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Humboldt in Cuba: 1800-01 & 1804

Humboldt set sail for the Americas from the Spanish port of La Coruña on June 5, 1799. After stopping over in the Canary Islands (June 19–25, 1799), he had hoped to proceed straight to Cuba. But an outbreak of “nervous fever” on his ship spoiled his plans, and the captain of the Pizarro decided to divert to Cumaná in today’s Venezuela. From there, Humboldt eventually traveled to Cuba.

Humboldt’s first visit to the island lasted for three months, from December 19, 1800 to March 15, 1801. In Havana, Humboldt met many eminent politicians, scientists, and scholars; they became friends and crucial parts of his growing network of collaborators. Before returning to Havana in 1804, Humboldt traveled through South America and New Spain (which included present-day Mexico). Departing New Spain via the port of Veracruz, Humboldt returned to Cuba to retrieve the portion of the botanical collection that he had stored in Havana.

During his second stay in Cuba (March 19 to April 29, 1804), Humboldt completed his data gathering with the help of his network of well-informed friends. He would maintain this network for years to come, drawing from it valuable information up to and during the time when he was revising the Political Essay on the Island of Cuba.

See a map showing Humboldt’s itinerary.


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