Panama History 1698 - 1790

The Isthmian Bubble of 1698

The Darien region was the scene of the first attempt by Europeans, other than subjects of Spain, to obtain a commercial foothold on the Spanish Main.  For some time prior to 1695, William Patterson, one of the founders to the Bank of England, has been nourishing a project of commercial expansion of considerable magnitude.  It was his idea to establish colonies in various parts of the Orient, as well as the Occident, to build up a trade between these points and his country, Scotland.  Under royal charter, a company was formed, and in the year 1698 five vessels with more than a thousand Scottish emigrants on board set sail for the Isthmus.  From returning buccaneers Patterson learned what a key to the trade of the South Sea the Isthmus really was, and induced him to send his first colony to that point.

The colonists landed at a place on the north coast of Darien, known today as Puerto Escoces.  Here on a small bay which they named Caledonia, the immigrants founded the settlement of New Edinburgh, located about 75 miles to the northwest from Cape Tiburón on the Gulf of Urabá.  They built some fortifications, establishing two batteries of 52 cannons each.  Only a few months elapsed however, before the effect of the tropical climate and its fevers became apparent on the hardy men of the north, and before the end of the first year arrived only a remnant of the original colony remained.  In the meantime other emigrants had been sent out from Scotland, but they fared even worse than the first comers.  About this time the Spaniards learned of the full scope of Patterson's designs toward the South Sea trade, and determined to frustrate it.  An expedition was sent against the colony at New Edinburgh and met with but little resistance.  The captured survivors were thereupon deported.  Patterson did not give up his plan without a further effort, and endeavored to plant another colony, this time on the Pacific Ocean and away from Panama, but acting under orders from Spain, Lieut. General D. Juan Diaz Pimiento, Captain-General of the province, took the necessary steps to prevent it.

Trouble with Indians, 1710-90

The period from 1710 to 1790 was principally marked by frequent battles between the Spaniards and the Indian tribes of the Darien.  Early in the century, Catholic missionaries from Spain founded several places in this region, but in 1719 the savages rose and destroyed them all.  In 1740, Lieut. General D. Dionisio Martinez de la Vega entered into a treaty of peace with the Indians, and soon after the viceroy of Santa Fe, Don Sebastian de Eslava, and the Governor of Panama, acting in conjunction sent out four Jesuit priests, two to the north, and two to the south, in the Darien region, and these founded Yaviza, a town located on the Chucunaque River, the largest affluent of the Tuira, or Tuyra, the principal river in the Darien emptying into the Pacific.  Yaviza today is an outpost on the forbidden frontier of the Darien Indians.  To this pint travelers can go with safety, but a further journey inland would be exceedingly risky.  Although Yaviza is located fifty miles or so from the coast, tide water does not end for several miles past the town.

Notwithstanding the efforts of the Jesuit priests to obtain a foothold in this region, it was not long after before the Indians planned an uprising and the missionaries had to flee for their lives  In 1784, forts were established on the Sabana, Chucunaque and Tuira Rivers; also on the coast of the Gulf of San Miguel, but six years later upon conclusion of another treaty with the Indian chiefs, these were abandoned.  Since then the Indian tribes of that region have been more or less independent, the Government of Colombia having exercised only a nominal rule over them.  The Republic of Panama to date has also been content to leave them to their own devices.  On one occasion the Colombian Government sent a force of 500 men against them, but this expedition was defeated.

The only other incident in Isthmian history during the eighteenth century worth relating, was the landing of a band of desperadoes and cutthroats on the Caribbean coast, near Porto Bello, made up of the scum of several nations.  These at once commenced assaulting and robbing wherever possible, and finally crossed the Isthmus to the Pacific, where they were hunted down and scattered.  Some were taken to Cartagena and executed; others died at the hands of the Indians, and still others sought refuge in the caves of San Blas, where they subsisted by fishing.  A few of these later started plantations, but they were a restless lot ever keen for desperate deeds, and they soon got into trouble with the Indians who rose against them in 1758, and killed ninety of them.  The rest left the country immediately after.

From: The Canal Zone Pilot
The Star & Herald Company, 1908

April 11, 2000

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