarios, or
convicts, embarked... for
18 Op. cit., p. 211. He wrote, p.
212, that he had used the "much-condemned route" between Vera Cruz and
Mexico by way of Real del Monte; and "from experience can affirm that it is the
most beautiful, most civilized, comfortable and convenient route in the whole
of the Mexican Republic."
21 Ibid., pp. 214.
Campeachy. . . I think I never saw a
more villainous set of faces; and as some of them were very ill-clothed, their bare arms,
breasts, exhibited many scars of the knife fights, which are so common with the class
from which these prisoners had been taken." 22
On other strolls about
the city, this English traveller observed the scavenging work of both jackal and vulture;
the Alameda, which because of weather exposure or civic neglect (he knew not which), "is unshaded by a
single tree"; many kinds of birds and marine life; Los Cocos, source of
the city's water supply. He found many of the houses "excellent," the streets
"straight and spacious," the paving "very good," every street
with "a raised footway on each side. . . filled with a fine cement of lime,
sand, and shells, which equals stone in hardness and durability, and even acquires
a polish from the feet of passengers." The best houses, the captain found,
rented for 3,000 dollars per year and cost close to 100,000 dollars to build! He attributed these high
costs to the scarcity of materials. And the houses, he adds, "are
kept studiously clean"; and most of them, like all "the principal buildings
have also a Mirador, or little watch turret, on their roofs, from which a good view is
obtained and a fresher air inhaled." To them the families go in the cool of the
evening; and from there also "the anxious merchant. . . .looks out upon the coming
sail, which is announced by the bell of the church of San Francesco tolling
five times, so that by this very judicious plan the news is published to all
the town." 2S
The plaza of the city
impressed Capt. Lyon as being "small and not remarkable." At the Plaza de
Verduras, he found that good cabbages cost four reales and a large onion half a
real. The hospitals
for the sick he did not visit "as the Vómito was still very prevalent." One
or two "declining establishments of friars" were in existence and there
was being erected a theater, "somewhat smaller than any of those in our
country villages." The most recent census showed a population of about
8,000, not counting 1,000 soldiers nor the prisoners, whose numbers always fluctuated.
The trade of the city, the captain observed, had declined greatly, "owing to the
and injudiciously imposed duties, which have obliged the principal mercantile
houses to revoke their orders for shipment..."; thus, "the very
means which the Mexican financiers have adopted
22. Ibid., pp.
in hopes of increasing the revenue, have most effectually and irremediably injured
Towards the last of his
stay in Veracruz, Captain Lyon observed the celebrations in honor of the first
anniversary of the fall of the castle of San Juan de Ulúa:
Salutes from the ships and castle announced before
daylight the joyful event,
and processions and fireworks were not spared. The Plaza was occupied by a triumphal Temple of
Victory, and an artificial Castle
of Ulua was erected on the Mole, where it fell gloriously under a heavy fire of squibs and crackers.
Poor General Barragan also formed
part of the show, and paraded all the streets bearing a silk flag, and attended by soldiers
marching the balance step.25
The fiesta lasted for
three days and was brought to a close on November 26 by the presentation of "Vera
Cruz Triunfante" in which the "Heroic City" was "personated by
a young lady habited as a tragedy queen, supported on one side by General
Barragan in full uniform, and
on the other by a judge in a full suit of court mourning." Because the car in which the young lady was supposed to ride
had been poorly made, she was obliged to walk, "preceded by two slaves, who were liberated for the occasion, and
dressed in white; these were flanked
by two little puppet-show children, one personifying Mars, the other Mercury, but which gay
personages with their bright tinsel
ornaments were taken by some of the mob for San Pedro and San Francesco." A band of music led the way and some two hundred "well-dressed people attended
with large lighted wax candles."
Captain Lyon could not refrain from observing that the cost of the festival was
13,000 dollars; "while a ruined mole, fallen batteries, unrepaired public buildings, and unpaid troops, bespoke the poverty of the State." Still, he could
find a reason and an excuse: ".
. .the good people of Vera Cruz, and in fact all Mexicans, dearly love a show; and I must confess are the best
regulated and most (Orderly multitude
on these occasions that I ever saw." 26
On the evening of
November 30, Capt. Lyon attended a ball at "the Government-house." The
ladies were "prettily dressed" and the gentlemen "had paid much
attention to their toilette. No smoking, by either ladies or gentlemen, was
permitted in the ballroom,
24 Ibid., pp. 222-224.
25 Ibid., pp.
26 Ibid., pp. 224-226. He says in
a note that he did not know of the existence of a single slave in the whole
republic but had heard that there were some when he arrived at Veracruz.
which was spacious, well lighted, and
very neatly furnished; and the whole display was extremely pleasing." The next day
the traveller visited the castle of San Juan Ulúa; and among the most interesting things he noted about
it was the "Mexican squadron commanded by Commodore Porter" and which
consisted of "a frigate of thirty-two guns, a twenty-four gun brig, with two of
eighteen, and some schooners." Two days later, December 3, the captain was
ready to sail "after having passed four anxious weeks at Vera Cruz waiting
passage." There had been frequent nortes but the vómito had
and deaths from it had been frequent. He had found the temperature
"rather agreeable than otherwise" with a range of from 86 to 92 degrees.
When there were gales, however, the temperature usually fell to 75° which, says our
traveller, "was considered as cold by many of the long resident English,
who astonished me by closing their doors and windows, and in many instances
putting on warmer clothes." 27 He left Veracruz the next day
but his memories of those long weeks of waiting are charmingly preserved for us in many of the 627 pages
of his Journal.
