When my fellow librarians and I became aware of this month’s theme for PEM/PM, we knew right away that the Phillips Library collections needed to be a part of it. “Agridulce,” or “Bittersweet” in Spanish, is a perfect descriptor of the contentious sugar, slave, and rum trade prevalent in the Caribbean in the 17th through 19th centuries. We have decided to bring a selection of materials from our collections which, as a whole, demonstrate the more bitter side of international trade through Salem.
The oldest item we have chosen is a 1755 importation receipt for Captain Richard Derby, father of shipping magnate Elias Hasket Derby. This receipt lists two separate purchases of rum, sugar, and one “Negro Boy.” Each item is associated with a specific price for which payment was incurred in 1756. This demonstrates the value of commodities like rum and sugar, and emphasizes the nonchalant manner in which humans were bought and sold like so much sugar.
International trade was predominately conducted by sea in the 19th century as well, and it was far from safe. In 1805, the Ship Hantonia was destined for Jamaica but was waylaid by pirates off the coast of Cuba. The above is a harrowing description of the attack in which the ship is shot upon, boarded, and ransacked. The crewmembers were held at gunpoint and all valuables were stolen or thrown overboard. Eventually the pirates were satisfied and left the ship allowing it to limp into Cuba for repairs. Transcriptions of the page are available at the end of the post.
In the early 20th Century, travel to Cuba was still predominately by boat. The above scrapbook page is from Mr. and Mrs. Leonidas Westervelt’s trip to California in 1931. The Westervelt’s voyage took them through Cuba, the Panama Canal, around Mexico and up to San Francisco. Pasted in the scrapbook are menus, advertisements, photographs, and brochures for places visited along the way. The above page includes some photographs and advertisements from the port of Havana.
The history of Cuba and the United States is a contentious one, and has been for many centuries. Come see a snapshot of that history at this month’s PEM/PM on Thursday, January 21st from 6-9pm. We look forward to seeing you!
This post first appeared on Conversant, the blog for the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.