History

The Search for Boquilla de Piedras
A Forgotten Port Destroyed in 1816

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

Port Royal, Jamaica
From the vivid scenes of "Pirates of the Caribbean" is the old town of Port Royal off the coast of Jamaica, destroyed by an unusual earthquake and undisturbed since the 1700īs in about 30 ft. of water until about 20 years ago. The salvage and preservation of the old town is fascinating. Little did I know there was a similar port in Mexico, just north of Veracruz.

Boquilla de Piedras, Mexico
On a little spit of land, about 3 blocks in size, just north of Palma Sola is Boquilla de Piedras. In the late 1700īs and first part of the 1800īs it became an important supply point for Insurgents in the area around Veracruz during Mexican Independence.

It is frequently mentioned in history books, but the description of its actual location is always vague, sometimes placing it near Tuxpan, or south of Nautla. Maybe it was like Port Royal in Jamaica during the days of the pirates. I was curious and decided to go looking for it.

Background
The English under Sir George Pocock, also known as Lord Albemarle, occupied Havana in 1762-3. Although the Spanish controlled the rest of the island, in 1763 they finally traded Havana for Florida.

The English occupation of Havana sent shock waves that were felt in Mexico, and the Spanish realized the Mexican coasts were not protected. In 1771, Don Miguel del Corral and Don Miguel de Santiesteban drew up a coastal defense plan with small groups of 2 to 6 soldiers at strategic points 2 to 3 leagues(a league is 6 km.) apart, along the coast north of Veracruz from Punta del Morro to Antigua.

The Wars of Mexican Independence
Even though Mexican Independence was declared in September of 1810, the fort at San Juan de Ulua across the bay from Veracruz, was occupied by heavily fortified Spanish troops until 1825.

Puente del Rey
Puente del Rey, Veracruz
In 1812, Veracruz was the only port loyal to the Spanish crown. Veracruz was equipt to manage commerce to and from Mexico City and Europe (Spain). The people of Veracruz were patriotic and supported the mother country.

However, the rural areas on the coast outside Veracruz were in the hands of the sons of the old slaves and Spaniards not born in Spain. Their allegiance was to the Independence Movement.

The noose began to tighten when rural bands began to intercept even the most common food shipments, not allowing them to pass until they had paid a "tax".
Acultzingo
Acultzingo, Veracruz
Guadalupe Victoria by this time controlled traffic on the Camino Real at Puente Nacional, then called Puente del Rey.

Other bandits controlled the other route to Mexico City at the Cumbres de Acultzingo outside of Orizaba.

The Spanish became alarmed and sent out expeditionary forces to keep the both Caminos Real open, as well as the road to Misantla and Nautla. The mule convoys passing through Puente del Rey were begining to take a heavy toll in Spanish soldiers who escorted large amounts of money and merchandise.
No sooner had the soldiers passed over the horizon after a battle, the rebels would be back controlling the highway. The Spanish continued losing ground, and the independistas began to accumulate funds to replenish supplies, especially armament, and looked to contacts in the United States.

When independista troops advanced on Orizaba and Cordoba, and later onto the city of Veracruz, they found the fort of San Juan de Ulua to be heavily fortified, and unconquerable. They needed another port to receive supplies purchased from the US, and the port of Boquilla de Piedras was selected.

New Orleans in those days was an important contact point for Mexican Insurgents. Mexican Independistas fought along with Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans against the English. The French also had an interest in Mexicoīs Independence from Spain. There were also pirates and other adventurers in the Caribbean looking for opportunities in Mexico.
Acultzingo
The Coast of Veracruz
By 1814, Nautla, north of Boquilla de Piedras, was becoming an important port for supplies from the United States, and the royalists attacked and took over the port. The Independistas fortified Boquilla in an attempt to maintain communications by sea.

William Davis Robinson, an adventurer and gun runner received permission from President Monroe to arm insurgents in Venezuela and Mexico. A New York company practically donated 10,000 rifles to be sold in Mexico for 25 pesos each. The reasoning behind the gift was said to be a captive trade with Mexico in merchandise worth $1.5 million.

In early 1816, Robinson made contact with the Lafitte brothers of New Orleans and gained additional support and supplies and went to Boquilla de Piedras with an order from the Independistas for 4,000 rifles to be delivered in Tehuacan, Puebla. More orders followed and the Independistas were being well supplied out of Boquilla by ships from New Orleans.
In November 1816, a Spanish force was sent up from San Juan de Ulua, and built canoes for the river crossings and attacked Boquilla de Piedras by land. They quickly overcame the fortifications killing everyone. The numerous arms and ammunition were confiscated and the clothes and money were divided among the troops.

The Spanish left troops to guard Boquilla de Piedras until they finally surrendered to the Independistas in 1821. It is not mentioned if it remained fortified. More than likely, since the fort of San Juan de Ulua was in the hands of the Independistas, the need for and additional port ceased to exist, and Boquilla de Piedras was abandoned.

By 1890, Boquilla de Piedras had been renamed "Boquilla de Oro", and disappeared from 20th century maps.

Boquilla de Piedras Map
Hacienda de Tortugas in 1868
Research
One day while researching the early days of the Manga de Clavo Hacienda, in the area around Puente Nacional, I found the port of Boquilla de Piedras.

It was frequently mentioned as an important port of entry of supplies from New Orleans, for guns and supplies being sent to early Mexican insurgents Guadalupe Victoria and Nicolas Bravo and their fortress at Puente del Rey.

It caused the Spaniards a lot of problems from 1812 to 1816 and made it possible for the Insurgents to control most of the area north of Veracruz.

Since then, except for a couple of weekend beach houses, Boquilla de Piedras is still uninhabited and undisturbed.
Boquilla de Piedras Map
A Closer Look
An Old Map
One source said Boquilla de Piedras was located near Tuxpan, others said Nautla, and it wasnīt on any of the maps. It had to be closer to Veracruz.

