South America - A Popular History - H. Butterworth

The Earthquake at Caracas


To use a figure in the Manifesto of Caracas, Venezuela had arisen from the dust and cast off her chains. But the Sovereign Congress and its generals had to deal with an ignorant and superstitious people. Some of the priests were patriots, and had the spirit of the great Mexican emancipator Hidalgo; but, as a rule, they followed the fortunes of the deposed monarch Ferdinand VII.

The people, as previously stated, were superstitious. Of the danger lying in that direction young Bolivar received warning. "If any misfortune should suddenly fall upon the people, it would be attributed to God, as a judgment upon the people for proclaiming the independence," was the voice of apprehension. Bolivar felt its force.

In beautiful Caracas all was prosperous and tranquil; there were no sickness, no calamities, no alarming revolts. The first days of freedom came and went in unexampled serenity. There was dissent as to what had been done; there were disturbances in one of the provinces; but the new republic, as a whole, seemed starting out on a march of security, prosperity and peace. The patriots, notwithstanding, felt the force of the warning, "If there should come a calamity!"

Venezuela now prepared a federal constitution, and assigned to Miranda the command of her army. Thus he who Bolivar, in his magnanimity, had induced to return to his native city of Caracas, and who had entered that city by Bolivar's side, amid the acclamations of the people, and found a place in his home, was now in a position to realize the dreams that had haunted his imagination for years.

The constitution was a glorious document. It was devoted to justice, to equal rights. It gave to man his birthright; to him who would make for himself a home and name, a field of labor; and to him who toiled, his dues. It sounded the call to welfare and wealth, to honor, and not titled vanity. Personal liberty was granted to all. The enjoyment of property was made universal. No one could be despoiled of the labors of his hands. Torture was abolished The Holy Inquisition was suppressed. Titles of nobility were abrogated. The slave-trade was condemned. The new era was to begin in the brotherhood of man.

At this time there arrived at Porto Rico and ambitious and cruel adventurer by the name of Domingo Monteverde, a native of Orotava in Teneriffe. He was a man of little education, a seeker after fame. He earnestly espoused the cause of Ferdinand VII. In America. He attained the position of field-marshal in the royal army. He landed in Venezuela, invaded Carora, and there defeated the patriots. He resolved to make himself the leader of the cause of Ferdinand VII. against the insurgent provinces.

The first year of the independence was passing. It was spring in the Andes. The Easter festival was approaching, when the joyous bells would ring out. Holy Thursday, the 26th of March, arrived. There was a vaporous stillness in the air, on the earth, and over the sea. The sun shone as in a veil of shadow; the birds screamed in the air, and lifted their wings uneasily. The heat was intolerable. Noonday brought a calm that was oppressive, with a sky brilliant and transparent. Drops of rain fell, but there was no visible cloud in the sky. In the silence and fiery light something seemed to be impending. In the middle of the afternoon, despite the heat, and the strange drops of rain, and the oppressive atmosphere, the churches were thronged with people. Four o'clock was the vesper hour. The following day would be Good Friday; it was almost the close of the penitential days of Lent. At seven minutes past four, when the solemn services in the church were beginning, the earth seemed to reel. There was a fearful crash, followed by a deep sound as of thunder. It came not from the sky, but from the caverns below. The people started up. What was happening? Where? They felt their feet unsteady. The earth was trembling, and in the tremor buildings were crumbling, melting away, as it were. Pillars and towers afforded no protection. They were not dashed down; they crumbled.

The people ran hither and thither, calling on Heaven for mercy. The beasts sought the caves. Birds screamed affrighted in the air. Many were buried beneath the ruins. Some ten thousand people perished. "Caracas," says Humboldt, "sleeps in her own grave." Not only Caracas crumbled and made a tomb for her people, but La Guayra, Merida and other towns were destroyed. The town of San Felipe totally disappeared. Its houses, public buildings and inhabitants were never seen again.