Twelve years after
Captain Lyon's visit, a ship arrived from Havana bearing a lady whose letters home, at
the insistence of a friend —the great historian, William Hickling Prescott—
were to be
published as Life in Mexico.28 When she first sighted
December 2, 1838, the one-time Frances Erskine Inglis, born in Scotland of good
family and raised in the United States, was Señora Calderón de la Barca,
her husband being the first Spanish minister sent to Mexico after independence.
Her book is regarded by Mexicans and foreigners alike as a classic of its kind and
needs no further praise from me here.
The poor lady, like
many other travellers before her, found el norte a serious business for it took her party
sixteen days to get ashore (December 2 to 18) since the ship was unable to
come in close due to the heavy gale. No wonder that she saw Veracruz through "much-wearied
eyes." The pilot who finally brought them in to shore was a Spaniard who pointed
to San Juan Ulúa and said: "We, although but a handful of men, defended
ourselves for years like soldiers, and now these Frenchmen took it in three
days!" His allu-
27 Ibid., pp. 227-229.
28 (New York: E. P. Dutton
and Co., 1931), p. 24. The first edition was published in Boston and London in
1843, the same year in which Prescott published his Conquest of Mexico. It has been said that Life
in Mexico caused such a good impression that it was used as a guide by General Scott
and his officers during the war against Mexico. See the introduction by Henry Baerlein
in the 1931 edition, p. xiv.
sion was to the recent occupation by
French troops during the so-called "Guerra de los Pasteles." And certainly
Veracruz must have suffered in the dozen years that had passed since Captain
Lyon wrote, for our lady traveller saw it as "the miserable, black-looking
city. . . "29 Her view is depressing indeed: ". . .the surrounding
houses black with smoke of powder or with fire —a view of bare red sandhills all round—not a tree, or
shrub, or flower, or bird, except the horrid black sopilote, or
police-officer." She turned to the Bible for a simile: "All looks
as though the prophet Jeremiah had passed through the city denouncing
woe to the dwellers thereof. Such a melancholy, wholly deserted-looking burial-ground
as we saw!"30 In spite of her feelings, the Señora found words of praise
for this, her first resting-place in Mexico:
War and revolution have no doubt done their work, yet I
find difficulty in
believing those who speak of Vera Cruz as having been a gay and delightful
residence in former days, though even now, those who have resided here for any
length of time, even foreigners, almost invariably become attached to it; and as for
those born here, they are the truest of patriots, holding up Vera Cruz as superior to all other
parts of the world. 31
Before the new
minister's party landed, "a salute of twenty guns was fired from our
ship" and "the same number of cannon was then fired from the castle,
in honour of the first Spanish man-of-war that has appeared in this port since the
Revolution." The wharf was crowded with a colorful mass of people, whose
appearance inspired the pen of their fair visitor. "Some had no
pantaloons" although others "to make up for their neighbours'
deficiencies, had two pair —the upper slit up the side of the leg, Mexican
fashion." Hats were large, "with silver or bead rolls" and there was
"every tinge of complexion, from the pure Indian, upwards." Humor
and interest inspired this observation: "Some dresses were entirely composed of rags, clinging
together by the attraction of cohesion; others had only a few holes to let in
the air. All were crowding, jostling, and nearly throwing each other into the
water, and gazing with faces of intense curiosity." 32
Señora Calderón de la
Barca left Veracruz on December 22, 1838, after having met General Guadalupe
Victoria, the English and
29 Op. cit.. pp. 24-25.
30 Ibid., p. 29.
French consuls, and several other
people. We shall not take time to describe her visit to Santa Anna and his family at
Manga de Clavo
since it took place outside the city which we have set for ourselves as the central point
of this paper. However, I cannot refrain from inserting here her description of our
host city, a description so friendly in spirit as to make all of us feel that we
should like to have been on hand to meet her as she came into town in the diligencia.
"It was nearly
two in the morning when we reached Jalapa, tired to death, and shivering with
cold. Greatly we rejoiced as we rattled through its mountainous streets, and still
more when we found ourselves in a nice clean inn, with brick floors and decent
small beds, and everything prepared for us." After a good night's sleep, she rose refreshed and was
waited on "by such a nice, civil, clean little old woman, that I
should like to carry her off with me." Officials of the town came to
wait at the door for her husband. A final note: "Our breakfast was delicious.
Such fresh eggs, and fresh butter, and good coffee and well-fried chickens; moreover, such good bread and
peculiarly excellent water, that we fell
very much in love with Jalapa."
33 Perhaps her words help us to understand why this city proved so attractive to the many people, both native
and foreign, who came here to reside
during the months when el vómito made living in Veracruz a dangerous and depressing adventure.
Joel Roberts Poinsett
was succeeded, in his role of minister to Mexico, by many different men. Few of them
wrote books. One who did, however, was Mr. Waddy Thompson, who represented his country here between
1842 and 1844. In a volume entitled Recollections of Mexico 34, Thompson relates
his entry into Mexico by way of Veracruz. Some of the scars of war and the smoke of
battle that disconcerted Sra. Calderón de la Barca must have disappeared by April 2, 1842,
because the minister found it "rather a pretty town, with broad and
reasonably clean streets." He did, however, write a great deal about the
nortes and el vómito. As regards the latter, he not only gave many
statistics concerning the number of people afflicted and the deaths among them
but he discussed at length the virtues of various remedies for the fever. The treatment
given by Veracruz physicians, he wrote, was "very simple, and certainly
unpleasant; . . . nothing more than cold applications to the stomach, and lime juice
and sweet oil given internally; and this practice
33 Ibid., p. 38.
34 (New York and
London: Wiley and Putnam, 1846).
