South America: Chapter XIII

(by William Henry Koebel)

The Colonies of Paraguay and the River Plate


We have seen how the Spaniards, having in the first instance attempted without success to establish themselves in Buenos Aires, had made their way up the great river system to Asuncion, and, having become firmly settled there, had in the end extended their dominions to the south again, and had founded the town of Buenos Aires for the second time.


In the early days of these particular settlements, notwithstanding this extension to the south-east, Asuncion remained the capital of the province, which was known as that of Paraguay.

The two currents of civilization, the one advancing from the south-east, and the other proceeding from the north-west, at length met in the territory which is now occupied by the north-western Territories of Argentina.

It may be said that Argentina of to-day was colonized from three directions - the first by means of the River Plate and its tributaries, the second by the passage of the Andes from the west, and the third by an advance from the direction of Bolivia.
Thus the north-western section of present-day Argentina had become, as it were, the centre towards which all the Castilian forces were converging.

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As time went on, the balance of importance tended to assert itself in the direction of Buenos Aires.
Little by little the city of Asuncion, although remaining notable from the administrative point of view, became of less and less standing as a commercial centre.

That which undoubtedly helped to retard the progress of Asuncion was the almost continual strife which prevailed in that town between the Jesuits and the members, not only of the laity, but of the rival clergy as well.

The Jesuits, moreover, were the reverse of popular with the Spanish landowners of Paraguay, for the reason that the missionaries had collected together the Indians in self-supporting communities and towns, thus depriving the colonists of the enforced labour which they now looked upon as one of their rights.

These Jesuit settlements in Paraguay have been too fully dealt with to need anything in the way of an elaborate description here.
Let it suffice to say that the famous communities were in many respects socialistic.


The land, for instance, throughout the mission areas was held for the common good, and its produce was wont to be divided into three parts - one of which was devoted to the Church, the second to the State, and the third to the private use of the Indian agriculturalists.

It is now generally conceded that, in consideration of the gross, sensual, and totally unintelligent human clay with which the Missionary Fathers had to deal, their efforts were astonishingly successful.

At the same time, the labours of these Jesuits were carried on largely in the dark - that is to say, fearing the influence of the white man upon their converts, they refused admission to their land to any Spaniards.

This method, as has since been proved, was fully justified by the colonizing circumstances which prevailed at the time; nevertheless, it was only natural that it should have provoked a deep anger on the part of the Spanish settlers, in whose eyes these missions of the Jesuits had as their chief end the enriching of the pockets of the Order at the expense of those of the colonists.


Towards the middle of the seventeenth century matters reached a crisis in Asuncion.
The newly-appointed Bishop, Don Bernardino de Cardenas, showed himself most actively opposed to the works of the Jesuits in Paraguay.

An open hostility soon manifested itself between the two powers, and the strife grew more and more bitter until, not only the entire body of the clergy, but the Governor, the officials, and the laymen were involved as well.

Whatever were the faults which the Jesuits may have committed in Paraguay - and to what extent these have been exaggerated is now patent - it is quite certain that Cardenas was a being totally unfitted to be invested with the dignity and responsibility of a Bishop's office.


It is true that his eloquence in preaching was superb; this, however, undoubtedly arose rather from an acutely developed artistic sense than from any profound religious convictions.

Cardenas, in fact, showed himself upon occasions hysterical and wayward to a point which was absolutely childish.
This peculiarity in a person holding so important a position as his naturally produced utter confusion in Paraguay.


According to Mr. R.B. Cunninghame Graham, these were some of the methods by which the Bishop in the end utterly scandalized the more sober of his congregation:


"The Bishop, not being secure of his position, had recourse to every art to catch the public eye: fasting and scourging, prayers before the altar, two Masses every day, barefooted processions - himself the central figure carrying a cross - each had their turn.

Along the deep red roads between the orange gardens which lead from Asuncion towards the Recoleta on Campo Grande, he used to take his way accompanied by Indians crowned with flowers, giving his benediction as he passed, to turn away (according to himself) the plague, and to insure a fertile harvest.

Not being content with the opportunities which life afforded, he instituted an evening service in church in order to prepare for death."


These, however, were only some of the milder uses to which the Bishop put his histrionic talents in order to prove his claim to sainthood.
The fortunes of Cardenas varied considerably, but on the whole his extraordinary versatility kept him afloat in the public estimation.