The people who survived fled to the fields, and wandered about, lamenting and praying. No one knew who of his family or friends was left him. In a moment all had been changed. The people who fled looked up to the sky and down upon the heap that had been their beautiful city.

Where was Simon Bolivar amid these terrible and exciting scenes? He was among the survivors. Did he recall the warning, "If any misfortune should happen"? There are in all history few incidents more sublime than the conduct and the words of the fiery and undaunted patriot in the early evening of that dreadful day.

We will describe the event in the words of Diaz, who was not friendly to Bolivar, and who misinterpreted his sublime and unparalleled exclamation.

"To that inexplicable noise," says Diaz, "followed the silence of death. The groans of the dying arose from the Church of San Jacinto. I surmounted the ruins of the church, and entered the interior. On the highest spot I met Don Simon Bolivar. He was in his shirt-sleeves, engaged in the search for the living who could be rescued. Terror and desperation were depicted on his countenances He recognized me, and addressed to me the following impious and extravagant words: 'If nature opposes herself, we will wrestle with her, and compel her to obey.'"

The words were neither "impious" nor "extravagant." They were the cry of a soul whose sense of justice the earthquake could not stifle. Bolivar knew that the earthquake was but a natural event, and one that had no moral significance.

While his soul thus rose in a grand exhibition of the omnipotence of spiritual power, the Plaza was wild with cries for mercy. Many of the priests took advantage of the horror of the hour. Believing as they did that Ferdinand VII. was the Lord's anointed, they believed the convulsion to be a manifestation of the divine displeasure against the events of the 4th and 5th of July of the year that had passed. The ignorant people, knowing not what to do or what to believe, were influenced by these priests. They began to lose faith in their leaders. The glory of the independence became a lost luster before Caracas had celebrated the first anniversary of her freedom.

Earthquake in Caracas


This was a dark hour for Miranda. Six hundred patriot soldiers had perished in the barracks at Caracas. Six hundred more, who were on their way to San Felipe, had been swallowed with the town. Twelve hundred patriots during a review at Barquisimeto, and two columns who were on the march, had disappeared from the sight of the sun.

Monteverde perceived his opportunity and availed himself of it. He had a triumphal march, bearing as he did the banner of Ferdinand. He swept nearly everything before him from Coro to Caracas. He took possession of Barquisimeto, where an ecclesiastic, by preaching from the ruins, had prepared the people for his coming. Monteverde's army grew; his armaments increased. He was checked temporarily, but he entered San Carlos in triumph, and sacked the city.

On April 4 another earthquake filled the country with new alarms. The royalists were strengthened by the terror it awakened.

The government was now at La Victoria. Miranda, who had been made generalissimo, went to Caracas. He there met Bolivar, to whom he gave the order: "Go immediately to Puerto Cabello, and take command of the fortress." The fortress was a prison, and was filled with prisoners of war. Bolivar desired a different appointment—one that would take him Into the open field. He, however, obeyed the command.

On May 1 Miranda marched out of the ruined city of Caracas against Monteverde, and entered upon a most disastrous campaign. He had under his command twelve thousand men. His antagonist was but an adventurer with a small force, but the people had lost heart through superstition. Public sentiment had turned in Monteverde's favor. Miranda's troops began to lose faith in the cause. The general's heart became doubtful of final victory. He had only begun his march against the enemy when a sound as of battle was heard in the air. He ordered his army to halt. The sound proceeded from an eruption of the volcano San Vicente. The march was resumed, it seemed, under an evil star. His men began to desert him. A whole company of men under Pedro Ponce, a Spaniard, went over to the enemy. Depression of spirit fell upon Miranda. He lost faith in his soldiers. He lived in suspense. He knew not what to do. He ceased to advance; he retreated. This retreat depressed still further the spirits of his followers. He took up quarters at Maracay, and announced that his campaign would henceforth be defensive. The declaration was

dispiriting. He had made for himself an army without hearts. In this state of mind he retreated to La Victoria. Here he was surprised by Monteverde, whom he repulsed. He did not follow up his advantage. This caused him to fall under the displeasure and criticism of his troops.