is so generally successful, as to give
the results which I have stated —five per cent of deaths." On the other
hand, the American minister said that one could make a defense of treatment by
calomel, even though Veracruzans believe such treatment to be fatal. He reported the experience of a
young American doctor who accompanied the Texas prisoners brought to Mexico after their
capture on the Santa Fe expedition. Forty-five were attacked by yellow fever
yet only one
died. The only medicine was calomel, and Thompson supported its efficacy by
remarking: "I am not certain that a single one died of the disease."35
The minister observed
that "A new and handsome custom house has just been completed on the mole. . ."
though it was strange to find that ". . .the material of which it is built is
brought from Quincy, in Massachusetts, although there is stone equally good
within ten miles of Vera Cruz. . ." 36 Another innovation since
the visit of Sra. Calderón de la Barca was "a very good line of stages, making three trips every week between Vera Cruz and
Mexico, which has entirely superseded all
other modes of conveyance." Travel by stage was very expensive but considered cheaper, more
expeditious, and more pleasant than
transportation by litera though, for some unexplained reason, "literas are very rarely robbed."
The line was "established by an
American" but it had passed into the hands of "a rich Mexican —who is
daily growing wealthier by it." The horses were Mexican, seven to a stage; these vehicles were "built
at Troy, New York, and the drivers are all Americans. . ." 37
Mr. Thompson had high hopes for steam
travel in the near future as he contended that "a railroad from Vera Cruz to the city of Mexico constructed at
almost any cost, would be extremely
profitable to the stockholders." This was true because "a very large proportion of all the European manufactures and
merchandise which are consumed in Mexico"
land at Veracruz and are
"carried to the city of Mexico on mules, at a very high rate of
freight," and then are distributed "all over the Republic." 38
The railroad was not completed
until many years after Mr. Thompson had
returned home to write his Recollections of his sojourn in Mexico.
35 Op. cit., pp. 1-5. The abortive expedition of the Texans in 1841, in an effort to capture the most
important city in New Mexico, is described in much detail in a famous work, Narrative of the
Texan Santa Fe Expedition, 2 vols., by George W. Kendall. The 1844 edition, published
in New York, is rare. There is a modern edition (Chicago: The Lakeside Press, R. R.
Donnelley & Sons Co., 1929). Kendall, a newspaperman, took part in the expedition
and with his defeated companions was taken to Mexico as a prisoner.
36 Recollections of Mexico, p. 8.
37 Ibid., p.
38 Ibid., p.
The year 1847 was a sad one for Mexico
in general and Veracruz in particular.
For the second time in less than a decade, a foreign invader seized the
city after visiting upon it bloodshed and destruction.
American troops under General Winfield
Scott landed in March of that year.
eyewitness remembered some of the scenes, and we quote him:
"The debarkation took place inside of the little island of
Sacrificios, some three miles south of Vera Cruz.
The vessels could not get anywhere near shore, so that
everything had to be landed in lighters or surfboats. . ."
The waves were high and the landings long and
The men got ashore quickly,
ammunition and other
supplies took several days to land.
eyewitness wrote, with a touch of humor, that "The Mexicans were kind to us. .
and threw no obstacles in the way of our landing
except an occasional shot from their nearest fort. During the debarkation one
shot took off the head of Major Albertis. No other, I believe, reached anywhere near the
On the 9th of March,
"the troops were landed and the investment of Vera Cruz, from the
Gulf of Mexico south of the city to the Gulf again on the north, was soon and easily
The landing of stores was continued
until everything was got ashore." 39 These words came from the pen of a
man dying from cancer of the throat and setting them down for money in order to pay,
honorably, debts incurred by friends who had treated him dishonorably.
The year was 1883, the writer General Ulysses
ex-president of the United States,
victor over Robert E. Lee in the greatest war the world had known up
till that time, once an humble second lieutenant in the army of General Scott.
A dozen years later,
Veracruz was again an important prize in a bloody struggle, only this time the
struggle was between brothers and has been called the War of the Reform or the
Three Years' War. Housed in the city was the Liberal government of Benito Juárez and the men of
the Reform. Negotiations with the American government had begun, and President Buchanan
had sent a secret agent to represent him at the meetings. William Churchwell of Tennessee knew nothing of
Mexico and less about the men with whom he was dealing. Still, he was a politician
and a student of human
38 Personal Memoirs
of U. S. Grant, 2 vols. (New York: Charles L. Webster & Co.), I, p. 126. After
leaving the presidency, the former president formed a partnership with some men in an
investment company. The company failed and Gen. Grant felt it was his duty to pay the debts
contracted by himself and his partners. In spite of his painful illness, the general
was able to finish his Memoirs before he died; and with the profits of the sale of the
book to pay all the creditors of the bankrupt company.
nature so that what he
wrote to his superior in Washington is worthy of note.
dispatch, sent directly to Buchanan and written on February 22, 1859, is extremely
interesting because of the descriptions of
Juárez, Ocampo and Lerdo which it contains. In his eyes Juárez was a prudent and sound jurisconsult
but as a politician he considered him distrustful and timid; stern and
incorruptible yet mild and benignant.
