Woman's Cuba Travel diary, 1854-1855
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research.
- An unnamed woman kept this diary, documenting her sojourn to Cuba from October 1854 to April 1855. She traveled with members of her family, including "Uncle M" (likely Montgomery Livingston), Margaret (possibly Margaret M. Tillotson), Mary, and a servant Bridget. Staying primarily in Havana and Güines, the writer described Cuban vegetation, religious and social practices of white and Black residents, cuisine and dress, military and political figures, enslaved laborers and hired servants, sugar, tobacco, and coffee plantations, and other international travelers.
- 1 volume
- Collection processed and finding aid created by Jayne Ptolemy, July 2022
- Scope and Content:
An unnamed woman kept this diary, documenting her sojourn to Cuba from October 1854 to April 1855 with members of her family, including "Uncle M" (likely Montgomery Livingston), Margaret (possibly Margaret M. Tillotson), Mary, and a servant Bridget. Staying primarily in Havana and Güines, the writer described Cuban vegetation, religious and social practices of white and Black residents, cuisine and dress, military and political figures, enslaved laborers and hired servants, sugar, tobacco, and coffee plantations, and other international travelers.
The party travelled from New York aboard the steamboat Black Warrior, captained by James D. Bulloch, in October 1854. The diarist described their voyage, other passengers, and their arrival in Cuba. Because the captain and vessel had been embroiled in an international conflict earlier in the year, Cuban authorities scrutinized the Black Warrior upon their arrival in Havana. While staying at a boarding house in Havana, the writer described the city, food, merchants, residents and their fashion, and the presence of enslaved people.
Upon leaving the city, they took up residence in Güines. Frequently exploring the area by horseback, the writer detailed local vegetation, produce, and crops, while also noting the social and religious life of the community. She commented occasionally on books she was reading, and she wrote of the people she encountered, such as local vendors, enslaved people, other Americans, or the poor (see November 28, 1854). She provided commentary on practices like smoking, culinary dishes, music, and balls. Marginal figures are also remarked upon, including an American woman living under the protection of the Jesuits who was being pursued by her ex-husband seeking custody of their children (see December 1, 1854; December 6, 1854; December 18, 1854).
The writer regularly remarked on enslaved and free people of color and their activities, including their participation in Mass and religious holidays, such as Epiphany / El Dia de los Reyes (January 6, 1855). She noted their presence at balls, their relationships with their children, work as vendors, and labor on plantations and in the town. She visited a number of plantations and wrote of their crops, buildings, operations, and enslaved laborers. Several times, she noted violence against enslaved people, including evidence of beatings and punishments (December 1, 1854; December 2, 1854; December 16, 1854; January 22, 1855). On another occasion, she witnessed a two-year-old boy sold separately from his mother, and wrote about their distress (March 13, 1855). The writer also made at least two references to Chinese laborers (October 31, 1854, and November 25, 1854). The family hired several servants during their stay in Cuba, and the writer periodically remarked on their displeasure with them and their dismissal.
The diarist commented on military troops and government officials in the region. Several entries pertain to the "Lopez Expedition" and its aftermath, referring to American-backed efforts by Narcisco López to liberate Cuba from Spanish rule several years earlier (October 16, 1854; November 19, 1854; December 19, 1854). She wrote about orders by José Gutiérrez de la Concha to inquire into residents' "character" and take up any of ill repute (seemingly targeting Black populations), and attendant police presence (November 25, 1854; December 3, 1854; December 4, 1854; December 11, 1854; December 13, 1854; January 23, 1855; March 1, 1855). She noted the uniforms of the "gens d'armes" and their participation in Mass. The diary includes occasional remarks about the local jail.
The family made occasional trips to Havana for shopping and made a brief visit to Matanzas in February 1855, where they met with the American consul who was working to protect American sailors (February 7, 1855). The diary ends on April 15, 1855, as the family prepared to depart for Havana to return to the United States.
- Biographical / Historical:
In February 1854, Spanish authorities in Havana, Cuba, seized the American steamer Black Warrior and its cargo, and imprisoned its officers. This sparked an international dispute between the United States and Spain, and contributed to the Ostend Manifesto in October 1854, wherein United States diplomats advocated for American seizure of Cuba. During the dispute, Americans continued to travel to Cuba, many drawn by the belief that its climate would prove beneficial for those with respiratory ailments.
Montgomery Livingston (1816-1855) of Clermont, New York, married Mary Colden Swartout (1820-1864). He was a landscape painter who travelled to Cuba in 1854 in an unsuccessful attempt to restore his health. He died in August 1855 shortly after returning to the United States. While unconfirmed, it is possible he is the "Uncle M" who appears in this volume.
Maria Livingston (1800-1830), Montgomery Livingston's sister, married John C. Tillotson, with whom she had at least seven children, including three daughters: Margaret M. Tillotson (born February 2, 1824), Maria L. Tillotson (born on either November 1 or November 4, 1828), and Cornelia R. Livingston (born October 2, 1830). Of these, Margaret is possibly one of the travelers named in the diary, "Mag," as her February 2nd birthday is noted and her age on her passport is listed at about 30. Of the other two daughters, it is unlikely Cornelia was on the trip, as she was married in January 1854. Maria L. Tillotson may be the writer, as the writer records her birthday on November 4th and notes that the age of 18 or 20 listed on her passport in 1855 makes her "out much younger than I really am." Cornelia would have been 26 at the time.
- Acquisition Information:
- 2022. M-7523.4 .
The collection is a single bound volume.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Finding aid prepared using Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)
- Additional Descriptive Data:
Evers, Alf. Woodstock: History of an American Town. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1987: 203.
"Margaret Tillotson," U.S., Find a Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Find A Grave memorial ID 121859518.
Morris, Richard E. "Hosts and guests in early Cuba tourism." Journal of Tourism History 8.2 (2016): 167-183.
"Ostend Manifesto." Britannica Academic, Encyclopædia Britannica, 5 Aug. 2019. academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/Ostend-Manifesto/57583. Accessed 12 Jul. 2022.
Reynolds, Cuyler. Genealogical and Family History of Southern New York and the Hudson River Valley, Vol. 3. New York: Lewis Historical Pub. Co., 1914.
Sexton, Jay. "Steam Transport, Sovereignty, and Empire in North America, circa 1850-1885." Journal of the Civil War Era 7.4 (December 2017): 620-647.
Click on terms below to find any related finding aids on this site.
Black people--Cuba--Social life and customs.
Coffee plantations--Cuba--History--19th century.
Foreign workers, Chinese--Cuba--History.
Free Black people--Cuba--History.
Slave labor--Cuba--History--19th century.
Sugar--Manufacture and refining--Cuba.
Black Warrior (Steamer)
Bulloch, James Dunwody, 1823-1901.
López, Narciso, 1797-1851.
Cuba--Description and travel.
Cuba--Foreign relations--United States.
Cuba--Politics and government--1810-1899.
Cuba--Religious life and customs.
Cuba--Social life and customs.
Güines (Cuba)--Description and travel.
Havana (Cuba)--Description and travel.
Using These Materials
The collection is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Copyright status is unknown
- PREFERRED CITATION:
Woman's Cuba Travel Diary, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan