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7. War and Peace under Presidentes Martínez and Alsedo, 1731-1745


Contrary to Spanish hopes, peace did not descend upon the Darién following the death of Luis García and the condemnation of his fellow conspirators. The Spanish towns within Indian country continued to suffer sudden, devastating attacks of hostile Indians, and, in response, in March 1731 the presidente removed Felipe Santiago Cabrejo from his position as the highest-ranking military official in the province and installed Prospero Ricardo in his place. Ricardo had earned the position by claiming that he had single-handedly negotiated a durable peace for the region, but subsequent attacks proved that he had overestimated both his own achievement and capabilities. 1

Ominous news reached Panamá City in 1731 regarding French settlers in the Gulf of Urabá region. Rumors circulated that they were planning a major assault on not-so-distant Cartagena. 2 Spanish officials referred to these outlaws as levantados (the "risen ones") because several treaties signed with France had removed whatever legal cover these men had once enjoyed. Although they were thus free agents acting entirely without state sponsorship, the French ex-buccaneers did have supporters among the officers of the French state. 3 In times of international stress and competition, the French naval authorities instructed seamen operating in the Americas to check on the status of the irredentist French community that had taken root at the Gulf of Urabá. Their supporters, like the English-speaking buccaneers of the previous generation, fashioned texts for an eager reading public, aiming to tribalize the region's Tule Indians through literary means, the better to capture the imaginations of French readers and satisfy French expectations and sensibilities. 4

Prospero Ricardo asked for but was refused assistance from the Jesuit College of Panamá City; its rector claimed that his own hands were full educating the young people of the isthmus. 5 Ricardo next revived a scheme to transport Canary Islanders to settle and work at the mines of the Darién, but such ideas could not be brought to fruition while the province was at war. In April 1731 Indian warriors attacked Chepigana, an assault that came, the presidente reported wistfully to the crown, "in spite of the peace." 6 presidente Villahermosa opined that the cycle of peace and attacks was the result of the Indians' incitement by the French levantados, whose ultimate goal was to capture the silver fleet in a final act of buccaneer audacity. In his opinion, the only way to put an end to the French-inspired Indian attacks was "to exterminate them." 7

The Audiencia of Panamá had only recently been reinstated after the crown had suppressed it in 1718, and isthmian affairs in general were roiled by frequent struggles that raged between the presidente and the oidores of the Audiencia. 8 Although that body had been suppressed, the Darién's affairs had been in the complacent hands of the viceroy of Peru, and Lima's physical and conceptual distance from the Darién had mitigated against any sort of activist policy. After the Audiencia was reinstated in 1722, it did not take up the initiative with respect to the Darién's affairs, and after 1731 an unrestrained, low-level state of warfare took hold as the norm throughout the entire province.

In April 1734 Villahermosa, reporting to the crown that Santa Cruz de Cana had been attacked, wrote enigmatically that "each day the Indians become more respectable due to their union with the pirates." 9 Perhaps he meant that the Indians were learning more than European military methods, and that they were also acquiring the cultural norms and mores of their long-term allies.

A stern royal order of February 26, 1735, called unequivocally for a viceregal conquest of the Darién. It prompted the viceroy to confer with the new presidente of the Audiencia of Panamá on June 20, 1735; Martínez bluntly informed his superior that he would need five hundred trained Spanish soldiers to put an end to the Darién war. 10 Such an extravagant complement of men, arms, and materiel was not forthcoming from the viceroy, however, and the situation festered until April 1737, when Martínez offered the hostile Indians a general pardon in return for the cessation of the attacks against the Spanish. 11

A group of Tule caciques responded favorably to Martínez's offer of amnesty in the fall of 1738, a result, the presidente triumphantly opined, brought about through two years of constant pressure, the destruction of the rebels' means of subsistence, and the retributive attacks by tribal Chocó warriors. 12 On the other hand, the spokesman for the caciques themselves later reported that they had chosen peace over continued hostilities because several epidemics and natural disasters had ravaged their people, making further resistance difficult, if not impossible. 13

Individual Tule leaders made positive initial responses to the amnesty, but Martínez informed them that he sought a grander settlement that would encompass the entire Darién Indian tribe. This goal, however worthy, would not be easily achieved, a cacique named Felipe Merina informed Martínez. The Indian bluntly stated that as far as he was concerned, "the peace could only be for the Río Chucunaque, of which he was head. He simply did not possess the power to make peace for the entire province." 14

Martínez responded by giving the caciques with whom he had had contact an ultimatum: they had six weeks to decide whether to be represented by a single cacique who would come forward and sign a comprehensive peace treaty with him, or else Martínez would recommence hostilities against them. 15 The six-week interval would be ample, he assumed, to allow the leaders to order their affairs and agree to the peace. The presidente's desire to deal with a single, powerful cacique no doubt led to competition among autonomous Tule leaders to stand as the single man who would be recognized by Martínez as the paramount leader of a substantial portion of the Darién's Indians. 16

Long-term Spanish-Tule contact had forced several profound shifts in the structure of the Indian polity. The first change, ushered in by the collection of alliances initiated and maintained by Julián and Luis Carrisoli, had resulted in the opening up of leadership opportunities for Tule men who wished to put themselves forward as self-styled chieftains. Now Spanish strategic needs had forced upon the polity the selection of a paramount chief to act as spokesman and guarantor of a comprehensive peace treaty. The Tule man who emerged as the tribal cacique was a chieftain named Juan Chani or Sanni, none other than the man also known as Tunchile. The old rebel of 1726-27, it appeared, had decided to try his hand at the new tribal game. 17

On October 31, 1738, Sanni came to Panamá City to iron out the peace with the presidente, making clear that although he was escorted solely by Marzelo del Castillo of Molineca and his interpreter, Pedro Santiago Cabrejo, he was in fact the ruler of a proud Indian nation of five hundred men, women, and children. 18 The cacique made a few important points immediately, stating that the term rebel was not the proper one to be used in relation to his people, inasmuch as they had merely helped certain individuals in distress. Adopting a more conciliatory note, Sanni conveyed to the presidente his desire for peace, which he promised was the general wish of his people. 19

