The British are Coming!
To Veracruz!
(We need to fix the Cannons...)
From Documents Found in Spain

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

The British Are Coming!
With the fall and occupation of Havana, Cuba by the British in August of 1762, the Spanish Empire in America realized it was increasingly under the threat of foreign powers from Europe. Less than 100 years before, in 1665, the British had taken Jamaica from Spain which is only 90 miles south of Cuba. The British had their eyes on more conquests in the Caribbean.

For centuries, for Spain, Havana had been an important harbor and center of logistics and shipping, especially for the lucrative gold and silver fleets, that also brought supplies from Spain. This loss to Spain was an even greater loss of prestige because it showed how fragile the Spanish Empire had become.

However, with the Treaty of Versailles in 1763, Havana was returned to Spain, and the British became more occupied with its unsuccessful attempt to save her own colonies in North America.

But, for those in power in those fearful days in New Spain, this event was a wake up call because Veracruz might be next! And it was evident that Veracruz was unprepared. At stake were the gold and silver fleets carrying wealth from Mexico. And something had to be done.

This is another story about a building in downtown Veracruz that was a participant in this event of preparation for a possible outside invasion.

An Almost Abandoned Building in Downtown Veracruz
A Forgotten Building
One of the many fascinating, but forgotten stories in Veracruz, is the expulsion of the Order of the Compañía de Jesus, also known as the Jesuits.

Today, their once elegant building is more like another abandoned building in downtown Veracruz.

But, many of these lost stories about Veracruz before Independence can be found in documents in Spain, and the very old downtown area of the city becomes alive again!

It's almost as if the spirits of the past are still alive amongst the ruins of these old buildings.

The Abandoned Jesuit Complex in Veracruz
In these documents, buried in the archives in Spain, can be found another story that took place in this remarkable building. And it is about a proposed cannon repair and maintenance shop in Veracruz which was established briefly in this building here around 1790.

Abandoned and Forgotten
In the history of Mexico, little attention is paid to the 300 years before the Independence Declaration in 1810, and it's interesting to dig into these old and fascinating stories.

This is another story about one of the most remarkable buildings in Mexico. The story wasn't difficult to find.
The Last Spanish Cannon
A Veteran that has Survived
An Old Veteran who still Guards Veracruz
Looking at this old Spanish cannon propped up like this on the docks to one side of the fort of San Juan de Ulúa, one wonders where it might have been built, and how long ago.

You wonder how many times it stood nobly next to its brothers atop the walls of the Fort of San Juan de Ulúa.

You also may wonder how many times it was fired in defense against Sir Francis Drake in 1568, the attack of the French in their two invasions of Veracruz, and the two American invasions in 1847 and 1914.

This particular Spanish cannon has witnessed much of the noble past of Veracruz, and now stands honorably next to the fort it protected for several hundred years.

The last cannon, now rusting away in the tropical salt air, is like an honorable veteran looking across the peaceful harbor of Veracruz it once protected, with the people and traffic lost in their busy everyday lives, ignorant of the sacrifices it has witnessed.
The Docks at San Juan de Ulua
Veracruz was Not Prepared!
After the fall and occupation of the important Spanish port of Havana by the English in 1762, Spain was under increasing pressure to improve the fortification of its provinces by upgrading the existing forts and building new ones which were better equipped than in the past.

Storm clouds were on the horizon, and Veracruz might be next. The threat was immediate and real.

Construction of the fort at San Juan de Ulúa located on an island across from Veracruz during the previous 250 years had been extensive, but in the 1700's little attention had been placed on maintenance and repair of the armament.

A Sudden Wake up Call for Veracruz
With the English in Havana, this was a sudden wake up call for the Spanish military people responsible for the defenses of their most important port in the Gulf of Mexico.

The fort, started in 1519, had been built to store the gold and silver for the treasure fleets and to act as a deterrent for pirates.
A Ready Cannon in La Coruña, Spain
The last pirate raid on the town of Veracruz had been in 1683. And 100 years afterward, all that had been long forgotten.

But without cannons in good condition, adequate defenses for Veracruz were simply not possible.

Because of the salt air, the tropical climate, and neglect, most of the cannon carriage mounts with wheels were in bad repair, and without proper mounting the cannons won´t work well in maneuvering.

Basically, all that was left at San Juan de Ulúa in those days were cannons without the any functioning mountings.
Non Skid Cannon Wheels
A Place for Cannon Maintenance Needed
In 1787, talented Engineer Don Miguel del Corral, with the Royal Corps of Engineers, was commissioned to analyze the defenses in Mexico. In his report to the Crown, he requested that part of the old building built by the Company of Jesus, be used temporarily as repair shop for his cannons.

However, del Corral admitted that movement of the cannons in downtown Veracruz might cause damage to the cobblestoned streets and noise in the neighborhood, and irritation to the neighborhood.

