Daily Archives: 25 February 2022

A Year Without Summer, 1816

From Bolivar: American Liberator, by Marie Arana (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Kindle pp. 181-182:

Eighteen sixteen was the year without a summer. As Lord Byron put it, the bright sun had vanished and stars wandered “darkling in the eternal space.” The colossal eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia on April 10, 1815—the largest volcanic event in recorded history—had traveled the globe to spew a fine ash over Europe and the Americas. A year later, the earth’s atmosphere was so saturated with sulfur that brilliant sunsets inflamed the English skies, torrential rains washed away European crops, and a persistent gloom hung over North America. At the time, few imagined that a single geologic event in a remote location could affect the entire globe, and yet there was so much evidence of a freak imbalance: stinging frosts carpeted Pennsylvania in the middle of summer, killing the livestock; in Germany, harvests failed, causing a crippling famine; a typhus epidemic swept through the Mediterranean. There were surprising ramifications. Food riots gripped England and Ireland; Luddites torched textile factories with renewed frenzy. In a dark castle in rain-pelted Switzerland, Mary Shelley wrote the novel Frankenstein. In northern Europe, J. M. W. Turner was so stunned by the fiery skies that he recorded them in magnificent canvases for years to come. In France, rampant disease prompted a new age of medical discovery. And in the Caribbean, where Bolívar prepared to relaunch his revolution, a perfect calm preceded the hurricane season, which arrived a month sooner than usual, tossing the sea with singular fury.

Eighteen sixteen also became the revolution’s cruelest year. There were wholesale beheadings, hangings, firing squads—all in the name of “pacification.” General Morillo had installed draconian laws to rid Venezuela—Spain’s most defiant colony—of revolutionaries once and for all. The royalists arrested suspects in rural backwaters and relocated them to heavily defended towns, where they could be overseen. Anyone found wandering the countryside was a candidate for the gallows. Morillo’s men burned crops, purged the forests of fruit trees, killed farm animals, impounded horses, and executed any blacksmith capable of forging a lance’s head or any other weapon. Royalist commanders exacted taxes and punitive fines, making themselves rich and powerful in the process. Patriots, on the other hand, were stripped of whatever property they had.

Leave a comment

Filed under democracy, disease, economics, Europe, food, Latin America, migration, military, nationalism, North America, Southeast Asia, war