He at one time, however, very nearly incurred the popular resentment owing to his having taken up the body of a suicide, and caused it to be interred in holy ground from the force of a mere whim.

The uproar consequent on this he managed to overrule, and having got the better of Don Gregorio, the Civil Governor, the Bishop actually elected himself Governor in his place, and now became supreme in Asuncion, from which place the Jesuits were forced to flee in haste to their establishments in the country.

Each side now brought endless charges against the other, and in the middle of the wordy warfare the validity of Cardenas's appointment to the Bishopric was questioned.


Nevertheless, Cardenas succeeded in retaining his office, and after a while issued a declaration excommunicating the entire Order of the Jesuits, after which, having sworn to the people that he possessed a Decree from the King of Spain, he issued an order commanding the expulsion of the Jesuits from Paraguay.

This was carried into effect at Asuncion, and the College of the Order was sacked and gutted by fire.
Outside the boundaries of the capital, however, this command had no effect whatever, and the great settlements of the Jesuits far away in the forests were totally unaffected by any mandate given at Asuncion.

The Bishop had now gone too far in his policy of aggression.
The High Court at Charcas summoned him to appear before its tribunal at once, and to give his reasons for the expulsion of the Jesuits and his appointment of himself as Governor of Paraguay.

At the same time a new Governor, Don Sebastian de Leon, was appointed to Paraguay. Cardenas determined to resist.
He raised an army, and, claiming Divine inspiration, promised his followers an undoubted victory, and ordered them to supply themselves with cords in order to bind the prisoners which should fall to their share.


The rival forces met just outside Asuncion.
The unfortunate troops of Cardenas found no use for their cords, since, totally defeated, they fled in haste.

Judging mercy to be most seasonable at this juncture, the new Governor commanded his men to march to the capital, but to desist from pursuing the defeated forces.

In the meanwhile Cardenas had lost no time. Realizing his complete defeat, he had fled secretly to Asuncion.
Arriving there ahead of Don Sebastian de Leon's forces, he had dressed himself in his finest robes and seated himself on the throne of the cathedral.
It was there that Don Sebastian de Leon found him when he entered.

The new Governor acted with supreme courtesy; he kissed the Bishop's hand, and ceremoniously requested him to spare him the baton of the civil power.
In silence Cardenas complied with his request, and then retired, accompanied by his retinue.

After this Asuncion knew him no more. Naturally the days of his supreme power were over, but he was still provided with an ecclesiastical office.
He was made Bishop of La Paz, a benefice he continued to hold until his death.


Owing largely to their situation, these provinces in the south-east of the Continent continued from time to time to elude some of the stricter regulations and restrictions which were supposed to be applied to the whole Continent.

Thus at the end of the sixteenth century the Governorship of the River Plate was entrusted to Hernando Arias de Saavedra, who is more familiarly known as Hernandarias.
He was the first colonial-born subject of Spain to be gratified by such an honour.

The appointment, as a matter of fact, was somewhat remarkable, as without a doubt it was strictly against the spirit of the Laws of the Indies, which utterly forbade any appointment of the kind to be entrusted to a colonial-born person.

Hernandarias, it must be said, makes one of the most remarkable figures of all the high officials of the River Plate.
He proved himself a strenuous warrior, and, anxious to extend his frontiers, he carried on a tremendous warfare with the fierce Indians of the Pampa.


The Governor, moreover, was gifted with no little foresight and practical common sense.
Finding it impossible to establish a footing among the implacable natives of Uruguay, he caused a number of cattle, horses, and sheep to be sent across the great river, and to be let loose among the rich pastures of that country.

He knew, he said (and it was not long before the future proved him right), that this land would one day be the property of the Spaniards, and thus these cattle which he sent over would, when the time came, be found to have multiplied themselves to an infinite extent, which, of course, fell out as he had anticipated.

Hernandarias, moreover, led an expedition to the south, and endeavoured to take possession of Patagonia.
Here, after various disasters, he inflicted a severe defeat on the Indians; but few definite steps towards the practical colonization of the far south appear to have been taken at this period.

Hernandarias, enthusiastic soldier though he proved himself, by no means confined his energies to the arts of war; in statesmanship his ideas were progressive.
Having once subdued the wilder Indians, he led the way to peaceful co-operation.