But, he stressed that it would probably only be temporary.
Veracruz by 1625
The Need was Urgent
The now almost abandoned building built by the Jesuits in 1639 was actually too big for the new Escuela Patriótica de Veracruz and there seemed to be plenty of room available for other uses.

It seemed that the former Company of Jesus Complex would be ideal.

The location of the old building was also conveniently located close to the docks in Veracruz.

This would make it easier to transport the cannons by boat from the fort to the repair shop on land, and take the new ones back to the fort.

Only a small part of the large building was being used as the new Escuela Patriótica de Veracruz. There would plenty of room.

The Former Company of Jesus Complex Close to the Docks

A Ready Cannon in La Coruña, Spain
Administrative Procedures
At this point, documentation of those days shows an analysis of the different justifications and possible locations for a cannon fabrication shop.

In an official report to the Viceroy dated December 27, 1789, it was stated:

"...On the 22nd of this month, Don Marcos Keating, Comandante of the Royal Corps of Engineers reported on the status of the works of the Cannon fabrication shop which is in bad repair and probably will not withstand the next monsoon season..."
Standing by for Action
" ... ha ocurrido el 22 del corriente el Comandante del Real Cuerpo de Artillería Don Marcos Keating, haciendome presente, habersele informado, que el referido convento viejo destinado por mi inmediato predecesor para Taller de Maestranza del mismo Cuerpo, y ahora que se hallan al concluirse las Obras necesarias para su uso, se ha mandado entregar de orden mia a disposicion de un Regidor de Veracruz para Academia de Dibujo; y que respecto a que, dejando aparte la ventaja que resulta de la anterior disposicion a los Oficiales y Obreros, no es posible resista a las primeras lluvias el Edificio en que hasta el dia esta situado en el taller, me sirva determinar lo que juzagare del mejor servicio del Rey..."
Warehouses for Gold and Silver
The Comandante isn´t Exactly Correct
Somehow the Viceroy isn´t convinced in his letter to the Crown of February 27, 1790:

The news from the Comandante is absolutely uncertain, and I shared with him a memorandum of the 25th of this month pointing out that before going forward he needs to be sure of the truth.

"...Como la noticia dada al Comandante era absolutamente incierta, asi le hice entender en oficio de 25 de este mes; advirtiendole, que si antes de extender su discurso hubiera procurado asegurarse de la verdad... "
San Juan de Ulua
Long Term Repairs not Necessary
Another document explains that since the cannon repair shop is only temporary due to its location which is ruining the streets and disturbing the neighborhood, that long term repairs to the shop in the Jesuit building are not very necessary or important at this time.

The Viceroy Does Not Approve
The Viceroy continues: "...My own zeal and sympathy for the Royal Corps of Engineering is strong, however we cannot be indifferent to the sentiments of the people in the community. It is acceptable that it remain, but not on a permanent basis.

It would be better in the short term for your Majesty to approve the request of the Escuela Patriótica, but without going beyond the expense of the tents or coverings that the Comandante has requested. Funds from the Hacienda Real should not be spent on this, especially when it is for a short amount of time..."

The Fab Shop Could Remain Short Term
"...The fabrication shop´s location is not appropriate in the Convent for the explanations above. However, the shop can remain at the present location, but for a short period of time, but only repairing the basics necessary to operate temporarily at this location.

As a Warehouse
There are other places available for the fabrication shop without causing harm to the neighborhood..."

" ...en cuanto sea necesario; y sí, como parece imposible, no fuere capaz de compostura como dice el Comandante, sin expresar los fundamentos que tiene para ello, hay otros Sitios muy adecuados en que puede establecerse sin daño del Vecindario... "

That is How it Ended...
The Escuela Patriótica de Veracruz closed shortly thereafter for lack of support from the Crown as well as local funds. This huge building continued in the hands of a few Augustinians for several generations on a very low budget until expropriation by Benito Juarez, and sales to private owners in the 1850's.

In the early 1900´s, the building became a department store and home for the owner and his family for several years, until the Mexican Revolution.

Later the former altar was chopped off to open a new street to the Malecon, and the other half became a hotel. After that for many years, the main part of the building functioned as a warehouse for a beer distributorship.
A "For Sale" Sign
Downtown Veracruz is a Vast Museum
So, when you walk the streets of downtown Veracruz, sometimes you don´t know the importance of what you are looking at, or the struggles the people of the past endured to make Veracruz a more civilized place to live.

At times it feels like being in a huge outdoor museum, but without any labels explaining the significance of what you are looking at.

Yet, it is difficult to hide the once greatness of the past. It may be something you feel when you see these once magnificent buildings or the last cannon at San Juan de Ulua. It's where many old secrets must still be hiding.

And that is the story of Cannon Repair shop which was unexpectedly found in the Spanish Archives in Madrid.

If you take the time to look, you may find other lost stories in the Archives of Spain.

As for me, I´ll keep looking.

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