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Charleston and Venezuela:  A spiritual bond

According to Scott Peeples, professor at College of Charleston, Charlestonians’ efforts have created a self-fulfilling prophecy — forging a spiritual bond between Edgar Allan Poe and Charleston by insisting that one already exists. Similarly, I found a connection between this city and my country — Venezuela. At the turn of the 18th century, Charleston and Venezuela shared some curious historical events. For foreigners, especially for me as a Venezuelan, Charleston is one of the more interesting cities in the United States. Until 1920, the majority of Charleston’s inhabitants consisted of persons of African descent. English, Scottish, Irish, Swiss, Belgians and French also made this land home. Charleston is a cosmopolitan Georgian Baroque city, with French and Classic Revival influenced with a Mediterranean flavor.

In 1790, Charleston was one of the new republic’s great cities. Its development of education at every level, extension of the periodical press, multiplication of learned organizations and institutions, and increase in the number of professionals had been intense. The preface to the book Intellectual Life in Antebellum Charleston indicates that few places were more anxiously civic than Charleston — Charlestonians debated religion, politics, art, the classics and constitutional and human rights. This city has had formidable leaders not only of the politics of South Carolina but also to the nation: 39 delegates actually signed the U.S. Constitution, among them were, as South Carolina’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Pierce Butler, Charles Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and John Rutledge.

During that era, Francisco de Miranda emerged as a monumental figure in the independence of Latin America. The leader who was known as “The First Universal Venezuelan” came to the U.S., where he made the acquaintance of prominent figures: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Knox and Samuel Adams. Traveling around the world, he met Napoleon Bonaparte and Catharine of Russia. As an officer in the Spanish army, Miranda participated in a siege of the British army on Pensacola (1781), when Spain was an ally of the rebels in the American Revolution. Miranda also took an active part in the French Revolution as “Maréchal de Camp”; the name of Miranda remains engraved on the Arc de Triumph.

In August 1783, Miranda disembarked at Charleston and remained until early November. Here he met Nathanael Greene who was a major general of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War. Also, he met Edward Rutledge, the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence of the U.S. In Charleston, he made the acquaintance of David Ramsay, “the grand old man of Charleston’s cultural life and a proud symbol of the community.” Ramsey said about Miranda: “He loves liberty with an ardor that would do honor to the freest State in the world.”

Simon Bolivar, the liberator of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia’s founder, was the greatest South American leader of the wars of independence. In January 1807, he landed in Charleston on his return from Europe and also visited other major cities in the U.S. before finally sailing from Philadelphia back to Venezuela.

On June 25, 1817, the Scottish military officer Gregor McGregor, following Simon Bolivar’s instructions, led an army of 150 recruits from Charleston and Savannah, some war veterans, in an assault on Fort San Carlos at Fernandina on Amelia Island Florida, a region under Spain’s possession. As a consequence, this territory was declared the “Republic of Florida.” The French privateer Luis Aury sailed into the port of Fernandina and on September 21, 1817, the land was dubiously annexed to the Republic of Mexico. A couple of months after, under President Monroe’s administration, Aury surrendered to U.S. forces. The U.S. government signed the Adams-Onis Treaty with Spain on February 22, 1819, incorporating Florida into the U.S.

Alexander von Humboldt, preeminent naturalist scientist arrived in Cumaná, Eastern Venezuela, on July 16, 1799 and remained until November 24, 1800. Humboldt’s work Kosmos directly inspired a piece of Edgar Allan Poe’s prose: “Eureka: an Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe,” which begins with a dedication to Humboldt. From Sullivan’s Island to walking down Meeting Street, I can imagine Poe after he read Kosmos, dreaming about the Venezuelan mountains and its warm sandy beaches.

There it is, the spiritual bond between Charleston and Venezuela: Here I breathe intellect, freedom, cordiality and history.

Humberto Briceno graduated from Universidad Catolica Andres Bello in Venezuela with a law degree and holds a master of advanced studies degree from the Paris Institute of Advanced Studies. He has been a visiting scholar at Yale Law School, Duke Law School, Lewis & Clark Law School and Oxford University. He is an expert in administrative and constitutional law, public contracts law, local tax law, antitrust law and international arbitration.

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