The treaty that Sanni negotiated aimed to do nothing less than effect a total reorganization of Tule life in Indian country. It was, on one level, a Spanish attempt to impose a form of colonial dominion over a newly tribalized Tule people. On another level, however, the provisions of the treaty revealed that Juan Sanni and other now-lesser Tule leaders had wielded considerable power during the negotiation of the treaty. The first protocol of the pact, for example, included one of many Spanish concessions to the Tule, granting that "the people of the northern band, who have always lived dispersed, are granted the liberty to remain that way for the next ten years." 20

The pact, rather than reflecting an imposition of Spanish power, instead signaled an acceptance by the Spanish of messy current realities, something especially evident in Martínez's dispensing with the consistently failed policy of expanding the reducciones. The third protocol was even more remarkable. It stated that no Indian would be "pressured or forced by violence to accept the Christian faith." 21 The Spanish here accepted a weakened policy of voluntary missionization in which Indians who had already been converted would continue to live under religious discipline at the existing reducciones, while those who chose not to reduce themselves would be left in peace, so long as they did not commit acts of violence or rebellion against the Spanish administration. 22

In addition, the treaty formalized the institution of the paniquiris and moras, which, the text stated, "had been given to the Indians for the longest time." 23 Although a high-level investigation of the crown's ledgers had failed to find the official accounts for the previous awards, 24 the gifts were proclaimed valid, extrajudicial grants. 25 The paniquiris and moras were defined as a type of clothing, and the pact ordered the presidentes to continue providing these traditional items of exchange, since the king and Consejo both greatly approved of clothes being given to the Indians "to enhance their decency." 26


The treaty-making Tule leaders clearly extracted every concession they could, even dictating that only Jesuit priests would be allowed to enter the Darién and tend to the reducciones. 27 In addition, the pact stipulated that no persons of African descent would be allowed to enter the Darién without the expressed permission of the principal cacique. 28 The fifth protocol dealt with the province's leadership structure, and as such was perhaps the treaty's most vital provision. It stated, in simple language, that "due to problems with the teniente generales in the past, the Indians will be ruled only by their own caciques, and all caciques are subordinate to Juan Sanni. All of these native leaders, including Sanni, are, in turn, subordinate to the governor of the province." 29 Martínez's treaty, therefore, legalized a new tribal structure of rulership for the province, covering leaders from the highest cacique to the smallest riverine chief. The provisions covering the tribe's system of overlordship were detailed, and supplemented by the remarkable statement that "every river shall have a captain, whom the governor must approve in order for him to hold that office." 30

Strategic strictures during a time of heightened British-Spanish pressures had forced officials to negotiate the tribalization that they had previously assumed would occur as the result of a long-term process carried out under the able and watchful eyes of the Carrisolis. The treaty of 1738 changed this previous equilibrium, and it was negotiated and signed principally because all of the players needed the peace that it promised. Martínez got peace from the pact; Sanni got the leadership of a tribe; and the Consejo believed that the treaty would provide regional security as the crown prepared for a war in the Caribbean. With so many factors acting in its favor, the pact received royal approval on October 27, 1739. 31

Once the tribalization process in the Darién had gathered some momentum, it suddenly took on a contagious quality. When Felipe Uriñaquichu, the leader of the Tule of the Gulf of Urabá, learned in late 1741 of the presidente's audacious pact, he approached Martínez and signed an almost identical agreement. 32 The fever had yet to run its course, for the French settlers living at the Gulf of Urabá chose this opportunity to seek the crown's pardon and themselves become signatories to the comprehensive treaty. These long-outlawed men, ruled by a European cacique of their own choosing named Santos Bullico, became vassals of the Spanish crown and acquired legal standing as a chartered buffer community within a tribal Darién. 33

With the taming of the French levantados, Dionisio Martínez de la Vega's attempt to bring order to the chaotic Indian country appeared to have achieved tangible results. As Spain prepared for a possible war against the British, the Darién would not appear on the crown's list of the most problematic trouble spots. The presidente clearly had engineered an acceptable short-term solution, but only time would tell whether Martínez's attempt to tribalize the Darién by treaty would prove a long-term success.

Although Martínez brimmed with optimism, the future would almost certainly be fraught with perils for him. For Juan Sanni and, to a lesser extent, Felipe Uriñaquichu, the supreme leaders whom the treaty had enthroned atop fictional indigenous polities, would attempt to exercise a type of authority that the Tule had never known before. In addition, the Spanish effort to extend the frontier eastward was not welcomed by those indigenous leaders who had made their careers as representatives of colonial authority on the Chepo frontier.

In April 1739, soon after the treaty had been negotiated with Juan Sanni, the cacique of the Indians of Chepo paid Martínez a visit, and the presidente reported to the crown in a letter of May 27, 1739, that "the cacique Don Ventura showed himself on this occasion to be most displeased. Having stayed with me here for several days he was treated with the greatest respect as he is one of the chieftains who controls a major force of the Indians. At the frontier, by the fort of Chepo, he took his leave of me understanding that he had been very well treated by me." 34 Tribal leaders from what had been the sole frontier region near Chepo clearly preferred that the Darién remain a marginalized Indian country. Because any changes in its status and, most important, in the status of its leaders, could have a direct effect on their lives and livelihoods, they preferred the status quo.

The War of Jenkins's Ear placed extreme pressures on the Spanish American empire. In fact, these dangers had made a formal peace with Darién's Indians a necessity on the eve of conflict with Britain. 35 War between Spain and England still raged when Martínez's replacement, Don Dionisio de Alsedo y Herrera, 36 arrived in the new world in 1743 to assume his post as presidente of the Audiencia of Panamá. Alsedo's appointment in the midst of the war can only be interpreted as evidence of a palpable shift in policy, since he had recently published a series of pamphlets that urged the crown to repudiate the financial provisions of the Treaty of Utrecht and to take a sterner line against British contraband trade in the Americas. 37 Alsedo arrived at Cartagena de Indias on March 1, 1743, and found that two British ships, the Greenwich, a frigate of sixty cannon, and a smaller vessel of twelve cannon, had blockaded the city. Although the two warships had wrought havoc recently on the movement of goods, officials, and news into and out of Cartagena, Alsedo's ship, a French vessel named, aptly enough, El Dichoso (The Lucky One) entered the harbor without incident. 38

On arrival, Alsedo turned over to Don Sebastián Eslava, the viceroy of New Grenada, a casket of official papers that were of such high importance that he had been instructed to cast it into the sea if his capture seemed likely. Alsedo arranged with Eslava to travel to Panamá City by following a route he had first traced in 1708 when he had accompanied the galleons under the command of the Conde of Casa Alegre. 39 Eslava granted the new governor the use of his own official escort ship and two smaller pirogues for the journey.