Then in the book, "Las Haciendas del Estado de Veracruz", on a map of one of the large 19th century haciendas I found the above map, and "Boquilla de Piedras"!.

I wondered what it must have been like living in Boquilla de Piedras in those early days.

It must have been like Port Royal in Jamaica, and I wondered if anything remained of this once important port.

It looks like itīs just north of Palma Sola, about an hour and a half from Veracruz.

So, one Saturday I put $150 pesos worth of gas in the car and headed north on the highway to Brownsville.

New Hotel and Restaurant
New Hotel and Restaurant
The Coast North of Veracruz
The drive up the coast north of Veracruz is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in the world. Blue lagoons and palm trees, and not many people.

It was kind of threatening rain and I had second thoughts but continued on through the sprinkles.

Following the above map and I arrived at the new Restaurant and Hotel "Boquilla de Piedras". On these trips itīs always a good idea to stop for a coke at a local restaurant and ask the people about the area.

View to the South
View to the South
Is This Boquilla de Piedras?
Even though it was almost noon the restaurant wasnīt open yet, but the construction workers were busy with wheel barrows doing remodeling work on the hotel.

Since they are from the area construction workers are often good sources of information.

The man with the wheel barrow stopped when I asked him the obvious, "Is this Boquilla de Piedras?"

It sounds like a dumb question but at least breaks the ice most of the time.

cactus
Menacing Cacti
Look for the Plaque
"I donīt know about this area being famous, but yes, seņor this is Boquilla de Piedras."

He said over there is a plaque from the government and they come every year to have a small celebration.

Itīs out on the point. You can get there from the beach or drive up a little.

You canīt miss it. Just look for the Monument.

Beach Cacti
So, with those words of permission I walked around the back of the hotel and looked north towards a little peninsula.

I could barely make out a plaque in the distance on a little coastal plain.

Then I set out on foot, jumping across from rock to rock until arriving at the sandy beach.
Fresh Water Stream
Crossing the Stream
Snakes and Lizards
From there it was an easy walk to the stream.

You need to watch your step through the salt grass and beach cactus and other spiny plants.

I also watched for snakes but didnīt see anything other than a couple of lizards that scurried for cover under a rock or through the underbrush.

It was quiet with only the sound of the green waves from the Gulf.
The Gate
The Gate
Up ahead was a shallow stream and since it was low tide it was easy to cross.

As I walked up the slight hill to the barbed wire gate between the rock wall, I could imagine the "insurgents" behind rocks with single shot "fusiles" aimed at me.

In spite of the imagined threat, I walked up the slight hill to the barbed wire gate.

The Monument
A Solitary Monument
The Monument
After carefully replacing the barbed wire gate, I headed through the foot high salt water grass towards the monument.

I wanted to take a look at the date. The date the monument was placed here was 1976.

I found itīs also monument to the beginning of the Mexican Navy, and not only to the patriots who died here defending Mexican Independence in 1816.
The Monument
The Monument by the Sea
There were also Americans, French, and Texians who died here, too.

In those days, I guess they were all considered Mexicans even though the Mexican Constitution didnīt come about until 1824.

It really doesnīt make much difference, since the Spanish considered them bandits. I guess it depends on your point of view.

Independence for Mexico was not easy during those early Wars of Independence. The Spanish didnīt give up easily.

Tribute to the Patriots of 1816
Tribute to the Patriots of 1816
Last Years Commemoration
Last Years Commemoration

Wall and Stream
Wall and Stream
Walking the Grounds
Then I walked the grounds looking for some remnants of the town or fort.

Except for little mounds of salt water cactus it was a flat pasture land. Perhaps if the land is cleared of weeds and cactus the foundations can be found and map drawn of what it must have looked like.

As you can see there are a lot of rocks and why they gave it the name "River Mouth of Rocks". It is located on a small delta of what looks like rocks of volcanic origen.

Easy to protect and spot unfriendly ships coming from the sea. What they didnīt expect was an attack by land.

At the same time I could see where they probably anchored their ships and brought the supplies ashore in small boats. Boquilla was amply supplied with fresh water from the stream.
Wall to the Gulf
Wall to the Gulf
In spite of having the basics, the frequent "nortes" which lash the Gulf Coast in the wintertime with 120 km. per hour cold winds and blowing sand with must have made Boquilla a very harsh and lonely place to live.

The coastal road was probably the width of a horse trail even if one existed. Life in those days was difficult by any standards.

After looking around a bit more, I decided to call it a day and walked back to the restaurant to search more more information and get a coke.

On the way back a vee of pelicans passed on their way north.

Over the Wall to the South
Over the Wall to the South
Wall and Stream
Stream into the Sea
Wall to the Gulf
Wall to the Gulf
Wall and Stream
Wall and Stream
Pelicans
Pelicans Cruising North
Red Plants and Cactus
Red Plants and Cactus

Altar
Twin Flowers
The Restaurant
The man with the wheel barrow was still working. I thanked him for the information and told him it was really worth the trip.

I silently made a wish that some day a university or foundation will try to reconstruct the village of Boquilla de Piedras to see what it really looked like in the days when it was the lifeline of supplies feeding the leaders of Mexican Independence.

By this time the restaurant was open and the owner was sitting down to lunch with his family. I was the only customer. I drank my coke and chatted with the friendly people in a corner table next to a niche in the wall with a small altar devoted to the Virgen of Guadalupe.

When I got up to leave a campesino came into the restaurant selling little bright pink and red plastic flowers from a plastic bag for 10 pesos. I bought two of them as a souvenir of my trip to Boquilla de Piedras to take back home to Veracruz.

One mystery less left to be solved.

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