"He has his voice in the council and is listened to with respect,
but he has no influence over his Ministers and is unconsciously under their
most absolute and unlimited control." 40 He describes Ocampo as
"a gentleman of great native intellect, and of considerable parts and learning, inflexible in his resolves, peremptory in his views, rather prompt in discourse and
impatient of contradiction; but high
minded, honest and like his Chief incorruptible."41 Of Lerdo, the friend of former Minister Forsyth,
he said that he had all the brilliant
qualities of the other two, was as pure as they, more practical towards the
actualities of life. "He is the most popular man among his party, and deservedly considered as the
master spirit of the Cabinet." 42
We know that Churchwell's work made easier the task of Minister Robert M. McLane when he went to Veracruz in
April, 1859, to sign sometime later
(December 14, 1859) the treaty which
bore his name and that of Don Melchor Ocampo.43
The War of the Reform
was scarcely ended when the French invaded Mexico (1862), and five more weary
years were spent in fratricidal strife. Anglo-American visitors were not very
numerous during the period but one Englishman, who came out to join Maximilian's forces (was
it just for sport?) wrote a book of reminiscences in which we
find a description of Veracruz as it was during the French domination.44
Mr. J. F. Elton wrote of the city as he saw it on April 13, 1866: "Vera
Cruz rejoices in many steeples and domes, and they shone out clear and white,
like marble, against the deep blue of the mountains far away
inland." In the background
>40 Wm. Manning (ed.), Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Inter-American Affairs, 1831-1860, Vol. II, Mexico
(Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1937), p. 1033.
For further details see Paul V. Murray, Tres norteamericanos y su
participation en el desarrollo del tratado McLane-Ocampo, 1856-1860
(Guadalajara: Imprenta "Gráfica," 1946), pp. 29-45.
J. F. Elton, With the French in Mexico (London: Chapman and Hall, 1867). Mr. Elton said that he was hunting along the Scheldt River when he got the idea to go to Mexico and take
part in the French intervention
"the last rays of the sun faintly
lit up the snow-peak of Orizaba" while over towards Sacrificios there lay
"the wreck of a large vessel, driven on the sands by a strong 'norte,' standing
out in black and ominous
effect, and almost intercepting the view." 45 The military air of those days in the port is sounded in the following
description: "Vera Cruz was a very Babel. Zouaves, Turcos, Chasseurs
d'Afrique, and Nubians —belonging to
the Egyptian Legion— were bustling about,
and hurrying their way through the crowds of Mexicans, Indians, cargadores, arrieros, and impatient
travellers [who] were more than
anxious to turn their backs on the town, and the chances of yellow-fever." In the crowd, too, were
invalided soldiers and those whose
time had expired. "They bore all the unmistakable signs of having made many a long and weary march in Mexico,
and their travel-stained uniforms made
the white dresses of the Egyptian soldiers
stand out in striking contrast." 46 If Mr. Elton's book is a reliable
source of information, it would seem that Veracruzans have tragic reason to remember those white-robed,
These same Egyptians have garrisoned Vera Cruz for about
four years, being lent to
the French Government by the Viceroy of Egypt. They are exceedingly clean and smart soldiers, nor in one
instance have they failed to
behave admirably before the enemy; in fact, they are more dreaded in the
'Tierra Caliente' by the guerilla bands than most of the other troops who have had the bad fortune to
be garrisoned in this
unhealthy climate. Perhaps offenders have a wholesome recollection of their vengeance, when
they sallied forth from Tejeria to kill every man in a village hard by, where one of their comrades had been assassinated; and I imagine it
will be many a long day before the freebooters will venture to dwell again in this
place of ill omen."47
Mr. Elton did not
linger long in the port. The morning of April 15 "saw our party off by the
'Imperial Mexican Railroad' to Paso del Macho, a distance of some fifty miles, and the
present of the line, which, when completed, is to run to the capital."48 The hunter-traveler turned soldier did not remain long in
since we know that, after a series of campaigns with the imperial forces, he
returned to Veracruz and sailed 'from there for Habana on January 13, 1867. When his
manuscript was written,
Op. cit., pp. 9-10. He mentions both the
"black vomit" and the zopilotes (vultures).
Ibid., p. 12.
With these words Mr. Elton reveals his ignorance of the great problems that existed before and
during the French intervention.
Maximilian was still alive and the last act of the drama at Querétaro was still to be
written by Juárez and his followers.49
A little known
incident that took place during the post-Empire years was the visit to Mexico of the
Honorable William H. Seward who, as Secretary of State in the cabinet of Presidents
Lincoln and Johnson, brought much influence to bear on the side of Juárez and the Liberals. Mr. Seward
entered the country at Manzanillo on October 7, 1869, and left it at Veracruz on
January 11, 1870. This unusual journey (for
those times) had its chronicler in the person of Col. Albert S. Evans of San
Francisco, California, whose book of more than 500 pages was entitled Our
Sister Republic: A Gala Trip through Tropical Mexico in 1869-70.50 Mr. Seward and his
royally entertained wherever they went; and there was no doubt at all in Col. Evans's
mind that Juárez and the Liberals showed by their actions the gratitude they felt towards
the man who had helped them in their hour of need. But the colonel's book is
less taken up with political considerations than with his sketches of people and places. He arrived in
Veracruz before Mr. Seward and almost immediately his eye was attracted to a group of
men at Schliden & Company who were counting new silver dollars. They were
he wrote, "in detecting defective or base coin. It is said that when they pour a bag
of these dollars upon the table, they will decide in an instant whether
they are of the coinage of Zacatecas, Guanajuato, or Mexico, by the ring in each, though
it is wholly imperceptible to the ear of the uninitiated." Still marvelling at
their dexterity, the colonel wrote: "I have never seen any
specie-counters or experts who could beat these uneducated Indian-blooded
Veracruzanos, save the
Chinese experts, who do the same business for the banks in San Francisco. .
chronicler did not fail to notice the marks of war which the city showed.
"I frequently saw balls or pieces of exploded shells, embedden in
the pavement. Many of these were thrown into the city by Miramón, in the attempt to
dislodge Juárez in the early part of 1860. . ." 52 Down in the harbor, he
saw the wrecks of "a large
number of steam launches of iron" brought by the French, "their bottoms stove in and machinery removed or ruined... all
49 Ibid., p.
50 (Hartford: Columbian Book Company; London, Triibner & Co., 1871).
cit., p. 472.
in the Anton
the eastern side of the castle."