The escort ship, with its crew of twenty-five men, and the two smaller vessels, with crews of twenty-nine and nineteen men, set off from Cartagena on June 11, 1743, accompanied by two additional vessels that tagged along in their wake. 40 On the second day under sail Alsedo spied a small vessel flying Spanish colors. He was soon to learn that the ship was piloted by one of the pardoned French buccaneers, those former outlaws whom Alsedo referred to simply as the reducidos. The effects of the recent peace in the Darién were beginning to make themselves felt, with formerly closed lines of communication now open to Spanish officials on the isthmus. The small craft ferried the ayudante of Portobelo to Cartagena on official business. The recent treaty had made it possible for the pardoned Frenchmen both to enjoy a legal existence and to provide services to the crown. 41

The following day Alsedo observed no fewer than six foreign vessels along the coast, and by their flags he identified two each from France, the Netherlands, and Britain. 42 His convoy reached the Atrato River on June 18, anchoring at Port Escondido at the western tip of the Gulf of Urabá. In order to staunch the flow of contraband through the Atrato delta, the Spanish crown had forbidden ship traffic on the Atrato in 1698, a ban that had to be frequently renewed. These periodic renewals illustrate chronic official recognition of the problem and local noncompliance. 43

After Alsedo anchored at the end of the day at Port Escondido, a reduced Frenchmen named Nicolás Robo or Roso boarded his vessel. 44 The Frenchman responded to Alsedo's several questions in detail and clearly wished to prove himself a loyal subject of the Spanish crown. Roso dutifully informed Alsedo that, if he so wished, he could find the home of "Oriniguichu," the supreme leader of the Darién Indians of the Gulf of Urabá, by following a trail that began where the mountains reached the shore. 45

When it became clear that Alsedo had no wish to make such a journey, Roso in turn provided him with the kind of information that an intimate field survey might have revealed to him. He divulged to the governor that fifty Indians inhabited the rivers of the region, and that the number of French heads of families had diminished from a high of 130 to about sixty-three presently in residence. All of these people had arrayed themselves at homesteads dotting the many rivers that intersected the region, and the pardoned Frenchmen, Roso reported, lived with the Darién's Indian inhabitants. Roso indicated that Alsedo's party had failed to encounter Indians on the eastern side of the Gulf of Urabá because those people lived in the mountains, occupying the headwaters of the rivers, a practice that was not the case with the Indians on this side of the gulf. 46

Roso offered the governor his most vital piece of intelligence when he informed Alsedo that the British intended to repopulate Calidonia. So serious was the enemy that in the previous year a seaman named Captain George Cunningham had anchored a frigate at Rancho Viejo and traded a great number of arms with the local Indians. Cunningham, Roso reported, had promised to return within a specified interval of time, which had by now elapsed, and the Frenchman added that another Indian informant had mentioned to him that cannon fire had recently been heard along the coast. 47

As Captain Long had been made aware, the firing of a cannon was a universally recognizable signal to the Indians that an interloping ship had arrived, and, upon receiving this information, Alsedo immediately ordered his crews to be on their guard. Their errand was no longer the conveyance of the governor on a routine reconnaissance trip to familiarize him with the land and the peoples of the Darién; they were now almost definitely cruising the same waters as a British man of war endeavoring to rendezvous with a tribe of rebellious Indians.

On learning that Alsedo's party included a priest, Roso made known his fervent desire to meet with the group again the following day; the Frenchman desired baptism for his infant son, whose mother was a Darién Indian. Alsedo acceded to the Frenchman's request, and the next day recorded that Nicolás Roso boarded the vessel, this time with his wife and two-year-old son. In addition, two adult Indians who wished to receive the sacrament joined the group. As he had promised, Alsedo summoned the priest, Diego del Corro, aboard the escort and urged him to perform the sacramental rites. 48

Alsedo's exchange with Roso, having been based on a meeting with a member of the reduced group, contradicted the characterizations of the community put forward by later Spanish officials. These later descriptions were ideologically motivated, often fanciful, and erroneous in depicting the colony of irredentist Frenchmen only as a nest of duplicitous apostates who had, after the crown so generously granted them pardons, continued to act treacherously against Spanish interests in the Darién. Men confronting rebellious Indians at the close of the eighteenth century expressed this interpretation. These hard-pressed officials could not bring themselves to believe that the region's inhabitants could have resisted Spanish arms, and the blandishments of the Christian faith, without the connivance and assistance of treacherous Europeans. 49

This interpretation, bred of equal parts frustration and racialism, eventually hardened into an influential myth in which the reducidos were seen as colonists operating under orders from the French state, or, in a second interpretation, were thought to have acted as colonizing Protestant refugees in flight from their mother country. Spanish officials, writing several decades after the community no longer existed, conveniently theorized that the French reducidos had to have been Protestant apostates whose one delight was to divert the Tule from the true path of the Catholic faith. This became, in the end, the only ideologically acceptable explanation for the continuing Spanish difficulty in converting the Darién's Indians after three hundred years of contact. Alsedo's record of his relations with Nicolás Roso prove that this interpretation was mistaken, although its seductive explanatory power ensured that it continued to have influence. 50

Some time after casting off and continuing his passage along the coast, Alsedo led his small flotilla to Golden Island and Calidonia, the site of the ill-fated Scottish settlement of more than forty years earlier. Arriving there on June 20, Alsedo inspected the port, the routes of entry to it, and the ruins of fort Saint Andrew, which had been demolished in 1699. Jean Rixo, a Frenchman familiar with the site who had attached himself to Alsedo's flotilla, directed the governor to the long-abandoned city of New Caledonia, and Alsedo was very pleased to find the place in utter disrepair. 51

