Tuesday, January 19, 2010

General Survey of the material related to Puerto Rico held by the Library of Congress

This year will mark a decade since my father passed away. This is the first post on this blog, which I have established for the purpose of documenting his extensive library on Latin America and the Caribbean. In this post, however, I am presenting (and remembering) him in his role as a researcher. He was an historian, an educator and one of the leading Caribbeanists of the twentieth century. It should also be recalled that perhaps his most important work was about Puerto Rico. In this vein, I would like to reproduce here part of a report he submitted on materials related to Puerto Rico held (at the time) by the U.S. Library of Congress:

General Survey of the material related to Puerto Rico held by the Library of Congress. Report submitted by Thomas G. Mathews, August 8, 1956. Published by Historia 6 (2) October 1956.

Following the suggestion of Dr. Howard Cline, Director of the Hispanic Foundation in the Library of Congress, The University of Puerto Rico granted me permission to spend four weeks surveying the material related to Puerto Rico in the Library of Congress. The Foundation requested that a report of this survey be drawn up in the hopes that it would offer a clear appraisal of the strength and weakness of the Library's material on Puerto Rico. This report could also serve as a guide to future action by the Library by indicating obvious gaps in the material or collections which needed rounding out. Obviously such a report would also enable the Library to better serve its readers and researchers in this particular field.

The University of Puerto Rico and scholars concerned with insular affairs should find the survey helpful in view of the fact that no previous effort has been made to describe in one study the Puerto Rican material found in the various divisions of the Library of Congress. In 1901 there was drawn up under the guidance of A.F.C. Criffin A List of Books on Porto Rico found in the Library of Congress. This, of course, is long out-dated and made no effort to explore the holdings of other divisions. It is hoped that the following survey will supply the reader with a ready guide to the material of the Library related to Puerto Rico, as well as an appraisal as to the quality of those holdings.

I wish to express my appreciation to Dr. Cline for the ready cooperation which he and his staff offered me during my four weeks. In all divisions of the Library I was willingly and readily served to my complete satisfaction, even when the requests were sometimes obviously out of the ordinary. I am indebted to Mr. Jorge Morales Yordan for the time he took to orient me as to the procedures, holdings, and classifications of the Law Library. If I have any criticisms to make in no way should they be interpreted as personal but rather in an effort to enable an under-staffed Library to serve more efficiently its readers.


The material concerning Puerto Rico in the Library of Congress forms the largest single holding outside of the Archivo General de las Indias in Spain and the Library of the University of Puerto Rico. In the British Museum, the Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris, the New York Public Library and the National Archives [1] Puerto Rican material of importance can be located. For the most such holdings are limited in scope, in period covered, and by obvious national interests.

[1] The holdings of the National Archives is a residue of a collection of official papers relating to the Spanish Government in Puerto Rico which was shipped to the United States by a representative of the Library of Congress shortly after the American occupation. The body of material --some 200 boxes-- was returned to the island where it is reputed to have been partially destroyed by fire in 1926. The remaining material was sent from the Library of Congress to the National Archives where it can now be consulted.

The Library of Congress holdings relating to the period of discovery, conquest, and period of colonization can be located principally in the divisions of Rare Book and Manuscript. Copies of the classics of Latin American history in which there is always some mention of Puerto Rico--even though it be just in passing--can be found in the card catalog of the Rare Book Room. To the known accounts of Oviedo, Gomara,, Herrera, Las Casas, Laet,, etc. I would like to add a hitherto unknown visitor to Puerto Rico. "Captpitaine Gourges" writes of his brief visit to the shores of "Sainet Germaine de Porterique" in the latter quarter of the year 1569. [2] In the Manuscript Division the reproduction of material in European archives contains material on Puerto Rico, even though the reproductions were made with the purpose of securing material relative to North America. These holdings will be studied in detail below.

[2] "La Reprise de la Floride” in Histoire de la Floride franaise by
Paul Gaffarel, pp. 489-490 refer to Puerto Rico.

The holdings of the XVII and XVIII centuries should also be sought in the Rare Book and Manuscript Divisions. For works related to the lost half of the XVII century the general card catalog should be consulted in the general shelf area of Puerto Rico a copy of the 1788 Madrid edition of Fray Iigo Abbad y Lasierra’s Historia, geografica, civil.y politica de la Isla de San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico (Imprenta de Don Antonia Espinosa) can be found. This of course should be placed in the Rare Book Collection. On this period, the Map Division also has material such as the four items of the Howe Collection which are described below.

