By Gonzalo Gutiérrez
XVIII Century Spanish Frigates
The Captaincy General of Guatemala was created in 1542 and included present-day Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. It also extended north to the area of Chiapas in Mexico and to the south to include the provinces of Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro of present-day Panama.
Unlike other Captaincies General in the Spanish dominions in America that depended on viceroyalties such as Peru or New Spain (Mexico), that of Guatemala was directly dependent on the Council of the Indies in Spain.
During the 16th century, trade was relatively free between the Viceroyalty of Peru and the Captaincy General of Guatemala. Peruvian products transported to Guatemala were highly sought-after in the Central American market, and in return, various Guatemalan “articles of the land” were well received in Peru.
However, in the first decades of the seventeenth century, Spain restricted trade in order to strengthen its commercial monopoly with each of its American colonies. This limitation was detrimental to both Guatemala and Peru; to the former mainly because it was unable to receive Peruvian wines and spirits, and to the latter because it limited, among other goods, the arrival of Nicaraguan pitch, which was essential for the lining of the clay jars used to export beverages and other Peruvian products. It is highly significant that this Order implemented on May 18, 1615, expressly prohibited the import of Peruvian wine into the Captaincy General of Guatemala.
Consequently, prohibition did nothing but fuel smuggling, especially of products that arrived from Asia to Mexico through the “La Nao de la China”. The merchandise was taken by land to Realejo in the Captaincy General of Guatemala and then clandestinely shipped and smuggled to Peru. Otherwise it was surreptitiously loaded onto small ships that left the Mexican port of Huatulco bound for Callao, the main port in Lima.
Prohibition proved to be detrimental to ports that relied on Peruvian goods, such as La Santísima Trinidad de Sonsonate or Acajutla (in present-day El Salvador) and Realejo (in modern Nicaragua). In 1676, only two ships from Peru were allowed entry in order to purchase indigo, cocoa and pitch.
Due to Spain’s inability to adequately supply the Central American Captaincy General and the constant grievances of the Guatemalan authorities, merchants and citizens, a Royal Decree was issued on May 21, 1685 that allowed for free trade of wines and other products from Peru for three years. The mandate stipulated that the free trade order could be extended once its repercussions had been studied.
However, it imposed many restrictions, such as limiting Peruvian exports to 200,000 ducats, forcing merchants to buy goods in Guatemala and imposing a trade embargo of Chinese textiles and cocoa from Guayaquil. It also introduced compulsory customs duties.
The Decree remained in force and was renewed again in July 1695, keeping the prohibition of cocoa’s trade from Guayaquil, but permitting wines, spirits, oil and almonds to arrive from Peru to the ports of Sonsonate and Realejo.
Manuel Moreyra Paz Soldan reported that between 1701 and 1704, the main products exported from Peru to Sonsonate and Realejo were bundles of Peruvian clothing, spirit, wine and oil clay jars, pouches of raisins, sacks of saltpeter and gunpowder and pounds of refined copper.
At the beginning of the 18th century, a triangular trade system facilitated the movement of Peruvian goods. Products sent from Lima to Acapulco were re-embarked or transferred by the same ship to the ports of Sonsonate and Realejo in the Captaincy General of Guatemala.
That was the case of the frigate called “Our Lady of Solitude” that arrived from Callao to Mexico at the end of 1712. After arriving in Acapulco, the ship and its entire cargo were auctioned off. A gentleman named Juan de Recalde won the bid.