Later that same day an Indian leader named capitán Francisco boarded Alsedo's vessel, accompanied by ten other Indians. Alsedo reported that Francisco was an indio blanco. It is possible that capitán Francisco was an albino, but Alsedo provided no further comment on the matter. He perhaps assumed that capitán Francisco's status as a fair-complexioned white Indian did not require an explanation in a region that had seen so many attempts by Anglo-Saxons to settle, and that was still at times under the sway of Britons from the island of Jamaica. 52

Alsedo's silence regarding Francisco's color could have been caused by his greater state of surprise before the striking changes in the attire and armament of these people since he had last seen them some thirty-five years earlier. Alsedo recorded with alarm that Francisco's Indian companions "were all dressed in dyed canvas garments, and armed with English muskets, sabers, and bayonets. [This] ... left me amazed, and I would never have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes, since in the year 1708 I made this same voyage, and saw these self-same Indians, who had had no intercourse with Europeans, and lived hidden in the brush and the heart of the mountains like wild animals, naked and armed only with bows and arrows." 53 Inquiring after the reasons for the Indians' lively trade with the British, Dutch, and French, Francisco informed Alsedo that the answer was simple. The British provided the Indians with all that they needed in the way of arms, textiles, liquor, and munitions; the Spanish had never supplied them with these essential items. 54

Alsedo countered this argument with one of his own, providing the Indians with a comparative history lesson relating to the British treatment of indigenous people. In an echo of the argument the Dutch were reported to have made against the Spanish a hundred years earlier, the governor remarked that the British provided the Indians with goods only so that they might better dominate their lives, as they did with Indians elsewhere in the Americas. The Spaniards, on the other hand, had left the region's Indians at liberty for countless years and had not forced the Indians into economic servitude, choosing instead to wait until the Indians voluntarily sought congress with the Spaniards on their own terms, and reduced themselves to live in a beneficial state of colonial regulation.

Satisfied that he had clarified for Francisco and his men the difference between British and Spanish alliances, Alsedo offered them gifts of food and tobacco and went on his way, setting a course for the Isle of Pines. After Alsedo anchored there, in the dead of night two Indians came aboard his ship and told him that their cacique Juan Sanni, also called Atunchile, was arrayed on the beach of Tierra Firme with a great number of his armed supporters. The party, the Indians boldly informed Alsedo, carried British muskets and sabers. 55

Alsedo knew that Sanni had been named the tribe's cacique in the treaty of peace negotiated by his predecessor Martínez, but he nonetheless looked upon Sanni as the least reliable of the region's tribal leaders. Alsedo reported that he much preferred Felipe Uriñaquichu to Juan Sanni, inasmuch as the former, the leader of the Indians at Urabá, had already proven that he understood that an alliance required responsibilities as well as rewards. The leader of the Urabá tribe had assisted Spanish efforts to stanch the flow of contraband into the Kingdom of New Granada through the Atrato River and had resisted the recent blandishments of the governor of Jamaica, who had offered the Indians arms and friendship if they rejected their oaths of loyalty to the crown of Spain. 56

Juan Sanni, on the other hand, had not resisted these blandishments; his accouterments and armaments were proof that he had been in frequent commerce with the enemies of Spain. Still, Alsedo stoked his low opinion of Sanni with an ardent belief, once again, that the British were at the heart of Spanish troubles in the Americas; Sanni's apparently frequent dealings with the British made him a thorough villain. 57 The governor displayed a complete ignorance of Sanni's personal involvement in the upheaval of 1726, which, if he had been aware of it, would certainly have given his antipathy for the man a firmer foundation. 58

Alsedo reported that the Indian cacique came aboard his vessel at midnight, just the hour such a traitor might choose to make his grand appearance. Placing his low opinion of the cacique to one side, Alsedo asked the paramount tribal leader to reaffirm the peace that he had signed with Alsedo's predecessor, impressing upon Sanni that although there would from now on be a new governor of the isthmus, the pact that Sanni had signed with his predecessor was still in full force. Alsedo hoped to convey a clear message: kings and governors might come and go throughout the long life of the Spanish empire, but the pacts that its administrators signed were perpetual, and would outlast both himself and the Atunchile. 59

To Alsedo's surprise, the Indian leader appeared to have been entirely convinced by his arguments, and the cacique went so far as to "repeat three times the [Indian] word ey, ey, ey ratifying the treaty in his own usage, 60 drinking aguardiente and smoking the cigar, first him and them me ... [and finally] hugging me three times. Upon saying farewell he informed me that he had just received news from two Indians ... that on the Spaniard's coast there were not only a French brigantine, but also a frigate, two Dutch vessels, and in addition two English ones." 61 After sharing this alarming but useful information with the governor, Sanni let Alsedo know that he had a few outstanding complaints to make regarding the Spanish administration of Indian country, stating especially that "a Negro of Palenque named Manuel de Luna made it a habit to build canoes in the mountains and rivers of the Indians and had made them work for him without paying them for their labor, and took their women from them." 62 Alsedo assured Sanni that he would see to this issue once he was installed in Panamá City, and, as a gesture of friendship, Sanni allowed the French vessel in Alsedo's convoy to stay behind to take on meat for the crews and to gather wood. 63

In the midst of this brief and congenial interaction, a suspicious Alsedo made an important and dramatic transition, having moved from the councils of state in Madrid to the face-to-face arena of tribal diplomacy through which local relationships with Indian leaders were made and preserved in Indian country. The treaty had created a tribal hierarchy with Alsedo at its head, but it was unclear whether indigenous or European norms would predominate in the meetings at which acknowledgment and preservation of the connections between the parties were made. Sanni's first meeting with the governor proved that the question was still open.

Alsedo took considerable care to maintain a civil pose while he interacted with Sanni, even though he still entertained the most serious reservations about the cacique's loyalties and character. Although the governor was not willing to go native, he was willing to interact with this problematic and regionally powerful leader and, in the process, to strengthen a new mode of colonial interaction that could accommodate the ceremonial needs of both sides. Though he distrusted Juan Sanni, Alsedo still thought it prudent to share a ceremonial cigar with the man in order to reinforce the alliance between Spain and the Darién Indian tribe.