San Juan Ulúa looked down on still other relics of past battles for the colonel
wrote: "Many old Spanish guns of the finest metal, thrown into the sea years ago,
are still lying in the shallow water around the castle, and might be converted into ploughshares and
pruning-hooks to the benefit of the country. . ." 5S Interesting, too, are
the statistics on religion in Veracruz as furnished by Col. Evans. He listed the
population as having 15,777 Catholics, 71 Protestants ("all foreigners," he
added), 1 Jew and 1 Mohammedan. The nationality of the inhabitants was, according to him:
"Mexicans, 14,834; Spaniards, 736; Cubans (nearly all political exiles), 242;
French, 218; Citizens of the United States, 108; Germans, 68; Italians, 37; English,
23; Peruvianos, 5; Africans, 5; other or uncertain nationalities, 24." 54
Even more interesting than these figures was the truly humorous description of a
fight between a California grizzly bear (whom Col. Evans nicknamed "Old Sampson") and a
bull, which the Seward party witnessed:
At the first touch of the bull's horns,
old Sampson raised his immense, bulky carcass, took the poor bull lovingly in his
brawny arms, and grasping him by the neck with his worn-out teeth proceeded to shake him, as a
terrier dog a rat. His teeth were so bad he could not break the bull's neck,
but he held him as a mother holds her Infant, and compressed his neck as if it
had been a loaf of bread. This went on until the bull called for help, and the
audience began to call out, ‘give the bull a chance!' when the Señor, and his
assistants dashed water by the hogshead upon the bear to make him break his hold, and at last
The bear eventually injured the bull so
badly that the latter had to be destroyed. The Seward party enjoyed other
entertainments before it
sailed, but no incident seems to have been more enjoyable —at least to Col. Evans— than the victory of his
"paisano" over the bull.
after Don Porfirio Díaz became president for the first time, Mexico began to enjoy (or should I say suffer
from?) a new role as hostess to
hundreds of tourists who came into the country by ship and, eventually, by rail from the north. A
skimming of their books will show
that few made observations that were above the commonplace; and only a handful gathered information worth quoting.
However, they cannot be ignored in such a paper as this. For example, in 1879, an Englishman, Thomas Unett
54 Ibid., p. 484.
little that was startling in the city
of Veracruz but he did leave a record of what travel was like on the railroad leaving the
port in those days. "We had not been travelling more than half an hour, when, near Tejeria,
the engine was thrown off the rail, and the train brought to a
standstill. Some cows had gone to sleep on the line, and the engine had
jumped over them; the first two carriages, being empty and light, were flung off the
rails and smashed, and the third carriage, in which we were sitting, after a
series of bumpings and jumping, came to a dead stop. . ." Some time later,
an engine came out from the city and hauled the train back to Veracruz. There was an unhappy wait until
the line was reported ready for travel as the passengers were "not allowed to
leave the carriages, as the officials declared they did not know at what moment the
train would start."54 I am sure that many
Mexicans and tourists of our day quite fully understand the feelings of Mr.
Brocklehurst and his fellow travellers even though seventy-two years have passed since
he wrote his book!
In 1881, another Englishman, the apparently widely-travelled J. J. Aubertin, passed
through Veracruz in the summer without making much comment on the city. He was, though,
mightily attracted to the Pico de Orizaba which, he said, in contrast to the other Mexican volcanoes,
"boasts of the easiest name." In his enthusiasm for the beauty of the
mountain, Mr. Aubertin developed this comparison: "Many and many a
time during my two months in the country, I have gazed on him from almost every point of
view, and on leaving him for the last time he seemed to me, as did the interior
of the dome
of St. Peter's on a like occasion, more grand and beautiful than ever."
" A forlorn echo of the days of Maximilian's passing glory is found in
another passage of Mr. Aubertin's book. After referring to a conversation with a
Veracruzano who saw Maximilian land from the Novara in 1864, the Englishman wrote:
"In reference to this conversation, I was afterwards assured that one
a Cuban, known to be very parsimonious, paid twenty-five cents each —about a
shilling— to fifty men to cheer Maximilian. Many of them afterwards denied the cheering,
but did not deny having had the money. It is on record that the coldness of the
reception was so marked that the Empress shed tears." 5S
Today: A Country
With a Great
57 A Flight to Mexico (London:
Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1882), p. 27. Mr. Aubertin makes many allusions to his trips to
Ibid., pp. 31-32.
In the same year and
at almost the same time, an American, William Henry Bishop, came ashore from
a steamship, noting that "it was the anniversary of the arrival
of Cortez, in. . .1519. He had arrived on the evening of Thursday of Holy
Week, and so had I." Mr. Bishop is one of the few writers I have consulted
who had a good word to say of the famous zopilotes. "All the world
knows," he wrote, "that the streetcleaning of Vera Cruz is
conducted by the ravens, or buzzards; but all the world does not know with
what a dignity these large zopilotes, of a glossy blackness, often pose themselves immovably on
the eaves against the deep blue sky. They might be carved there for
ornament. Many a street-cleaning department is at least less
sculpturesque, and perhaps less efficient." 59 This American
deplored the fact that Mexico had not yet developed Veracruz properly as a harbor
since it received "nine tenths of the commerce of a nation of ten
million people." Disasters to ships have "led the underwriters to make
their risks to Vera Cruz about five times higher than to most other
ports. The aggregate of these losses for a brief time would pay the
cost of works needed to make the inhospitable roadstead a
harbor."60 The business-minded visitor was critical also of the high
duties and fees charged at the port and illustrated his point with a
story told by the American consul:
I will tell you... of
an unlucky fellow who came here from England with a small venture
of fancy goods, part free of duty. The whole cost him originally $1200; and he had consulted the Mexican consul at Liverpool, and
thought he knew what he was about. When he got through the
Custom-house his total charges and fines had amounted to $2850. He sold his
stock for $2000, and borrowed money to pay the difference and get
out of the country. 61
Hearing this story we
can well understand why President Díaz was so interested in
changing import and export laws after he became president for the
In October of 1883, a
man who identified himself only as "A Gringo" but who
would seem to have been an Englishman, liked what he saw from
aboard his steamer. "Very beautiful did Vera Cruz look. . . with a
background of cocoanut-trees waving in the breeze and a dense
tropical vegetation. In the distance... the blue mountains of the
Sierra Madre. . . the snow tipped peak of Orizaba. .. cupolas of the
churches dazzled the eye with the reflection of
Old Mexico and Her Lost Provinces (New York: Harper
& Brothers, 1883), pp. 18-19.
