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Description of the great and famous Island of Hispaniola.
ONE very large and rich island called Hispaniola is situate in the latitude of seventeen degrees and a half. The greatest part thereof extends, from East to \Vest, twenty degrees Southern latitude. The circumference is three hundred leagues, the length one hundred and twenty, its breadth almost fifty, being more or less broad or narrow at certain places. I shall not need here to insert how this island was at first discovered, it being known to the world that it was performed by the means of Christopher Columbus, in the year 1492, being sent for this purpose by Ferdinand, the Catholic, then King of Spain. From which time, to this present, the Spaniards have been continually possessors thereof. There are on this island many very good and strong cities, towns and hamlets; it also abounds in a great number of pleasant and delicious country-houses and plantations; all which are owing to the care and industry of the Spaniards, its inhabitants.
The chief city and metropolis of this island is called San Domingo, being dedicated to St. Dominic, from whom it derives this name. It is situated towards the South, in a place which affords a most excellent prospect, the country round about being embellished with innumerable rich plantations, also verdant meadows and fruitful gardens — all which produce plenty and variety of excellent and pleasant fruits, according to the nature of those countries. The Governor of the island makes his residence in this city, which is, as it were, the storehouse of all the other cities, towns and villages, which hence export and provide themselves with all necessaries whatsoever for human life. And yet has it this particularity, above many other cities in other places, that it entertains no external commerce with any other nation than its own, the Spaniards. The greatest part of the inhabitants are rich and substantial merchants, or such as are shopkeepers and sell by retail.
Another city of this island is named Santiago, or, in English, St. James, as being consecrated to the Apostle of that name. This is an open place, without either walls or castle, situate in the latitude of nineteen degrees South. The greatest part of the inhabitants are hunters and planters, the adjacent territory and soil being very proper for the said exercises of its constitution. The city is surrounded with large and delicious fields, as much pleasing to the view as those of San Domingo; and these abound with all sorts of beasts, both wild and tame, whence are taken a huge number of skins and hides, that afford to the owners a very considerable traffic.
Towards the Southern parts of this island is seen another city called Nuestra Señora del Alta Gracia. The territory hereof produces great quantities of cacao, which occasions the inhabitants to make great store of the richest sort of chocolate. Here grows also much ginger and tobacco; and much tallow is prepared of the beasts which hereabouts are hunted.
The inhabitants of this beautiful island of Hispaniola often go and come in their canoes to the Isle of Savona. not far distant thence, where is their chief fishery, especially of tortoises. Hither those fish constantly resort in huge multitudes at certain seasons of the year, there to lay their eggs, burying them in the sands of the shore. Thus by the heat of the sun, which in those parts is very ardent, they are hatched, and continue the propagation of their species. This island of Savona has little or nothing that is worthy consideration or may merit any particular description, as being so extremely barren, by reason of its sandy soil. True it is, that here grows some small quantity of lignum sanctum or guaiacum.
Westwards of the city of San Domingo is also situated another great village, called by the name of El Pueblo del Aso, or the Town of Aso. The inhabitants of this town drive a great commerce and traffic with those of another village, which is placed in the very middle of the island, and is called San Juan de Goave, or St. John of Goave. This place is environed with a magnificent prospect of gardens, woods and meadows. Its territory extends above twenty leagues in length, and grazes a huge number of wild bulls and cows. In this village scarce dwell any others than hunters and butchers, who flay the beasts that are killed. These are for the most part a mongrel sort of people of several bloods1; some of which are born of white European people and negroes, and these are called Mulattos. Others are born of Indians and white people, and such are termed Mestizos. But others are begotten of negroes and Indians, and these also have their peculiar name, being called Alcatraces. Besides which sorts of people, there are several other species and races, both here and in other places of the West Indies, of whom this account may be given, that the Spaniards love better the negro women, in those Western parts, or the tawny Indian females, than their own white European race, whereas peradventure the negroes and Indians have greater inclinations to the white women, or those that come near them, the tawny, than their own. From the said village are exported yearly vast quantities of tallow and hides, they exercising no other traffic nor toil. For as to the lands in this place, they are not cultivated, by reason of the excessive dryness of the soil. These are the chiefest places that the Spaniards possess in this island, from the Cape of Lobos towards St. John de Goave, to the Cape of Samana, near the sea, on the North side, and from the Eastern part, towards the sea, called Punta d'Espada. All the rest of the island is possessed by the French, who are also planters and hunters.
This island has very good ports for ships, from the Cape of Lobos to the Cape of Tiburon, which lies on the Western side thereof. In this space of land there are no less than four ports, which exceed in goodness, largeness and security even the very best of England. Besides these, from the Cape of Tiburon to the Cape of Donna Maria, there are two very excellent ports, and from this Cape to the Cape of St. Nicholas there are no less than twelve others. Every one of these ports has also the confluence of two or three good rivers, in which are found several sorts of fish, very pleasing to the palate, and also in great plenty. The country hereabouts is sufficiently watered with large and profound rivers and brooks, so that this part of the land may easily be cultivated without any great fear of droughts, it being certain that better streams are not to be found in any part of the world. The sea coasts and shores are also very pleasant, to which the tortoises resort in huge numbers, there to lay their eggs.
This island was formerly very well peopled on the North side with many towns and villages; but these, being ruined by the Hollanders, were at last for the greatest part deserted by the Spaniards.
1 The offspring of a negro and Indian, or a person with three-fourths of black blood, is denominated a zambo or sambo; a mixture of half white and halt black is strictly the mulatto; three parts white to one part black forms the quadroon; one-eighth part of black blood marks the mustee or octoroon; after the octoroon the mixed race are usually considered to be “white-washed," and rank as white. In the British West Indies very few of the negroes are of pure black blood, owing to the number of convicts and political prisoners who were sent to the plantations during the earlier settlements of the islands. In Montserrat (known as little Ireland), which was largely colonized by Irish prisoners, the negroes universally bear Irish surnames, and retain the Irish accent.