The Library's holdings in the XIX century broaden out considerably, particularly toward the latter half of the century. Not only can more material be found on Puerto Rico but the quality is better. For example, the Manuscript Division can boast of not just mere reproductions of European archival holdings by an impressive collection of original material. The same is true of maps. Only the Divisions of Prints and Photographs and Music fail to show any holdings in the XIX century.

As would be expected, the material concerning the Spanish American War, as it is related to Puerto Rico, is plentiful. The collection of Col. Hoes, a U.S. Army chaplain, which has been integrated into the general holdings helps to explain this more complete coverage. A spot check on the more recent publications seems to indicate an adequate coverage as far as printed books are concerned. There may be a few exceptions to this which will be taken up later.

After this generous introduction, each division will be separately examined. It should be noted that I am not pausing to call attention to generally known material, but rather I prefer to single out that which can not be readily found. In some cases, such material may have little value in comparison to the more commonly known works but I prefer to run this risk since to do otherwise would be to reproduce what is found in the general card catalog under Puerto Rico (or Porto Rico since some divisions, like Rare Books, have failed to change their file to be in accord with the proper spelling) and thus give little justification for the report.

Manuscripts Division
Aside from the general collection of' the Library, this division has the largest amount of material on Puerto Rico and, in spite of the fact that a great number of the holdings are reproductions, the manuscript collection, while quite sparse as to the XIX century, is very valuable. A list with a brief description of the reproductions from the British Archives can be found in Appendix A; the French in Appendix B; and the Spanish in Appendix C.

Among the few reproductions of the French archives there is a hitherto unknown collection of outstanding interest to Puerto Rico. These manuscripts are found in the Museum d' Histoire Naturelle, having been sent there by one August Plee.

August Plee was, according to the Biographie Universalle (Tome Trente Troisime 1856) a botanist by profession. In 1819 at the age of thirty-two, he was sent by the royal government of France on a botanical excursion of the new world. He visited Canada and the United States collecting samples of plants and animals of all varieties. What he could not collect and ship back to France he carefully described and sketched.

From Norfolk, Virginia he journeyed south by boat into the Caribbean arriving at Puerto Rico the first month or two of 1822. He continued to collect specimens of fish, fowl, and sea life, such as mollusks. He also continued to sketch. As he traveled all over Puerto Rico from Mayaguez and Cabo Rojo, through Adjuntas and Ponce to Fajardo, and back to San Juan, he created beautiful sketches of the towns and countryside. His drawings which are listed in Appendix B are carefully done in perfect perspective and with such precision that one can recognize familiar buildings, such as churches, which are still standing today.

Mon. Plee in the brief introduction to his sketches explains that they will serve as a visual guide to the Journal of his explorations. Careful search in the catalog of the manuscripts of the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle [3] has failed to indicate that this Journal is among their collection. An effort should be made to locate it in the Museum. However, the chances are very good that the Journal failed to reach Europe just as its author failed.

[3] Mss.de la Bibliothque du Museum d' Histoire Naturelle por A. Boinet in Catalogue General des Mss des Bibliothques Publiques, Paris II (Librairee Plon 1914)

Leaving Puerto Rico in 1823 Plee passed through the Virgin Islands and the Leeward Islands stopping finally at Martinique. Here he contracted some tropical malady and died the 17th of August, 1825 at the age-:of thirty-eight. His collections of plant and fowl have found their way into proper care. His journal should be diligently sought. The reproductions of his sketches held by the Library are disappointing in that they are photocopies (white on black surface). My recommendation to the University of Puerto Rico is that they secure actual size black and white (if original are pencil sketches) photographs of this valuable collection of art works.

With the reproductions of the vast holdings of Spain, I utilized the unpublished work of two former employees of the Library of Congress. Dr. John Finan was working on a guide to the Spanish reproductions held by the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress before he severed his relations with this division of the government. The state of the notes for this guide was such that with some effort Puerto Rican references could be singled out. This list of references is included in Appendix C.

Dr. Arturo Morales Carrion spent three months in 1946 in the position I temporarily hold, as consultant on Puerto Rican documents. Appended to this present report is a list of Spanish reproductions located by Mr. Morales pertaining to Puerto Rico. Copies of these reproductions were secured by the University of Puerto Rico for use by the History Department.