Ibid., pp. 20-21.
Ibid., p. 23.
the sun's rays on their tile-covered
domes, . . low one-storyed houses, with their white walls and green verandahs,
looked invitingly cool." 62 Once ashore, he visited the usual places; but
San Juan Ulúa seemed to shock him. "This is a terrible place in which to
expiate a crime," he wrote, "and the convict's life must be an
exceptionally hard one. In one great cavernous cell were confined some hundreds of
prisoners at the time of my visit. . . formed into a double line, every fourth man holding
aloft a small oil lamp." Once accustomed to the gloom, the visitor
discerned "the figures of the wretched men... stripped to the waist, with gloomy
ferocious faces to which the flickering
light gave an uncanny aspect." He left sorry for them but seemed to
feel also that it was well to have them confined for the good of society. "The prisoners take it in turn to work on
the rocks surrounding the fortress,
carrying coal to the lighters under the fierce rays of the tropical sun." He found that when the poor
fellows had a little free time they carved cocoanut shells "with
sharp-pointed nails, which they fit into
rough wood handles, no knives being allowed. Many of these shells are worked into artistic patterns,
and on all is the pathetic motto,
'Recuerdo de San Juan de Ulloa,' to remind the purchaser, in his happy freedom, of the prisoners who
have spent over these shells so many hours of labour." 63
Surely the man who signed himself "A
Gringo" had a warm heart indeed if he could stop for a moment in his travels to shed a silent tear over
the plight of those miserable pariahs
in the old fortress of San Juan.
Miss Susan Hale, a writer,
passed through Veracruz, probably in the spring of 1888, seeking material for a
book about the country. Her brief references to the city are mostly humorous,
some complimentary. After landing and then spending a night at a hotel, she wrote:
"In Mexico there is no effort on the part of an hotel proprietor to speed the
parting guest. He signs the bill overnight and betakes himself to repose, undisturbed
by the exodus in early morning." The cargadores are on hand, Miss Hale
found, to carry the luggage to the railroad station but "There is no
sign of breakfast at the hotel. Nobody is stirring but one sleepy inn-keeper." All is not lost for the
hungry traveller, however, for she discovered "as in every Mexican
town. . . a cafe, where excellent hot coffee is furnished, with plenty
of boiled milk and good bread in many and
Gringo," Through the Land of the Aztecs (London: Sampson Low,
Marston & Company, 1892), pp. 1-2. He says that both Englishmen and Americans have
been called "gringos."
63 Ibid., pp. 9-10.
various forms. Here
we may sit and refresh ourselves with cup after cup, if we like, until the
short, sharp whistle of the steam-engine warns us to take the train." 64
Although her book, a kind of popular history of Mexico, makes few references
after this to her personal views, it would seem that she was well
impressed with the country and sought to make friends for it through her
One of the most elaborate travel books ever written on Mexico came from the pen
of Mrs. Marie Robinson Wright, an American, who first visited the country in
1892 and then returned again in 1895-96 to gather material for the huge
volume she published in 1897 and dedicated to Don Porfirio Díaz. In Picturesque
Mexico65 Mrs. Wright gives the reader the more attractive side of
things during the Porfirian epoch; and the photographs that illustrate the big book are sure to bring
nostalgia to those who remember another and older Mexico. She dedicates a
chapter to each of the states, and Veracruz is not neglected though the city
itself has little that is unusual said about it. In one place she does
declare that "The working people of Vera Cruz are a clean, well-fed
lot. They earn far better pay than the workers of the table-land cities. The common
laborers get a dollar and a quarter a day, and a stevedore three
dollars." 66 But she is much more concerned with a romantic
approach to the city than a social one as we can tell from the following:
Throughout the city of Vera Cruz the stranger
finds something enchanting
and unreal in the different streets, with their innumerable balconies and fluttering awnings.
During the hot afternoon one looks in vain for any sign of life in the great stone houses with their many windows and with their heavy
draperies lazily waving in the soft breeze... The long rest-time has cast its spell over everybody, and there is nothing to do but go and
lie down to dream of the ships, the bearded captains, and the grim castle; of the far-distant days of romance when Cortez and his men in
armor first saw this strange land; and even further back than that, when the Toltecs and Aztecas had things all their own way; and then
Vera Cruz seems hoary with antiquity,
and the creatures of today naught but mere incidents in the great scroll of history.67
It was indeed a
romantic, a peaceful picture that Mrs. Wright painted for her readers. Like
many other writers of that period, Mexican and foreign alike,
she thought that the once war-torn country was
64 Mexico (New York: G. P. Putnam's
Sons; London; T. Fisher Unwin, 1901), pp. 4-5.
(Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1897).
Op. cit., p.
now on the high road to peaceful progress and
would move forward with ever-greater strides.