At La Victoria Miranda received a message from Bolivar. "Puerto Cabello," it said, "is threatened, and there is no force here to defend it." But Miranda made no attempt to reinforce the fortress, which contained military stores.

On the 30th of June a terrible disaster the republican cause occurred at Puerto Cabello. A temporary commander of the prison set the prisoners at liberty, formed of them, with deserters, a force of royalists, and raised the Spanish flag. The fortress commanded the harbor and the city. It turned its guns on both, and compelled both to surrender.

Bolivar had but a small force now left to him. He attempted the defense of the city with forty men. Even these in part deserted him. The news came flying to the port that the victorious Monteverde was marching toward the city. There was nothing for Bolivar to do but to surrender or fly. He secured a brig, and sailed to La Guayra. This was on the 5th of July, just one year from the glorious day on which had been proclaimed to the world the independence of Venezuela.

Miranda's nerves were now more unstrung than ever. Every one seemed to distrust him. In this time of distress a new terror seized the people. An army of liberated slaves from the provinces was marching upon Caracas.

In the thickening clouds of misfortunes—the earthquake, the volcanic flames, the victories of Monteverde, the failure of the hearts of the soldiers, the loss of Puerto Cabello—there came to the shaken and irresolute Miranda one Don Antonio Fernandez de Leon, Marquis de Casa Leon, a reputed patriot from Caracas. "You see the situation of affairs," he said to Miranda—"shattered Caracas threatened with invasion, the fort of Puerto Cabello in the hands of the enemy, the people disheartened by the misfortunes of the earthquake. It is useless for us to oppose the royal arms. The time has come to end this war among brothers by an honorable peace."

Peace! It would bring to an end the achievements of the republic. It would bring Miranda under suspicion of treason. Miranda pondered. He hesitated. These minutes were the turning-point of his life. Casa Leon followed up his advice. "As for you, I will supply you with the means of living in a foreign country." But what would life in any country be under the suspicions that would fall upon him after such a surrender? The old man remained thoughtful. The spell of his melancholy was evidently, upon him. It was a spectacle pitiable to behold. "I will myself," said Casa Leon, "go to General Monteverde and arrange all the terms. You must decide at once; the moments are flying." A great conflict was going on in Miranda's weakened mind. "I am willing," he said at last. Fatal words! He never saw a happy moment again.

Miranda seems to have looked upon Bolivar as a traitor for the loss of Puerto Cabello. Bolivar believed Miranda: to be a traitor from the hour that he heard that Miranda had consented to make a treaty with Monteverde. Both were mistaken. It was now only a little more than a year and a half since the two, amid the vivas  of the people, entered Caracas together (December, 1810). At that, time they were ardent friends, the young man and the old.

Monteverde wrote to Miranda, proffering terms of peace.. Miranda sent the letter to Congress, then in session at; La Victoria. Congress gave to Miranda the authority to treat with the Spanish general. As a result, a treaty was, concluded July 29, 1812, in which it was stipulated, among other things: "That the constitution presented by the Cortes to the Spaniards should be accepted by Venezuela. That no person should be prosecuted for his political, opinions."

Thus the republic was for the time destroyed, and Caracas, the theater of thrilling events, fell again under the domain of Spain.

La Guarya, Venezuela


On July 30, 1812, Miranda arrived at La Guayra, a fallen man. He was criticized by all the patriots. He was as one who had shattered the fabrics of his visions with his own hands. He found at La Guayra a company of patriots, and among them Simon Bolivar. The questions arose among these patriots, Would it not be for the interest of the new treaty to hold Miranda here? The old man arrived in the afternoon, fatigued by the intense heat. The ship was waiting for him. The patriots invited him to stay to supper, and to remain on shore overnight. "No," said the captain of the ship to Miranda; "it is for your interest to go on board to-night." "You are too tired to go on board the vessel now. The land-breeze will not arise until morning," said the patriots. "I will spend the night on shore," said Miranda, whose wits seem to have gone. The captain of the ship shook his head. The supper was prepared. At the table sat Bolivar, with other patriotic leaders, among them Colonel Manuel Maria Casas, the military commandant, at whose house he was entertained.