As can be seen by examining the list of Puerto Rican material drawn up from the work of Dr. Finan, the holdings are sparse and scattered over a three hundred year period. The reproductions held by the Library of Congress, and this is true of the French and British more so than the Spanish, pertain primarily to material concerned with North America. Therefore, while a diligent search would undoubtedly turn up more concerning Puerto Rico than has been revealed by Dr. Finan’s work, it is obvious that such time would be better spent in the Archivo General de las Indias of Spain. However, it goes without saying that Dr. Finan’s valuable work should be brought to completion and published so that researchers might be better served.

The manuscript material on Puerto Rico which is listed in the Handbook and can be found on the shelves in the general area assigned to Puerto Rico is so scattered and disorganized that it would be hopeless to do other than list the material with a brief description for each item. This is done in Appendix D. These documents are from the XIX century, although there are a few items-- as noted-- pertaining to the previous and the present century. In some cases (a lottery ticket or a canceled stamp) the value as historical material is negligible, in other cases-- the listing of foreigners or the memorandum on the telegraph system of the island-- the importance for historical research is obvious. On the whole, this material is very spotty and considered as a unit - which it is not - has little value.

The Puerto Rican Memorial Collection, donated to the Library by Miss Alice Gould, is the most valuable material of the Manuscript Division concerning Puerto Rico. Dr. Morales Carrion in his report discussed the manuscript part of this collection. His report is also appended to this study. (Appendix E) I have added to his work a more complete guide to the material found in the collection. The Library wisely adopted Dr. Morales' suggestions for the sorting and classification of these documents.

The Manuscript Division holds two very valuable microfilms, one of these is the original inventory typed under the direction of Sr. Cayetano Coll y Toste, of the 289 boxes of official documents shipped to the Library shortly after the United States occupation of Puerto Rico. This useful inventory of a vast quantity of material--much of which has been lost at this point--is in sufficient detail to be of service to historians interested in searching for material in the residue held by the National Archives. I urge the University to secure a copy of this microfilm for its own readers.

The other microfilm is not available to researchers until 1972. It is a copy of a diary of Eugenio Mara de Hostos. The original is in the possession of the sons of de Hostos but with their agreement and with the noted restrictions, the Library of Congress was able to secure a film of this priceless journal.

Material relative to Puerto Rico can also be found in the collections of private individuals donated to the Library of Congress. The manuscript Division holds some material donated by Chaplain Hoes of the Spanish American War. In Box 1 (Ac. 4159) can be found a collection of Correspondence with Congressional leaders concerning the War and federal relations with the newly acquired possessions. This material provides an excellent guide to congressional comments on Puerto Rico at the turn of the century.

Victor Clark, former Commissioner of Education of the island has also turned over material, which is indispensable to any study of the educational problems of the island. As Clark notes in his own description of the gift, many of the problems encountered when he was serving as Commissioner are still unsolved today.

The collection of two members of Congress also provide some scattered comments on Puerto Rico. One is a collection of letters of John Benson Foraker in which there are brief comments on Puerto Rican affairs by Nicholas M. Butler, Theodore Roosevelt and others, as well as the Senator himself. A list of some of these items is appended. The very extensive collection of John Sharp Williams, Senator from Mississippi contains very meager references to Puerto Rico. His material prior to 1914 in which should be found more material on Puerto Rico, has not been received by the Library. The material which is present contains comments on the island affairs and the general political scene but most of the correspondence refers to patronage. Since spot checks in the 192 boxes failed to turn up any extensive material on Puerto Rico, the limitation of time prevented a thorough search. There is in Appendix D a guide to the material which was located.

Two fairly recent donations to the Manuscript Division containing material relative to Puerto Rico complete the results of the search of this Division. Admiral William Leahy has turned over his diaries to the Library of Congress. Diary 5 covers the period from 1939 to 1940 during which Admiral Leahy served as Governor of Puerto Rico. The diary is quite disappointing in that it merely records activity with little or no personal comment interjected. A person very familiar with the administration of Leahy could sense some subtle references.

The other recent donation is the extensive (157.30 ft.) collection of private papers of Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. This collection can be examined only with the permission of Mrs. Ickes and therefore cannot be fully described in this report. Mrs. Ickes was kind enough to grant me permission to examine the material.

Without violating any confidence, I feel free to state that while the Puerto Rico material is not as extensive as one would like, what is in the collection is of top historical value. For further information the reader is referred to my, forthcoming study on the New Deal and Puerto Rico.