A day came indeed when
that peaceful progress was halted and the forward strides were stopped. The
Revolution of 1910 that sent Don Porfirio Díaz into exile from Veracruz itself and
brought first Francisco I. Madero and then Victoriano Huerta into power at the capital, had
powerful repercussions in the country's most important port. The city
was destined to suffer again all the horrors of war —bombardment, siege, hunger,
foreign occupation. It has been said that "Time heals all wounds"
but one seldom forgets that he was
wounded. Strange as it may seem, one of the best, most compassionate descriptions of prostrate Veracruz,
immediately after the American attack of April 21, 1914, is to be found in the
book called A Diplomat's Wife in
Mexico 68 of which Mrs. Nelson O'Shaugh-nessy was the author. This cultured lady, who
seems to have had a deep affection
for this country and its people, was the wife of the American charge d'affaires at the embassy in
Mexico City; and her first words about
Veracruz were penned as she passed through it on October 7, 1913. Huerta was provisional president and Woodrow Wilson, newly-elected in the United States, would
not recognize him. Indeed, Mr. John
Lind, who came to confer with Huerta, was on hand with Mr. O'Shaughnessy to greet the diplomat's wife as she came ashore. Admiral Fletcher, commander of
American naval forces in the Gulf of
Mexico, was also introduced to her at that time.69 Five and a half months later, she was back in the
captured port, a kind of diplomatic
refugee from the embassy in the capital, having been given a safe conduct through the lines because of the anti-American feeling in Mexico City.
know her book. Its last forty pages are of great interest to them, indeed to all
students of Mexican history. She arrived on April 24 and left on May 3; and her
descriptions are marked by the mixed emotions of a patriotic American gentlewoman who loved Mexico
and grieved to see her torn by war and revolution. Only brief glimpses at her
well-written pages can be recorded here. She saw the U. S. hospital ship Solace out
in the harbor,
filled with "the wounded, the dead, and, mayhap, the dying ones." There, too,
were the chartered boats of the Ward Line—the Mexico, Monterrey, Esperanza,
"also the now historic Ypiranga,
(New York: Harper, 1916). The book is made up of letters which the author sent to her mother.
69 Op. cit., pp.
waiting to take American refugees to
New Orleans." The signs of war confronted her: "Everywhere are the
marks of bullets along the once-peaceful streets—the clean perforations of the
steel-jacketed bullets of the American rifles; quaint cornices chipped; electric street globes
destroyed; pink facades looking as if there was a design in white where the
shots, had taken off the color." 70 Her visit to the Naval Academy
shocked her and moved her to write sadly:
It was patrolled by our men, its facade telling the tale
of the taking of the town
only too well; windows destroyed by the Chester's guns, balconies hanging limply from their
fastenings... Every conceivable disorder was evident — cadets' uniforms lay with sheets, pillows,
books, broken furniture,
heaps of mortar, plaster. The boys made a heroic stand, and many of them gave up their lives; but
what could they do when
every window was a target for the unerring mark of the Chester's guns? Many a mother's hope and pride
died that day for his country,
before he had a chance to live for it. This is history at close range. 71
Even though she despised war and all
that it meant, Mrs. O'Shaughnessy was critical of her country's seeming
unwillingness to face facts. "What we are doing," she wrote, "is war
accompanied by all the iniquitous results of half-measures, and in Washington
they call it 'peaceful intervention'." 72
The American flag was
raised over the city on April 26 and the city was put under martial law. Of San
Juan Ulúa Mrs. O'Shaughnessy says "we sent one thousand rations into the
starving fort. . . and today our flag flies above it. All the political prisoners were released." 73
Her word picture of the army officer who took over command from Admiral
Fletcher is as follows: "General Funston is small, quick, and vigorous. There is a
great atmosphere of competency about him, and he is, they tell me, a magnificent
field officer. He had been to Mexico nineteen years before, thinking to invest money in coffee; now
in the turning wheel of life his reputation is being invested in the situation
which he is more than equal to." 74 There is a certain
amount of nationalistic fervor in the American lady's description of the army replacing
the navy: "The passing of the troops [sailors and marines] took exactly
thirty-seven minutes. They seemed to vanish away, to be dissolved into the sea,
72 Ibid., p. 317.
73 Ibid., pp.
74Ibid., p. 339.
tural element. For a moment only the
harbor looked like some old print of Nelsonion embarkings—Trafalgar, the Nile,
Copenhagen, I know not what." 75 On May 3, 1914, Mrs. O'Shaughnessy
the sailors and marines aboard ship. Her last recorded view of the occupied city is
a most impressive one:
As we pushed off over the water... great patches of khaki
colored the shores of the
town. They were squads of our men, their tents and paraphernalia, the color coming out strong against
Vera Cruz, which had an
unwonted grayish tone that afternoon. The Yankton was lying in the outer harbor, surrounded
by battle-ships, dreadnoughts, and torpedo-boats — a mighty showing, a circle of iron around that artery of beautiful, gasping Mexico...
As I looked about I seemed to be in a strange, gray city of battle-ships. 76
We know that Mexico and the United
States did not go to war and that the troops were withdrawn a year later. We
can be devoutly thankful to the Almighty for having helped us to avoid that terrible calamity.
later, in March, 1938, an English novelist paused briefly in Veracruz and jotted down
his impressions: "It is a gay and pretty town with its little balconied houses and
shell boxes and shell picture frames and rosaries of shells, and the cantinas open to the street to catch
whatever breeze there may be." On a street car he saw "A little blond girl
of two. . . wearily asleep in her nurse's arms, washed out and fragile as a shell, with
her tiny ears already drilled for rings and a gold bangle around the little
bony wrist—handcuffed to sophistication at birth—like goodness dying out in
the hot seaport."