Shortly after, de Recalde appeared before the Acapulco port authorities to obtain authorization to set sail for Guatemala with the cargo. His request was accepted on November 19, 1712. In the “aprezio” or the appraisal of the value of the cargo and the duties on each product, he declared:
“… at forty five reals each case
of snuff that weighs one hundred and
thirty net pounds, that is two and a half pounds (each)
For the consumption of the sacks of snuff,
one hundred pesos per pair,
for each small bale of shirts, eight pesos
the Barros case four pesos
a small case of mills
twenty-four pesos the barrel of oak fillings
at thirty pesos each pack of forty reals
ten pesos for each clay jar of pisco spirit
and at the aforementioned prices there are one
hundred and sixty-five barrels and sack of powders
totaling six thousand
seven hundred pesos and a tomin… “
Further down, in the final calculation of the duties that the Master of the ship “Our Lady of Solitude” owed upon departure from Acapulco, it showed:
“…two barrels of oak filling sixty pesos
the small bale of shirts one hundred pesos
the four Barros cases at two pesos, correction:
seventy-two pieces of baize
two thousand one hundred and sixty pesos
the seventy clay jars of pisco spirit seven hundred
and all its value and import is nine thousand seven
hundred and fifty-five pesos and one real and that
because of having the exit rights charged at this port at
the rate of three and a half percent one hundred and
forty-five pesos and three reales that we paid, which
can be verified by the Master of the Royal cashier … “
Subsequently, on December 22, 1712, Juan de Recalde declared in another section of the ship’s register:
“… has on board in the frigate’s hold, narrow and well conditioned for it, seventy clay jars of Pisco spirit with the marks that belong to Mr. Joseph Romero Soriano, for whose fiscal responsibility and risk they were, and I, the Master of the ship, promise to God I will deliver the goods of said frigate to the Ports referred to once their unloading and the registration is deemed to have been fulfilled, will give and deliver said products to said Don Joseph Romero or to whom his power and cause would have to which fulfillment I am bound to comes to be seen. .. “
The information from the registry of “Our Lady of Solitude” was presented to the port authorities in Sonsonate in the Captaincy General of Guatemala upon arrival. The landing permit was finally delivered at the port on March 2, 1713. Later, the Master, Juan de Recalde, obtained a new permit to return the ship to Peru loaded with “goods and fruits of the earth” on March 21, 1713.
The registries of the “Our Lady of Solitude” in Acapulco in 1712 and Sonsonate in 1713 provide incontrovertible proof that the expressions “pisco spirit” and “pisco spirit clay jars” commonly referred to the distilled beverage from Peru exported to the ports of Mexico and Central America in the first decades of the 18th century. They are the first known references to the denomination of the premium Peruvian product outside Peru.
Equally significant, two years later in 1715, the “Sacred Family” ship arrived in Sonsonate from Peru. There were 2,127 jars of wine and 400 jars of spirit in the hold. The duties owed on the jars of alcoholic beverages would be the source of a dispute, since most were property of the Society of Jesus Jesuit Order, and therefore were exempt from payment. A resolution was reached and duties were charged on only 100 jars of wine and 150 jars of spirit, which had arrived without registration, exempting those that were consigned for the religious order.
It is crucial to highlight how the captain, Mr. Luis Carrillo de Córdova, described the origin of the drinks in the Register of the “Sacred Family”:
“… Two hundred and fifty jars of brandy were consigned to me by the Reverend Father Pedro de Castro of the Society of Jesus, Procurator General of the College of
San Pablo, founded in the city of Lima. This college owns estates in the Pisco Valley from that Kingdom whose portions of wine and spirit came in Items of the Registry of said Frigate, where there are also certifications of not having paid duties … “
This record from 1715 clearly exemplifies that the origin of the spirit exported by the Society of Jesus was from the Pisco Valley, and the spirit was highly demanded in the Central American market. These jars may been part of the production of the “San Juan Bautista de Cóndor” farm, owned by the Jesuits in the Pisco Valley, which produced the significant sum of 326,415 clay jars of pisco spirit between 1707 and 1767.
Some decades later, in August 1742, the “Our Lady of the Rosary and Blessed Souls” ship arrived at the Central American port of Realejo. The registry stated that the ship’s captain, Bartolomé Hernández Romero, received an order to transport the following goods to Realejo from a resident of Panama, Mr. Jacinto de Pasos Porta, who sent:
Another case of twenty hats from Lima, two bales of snuff from
Havana, each of 30 pounds, 8 dozen knives; 20 pounds of pepper,
and 4 small boxes of white thread, 16 clay jars of pisco, 6 of olives and 10 of wine
Once again, these colonial documents only confirm the Peruvian origin of the distilled spirit known as pisco, which was clearly recognized and demanded in Central America at the beginning of the 18th century. As has been pointed out, they are the first known references to the denomination of the Peruvian beverage known as “pisco spirit” or directly as “pisco” and they precede the writings of the Audiencia of Lima in 1729, when there was a dispute over the price of the “Pisco spirit jars” three years earlier, in 1726.
Brussels, March 2021