According to Señor J.M. Estrada..

"Hernandarias devoted his whole soul to the development of a species of colonization which he terms the spiritual conquest - that is to say, he inculcated into the country the Christian spirit of discipline, civilization, and concord.

He awoke the soul of the savage, and turned his instincts in search of better things than he had known.
He closed the barracks of the soldiers and opened the Colleges of the Missionaries
."


In some respects Hernandarias's tenure of office resembled that of Irala, for, although unanimously elected by the colonists, in whose eyes he was estimated at his true value, the official ratification of Spain of his appointment was many years in forthcoming, the principal reason for the delay being, of course, due to the fact of his colonial birth.

On several occasions his government was interrupted owing to this, and, indeed, Hernandarias may be said to have ruled for various distinct periods.
It was only on November 7, 1614, that he received the definite appointment as Governor from the Court of Spain.

It was at this period that the Government of the River Plate was separated from that of Paraguay, Buenos Aires being made the capital of the former, while Asuncion remained the capital of the latter.

This process of subdivision was continued until, at the period when the Viceroyalty of Buenos Aires was constituted, it consisted of the provinces of Paraguay, Tucuman, Cuyo, the River Plate, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, and Charcas.


The value of these River Plate provinces was now become apparent to Spain.
Lacking in minerals though they were, these south-eastern territories of the Continent were now exporting an amazing quantity of horns, hides, tallow, and other such produce of the pastoral industry. So abundant, indeed, had become the wild herds of cattle which roamed on the plains of the alluvial country that a stray buccaneer or two landed a force with the object of collecting horns and hides.

At a later period a French adventurer of the name of Moreau endeavoured to establish himself permanently on the Uruguayan shore for this purpose.
He had already fortified himself, and had collected a considerable store of hides, when he was attacked by the Spaniards and driven from the spot.

He returned to attempt the venture for the second time, but his force was again defeated, and on this occasion he lost his life.


The Indians in these provinces had now become expert horsemen.
They, too, possessed their share of the enormous quantities of live stock with which the country abounded; but if from drought or any other such cause the numbers of their animals grew uncomfortably diminished, they would raid the European settlements, and, taking the colonists by surprise and slaughtering without mercy, would sweep the country-side clear of live stock, and scamper away to their own haunts at top speed.

Thus the hatred between the natives and the colonials grew ever more bitter, and weapons, ambushes, and massacres constituted the sole means of communication between the two. These Indians of the open plains proved themselves formidable enemies, and, utterly merciless as they showed themselves to the vanquished, they rapidly became a continual source of dread to the pioneers living in the remoter settlements.


In 1767, when the order was received from Spain to expel the Jesuits from the Spanish colonies in South America, the expulsion took place unattended by any untoward circumstances in such places as Córdoba, Corrientes, Montevideo, and Santa Fé.

In these places the buildings that had been devoted to the objects of the Order were ransacked, and, unfortunately, many valuable collections of books and similar objects were destroyed.

The authorities regarded with more hesitation the carrying out of the orders from Spain in the province of Paraguay.
Many tens of thousands of Indians formed part of the Jesuit settlements, and the influence of the Company was supreme throughout all the territories which now constitute North-West Uruguay, South-East Paraguay, and South-West Brazil.

Don Francisco de Paula Bucareli y Ursua, the Governor of Buenos Aires, marched north in order to effect the eviction.
Bucareli's few companies of troops would, of course, in actual warfare have stood no chance whatever against the numerous Indian regiments which the Jesuit missions now possessed.

Bucareli relied on his gifts of tact and diplomacy, of which he gave no small evidence during the negotiations which ensued.


As it turned out, the employment of neither of these qualities, nor of the troops which he brought with him, proved necessary, for the Jesuits expressed themselves ready and willing to comply with the order, and, having obeyed it, they were escorted to Buenos Aires.

From thence they were sent by ship to Europe, and the great social structure they had erected fell forthwith to the ground.

The districts which had formerly been occupied by the mission Indians became after a while practically depopulated, and the Portuguese, remarking this state of affairs, decided that the moment was favourable for aggression.

Thus, in 1801, Portuguese troops from the town of San Pedro advanced against the Spanish port on the western shore of the Lake Patos, whilst others advanced towards the River Prado.