Alsedo's next stop on the Caribbean leg of his journey before reaching Portobelo was the free black town of Palenque. 64 It was quite fitting that the governor should visit that place, since Palenque had come into existence as the result of a sixteenth-century peace process analogous to the one on which he was presently engaged. The cimarrones, or rebel Africans, were a major threat to imperial operations in the latter half of that century, disrupting the movement of people, goods, and silver across the isthmus. When some of their leaders began to successfully coordinate their anti-Spanish attacks with the invasions of foreign interlopers such as Francis Drake, hard-pressed Spanish officials were forced to resort to creative measures in order to put an end to the threat. 65

During a period of particularly heavy foreign intrusion in the later half of the sixteenth century, officials in Panamá City negotiated a peace agreement with the self-proclaimed leaders of the maroon community of Palenque (among others). As a result of the peace, the maroons were bound to cease hostile operations against the Spanish and to reduce themselves to live in a civil, Christian fashion in the newly chartered town of Palenque. Several of the tribal leaders of the rebels were commissioned as the heads of the town, and, in return, Palenque was expected to muster a reliable militia that could resist the future depredations of foreign intruders. Although some of the African leaders accepted the new status, seeing it as something beneficial to both themselves and their people, others opposed the new system and remained active rebels. Intriguingly, the attempt to enforce a widespread tribalization of the African social community in the sixteenth century proved no easier than would be the attempt to force it on the Tule in the eighteenth century.

Yet Palenque was a pocket of relative success. The treaty that created the chartered town had a positive effect on the Spanish strategic position on the isthmus, and by the eighteenth century the Spanish problem in eastern Panamá was no longer African in nature. Rather, as I have shown, it had been transformed into an Indian one, for Palenque had long since taken its place beside Chepo as a secure outpost of Spanish administration on the frontier. In an interesting inversion of a usual historical pattern in the Indies, the Spanish would make use of imperial knowledge that they had gained through their interaction with Africans in order to deal with their eighteenth-century Tule Indian problem.

As far as Alsedo was concerned, the contrast between Palenque's Africans and the Indians of the Darién could not have been greater, for he found at Palenque an orderly reducción under the leadership of a criollo black man named Gregorio whom the governor praised as a man of sixty years and good sense. In stark contrast to Juan Sanni, of whom Alsedo had had very little good to report apart from an apparently successful first encounter, Don Gregorio appeared in Alsedo's diario as the pious leader of a Spanish town that supported its own priest. Gregorio freely provided Alsedo with information regarding British intruders and the reduced Frenchmen, and although the governor already possessed this information, he was pleased with the alacrity with which such details were offered to him. 66

Gregorio could not contain his disapproval when he discussed the reduced Frenchmen with the governor, for he considered these men to have descended to a level of barbarity deeper even than that which the Indians had reached. These men had been born Christians, but had chosen to turn their back on their faith. Their most damnable sin was to have taken on all of the evil habits and customs of the Indians, including the worst, which was, in the black man's view, the practice of polygamy. Gregorio placed their number at eighty, adding that they owned nearly a hundred slaves and possessed enough arms to resist any invasion the Indians could stage. Alsedo, favorably impressed by the sagacious alcalde, thanked the old man and bade him farewell. 67

Alsedo's interaction with Don Gregorio, when examined in conjunction with Sanni's complaint against Manuel de Luna of Palenque, clarifies just why the Tule tribal leaders had been anxious to include a provision in the peace treaty that forbade the entry of unlicensed Africans into the Darién. Many years of tribal interaction had inured most of Palenque's leaders and citizens to Spanish social and economic norms, and, consequently, some were more economically advanced, more "civilized" in Spanish Christian terms, than were the Darién's Indians. Not racial animosity, but the fear of economic exploitation had prompted Sanni to wish to exclude unattended black men from his domain. Sanni wanted the only power that mattered in the Darién to be his political power; hispanicized and economically powerful Africans posed too great a threat to the tribal order over which he wished to preside, and, consequently, they had to be banned.

At the end of June Alsedo had finally come near his final destination of Portobelo, from which he could make the crossing of the isthmus to Panamá City. Paradoxically, this portion of the voyage would be the most dangerous of the entire trip, inasmuch as Alsedo would need to guide the flotilla past the ports of New Bastimiento, Garrote, and Porto Leones, an area often frequented by the enemy. This region was just far enough away from Portobelo that it afforded relative privacy to both the contrabandists and to the Spaniards who traded with them. In order to elude the enemy and make the passage undetected, Alsedo ordered his crew to be utterly silent and to extinguish all lights on the vessel. 68

Although Alsedo detested the contraband trade more than anything else and considered it to be a primary cause for Spain's current international weaknesses, he presently lacked an adequate force to put a stop to whatever such activity he might observe with his own eyes. He chose to glide on by. This situation was a source of immense frustration to Alsedo, and he reported with considerable heartache that he had, in spite of himself, spied the enemy on shore "moving cargo about with such security that it was as if they were in a port of their own dominions .... Lacking the forces that could have been put to such good use on this occasion, I watched them with a Spanish sentiment which is beyond words and which I cannot quite explain. Harboring this pain I carried on the voyage with the same silence, until I got out of range of the cannon. When I was distant enough I ordered all oars into the water and accelerated the boat ... and reached ... Portobelo at 11:30 at night." 69

From June 28 until July 8 Alsedo inspected the ruined fortifications that protected the route of the isthmian crossing near Portobelo, and on July 2 he sent the escort ship and the viceregal pirogue to Portobelo itself so that they might provision themselves for their return trip to Cartagena. 70 Proceeding overland himself, on July 8 he was but a mile from the city of Panamá, where Dionisio Martínez de la Vega and many other notables greeted him warmly. 71 Alsedo had reached the end of his eventful tour of inspection, and he finally took possession of the government of the isthmus as governor, comandante general, and presidente of the Audiencia.

Alsedo had intelligently decided to travel to his isthmian post by tracing a route that followed the evolution of the Spanish political administration of the isthmus. His tour was an education. The governor had first touched the earth deep in Indian country, had serendipitously met with reduced Frenchmen, had shared a ceremonial cigar and fraternal hug with the most important new cacique, and had navigated his ships past the contrabandists to the relatively safe environs of the Spanish frontier. Alsedo's itinerary allowed him to picture the primary goals of his administration, not least the transformation of the Indian country into a viable tribal frontier.

