A recent post by Felipe Castro at Clíotropos reminded me to engage in my semi-annual search of the term “Quito” in Google Books. (By the way, Castro and H-Mex have put together a delicious page as an online catalogue to digitally-available old books relating to Mexico. It’s worth a look, with a little more than 100 titles already bookmarked.) Google is constantly adding new scans to their archive, which as I’ve said before is an absolute treasure trove of 18th and 19th century publications.
I try to regularly search a few different terms, including “Quito”, in English and in Spanish. This time there were a few surprises, including a short entry in the December 1810 edition of The Scots Magazine and Edinburgh Literary Miscellany . Included amongst letters to the editor, descriptions of small towns in Scotland, a reprint of Humboldt’s account of his travels in Mexico, was a section titled “Historical Affairs” that included brief comments on political develops in countries around the Atlantic and European world. Under the sub-heading “South America”, the magazine included miscellaneous reports on the state of political upheavals in Buenos Ayres (sic), Caracas, West Florida, and Quito. Much of the information came from letters sent from Jamaica, though the account of events in Quito was reprinted from reports in New York City newspapers:
It appears, from New York papers to the ft. ult. that a dreadful massacre had taken place at Quito in Peru, which occurred in the struggle for power between the old government and the people, who endeavoured to establish a new order of things. This province being much oppressed, tried last year what Caracas effected in the present; but the neighbouring provinces not being ripe yet to join them, they were induced again to acknowledge the authority of the Viceroy of Santa Fe, who had not only promised them to forget their opposition, but also that they would retain a provincial Junta. but the Viceroy, reinstated, kept no promise, had them all imprisoned, and many condemned to death.
On the 2d August, some of the prisoners rose against their guards; a bloody conflict ensued; a battalion of troops from Lima, which had been at Quito since last year, was let loose upon the people, and murdered of men, women, and children, about 4000, and plundered the stores of the Quitanian (sic) merchants. The revolution, of of which spring all this mischief to the people of Quito, originally commenced at Santa Fe, the capital, on the 20th July, and the Junta of that place having sent missionaries to the Governor of Quito was the foundation of these disturbances, which terminated so fatally to the inhabitants.
It now appears, these proceedings have engendered a civil war in South America; which, to the regret of all who wish to establish harmony, is likely to cause further bloodshed amongst the Spaniards in that quarter. the revolutionaries in Santa Fe and Carthegena (sic) have sworn vengeance against the Governor of Quito, and all those who were any way instrumental in the massacre. Towards the latter end of September, the people had formed themselves into volunteer corps, and, to the number of some thousands, had marched against their brethren of Quito, to answer for the lives of those persons who ahd been sent thtither in a mission from the junta of santa Fe. […] The leaders in the new proceedings appear to act upon a most extensive scale; their project is no less than to erect a new and independent state, under the title of “The Kingdom of Granada.”
Aside from the many factual eras, it is interesting to see this event show up within four months on the other side of the Atlantic, via New York nonetheless. The process of Independence was an Atlantic world phenomenon- even for those regions that faced the Pacific. Jaime Rodriguez O., Jeremy Adelman, and others have written on the period as such– as part of the broader Atlantic Liberal Revolution the murmered in 1776, exploded in 1789, and peetered out in the 1820s. (Quito gained full independence, as the nation of Ecuador, in 1830). News, such as that listed above, regularly traveled across the region, together with illegal books, ideas and practices brought to far corners by scientific expeditions in the 18th c., letters from exiles and travelers, and in the form of an international imperial bureaucratic corps. One of the last Viceroys of Perú was Ambrosio O’Higgins who was Irish by birth, and the father of Chile’s Independence hero Bernardo O’Higgins. The President of the Audiencia of Quito, the Conde Ruiz de Castilla, had an English secretary, William Bennet Stevenson.
In this case, the New York papers and the report in The Scots made a number of substantial errors. There was indeed a massacre on August 2nd, 1810 in which members and supporters of the 1809 local Quiteña Junta who were imprisoned by Castilla were killed in their cells. Troops from Lima, led mostly by a mulato regiment, did end up marauding the streets. It is unclear how many people actually died. Counts of the dead, collected from the streets and deposited in a number of the city’s churches, numbered less than 90. That said, there were reports of countless others murdered by the troops and dumped in the ravines that cut through the city, separating its barrios. The roots of this massacre, though, go back much further than the vanquishing of Amar y Borbon and the establishment of a local junta in Santa Fe in 1810. Of course, the roots go back to the establishment of one of the Americas’ first ruling juntas in August of 1809, a year earlier. This short-lived Junta, founded in the name of King Ferdinand VII, the Holy Catholic Religion, and the patria, was supported by the titled nobility of Quito, the barrios, and most non-European Spaniards in the corregimiento. When the Junta folded on regional pressures and authority was restored to the Audiencia, it was restored in the person of the Conde Ruize de Castilla.
The Conde originally promised amnesty for everyone involved in the Junta, but under pressure from his aggressive Fiscal Tomas Arechaga, the participants and many supports of the Junta were rounded up and held in prison for many months. Arechaga produced a summary report on charges, evidence, requests for capital punishment, etc. that was presented to Castilla, who could have ended it right then and there by dismissing the report. Instead, he demurred and arranged to send the dossier to Bogota for review by the Viceroy. The arrival of the report coincided with the dismissal of the Viceroy by a new local ruling Junta in Bogota.
Next time, I’ll tell the story of that dreadful day as recounted by witnesses and bystanders.