He saw people crowding around a bank, "pushing their way towards the
counter to exchange their notes for silver—all because of the
expropriation of the oil fields." Into the American consulate he went
"and there was the consul going through his weekly lottery ticket—seriously, as if it were a
game of skill." 7T The novelist was Graham Greene and he was on his way to Tabasco and Chiapas. Out of that voyage across the Gulf came one of his
most powerful novels, The Power
and the Glory, a story of religious persecution in modern Mexico. It is unforgettable.
To whom should we turn
in order to bring this little study to a close? I have chosen Ambassador Josephus
Daniels for it is very
75 Ibid., p. 341.
76 Ibid., pp. 348-349.
77 Graham Greene, Another Mexico (New York: Viking Press, Inc., 1939), p. 113.
probable that no other American tried harder than Mr. Daniels to erase the errors of the past and to set new and firm
foundations to Mexican-American relations. In that volume of his autobiography which deals with
Mexico —entitled Shirt Sleeve Diploma78— the former ambassador
speaks frankly about his feelings in relation to Veracruz and his part in its
bombardment and capture. More important to us are several stories he tells
concerning the city, the state, and some of its citizens. Although these take
us a bit outside the confines of our topic, I ask your indulgence to repeat
some of them because they give light and meaning to the sincerity of Mr. Daniels' and Mr. Roosevelt's
interpretation of the Good Neighbor Policy. Since the ambassador gives few dates in his
book, I cannot tell you when some of these things took place but they must have
transpired between 1933 and 1941, the years of his term of office. Although advised
not to go to the city because the residents might be hostile, Mr. Daniels wrote:
"I had seen more of Vera Cruz than many Mexicans know. One night before taking
the steamer to the United States I had quietly, unknown to anyone —and against
the protest of the consul— driven out to the monument to the cadets who died when I sent the fleet there
and placed a wreath upon it. I felt in my heart that these young men had died bravely
for their country, which they believed was being invaded." 79
When Don Miguel
Alemán was elected governor of Veracruz, Mr. Daniels was invited to speak at the inauguration.
His advisers were opposed as they "warned that some resentful Mexican, who had not forgotten
that I sent the fleet to Vera Cruz, might seize upon the occasion to get revenge. I
made light of their fears and went gladly to the capital city of the state. I was
treated with every courtesy and kindness and was thanked for my Good Neighbor
The day was beautiful."80 Once the ambassador narrowly escaped death in an accident in Jalapa. An
artist, whom he calls only Pancho, painted a retablo
for him, attributing the escape to St. Christopher. Mr. Daniels placed it in a tin frame from Spratling's in Taxco and "gave it a place of honor in the
Embassy and it now hangs in my
Mexican room in Raleigh under the oil portrait of Juárez, and pictures of Rodríguez, Cárdenas, Camacho,
Alamán [sic] and other Mexican
leaders. I regard it as an emblem of my luck in
78 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1947).The Mexican edition is called Diplomático
en mangos de camisa (Mexico: Talleres Gráficos de la Nación 1949)
Op.cit., p. 88.
80 Ibid., p. 89.
Veracruz which began and steadily improved throughout my years in Mexico." 8l
One of the
ambassador's most touching stories refers to his visit to the home of the Martínez
Zorrilla family, two of whose members became famous as athletes at Cornell University.
saw the picture of a young man in naval uniform, asked who it was, and was
taken aback when his host said calmly that it was his brother, one of the naval
cadets killed during the Veracruz occupation. Seeing the diplomat's
discomfiture, Sr. Martínez Zorrilla remarked gently: "It was the fortune
of war. We cannot avert such tragedies. I do not blame you." Of this spirit the ambassador
any Mexican had cause for resentment to me and the Wilson administration, it is
the Martínez Zorrilla family, but they understand and acted with
generosity." Later, these Mexican friends of Mr. Daniels showed still
more of the forgiving spirit by asking him to be a witness at the civil wedding of
one of the nephews of the man who died at Veracruz.82
The last of the
Daniels' stories concerns Mexico's last two chief executives. After the ambassador retired,
he received a visit from Lic. Miguel Alemán,
who presented him with a silk flag, the gift of President Manuel Avila
Camacho, and the following message: "...
he sends you this flag with his esteem and
asks you to promise you will never
live a day without being under the folds of the Mexican flag." Mr. Daniels
made the promise and lived up to it, for of the flag he wrote: "It
hangs now in my home in Raleigh." 8S As I recount these incidents the thought comes to me that Presidents
Avila Camacho and Alemán did not wait
for Time to heal the wounds of the past. They made Mr. Daniels feel that his part in the mistakes of 1914 were forgiven; and he, in turn, showed by his
actions, both as ambassador and
private citizen, that he had learned to love and admire the country and the people whom he had once so
More than three
centuries separate Friar Thomas Gage and Ambassador Josephus Daniels but throughout those
long years the port of Veracruz has stood, sometimes smiling brightly,
81 Ibid., p. 91.
Ibid., pp. 91-92.
83 Ibid., p.
In July of
1946, President-elect Alemán sent Mr.
Daniels an invitation to his inauguration.
tered and forlorn,
waiting to welcome the weary sea traveller who seeks her hospitality. May she stand
there for many centuries more; and may all who write about her —but most especially
Englishmen and Americans— seek to know her and appreciate her as have many of the writers we
have cited here today. As for myself, I say with all my heart: ¡Viva Veracruz! Viva México! ¡Vivan los congresos de
Paul V. Murray, Department of History
and Political Science
This version of a chapter of Antología (Mexico: Mexico City College,
1956) has retained its original pagination.