The holdings of the Manuscript Division cover in time a four hundred year span: from the letter of Salazar, a reproduction from the Spanish Archives, to the late 1940's with the papers of Harold Ickes. This spreading out of course means very spotty coverage. However, the holdings are still of great value. Proof of this is found in the book by Dr. Morales Carrion, Puerto Rico and the Non-Hispanic Caribbean. Dr. Morales relied heavily on the reproductions of the European archives held by the Library of Congress. However, until Dr. Finan's work is completed, this material will not be fully utilized. The Gould material on Padre Rufo Fernndez is perhaps the only single collection of that pioneer educator who played such a key role in the training of the dominant figures of the latter half of the XIX century political scene. Any study of the Autonomista political party could not overlook the Gould material.

The Division's holdings of XX century material are also strong but could be made much stronger. The material on the Spanish American War could be added too. The Hoes Collection of manuscripts is disappointing. The veterans of this war and their descendents could be urged to turn material over to the Library. With the situation in Puerto Rico as it now is, the Library of Congress is in a much better position to secure this material, which is pertinent to one small branch of the Federal Administration, than any unit on the island.

Finally it should be admitted that a great deal of the odds and ends mentioned in the Appendix D is of little value unless there is wide knowledge of them by scholars. Even then I hardly know how one can make use of a lottery ticket but perhaps the fragmentary letter on the ambulance corp. could be utilized. Publication of this report and others--such as Dr. Finan's will serve this purpose.

Rare Books

The holdings of this Division related to Puerto Rico are quite unexpected and very limited. Unexpected is the word used because there are no examples of the very rare works on Puerto Rico such as the above--mentioned 1788 edition of Fray Inigo Abbad y Lasierra’s History, which is found on the general stacks. The two bound books of the Division relating solely to Puerto Rico are Las Clases Jornaleros de Puerto Rico by Salvador Brau and El Campesino Puertorriqueo by Francisco del Valle Atiles (this is an 1889 edition and not the 1887 edition noted in Pedreira).
Of course the Caribbean classics in which Puerto Rico is often mentioned are here. To those mentioned earlier in the general introduction the following authors could be added: Richard Blome, Johann Theodor de Bry, Pierre Franois Xavier de Charlevois, Thomas Coke, Thomas Jefferys, and Fathers Labat and DuTertre. In one book, De Nieuwe en Onbekende Weereld: of Beschryving van America en t' Zuid-Land ... door Arnoldus Montanus t' Amsterdam 1671, there are several references to Puerto Rico (pp. 167-170; 406-408) and an engraved plate of San Juan dated 1625. The material refers to the Dutch exploits in the Caribbean and specifically, on the pages cited, in Puerto Rico. The artist, however, has let his imagination run away with him and as a result the view of San Juan, while artistically pleasing, is a mixture of fact and fancy.

One other unexpected holding of this Division is a beautifully bound volume of periodical publications of the Nationalist Party. With the principal periodical—Pro Republica de Puerto Rico Ao I 1925 Nums. 1-10-- there are diverse flyers mixed in. Most of these are reprints of articles published in 1939-1940. A list of some of these articles and other broadsides found in the Rare Book Room is found in Appendix G.

Music Division
Little can be said about the meager holdings of this division. For an island of the Caribbean which is as productive in folk and popular music-to say nothing of its own danza-as is Puerto Rico, it is surprising and disappointing to see that the Library of Congress can refer to only a dozen or so items relating to insular music. Some attention should be directed both on the island and in the Library toward a remedy of this gap.

The collection of island newspapers is deceptive. There are many titles listed under Puerto Rico in the card catalog but closer examination reveals that few have any unbroken run. In fact, most of the papers are represented by only one number. The oldest Library of Congress paper is El Fenix of Ponce which runs from October 13, 1855 to December 23, 1858 with many issues missing. The picture fails to improve with the XX century. There are fewer newspapers but La Democracia is the only one which has an unbroken run up to the time of the Second World War. Concerted efforts should be made to complete the files of important dailies like El Mundo, El Imparcial, and La Correspondencia. With these three papers something could be done, but for El Pas, El Da, and others the gaps are too great to be filled. It is unfortunate that there is no major run of periodicals in the XIX century. The National Archives has an excellent series of a St. Thomas newspaper for most of the XIX century. Although printed in Danish, enough is in English to make it useful to American scholars. Finally, an effort should be made to secure copies of two recent English periodicals The Island Times and The World Journal, both published in San Juan and both important. (See Appendix H for a list of newspapers)

Map Division
This Division has a fine collection of originals and reproductions concerning Puerto Rico. The reproductions include copies of works in the Archivo General de las Indias and the Vatican Library in addition to copies of material found in various rare atlases. Four items purchased from the descendents of Lord Admiral Howe, pertaining to the XVIII century, are described in the Appendix I.