In the house was a closet that could not be locked. Colonel Casas ordered that a bed be prepared for the old man in that closet. Miranda retired early. The patriots sat down to consider the consequence to the treaty should they allow him to depart. They decided that it would be for the interest of the country to arrest him. General H. L. v. Ducoudray-Holstein, who was an enemy to Bolivar, thus describes the pitiable scene of the early morning, in the closet that could not be locked:

"Miranda was arrested in the following manner. Having ascertained that the general was sound asleep, the three leaders, after a short consultation, determined to seize him that night, and give him up to the Spanish commandant Monteverde. Casas, as military commandant at La Guayra, ordered a strong detachment from the principal guard. This detachment he commanded to surround his own house in perfect silence, to suffer no one to pass, and to kill any one who attempted to escape. Not a word was said of Miranda. When all was ready, Pena, Casas and Bolivar, at two o'clock in the morning, with four armed soldiers, entered the unlocked room of General Miranda. He was in a profound sleep. They seized his sword and pistols, which he had placed before him. They then awakened him, and abruptly told him to rise and dress quickly, and follow them. Miranda, in surprise, asked them why they awakened him at such an early hour, it being not yet daylight. Instead of answering the question, they told him he was a traitor, who deserved to be hanged.

"Miranda, unable to resist, dressed himself, and was forced to follow. They escorted him to the fort called San Carlos, at some distance from La Guayra, and situated upon a strong hill, where he arrived, exhausted from fatigue and chagrin. Having borne all the invectives they chose to load him with on the road, which he was obliged to walk, as soon as they were come to the fort they ordered him to be put in irons, and notwithstanding his pathetic and fervent expostulations, he was locked in one of the darkest dungeons, and treated like the vilest criminal.

"The three chiefs returned, with their guard, to La Guayra, and the same night despatched an express with a letter to the Spanish general Monteverde, informing him of the arrest of Miranda. This commander was surprised at the intelligence. Instead of ordering the immediate release of Miranda, and so preserving inviolate the faith of his own treaty, he received the news with his accustomed indifference and apathy, and took no step in favor of Miranda, or against him.

"The day after Miranda's arrest, a Spanish column arrived in the fort of San Carlos, to relieve the independents. Its commander was surprised to find Miranda in irons, and sent him immediately, with an escort, back to La Guayra, where he was again shut up in a dark, mephitic prison in one of the walls of this place, where he remained in irons during several months. The Spanish commandant Don Francisco Xavier Cerveres, who had relieved the patriot commander Casas, gave orders to send Miranda back to Porto Rico. He was thence transported to Cadiz, where he remained in irons, in the fort of La Caraca, for some years, and perished.

"Such was the miserable end of General Miranda. Without entering into any political controversy, without inquiring whether Miranda was a traitor to his country (which well-informed men affirm not to have been the case), history will demand what right Dr. Miguel Pena, Don Maria Casas and Simon Bolivar had to arrest their former chief and superior. That they did so without order, information or participation of the Spanish general-in-chief Domingo Monteverde, is an undoubted fact."

Larrazabal thus describes Miranda's arrest:

"Bolivar was at La Guayra when the generalissimo arrived at that port. It was about seven o'clock of the evening of the 30th of July.

"Afterward many of the officers arrived, flying from the persecution they justly feared; and it was divulged (which unfortunately was true) that Miranda had concealed his voyage, and that, in Caracas, he had told them that they could retire to their homes, abandoning them to the most cruel suspense. The irregularity and uncertainty with which the capitulation was passed through, the confused dissolution of the army, and the ignorance of the terms of the agreement, gave sufficient ground to judge wrongly of the acts of the dictator, and to make them suspicious of him; and the exaltation of their minds counseled them toward taking the violent measures which their mutual unhappy fate justified.