The majority of these invaders appear to have been more or less of the freebooting order.
One of the most notable bodies was commanded by José Borges do Canto, who assembled a small army of forty men, which he armed at his own expense. Learning that the Indians, bereft now of their Jesuit Fathers and discontented with the Spanish rule, would take the first opportunity of rising against the Spaniards, he determined to push on towards the site of the old missions.

At San Miguel the band of desperadoes came across an entrenchment manned by Spaniards.
These, entirely deceived as to the real importance of the force which attacked them, retired after the exchange of a few shots, and capitulated on condition of permission to retreat unmolested.

This was granted, but the retiring Spanish garrison was almost immediately afterwards taken prisoner by another roving Portuguese body.
It was some while before their protests caused them to be liberated.


In the end the Portuguese obtained possession of much territory by means of this invasion, including that of the seven famous missions of San Francisco Borja, San Miguel, San João, San Angelo, San Nicolau, San Laurenço, and San Luiz.

We arrive now at an event which exercised an even greater influence on the destiny of South America in general than was suspected at the time. This was the invasion of the River Plate Provinces by the British.
Undoubtedly, one of the prime causes of this invasion was the presence of the famous South American patriot, Miranda, in England, and the antagonism which existed at the time between Great Britain and Spain.

Urged by Miranda, Pitt determined to lend active military assistance to the South American colonists.
Many of these were now openly demonstrating their sense of discontent, yet none, it must be said, had so far shown any inclination or desire to go to the length of taking up arms against the Mother Country. It was, nevertheless, entirely on this latter supposition that the British forces sailed for the River Plate.


The first expedition consisted of some 1,600 troops, under the orders of General Beresford, which were transported to Buenos Aires by a fleet under Admiral Home Popham. On June 27, 1806, Buenos Aires was captured.
The Viceroy, Sobremonte, demonstrated remarkably little warlike ardour, fleeing in haste before the advancing British.

A French naval officer in the service of the Spanish, Don Santiago Liniers, organized an army of relief at Montevideo, to which all the South American volunteers, officers and troops, flocked. The local forces, now powerfully recruited, crossed the River Plate, attacked Buenos Aires, and won the city back for the Spanish Crown on August 12.
Admiral Popham, notwithstanding this, remained in the River Plate with his fleet, and, having blockaded the estuary, received reinforcements from the Cape of Good Hope. By means of these the town of Maldonado was captured. A little later more important bodies of British troops arrived on the scene.
Commanded by General Auchmuty, these attacked Montevideo, which fell into the hands of the invaders on February 3, 1807.


Determined to pursue its operations in this quarter of the world, the British Government now despatched General Whitelocke with a formidable army to the River Plate.

Twelve thousand of the finest British troops were now established at Montevideo preparing for the expedition which was to bring Buenos Aires within the British Empire.

The attempt, however, failed completely, and a terrible disaster ensued, the cause of which is imputed entirely to the crass folly of Whitelocke, who sent his regiments to march through the streets of the town, to be shot down in hundreds by the determined defenders congregated on the housetops.

In many instances the result of this extraordinary piece of strategy was mere slaughter, since the British troops, many of whom had been charged to use nothing beyond the bayonet and to refrain from firing, could adopt no retaliatory measures whatever.

In the circumstances total defeat was inevitable, and at the end of the engagement the General found himself a prisoner in the hands of the South Americans. On this Whitelocke signed a treaty agreeing to evacuate the River Plate Provinces altogether, and within two months not a British soldier was left in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. On his arrival home Whitelocke underwent a court-martial, and was cashiered with well deserved and bitter censure.


Apart from the extraordinary incompetence - to call it by no worse name - shown by General Whitelocke, there is some doubt as to whether the British would have succeeded in permanently retaining possession of the territory they had captured.

For one thing, their expectations that the colonials would join them were not realized.
The inherent loyalty of the South American to the motherland forbade any such move at the time. Nevertheless, it is freely acknowledged that this English expedition played no small part in the ultimate liberation of South America, since it was owing to the invasion that the South Americans, deserted by their Viceroy, had only themselves on whom to rely for the expulsion of the expeditionary army.


From the force of no initiative of their own, they had been left to their own resources, and had found that their strength did not fail them.
Amid the doubts and hesitations of later days the knowledge of this played an important part.



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