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It remains for us to speak at the end of this chapter of the epidemical disease which prevails on the eastern coast of New Spain, and which during a great part of the year is an obstacle not only to European commerce, but also to the interior communications between the shore and the table land of Anahuac. The port of Vera Cruz is considered as the principal seat of the yellow fever (vomito prieto, or negro). Thousands of Europeans landing in Mexico at the period of the great heats fall victims to this cruel epidemic. Some vessels prefer landing at Vera Cruz in the beginning of winter when the tempests de los nortes begin to rage, to the exposing themselves in summer to lose the greater part of their crew from the effects of the vomito, and to undergo a long quarantine on their return to Europe. These circumstances have frequently a very sensible influence on the supply of Mexico and the price of commodities. This destructive scourge produces still more serious effects on the interior commerce. The mines are in want of iron, steel, and mercury, whenever the communication is interrupted between Xalapa and Vera Cruz. We have already seen that the commerce between province and province is carried on by caravans of mules; and the muleteers as well as the merchants who inhabit the cold and temperate regions of the interior of New Spain are afraid of descending
towards the coast, so long as the vomito prevails at Vera Cruz.
In proportion as the commerce of this port has increased, and Mexico has felt the want of a more active communication with Europe, the disadvantages arising from the insalubrity of the air on the coast, have been also more gravely felt. The epidemic which prevailed in 1801 and 1802, gave rise to a political question which was not agitated with the same vivacity in 1762, or in former periods, when the yellow fever committed still more dreadful ravages. Memoirs were presented to the government for the discussion of the problem, whether it would be better to rase the town of Vera Cruz, and compel the inhabitants to settle at Xalapa, or some other point of the Cordillera, or to 'try some new means of rendering the port more healthy. This last resolution would merit ą preference, the fortifications having cost' more than fifty millions of piastres, and the port, however bad, being the only one which on the eastern coast can afford any shelter to vessels of war. Two parties have arisen in the country, of which the one desires the destruction, and the other the aggrandizement of Vera Cruz. Although the government appeared for some time to incline to the first of these parties, it is probable that this great process, in which the property of sixteen thousand individuals, and the fortune of a great number of powerful families, from their wealth, is at stake, will be by turns suspended and renewed without ever coming to a termination. At my passing through Vera Cruz, I saw the cabildo undertake to build a new theatre, while at Mexico the assessor of the viceroy was composing a long informe, to prove the necessity of destroying the town, as being the seat of a pestilential disease.
We have seen that in New Spain, as well as in the United States, the yellow fever not only attacks the health of the inhabitants, but also undermines their fortunes, either from the stagnation of interior trade, which it occasions, or by the obstacles which it throws in the way of foreign commerce. Hence, whatever relates to this disease, interests the statesman as well as the observing naturalist. The insalubrity of the coast, which fetters commerce, facilitates in other respects the military defence of the coun- . try against the invasion of a European enemy; and to complete the political view of New Spain, it remains for us to examine the nature of the malady which renders the stay at Vera Cruz so formidable to the inhabitants of the cold and temperate regions. I shall not here enter into the details of a nosographical description of the vomito prieto. A great number of observations which I collected during my residence in the two hemispheres, is reserved
for the historical account of my travels; and I shall confine myself here to an indication of the most remarkable facts, distinguishing carefully the incontestible results of observation, from whatever belongs to physiological conjecture.
The typhus, which the Spaniards designate by the name of black vomiting (vomito prieto) has long prevailed between the mouth of the Rio Antigua and the present port of Vera Cruz. The Abbe Clavigero * and some other writers, affirm that this disease appeared for the first time in 1725. We know not on what this assertion, which is so contrary to the traditions preserved among the inhabitants of Vera Cruz, is founded. No antient document informs us of the first appearance of this scourge ; for throughout all the warmer part of equinoctial America, where the termites and other destructive insects abound, it is infinitely rare to find papers which go fifty or sixty years back. It is believed however at Mexico as well as Vera Cruz, that the old town, now merely a village, known by the name of La Antigua, was abandoned towards the end of the 16th century t, on account of the. disease which then carried off the Europeans.
Long before the arrival of Cortez, there has
* Storia de Messico, T. i. p. 117.
almost periodically prevailed in New Spain, an epidemical disease, called by the natives matlazahuatl, which several authors * have confounded with the vomito, or yellow fever. This plague is probably the same as that which in the eleventh century, forced the Toltecs to continue their emigrations southwards. It made.. great ravages among the Mexicans in 1545, 1576, 1736, 1737, 1761 and 1762'; but as we have already observed t, it differs essentially from the vomito of Vera Cruz. It attacked few except the Indians or copper-coloured race, and raged in the interior of the country on the central table land at twelve or thirteen hundred toises above the level of the sea. It is true, no doubt, that the Indians of the valley of Mexico, who perished by thousands in 1761, of the matlazahuatl, vomited blood' at the nose and mouth; but these hematemeses frequently occur under the tropics, accompanying bilious ataxical (ataxiques) fevers; and they were also observed in the epidemical disease, which in 1759 prevailed over all South America, from Potosi and Oruro, to Quito and Popayan, and which from the incomplete description of Ulloa I was a typhus peculiar to the elevated regions of the Cordilleras. The physicians of the United
* Letter of Alzate in the Voyage de Chappe.