The governor reckoned correctly that the co-optation of the region's Indian leaders would not alone be sufficient to effect the profound changes that he required. He accordingly worked to coordinate an active Jesuit missionization campaign that could bring further benefits of tribalization into the very homes and villages of the region's Indian population. This strategy moved the issue of colonial conquest away from the circumscribed realm of the Darién's self-styled chieftains and began to place it more squarely in the orbit of leaders who actually commanded the respect of the Tule in their individual hamlets and villages.

In systematically bringing together the goals of political tribalization and religious conversion into a single policy for the first time, Alsedo would place Spanish colonialism in eastern Panamá on a collision course with the Tules' leres. Having rejected the lessons of the moderate methods of the Carrisolis, Alsedo was preparing to oversee an assault upon the core of the indigenous culture that would be spearheaded by a small number of Jesuit priests. To his misfortune, Alsedo unwittingly believed that by signing the treaty the tribal caciques had expressed their own support for an evangelizing assault upon the pagan leres. The next chapter will examine the depth of the governor's miscalculation.


Note 1: Archivo General de Indias (AGI) Panamá 305, f. 5r.  Back.

Note 2: AGI Panamá 305, ff. 8v-9r.  Back.

Note 3: For an important contribution to the study of the French naval bureaucracy's interest in the South Sea and Central America, see A. Lafuente, "Una ciencia para el estado: La expedición geodesica hispano-francesca al virreinato del Perú (1734-1743)," Revista de Indias 43 (1983): 549-629. Also still useful are two works by E. W. Dahlgren: "Voyages français a destination de la Mer du Sud avant Bougainville (1695-1749)," Nouvelles-Archives des Missions Scientifiques et Litteraires 14 (1907): 423-568; and La France et les côtes de l'océan Pacifique: Le commerce de la Mer du Sud jusqu'a la paiz d'Utrecht (Paris: Champion, 1909), esp. pp. 76-146.  Back.

Note 4: For an exciting contemporary narrative that details the brotherhood between the French outlaws and some Darién Indians, see A.F. Boureau Deslandes, Essai sur la marine et sur le commerce par Mr. D****. avec des remarques historiques et critiques de l'auteur (Amsterdam: n.p., 1743), "Memoire historique sur les Indes braves, et les forbans Francois, du Golfe de Darién," pp. 193-252. This text merits republication in an annotated edition and perhaps even translation into English so that it may take its rightful place beside Wafer's New Description and the English-language pirate narratives.  Back.

Note 5: AGI Panamá 305, f. 13r.  Back.

Note 6: AGI Panamá 305, f. 27r.  Back.

Note 7: AGI Panamá 305, f. 27v.  Back.

Note 8: M. M. Alba C., Cronología de los gobernantes de Panamá, 1510-1967 (Panamá: INAC, 1967), pp. 107-115.  Back.

Note 9: AGI Panamá 305, f. 57r.  Back.

Note 10: AGI Panamá 305, f. 253.  Back.

Note 11: AGI Panamá 305, f. 254r.  Back.

Note 12: AGI Panamá 305, f. 254r.  Back.

Note 13: AGI Panamá 305, f. 258v.  Back.

Note 14: AGI Panamá 305, f. 255r.  Back.

Note 15: AGI Panamá 305, f. 256r.  Back.

Note 16: The sources do not provide a description of such a process, so we are left to speculate on this question.  Back.

Note 17: AGI Panamá 305, f. 256v.  Back.

Note 18: AGI Panamá 305, f. 257v.  Back.

Note 19: AGI Panamá 305, ff. 258r-258v.  Back.


Note 21: AGI Panamá 305, ff. 322v-323r.  Back.

Note 22: AGI Panamá 305, f. 323r.  Back.

Note 23: AGI Panamá 305, f. 327v.  Back.

Note 24: AGI Panamá 204, undated "informe de la contaduría," f. 34v.  Back.

Note 25: AGI Panamá 204, f. 34v; and AGI Panamá 305, f. 327v.  Back.

Note 26: AGI Panamá 305, f. 328r.  Back.

Note 27: AGI Panamá 305, f. 321r.  Back.

Note 28: AGI Panamá 305, f. 326r.  Back.

Note 29: AGI Panamá 305, f. 324r.  Back.

Note 30: AGI Panamá 305, f. 325r.  Back.

Note 31: AGI Panamá 305, ff. 330v-331r.  Back.

Note 32: AGI Panamá 305, f. 340r-351v.  Back.

Note 33: AGI Panamá 305, f. 344r; and AGI Panamá 204, f. 81v-82r. The French were numbered at sixty men in the treaty, and if we estimate three dependents per man, we arrive at a mixed community of some 240 persons at the Gulf of Urabá.  Back.

Note 34: AGI Panamá 305, f. 282v.  Back.

Note 35: The standard account of the struggle over American trade is R. Pares, War and Trade in the West Indies, 1739-1763 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936).  Back.

Note 36: Alsedo's illustrious son Antonio adopted the spelling "Alcedo," and historians have frequently changed the spelling of the father's name as well. Dionisio de Alsedo y Herrera always signed documents as "Alsedo," and this is the spelling I use here. See the reprint edition of Federico González Suárez, História general de la república del Ecuador (Quito: Edit. Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, 1970 [1892]), where the editor transformed the author's original "Alsedo" silently to "Alcedo."  Back.

