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

Sherry Johnson

Publication Year: 2011

Drawing historical climatology, environmental history, and Cuban and American colonial history, Sherry Johnson innovatively integrates the history of the Spanish Caribbean and the Atlantic world during the Age of Revolution (1750-1800) with the period's extreme weather patterns and finds that weather-induced environmental crises played an inextricable and largely unacknowledged role in charting the course of this period as a critical juncture in Atlantic world history. Johnson reviews recent scientific discoveries in paleoclimatology and, combining them with archival materials, identifies an historic weather pattern--in particular, a fifty-year warming trend--that lead to a cycle of severe drought alternating with an increased number of hurricanes, what we know now as the El Nino/La Nina weather cycle. By superimposing this history of natural disasters over the conventional timeline of socio-political and economic events in Caribbean colonial history--involving such major themes as mercantalism, imperial business, rebellion, and repression--Johnson argues for an alternate chronology based on environmental and weather events in which the signal events of the Age of Revolution are seen as consequences of ecological crisis. In particular, Johnson finds that the the general adoption of free trade by the European powers in the Americas, esp. in the key imperial outposts in the Caribbean and the North Atlantic basin, was catalyzed by a recognition of the harsh realities of food scarcity and the complementary needs of local colonists reeling from a series of unrelenting natural disasters. The environmental crisis, and Spain's slow response in assisting its colonists, also raised levels of resentment on the island against the motherland, adding to slowly building revolutionary sentiments.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Envisioning Cuba


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Contents/Figures and Maps

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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xiii

During the completion of this book, I have incurred many debts, both personal and professional. I am grateful for the funding I received from several institutions, including the Lydia Cabrera Award Committee of the Conference on Latin American History; the Jay I. Kislak Foundation, Inc.;...

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ONE: Cursed by Nature

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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...

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TWO: Be Content with Things at Which Nature Almost Revolted

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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,...

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THREE: It Appeared as If the World Were Ending

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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...

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FOUR: The Violence Done to Our Interests

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pp. 92-122

At 9:00 a.m. on 10 October 1773, during the height of hurricane season, a meeting was convened onboard the fragata de correos (mail frigate) El Quirós. The participants contrasted sharply, from the grizzled, veteran captains of the coastal and...

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FIVE: In a Common Catastrophe All Men Should Be Brothers

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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....

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SIX: The Tomb That Is the Almendares River

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pp. 154-192

In late June 1791, St. Augustine captain Don Antonio de Alcántara sailed into Havana harbor at the helm of his schooner, the Santa Catalina.1 A decade earlier, his arrival would have been unthinkable because his port of origin was in British hands, and...

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SEVEN: So Contrary to Sound Policy and Reason

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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...

APPENDIX 1. A Chronology of Alternating Periods of Drought and Hurricanes in Cuba and the Greater Caribbean, Juxtaposed with Major Historical “Events,” 1749–1800

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pp. 203-206

APPENDIX 2. Sources for the Maps

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pp. 207-209


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pp. 211-273


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pp. 275-297


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pp. 299-306

E-ISBN-13: 9781469602622
E-ISBN-10: 1469602628
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807834930
Print-ISBN-10: 0807834939

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Envisioning Cuba
Series Editor Byline: Edited by Louis A. Pérez Jr., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 774282710
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Climate and Catastrophe in Cuba and the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution

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Subject Headings

  • Cuba -- Climate -- History -- 18th century.
  • Climatic extremes -- Social aspects -- Cuba -- History -- 18th century.
  • Climatic extremes -- Political aspects -- Cuba -- History -- 18th century.
  • Disasters -- Cuba -- History -- 18th century.
  • Social change -- Cuba -- History -- 18th century.
  • Cuba -- Politics and government -- 18th century.
  • Cuba -- Social conditions -- 18th century.
  • Cuba -- History -- To 1810.
  • Caribbean Area -- History -- To 1810.
  • Latin America -- History -- To 1830.
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