Note on Method and Sources to
Establish the Routes of Vessels Crisscrossing
the Transimperial Greater Ca ribbean
As any historian who has attempted to trace the route of a schooner navigat-
ing Ca rib bean waters during the late eigh teenth and early nineteenth centuries
knows, following ships in the archives is a difficult task.1 The prob lem— mostly—
has to do with the fragmentary nature of the information available in archival
repositories. In theory, retrieving the itinerary of any given ship requires
consulting the rec ords of the port of departure and of the port to which the
ship declared it was sailing. For the purposes of this study, given the central-
ity of Jamaica, I consulted New Granada’s books of departures and arrivals
and Jamaica’s shipping returns. In practice, the meticulous pro cess of cross-
checking these port rec ords seldom yields a clear- cut navigational trajectory.
Neither the Spanish colonial archives nor the British imperial archive
allows for a complete reconstruction of the dynamic world of transimperial
exchanges in which New Granada’s Ca ribbean ports were actively involved.
Port rec ords for impor tant ports in the transimperial Greater Ca ribbean, such as
Riohacha, Portobelo, San Andrés, and Sabanilla, are not available. For Kingston,
Cartagena, and Santa Marta information is available only for selected years. While
this is enough to provide a general idea of the movement of these ports and the
itineraries of many of the vessels that continuously traversed Ca ribbean waters,
an exploration of the port rec ords of other impor tant Ca ribbean entrepôts like
Curaçao, Saint Thomas, and Les Cayes could add further nuances to our under-
standing of the workings of the transimperial Greater Ca ribbean.
To the prob lem of fragmentary information (shipping returns are available
only for selected ports and selected years), one must add others that can be
summarized as follows: (1) An impor tant part of the trade was consciously hid-
den from authorities attempting to keep track of ships and creating historical
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