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Climate and Catastrophe in Cuba and the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution

Climate and Catastrophe in Cuba and the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Climate and Catastrophe in Cuba and the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution
    Book Description:

    From 1750 to 1800, a critical period that saw the American Revolution, French Revolution, and Haitian Revolution, the Atlantic world experienced a series of environmental crises, including more frequent and severe hurricanes and extended drought. Drawing on historical climatology, environmental history, and Cuban and American colonial history, Sherry Johnson innovatively integrates the region's experience with extreme weather events and patterns into the history of the Spanish Caribbean and the Atlantic world.By superimposing this history of natural disasters over the conventional timeline of sociopolitical and economic events in Caribbean colonial history, Johnson presents an alternative analysis in which some of the signal events of the Age of Revolution are seen as consequences of ecological crisis and of the resulting measures for disaster relief. For example, Johnson finds that the general adoption in 1778 of free trade in the Americas was catalyzed by recognition of the harsh realities of food scarcity and the needs of local colonists reeling from a series of natural disasters. Weather-induced environmental crises and slow responses from imperial authorities, Johnson argues, played an inextricable and, until now, largely unacknowledged role in the rise of revolutionary sentiments in the eighteenth-century Caribbean.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0262-2
    Subjects: History, Physics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Cursed by Nature
    (pp. 1-20)

    Climate change! Global Warming! El Niño and La Niña! These phrases, now part of our daily vocabulary, stir emotions and prompt reactions ranging from fear, to anger, to a feeling of helplessness in the face of impending disaster. For the past several years, the Caribbean, the southeastern United States, and the Gulf Coast have endured repeated hurricane strikes, while the Pacific region has suffered through alternating periods of drought-induced wildfires and torrential downpours. Governments are warned to be prepared for an imminent period of weather-induced environmental crisis caused by a warming cycle in the earth’s climate.

    Decades of research have...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Be Content with Things at Which Nature Almost Revolted
    (pp. 21-59)

    The governor of Cartagena de Indias, Don Ignacio de Sola, was a conscientious bureaucrat. As the ranking official of the South American city that was the departure point for Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa’s scientific expedition of 1735–46, Sola knew that he was obligated to inform his superiors in Madrid about natural phenomena and other curiosities.¹ So in spring 1752, he dutifully reported on the extremes of weather and the many misfortunes that had occurred throughout Spanish America over the past year. The governor wrote that unprecedented flooding had caused many casualties in Chile, in the Juan Fernández...

  6. CHAPTER THREE It Appeared as If the World Were Ending
    (pp. 60-91)

    The end of the Seven Years’ War in Europe and in the Americas brought momentous political and territorial changes. Great Britain emerged as the winner, while her primary rival, France, was vanquished. Spain was dragged into the war because of her commitment to her French relatives and suffered a major defeat when Havana fell in 1762. The Treaty of Paris ended the war in 1763 and resulted in territorial realignments in North America. France was forced to give Canada to Britain, and Spain relinquished the Floridas to secure the return of Havana. In compensation, France ceded Louisiana to Spain.¹ By...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR The Violence Done to Our Interests
    (pp. 92-122)

    At 9:00 A.M. on 10 october 1773, during the height of hurricane season, a meeting was convened onboard thefragata de correos(mail frigate)El Quirós. The participants contrasted sharply, from the grizzled, veteran captains of the coastal and international trade, to the tattered group of harbor pilots that guided ships into port, to the elegant, well-heeled appearance of the captain general, the Marqués de la Torre, and the chief administrator of the mail system, José Antonio de Armona. Despite their differences in status, the men had come together on the orders of the monarch with one specific purpose: to...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE In a Common Catastrophe All Men Should Be Brothers
    (pp. 123-153)

    By the summer of 1776, the disenchantment so pronounced in the correspondence between Captain General de la Torre and treasury official Eligio de la Puente was symptomatic of the problems that would compel a new approach toward colonial affairs. The question of how to deal with the economic malaise generated by bad weather and the ensuing environmental crisis, the consequences of which had spread throughout Spain’s empire, occupied the full attention of royal officials.¹ The political setting exacerbated rather than alleviated the problems at hand. In 1775, Spain suffered another and more significant military defeat in Algeria in North Africa....

  9. CHAPTER SIX The Tomb That Is the Almendares River
    (pp. 154-192)

    In late june 1791, St. Augustine captain Don Antonio de Alcántara sailed into Havana harbor at the helm of his schooner, theSanta Catalina.¹ A decade earlier, his arrival would have been unthinkable because his port of origin was in British hands, and Great Britain was at war with Spain. In the subsequent years, however, after the Floridas returned to Spanish rule, captains such as Alcántara found themselves in an advantageous position. Such men and their families capitalized on their sailing expertise and their status as Spanish citizens to establish commercial linkages among Havana, East Florida, and the United States....

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN So Contrary to Sound Policy and Reason
    (pp. 193-202)

    At the end of the eighteenth century, the warm climate anomaly subsided as suddenly as it began. By 1800, temperatures plunged to a level not experienced since the 1740s.¹ Hurricanes continued to make landfall in Cuba, including one in Oriente in 1799, but not until the 1840s would a series of three sequential storms (in 1842, 1844, and 1846) again devastate the island and lead to another critical juncture in the island’s history; the cycle of inordinately warm temperatures would not be equaled until the early twentieth century.²

    For the Havana Consulado, the years leading up to the turn of...

  11. APPENDIX 1 A Chronology of Alternating Periods of Drought and Hurricanes in Cuba and the Greater Caribbean, Juxtaposed with Major Historical “Events,” 1749–1800
    (pp. 203-206)
  12. APPENDIX 2 Sources for the Maps
    (pp. 207-210)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 211-274)
    (pp. 275-298)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 299-306)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 307-307)