Note 37: Dionisio de Alsedo y Herrera has not failed to attract the attention of historians, although the nature and quality of the writing presents certain problems. Between 1710 and 1749 Alsedo governed several disparate regions that were to become separate nation-states in the nineteenth century. He has, consequently, become embedded within the historiographies of these particular nation-states without much reference to the entire range of his activities as a Spanish colonial official. See for example González Suárez, História del Ecuador, "El presidente Don Dionisio de Alsedo y Herrera," vol. 2, pp. 961-1003; C. A. González Palencia, "Prologo" to the Descripción geográfica de la Real Audiencia de Quito que escribió Don Dionisio de Alsedo y Herrera (Madrid: Fortanet, for the Hispanic Society of America, 1915), pp. v-xxxv; A. Tello Burgos, "Gobierno de Dionisio de Alsedo y Herrera en el istmo de Panamá (1744-1749), Boletín de la Academia Panameña de la História 3, nos. 25-26 (1981): 126-169; and K. J. Andrien, The Kingdom of Quito, 1690-1830: The State and Regional Development (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 172-180. In 1883 a broad selection of Alsedo's previously published and manuscript writing appeared in Madrid: Piraterías y agresiones de los ingleses y de otros pueblos de Europa en la América Española desde el siglo XVI al XVIII deducidas de las obras de D. Dionisio de Alsedo y Herrera, (Madrid: Manuel G. Hernández, 1883). The editor, Justo Zaragoza, offered a Spanish imperial view of the presidente's career through his introduction, commentary, and annotations. Although Zaragoza's scholarly apparatus, in focusing on the Atlantic dimensions of Alsedo's career, was a useful and refreshing contribution, he displayed nothing more than a superficial interest in activities on the ground in the Americas. Though appropriately concerned to place Madrid back into the colonial equation, Zaragoza failed to provide the necessary links between Spanish imperial thinking and the Spaniards and Indians carrying out their lives in the Americas. Dionisio de Alsedo y Herrera was born in 1690 in Madrid; his father, Don Matías, was the secretary to the Council of Italy. In 1706 Dionisio shipped out to the new world looking for employment, and arrived at Cartagena in March 1706. Alsedo attempted the transisthmian voyage to Lima in the summer of 1708, but the Spanish fleet was ferociously attacked, and Alsedo's ship was the only one to escape the struggle and limp back to the port of Cartagena. Alsedo made the journey to Lima by the overland route and by the summer of 1710 had reached the town of San Miguel de Ybarra, entering its walls at the same time that the news arrived that the town's bishop, Don Diego Ladrón de Guevara, had been named the viceroy of Peru. Alsedo in short order presented himself and his references to the new Viceroy and left Ybarra as a member of the viceroy's personal staff, arriving at Lima in August 1710. In 1713 Alsedo produced an analysis of viceregal finances, and in 1718 he presented the bishop's residencia before the crown. At the request of the naval ministry Alsedo wrote a manifesto on the need for the crown to reestablish regular ship contact, in the form of aviso ships, between Spain and the Indies in 1719; the naval minister agreed that the interests of commerce and the crown would be best served by regularized aviso traffic. During the same year Alsedo composed a Theorema strongly advising the crown against its plan to close production at the mercury mine at Huancavelica. Minister Durán rewarded Alsedo for all of his recent intellectual labors by naming him the governor of the province of Canta in the viceroyalty of Peru. On his trip to the new world in 1721 Alsedo sailed with the galleons bound for Portobelo for the trade fair, which was a colossal failure because the presence of so many Peruvian merchants at Portobelo attracted hordes of interlopers and contraband-laden ships. Alsedo noted the porousness of the presumably monopolistic Spanish trade system at first hand and came to the conclusion, which he would write about and act on for the rest of his life, that the prime reason for the erosion of the system of fairs and the concomitant diminution of Spanish power was the activity of the British contrabandists. In 1728 the new intendant of the Navy and presidente of the casa de contratación, Jose Patiño, arranged to have Alsedo named presidente of the Audiencia of Quito. At the close of his term in 1735 Alsedo entered into a dispute with his successor; in a sharply worded letter to the crown written the day following that man's arrival, Alsedo alleged that the new presidente's ship carried large amounts of contraband goods, an action that embroiled him in a dispute that would take many years to resolve. But Alsedo emerged with the crown's confidence, and in 1741 the council of the Indies entrusted him to govern the isthmus.  Back.

Note 38: D. de Alsedo y Herrera, "Diario y derrota de Don Dionisio de Alcedo y Herrera gobernador y comandante general del reino de Tierra Firme y presidente de la Real Audiencia de Panamá, por las costas, golfos y enseñadas del Darién desde Cartagena a Portobelo para pasar a su destino," AGI Panamá 255; entry for 1 March 1743. The document is reproduced in Hombre y Cultura 2, no. 3 (1972): 146-161.  Back.

Note 39: For a discussion of the 1708 galleons and their reception in America, see G. J. Walker, Spanish Politics and Imperial Trade, 1700-1789 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979), pp. 34-50. Alsedo was very proud of the fact that before assuming the office of governor and captain general of Tierra Firme he had personally visited the Darién, which was a place seldom visited by any Spaniards. "We have noted on two occasions," he wrote, "in the years 1708 and 1743, fifty-one rivers which run down from the mountains of this province." See Dionisio de Alsedo y Herrera, Proemio al registro hidrográfico de ambas Américas, in Zaragoza, ed., Piraterías, pp. v-lii; the quote is from p. xxvi. Alsedo's experiences on the ground in the Darién are often downplayed or simply ignored by historians.  Back.

Note 40: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 11 June.  Back.

Note 41: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 13 June.  Back.

Note 42: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 14 June.  Back.

Note 43: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 18 June. For the closing of the Atrato, see W. F. Sharp, Slavery on the Spanish Frontier: The Colombian Chocó (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976), pp. 9-10.  Back.

Note 44: Alsedo provides the man's name as "Robo" and "Roso" at different places in his account, and the discrepancy could reflect his problems with his pronunciation, and hispanicization, of the French name "Rousseau."  Back.

Note 45: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 18 June.  Back.

Note 46: If we multiply Roso's number by three dependents, we arrive at a number of 189 persons connected with the French in the Gulf of Urabá region. This figure is consistent with other contemporary estimates.  Back.

Note 47: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 18 June.  Back.

Note 48: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 19 June.  Back.

Note 49: Ariza characterized the French community in this way in the "Comentos" (see chapter 6), and similar views were expressed by the Archbishop-Viceroy Caballero y Gongora in 1784; see his letter of 31 January 1784, AGI Panamá 307.  Back.

Note 50: For modern acceptance of this interpretation, see F. R. Stier, "The Effect of Demographic Change on San Blas, Panamá" (Ph.D. diss., University of Arizona, 1979), "Introduction"; and C. H. Langebaek, "Cuna Long Distance Journeys: The Result of Colonial Interaction," Ethnology 30 (1991): 371-380.  Back.

Note 51: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 20 June.  Back.

