Letter from W. W. Cobbs

Colon – Colombia
April 22nd 1898

My Dear Mary

As my office hours for the day have just expired my thoughts are turned homeward to the dear loved ones there, & will proceed in a general letter of the many important events since leaving the Port of New York on the steam ship Advance for our present home.

I presume that Buena wrote you about the weather conditions when we boarded the vessel April 5th at the port of New York but for fear that she may have left out some of the most interesting I will give a short outline of the beginning & the voyage to this place. — Capt. Phillips the Master of the ship told me that the wind was blowing when we started at the rate of sixty miles per hour, hence you can readily see that the sea was rough before us, — Which greatly marred the pleasure of the voyage to me, by the sea-sickness of Buena & Flournoy.

The sea was quite rough for thirty-six hours after which it was more calm for a day & night but my patients B. & F. had by no means been restored to normal condition internally, or otherwise; — at this time we were some hundred miles out at sea & we entered the swift current coming off of Hatt[e]ras which gives them a back set which lasted them here; — for twenty-four hours after striking the rough current, I thought that I would be made sick the ship rocked & plunged with such power & force; — To such extent that it turned the plates & many dishes off the table during the dinner hour; — at which time I was enjoying a plate of soup which I was deprived of by the greater portion being turned on the table & in my lap; — The next day was comparatively calm, although my two patients received but little relief or comfort, the morning following we came in sight of the [transcriber apparently had difficulty here and noted “Bahama?”] Islands the first land in sight after leaving New York; — I was informed, by Capt. Phillips that the people on this island made their living [principally] by turning the sea water into pools & making salt by evaporation.

The next evening about 5 o'clock we came in sight of the Island of Cuba on the east side, we could see but little of interest save the light house as that portion of the island which could be seen was mountainous.

The day following was nice, bright, clear — warm and good sailing until we got some distance in the Carribbean Sea which was rough — continued choppy until we reached Colon. Upon the whole the trip wasn't a very pleasant one to me, owing to Buena's & F's sickness; — They have both entirely recovered and about regained their strength — As to myself I have felt unusually well, haven't had a pain in my side since I landed here — so far so good.

The City of Colon is located on the island of Manzanillo the main streets run parallel with the sea coast — along this coast the better classes live & conduct their business, there are a great many large commodious buildings, the greater portion of which in fact nearly all of the city belongs to the Panama R.R. Co.

The population is made up of almost every nationality, the Chinese control the mercentile trade; This is the first time that I have known the Jews downed as to business — Panama R.R. Co. have a large car shop — many hands employed in many ways by them — There is but one hotel of any note in the city & that is owned also by the same company which is very large and commodious — The estimated population of the place is eight-thousand; about 250 of whom are North Americans, among them there seems to be good, nice reliable people, of both sexes of which we have already made many acquaintances. The houses in which the better classes live are of modern style & well constructed and I must say the best ventillation that I have ever known or seen — all of which is very important for this climate — The masses live in very bad houses and as Colon is located on level land, the greater portion of which is made earth filled in by the Panama Co. it is not infrequent that you find a house over stagnant water & great ponds near the city; — The city of Colon I must say is without sewerage to a very great extent; — but the soil is very porous & the rain fall readily sinks and disappears.

The United States Consulate is located on the beach, not over forty feet from the water breakers, the business offices are on the ground floor, the six rooms on the 2nd floor are set apart for the consul & family at a fixed rent of ten dollars per month, this includes a cook & nice bathroom. This building is one of the most pleasant in the city — We have had at all times since I have been here a most delightful sea breeze & require some cover during the nights; — The heat has not been as yet oppressive in the least indoors during the day I enclose the rates of temperature as reported by the city paper. — Mr. Murphy the vice Consul in charge when I came, left for the U.S. on the 19th Inst. I have the entire charge of the Consulate & we all sleep here & soon expect to house keep in good earnest, as soon as the ship returns from New York, by which I had to order some articles. — I find Flourney very useful & has caught on to his duties with remarkable aptness.

The port of Colon is a very important one the amt. of shipments would sound almost fabulous, for instance the amt. of coffee received for shipment during the month of March to the 15th of April — Ninety-thousand sacks, and thousands of other articles.

Flourney, Buena & myself were invited by the general supt. of the Panama R.R. Co. on last Sunday to go with a party over to Panama, from there to the Island of Tobaga in the Bay of Panama — Flourney & myself went, Buena was little unwell & declined to go — Now for the trip.