"Immediately after the arrival of the generalissimo at La Guayra, Captain Haynes came on land. Miranda, wearied by his fatigues and the heat of the day, was reposing. Afterward he seated himself at the table, being present Manuel Maria Casas, military commander, who had accompanied him, the Dr. Miguel Pena, civil and political governor, the Dr. Pedro Gual, and others. While at the table, it was talked of that Miranda should remain on the land for that night, it being too late already for him to embark. Haynes insisted, saying that on board the commodities were plentiful enough for the general. Notwithstanding this, as nothing needed such a ridiculous precipitation, Miranda consented to remain until the following morning. Haynes left, visibly disgusted.

"That same night secretly assembled the Dr. Miguel Pena, Manuel Maria Casas, the Colonels Simon Bolivar, Juan Paz del Castillo, Jose Mires and Jose Cortes; the Commandants Tomas Montilla, Rafael Chatillon, Miguel Carabano, Rafael Castillo, Jose Landaeta, who commanded the garrison, and Juan Jose Valdez, sergeant-major of the Plaza. They spoke of the conduct of the generalissimo, who was remiss in his duties, abandoning the defense of his country when all predicted victory; that he had submitted them shamefully to the chains and revenge of Spain. They blamed his conduct, and resented the insulting replies which at table he had given to the Dr. Gual and to the Colonel Castillo, when, in a friendly manner, they asked explanations upon the treaty of capitulation. . . . It is unnecessary to say that Bolivar surpassed them all in his warmth, because he who had spoken to the Minister Wellesley of independence in 1810, and who in Rome, in advance of all purposes and hopes, swore for it on the Monte Sacro in 1805, could ill brook the disastrous idea of a new slavery.

"Indignant, then, at the treasons (as they named them) of Miranda, they deliberated to detain him, because they judged that, once on board, he would not ratify the capitulation, leaving the patriots strongly compromised, and the only hope of a less unhappy fate disappearing. They wished to oblige him to sanction with his signature that important document, which was the safeguard of their lives and property. The pressure of the moment, in an affair of such transcendental importance, did not permit them to reflect clearly and calmly, because, if Miranda had not ratified the agreement, of what value was the signature of Miranda to Monteverde, being given in a prison, where he was placed by his own friends and subordinates? This consideration was evident; but they were irritated, and did not understand anything within the limits of reason. . . . It was all, at the time, surprise and consternation. At the bottom of all these were errors, inconsistencies, abandon. With Bolivar, Montilla and their ardent companions, all was passion. Passion dictated their resolutions.

"'Male cuncta ministrat Impetus.'

STATIUS, Thebaid, x.

"For the execution of that project, which should result so lamentably, without contributing in any manner to the bettering of the country, the services were combined as follows: Casas (in whose house was accommodated the old man, sleeping in an unlocked room) should place himself at the head of the troops in the castle of Colorado; Valdez should surround the house in which Miranda slept with a body of men; Bolivar, Chatillon and Montilla should take possession of his person, either willingly or by force; Mires was to receive and guard him in the castillo. All was executed as was disposed; and at three o'clock in the morning of the 31st of July, Miranda was a prisoner.

"He was plunged in a profound sleep when he was awakened by those charged to capture him. 'Is it not too early?'  he inquired, thinking that he was called up to embark. His astonishment was unspeakable when he found he was a prisoner. Thoughtful and resigned, he silently followed his conductors, without proffering any complaint or resistance."

Unhappy Miranda! The rest of his life was passed in dungeons, prisons and chains. They took him to Puerto Cabello, thence to Porto Rico, and thence to Cadiz, Spain.

"I have seen the nobleman," said a British officer, "tied to a wall, with a chain about his neck, neither more nor less than a dog.