Note 52: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 20 June. Albinism among the Darién Indians has often been remarked upon, and the "white Indians" were thought to be the product of the frequent mixing between intruders from Europe and the Indians. In the early twentieth century the Kuna "white Indians" were deployed by politically interested Americans to argue for the racial superiority of the Kuna and the desirability of an alliance with them in their struggle against the Panamanian government, which was seen to be oppressive, corrupt, and "Negroid." Contrary to what contemporaries believed, relationships between "white" European men and Amerindian women did not result in "super-white" children. The bodies of the "white Indians" were expressing the phenotypic characteristic of genetic albinism. For a sound demolition of the tenacious falsehoods surrounding them, see R. Torres de Araúz, "La leyenda de los indios blancos del Darién y su influencia en la etnografía Istmeña y en la história política nacional," Hombre y Cultura 2, no. 4 (1973): 5-67.  Back.

Note 53: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 20 June.  Back.

Note 54: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 20 June.  Back.

Note 55: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 21 June.  Back.

Note 56: Alsedo's allegations regarding Jamaican designs on the Darién are corroborated by documents generated by governor Edward Trelawny during the war; see J. W. Fortescue, ed., Calendar of State Papers Preserved in the Public Record Office, Colonial series, America and West Indies, v. 45, 1739, docs. 302, and 313.  Back.

Note 57: Alsedo's polemical texts are often nothing more than catalogues of British perfidy in the Americas. Yet, though his single-mindedness in zeroing in on this facet of the colonial situation does lend him the aspect of a hobbyhorse-riding crank, the British threat was in fact a palpable one. Work on the subject is extensive: for a discussion of the Spanish problem, see V. L. Brown, "Contraband Trade: A Factor in the Decline of Spain's Empire in America," Hispanic American Historical Review 28 (1908): 662-678, and "The South Sea Company and Contraband Trade," American Historical Review 31 (1926): 662-678; C. Nettels, "England and the Spanish American Trade, 1680-1715," Journal of Modern History 3 (1931): 1-32; A. Christelow, "Contraband Trade between Jamaica and the Spanish Main," Hispanic American Historical Review 22 (1942): 309-343; G. H. Nelson, "Contraband Trade under the Asiento, 1730-39," American Historical Review 51 (1945): 55-67; J. G. Sperling, The South Sea Company: An Historical Essay and Bibliographic Finding List (Cambridge, Mass.: Kress Library of Business and Economics, 1962); V. G. Thorsby, "British Trade with Spanish America under the Asiento, 1713-1740" (Ph.D. diss., University of London, 1975); G. de Granda, "Una ruta maritima de contrabando de esclavos negros entre Panamá y Barbacoas durante el asiento ingles," Revista de Indias 26 (1976): 123-142; S. L. Hilton, "El conflicto anglo-español sobre derechos de navegación en mares Americanos," Revista de Indias 38 (1978): 671-713; C. D. Malamud, "El comercio directo de Europa con América en el siglo XVIII: Algunas consideraciones," Quinto Centenario 1 (1981): 25-52; L. R. Grahn, "An Irresolubile Dilemma: Smuggling in New Granada, 1713-1763," in J. R. Fisher et al, eds., Reform and Insurrection in Bourbon New Granada and Peru (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), pp. 123-146; Grahn, "Contraband, Commerce, and Society in New Granada, 1713-1763" (Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1985); Grahn, The Political Economy of Smuggling: Regional Informal Economies in Early New Granada (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1997).  Back.

Note 58: Alsedo was ignorant of this matter because his political enemies had cut short his term of office and imprisoned him. Alderrete had then been ignominiously shipped off to Spain in irons. The ship sank at sea, a misadventure that drowned Alderrete and presumably consigned much of the documentation relating to his administration to the bottom of the ocean. Alsedo does not take note of Sanni's having been tried in absentia for murder and rebellion, and in fact only mentions that Sanni was "as false and eager as was his father, and had turned his heart over to correspondence with the enemy." I have found no mention of a Juan Sanni, patris; in the documents relating to the upheaval of 1726, the "Chani" whose actions are so central to the events is known as the "Tunchile," the name by which Alsedo identified the tribal cacique who had signed the treaty. I find it difficult to believe that two different men, especially a father and his son in the matrilocal Tule descent system, could bear the same name, down to the alias "Atunchile."  Back.

Note 59: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 21 June.  Back.

Note 60: "Eye" (pronounced ei) is the Kuna word for "yes." See N. Holmer, An Ethnolinguistic Cuna Dictionary (Göteborg: Göteborgs Museum, 1952), p. 25, column 1.  Back.

Note 61: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 21 June.  Back.

Note 62: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 21 June.  Back.

Note 63: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 21 June.  Back.

Note 64: For a discussion of the place of Africans in the early modern history of Panamá, see A. Fortune, "Los negros cimarrones en Tierra Firme y su lucha por la libertad," Lotería 171 (Feb. 1970): 17-43; 172 (Mar. 1970): 32-53; 173 (Apr. 1970): 16-40; and 174 (May 1970): 46-65; and "Bayano, precursor de la libertad de los esclavos," Lotería 234 (Aug. 1975): 1-15. Also thought-provoking is E. Vila Vilar, "Cimarronaje en Panamá y Cartagena: El costo de una guerilla en el siglo XVII," Caravelle 49 (1987): 77-92. My discussion of sixteenth-century Palenque is derived especially from Fortune's works. Palenque is in great need of a modern documentary historical study that could place it in the context of similar communities that originated in other parts of the Spanish, British, French, and Dutch Americas.  Back.

Note 65: Drake's interactions with the cimarrones can be traced through the documents contained in the collections edited by I. Wright: Spanish Documents Concerning English Voyages to the Caribbean, 1527-68 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1929); Documents Concerning English Voyages to the Spanish Main, 1569-80 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1932); and Further English Voyages to Spanish America (London: Hakluyt Society, 1951).  Back.

Note 66: Diario, AGI Panamá 255.  Back.

Note 67: Diario, AGI Panamá 255.  Back.

Note 68: Diario, AGI Panamá 255.  Back.

Note 69: Diario, AGI Panamá 255.  Back.

Note 70: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 2 July.  Back.

Note 71: Diario, AGI Panamá 255; entry for 8 July.  Back.


The Door of the Seas and Key to the Universe