The Panama R.R. Co. rents the greater portion of the route in parallel line with the contemplated Canal & both are close to each other — Hence one traveling on the railroad has an insight to both enterprises. — 1st the distance from Colon to Panama City is 47 miles by rail — It runs through a very fertile section of the greater portion of the bay along the river & creeks, the most fertile that I have ever seen, — There seems to be absolutely none of the land intended for cultivation by the natives living along the line, save & except tropical fruits the names of which are legions, and of which I can't pronounce or spell — but must say as to flavor & taste they are delicious, those that are shipped to the U.S. don't taste near so well there, as here — The pineapple I think is the most delicious of the vari[e]ties that I have sampled by taste, and are extensively grown — It seems that they require but little cultivation & grow on small bushes — though stout & about 3 feet high.

Now for the trip across the Isthmus — The country for 10 or 12 miles from Colon, along the rail road is very level & fertile following the valley of the Chageros River, now and then a spur of the Andes rising to several hundred feet breaking the monot[o]nous scene — The uncleared country which is nearly the whole, that is in view, is so densely covered by palms & other variations of tropical growths that it would be impossible to enter or pass through without first clearing the way — The palms are many varieties, some broad leaf, some long leaf with branches from six to ten feet long & very bunchy extending in circumf[e]rence possibly a hundred feet, very rich green color, with it thousands of many leaves shooting off from the parent stem systematically along the branch for 8 or ten feet is subblime to behold, intersper[s]ed by vines creeping through the dense shrubbery wherever there occurs a vacuum, of massive shrubbery to allow its twining nature to present its dint of colors. There are not many large trees along the line I suppose the most of them have been cut down by the constructors of the R.R. & Canal line — The canal is completed on the Colon side for fiteen miles & run boats in transporting supplies — At this point, we will begin to cross the Andes as it is on the Isthmus — but its summit where the R.R. & Canal crosses is estimated about three hundred feet above the sea level — The canal company are at work at this time at many points along this line but the largest force are at work on & about the summit — they claim to have three thousand hands & many dredges, employed in the construction of the work; — The Company who has the contract are said to be short of money to operate with & may be a little slow, but I think it will be completed beyond doubt. — From the summit to Panama City — There are many mountains or rather peaks shooting up to considerable height, the soil & growth remaning about the same as before described — Along the line of railway there are many little villages settled principally by Negroes & operators on the Canal & railroad.

Panama City has an estimated population of thirty thousand — but I am inclined to think the estimate is exaggerated, although they pack their houses full here; — & especially is this so with the Spanish population — The City is well laid out & quite a number of handsome buildings & built down to the water's edge of the Lake (Lake Panama) which is the prettiest sheet of water that I ever saw, the water is so clear that the bottom can be seen distinctly at a depth of 5 or six feet — There are a good many islands in the Bay all partake of the Andean [unreadable] formation & are said to be quite fertile — The Island of Tobaga I visited had a large field in the pineapple the fruit was the largest & nicest that I have ever seen — In Fact the surroundings & the City of Panama are attractive & pleasant to the eye — I must stop writing on the South American subjects, & write on matters of greater personal interest. Ten o'clock a.m. April 23rd 1898 news has just arrived here by cablegram — That the war with Spain began last night by the U.S. War Vessel capturing a Spanish Freight ship which had been taken to Key West — If this is true, we may be cut off for a time from all communications from home & home people — If it should turn out to be the case at any time, rest assured that we are comfortably located & at present in good health, and the United states of America is able to care for us, & all of its people — There will be arrangements made by the U.S. for our mail you can rest easy on that point, though we may have delays & irregularities but our mail will come nevertheless.

The people living here tell me that the dry season is about over, that from the first of May the rains set in and continue to about the first of January some think it more pleasant during the dry & other during the wet or rainy season of course I can't speak from experience as to either, but I know that I have felt better for a week or more than I have for years — The climate since I have been here, & I arrived here the 12 Inst. has been to me delightful, it is frequently warmer in Virginia at home in May or June, than it has been here during my stay — We have had at all times a most pleasant sea breeze.

I am told that the rains will set in, in a few days, & it frequently falls in torrents, I can't say what effect this will have on my health but I am not inclined to cross a bridge before I get to it.

The Capt. of the Finance has just left the Consulate, he told me that he had gotten a cablegram today not to leave the Port until farther orders from New York, he was to sail with our mail by the British ship, I suppose — which goes to New Orleans via Jamaica & returns to Liverpool — don't attempt to send any mail to us, via New Orleans for it will not reach us, — as we have no connection coming this way. I told J. D. Coleman that you would attend to my notes at the Planters Bank at Chatham. I paid up the discounts on the notes up into June, & will send money home to meet them as early as possible in June, if our mail communication is such that I can & will write directions to you how it shall be applied. I must close, with a heart filled with love & affection for you my dear daughter — with love to Bro. Tom Sister V & Virgie & all the dear sweet girls with you. —

Your aft. Father W.W. Cobbs


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