The Quixote Who Defended Caracas Against the English
On the third day of June, 1595, one of the most amazing episodes of early Venezuelan History took place. An old Spaniard charged almost alone against English pirates, giving birth to a legend of useless heroism.
Photo: YouTube, retrieved.
Everything began with the legend of El Dorado.
In 1594, the fleet of English corsair Walter Raleigh intercepted a Spanish vessel containing the letters of Antonio de Berrío, saying that he’d found El Dorado. Raleigh decided to go after him and sailed to Trinidad on March 22nd, 1595, attacking the city and imprisoning Berrío. He then sailed up the Orinoco, through the Mánamo gorge to the Caroní, but couldn’t find Manoa, the mythical city of the gold-covered chieftain. He returned to Cumana, traded Berrío for governor Francisco de Vides and went on his way.
But he was already infected with the Dorado myth.
Raleigh returned to Guayana in 1596 in his unsuccessful quest, and that same year he published “The discovery of Guiana.” In 1603, he was convicted for conspiring against King James I. He was released in 1616 and the first thing he did was organize another trip to Guayana but, old and tired, he finally settled with Trinidad.
His book about Guayana is a valuable document in many ways, beyond the fact that he was an English invader in a foreign kingdom. His text isn’t merely the traveling log of a minor official, it’s a proper literary work, and maybe that’s why Amyas Preston, one of his men, decided to follow the dream.
Preston’s fleet left Plymouth in March, 1595. On May 22nd, they arrived in Cumana and anchored a league from Macuto, reaching the shore on smaller boats. On June 3rd, they reached the valley of the Toromaymas.
His text isn’t merely the traveling log of a minor official, it’s a proper literary work, and maybe that’s why Amyas Preston, one of his men, decided to follow the dream.
They were forewarned that if they reached Caracas through the royal road, they’d meet the forces protecting the city so, while mayor Garci González de Silva, in charge of the city at the time in the governor’s absence, was waiting for the corsairs with a militia along the main road, the Englishmen entered the city through an old, disused native path.
They took the city by surprise, meeting the few forces of Don Alonso Andrea de Ledesma, an old Spaniard who charged in his conquistador plate and brandishing his spear, all for Caracas, a mere village back then. Preston’s men killed him easily and Ledesma’s quixotic legend is still remembered by historians: the man who faced English invaders on his own, choosing to die with honor instead of fleeing.
Once Preston had settled in governor Diego de Osorio’s house, he expected the usual: for the inhabitants to send an ambassador with a ransom so they’d leave the city without wreaking havoc. Preston didn’t like the figure, however, and the citizens couldn’t offer more, so he burned the city and left for the coast. He did the same in Coro, on June 11th, and proceeded to Maracaibo, which he didn’t destroy, and his sailors contracted a fatal disease, 80 of his men dying on the way to Jamaica. Perhaps the country’s revenge in the form of a stomach virus…
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