Death came to relieve him of his melancholy and miseries on the morning of July 14, 1816. He was not a traitor; he was a man who failed to fulfil his ideals. Amid the hurry of events he had been misjudged, and amid the same swiftly shifting scenes Bolivar himself had sought to act for the good of the whole people.

Had Miranda, with his twelve thousand patriots, marched directly against the small forces of the adventurer Monteverde, he could have destroyed them and made the republic secure. He could easily have cut off the Spanish general from retreat. But he took the wrong steps at the critical moment. He hesitated, when decision would have been victory. Had he gone on board the ship at La Guayra his end might have been less tragic. There are men who lose inspiration and faith in the hour of the opportunity that they themselves have made, and this seems to have been the case with Miranda.

But the good that men have done is a harvest that can never be forgotten. Truly said Simon Bolivar, years afterward, in his hour of triumph: "The seed of liberty yields its just fruit. If there is anything which is never lost, it is the blood which is shed for a just cause."  We cannot believe Bolivar to have been insincere when he said this, or when, in the following words, he revealed the motives which governed him: "My only ambition is the freedom of my fellow-citizens. My love of the independence of South America has caused me to make different sacrifices, sometimes in peace, sometimes in war. I shall never refuse these sacrifices, because he who abandons all to be useful to his country loses nothing, but gains all he consecrates."

In his day Bolivar was South America. His heart, thoughts and deeds were her pulse-beat and her destiny. In order that the reader may follow in detail the events of his life, I give a resume of them:

  • The oath at Monte Sacro, Rome, 1805.
  • Visits the United States, 1809.
  • Joins the revolutionary movement, 1810.
  • Goes to England to purchase arms.
  • Returns, 1811.
  • Advocates the independence of Venezuela, 1811.
  • Enters the services, on the staff of General Miranda, 1811.
  • Arrests Miranda, 1812.
  • Goes to Curacao as a refugee.
  • Enlists refugees at Cartagena, accompanied by Manuel Castillo.
  • Rekindles the revolution in Venezuela.
  • Commissioned as general by New Granada.
  • Issues his proclamation of guerra a muerte, 1813.
  • Enters Caracas in a car of triumph drawn by the daughters of the nobles, 1814.
  • Defeated at Boves.
  • Escapes to Cumana.
  • Lays siege to Cartagena.
  • Flees from the country.
  • Goes to Kingston.
  • Escapes assassination there.
  • Gathers a force at Port au Prince.
  • Secures four negro battalions from President Petion.
  • Returns to the islands of the coast.
  • Is appointed commander-in-chief of the forces of New Granada.
  • Emancipates the slaves by proclamation, June 1, 1816.
  • Is defeated at Ocumare.
  • Is again supplied with arms by the President of Hayti.
  • Defeats Morillo, February 16, 1817.
  • Condemns the negro general Piar to death for treason.
  • Gathers an of nine thousand men.
  • Goes to Angostura.
  • Meets Santander of New Granada, who advises a New Granada campaign.
  • Organizes a congress at Angostura.
  • Gathers an army of fourteen thousand men.
  • Crosses the Cordilleras.
  • Gains the victory of Boyaca, August 7, 1819.
  • Returns victorious to Venezuela.
  • Proclaims the Republic of Colombia, December 17, 1819.
  • Gains the decisive victory of Carabobo, June 24, 1821.
  • Elected President of Colombia, 1821.
  • Determines to liberate all South America.
  • Wins the battle of Pichincha, through the aid of Sucre.
  • Enters Quito, June, 1822.
  • In response to San Martin he marches to Peru.
  • Gains the victory of Ayacucho, December 9, 1824.
  • Declared Protector of Peru.
  • Escapes assassination at Bogota, September 25, 1828.
  • Condemned for ambitious designs by the Congress of Caracas, November 25, 1829.
  • Sends his final resignation as President to Congress, April 27, 1830.
  • Goes into exile.
  • Dies December 17, 1830.