One of the prize finds of my month's work was the turning up of three very pleasing water-colored paintings of San Juan, said to be about 1824. Just why they are Maps is a little difficult to understand. The three views are A. from the east looking toward the west into the town and its fortifications; B. from the south looking north into the harbour area of San Juan; and C. from the west, slightly southwest, looking into the fortifications guarding the entrance to the harbour of San Juan. The colors are cool and pleasing with pastel shades and the work is excellently executed. The coincidence of the discovery of these three views after finding the sketches of August Plee makes me jump to a probably erroneous conclusion which is drawn more from wishful thinking than any factual comparison. The facts that the paintings are marked 1824 and Plee's visit was in 1823 lead one to speculate. While the reproductions of Plee's work are hard to compare with the original paintings, superficial similarity to an untrained eye makes me want to believe that August Plee is the anonymous painter of the three views.

Two other interesting items are 1) a plan of the hacienda Sta. Barbara of Bayamon dated 1824, and 2) a plan of a section of the harbour of San Juan with proposed expansion of dock facilities (early XIX century). Notes on these two plans can be found in the Appendix I.

The Map Division has a number of old atlases in which Puerto Rico can be located. These atlases with the appropriate plate are noted in Appendix I.

The holdings of this Division broaden out considerably around the turn of the century and the files are well stocked with recent maps of the Puerto Rican Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Administration and the present division of the insular government such as the Planning Board. The material in the Map Division is efficiently organized and easily gotten to.

Prints and Photographs
There is nothing in this division before the XIX century. However, there is abundant material after the turn of the century. There are about two hundred and fifty colored pictures for stereoptican viewers of the towns and countryside of the island about 1900. Victor Clark, Carl Grassl and others have contributed private collections of photographs to this division. These and other collections of views taken during the first decades of American rule are listed in Appendix J.

In the thirties two government agencies undertook two projects which have produced valuable holdings for the Library of Congress. The Survey of Historical American Buildings carried out about 1938 has contributed various views and plans of La Fortaleza, Porta Coeli, El Polvorin, El Morro and other historical structures around the island. The other project was carried out by the Farm Security Administration from December 1937 to January 1942. This produced a collection of some 1,500 enlarged pictures of all phases of Puerto Rican life, from cock fighting to labor troubles. The material in this division is also efficiently arranged and easily gotten to.

The Law Library
The material which I saw on Puerto Rico in the Law Library is not extensive nor is it complete. Futhermore, except for the items on the XX century, Puerto Rican material would be hard to locate. Material on Puerto Rico when it was a Spanish colony is rarely cataloged separately since Spain handled her colonies as a unit. Thus legal documents referring to Puerto Rico can be mixed in with material on Mexico or Argentina. Of course, there are some XIX century compilations of laws and royal orders pertaining to Puerto Rico. Too, decisions of Audiencias should not be hard to find. Some material can also be found under legal treatises and miscellaneous matters. All of this is cataloged under the Spanish colonies--Puerto Rico.

The holdings since the United States sovereignty are cataloged under Puerto Rico and are divided into the eight conventional categories of the Law Library. These with comments are listed in the Appendix. Strangely enough, under the seventh division is found Baldorioty de Castro’s signed copy of J. J. Acosta's edition of Fray Iigo Abbad y LaSierra’s Historia. Since this was a donation of Miss Gould to the Library, the Law Library, so it would appear, has questionable title to the work. There are a few other items which are misfiled in this section.

In the Law Library there has also been dumped some 150 pamphlets of the Gould collection. Most of these pertain to the previous century and are listed in the Appendix. They have been jammed into the dusty shelf, unarranged, uncataloged and almost forgotten. The explanation for the inexcusable neglect of this valuable collection is the lack of an adequate staff. This collection should be processed and the duplicates (of which there are quite a number) should be transferred to other libraries.

Thomas Mathews' book The Caribbean: History, Politics and Culture can be purchased at Merino & Sanchez Distributors, Inc., Ave. Las Palmas 1108 Pda. 18, P.O. Box 9024, San Juan, PR 00908-0024; Tels. 787-723-7827 & 787-723-0088; Fax 787-723-5850; email merinoysanchez@excite.com

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