Most Latin America: 1809-1838. Mostly Latin America, 1809 - 1838. Over 150 pieces, comprising over 280 pages, .5 linear feet. Item #List601
The Massachusetts merchant Captain Eliphalet Smith Jr. (1780-1838) was a merchant trading primarily in Latin America during the Revolutionary Period. Described by the Chilean historian Diego Barros Arana as “an unscrupulous adventurer who saw in the countries struggling for independence nothing more than a field for his speculations,” Smith bore witness to many seminal events in the continent’s political history. These letters offer first-hand accounts of such events as the Sieges of Cadiz and Montevideo, Admiral William Brown’s victories in the Argentinian Independence War, the Peruvian silver trade, Simon Bolivar’s arrival in Guayaquil, and the battles of Real Felipe Fortress.
Smith’s business correspondence from the period sheds light on the pro-Regency networks active in the Americas during the period, as his loyalties - like most merchants - were based on the Spanish Armada’s control of trade. The tensions between Smith and the nascent Chilean government came to a head when goods from Smith's ship, the Brig Macedonian were seized by Lord Cochrane, Vice Admiral of the Chilean Squadron in two separate incidents in 1818 and 1821. The ensuing legal disputes would cast a long shadow over relations between the United States and Chile until the cases were resolved by international tribunal. The collection includes several original documents relating to the episodes, including Smith’s recollections of the events and several letters to investors describing the confiscated goods.
Smith’s efforts and their tacit support by the U.S. government make him a key figure in early relations between the United States and the new Latin American regimes. In 1822, an agent of the United States State Department acknowledged that “the Brigs Canton and Macedonian were for more than three years constantly violating blockades, neutral and belligerent rights, and supplying the royalists and flew the Spanish flag.” Likewise, historian Patricia Marks writes that Smith had business connections with Spanish merchants in Peru, and refers to a quote from Viceroy to Peru, Joaquín de la Pezuela: “Smith and the Macedonian became anathemas to the patriots. San Martín is reputed to have said that he did more damage to the cause of liberty than any other man.” Historian Joseph Byrne Lockey points out that Smith’s actions had greater implications regarding the perception of the United States in revolutionary-era Latin America: “The conduct of Captain Smith, supported in so far as it was legal, by the government at Washington, contributed, together with other incidents of a similar sort, not a little to the dimming of the earlier impression of the Patriots that the United States would be, in the struggle, their friend and ally.”
The collection here consists of 153 documents from Smith’s estate, including letters received by Smith, mercantile inventories, and holograph copies of letters sent by Smith during the period. Correspondents include Smith’s contacts in Latin America and his creditors in the United States. As a collection the documents relay scarce firsthand accounts of several seminal political events, and map an extensive network of mercantile contacts and inventories. They are worthy of further research by scholars of the political history of Latin America and Spain and of early United States / Latin American relations, as well as scholars of trade between China and Latin America.
Overall the collection presents an uncommon opportunity to acquire primary source material from Latin America’s Revolutionary Period. We find records from the Macedonian and Smith in the Forbes family collection at Harvard, as well as some later documents relating to Smith’s claims at the University of Virginia Special Collections. We find no publicly held examples of Smith’s personal correspondence or papers prior to 1820. A full write-up and inventory is available in our PDF catalog.