The Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country and America

Amiga de Número de la Real Sociedad Bascongada de los Amigos del País

After the Basque Society was set up, there was an expansion of learned societies, both in Spain and America. Within this movement of expansion of the enlightened spirit overseas, it is striking, moreover, that some members of the various societies of Friends of the Country founded in Santiago de Cuba and Havana, Guatemala or Peru, also belonged to the Basque Society. What is more, the phenomenon of membership to an enlightened set of ideas in those places was particularly significant in the case of Mexico. In this case, they did not set up their own societies of Friends of the Country, but rather a very high number of people joined the Basque Society as distinguished members.

In the case of Cuba, two learned societies emerged, one in Santiago de Cuba (1787) and the other in Havana (1792), although only the latter, the Royal Economic Society of the Friends of the Country of Havana would have any activity of note, despite having been set up after the one in Santiago. Both maintained close relations with the Basque Society. Shortly after its foundation in Santiago de Cuba, they requested a teacher from the Seminary of Bergara for their programme of child education and books that could be used to begin their teaching work.

However, the relation with the Economic Society of the Friends of the Country of Havana was more intense, through its numerous members who also belonged to the Basque Society. The 63 Cuban members who were distinguished members of the Basque Society lived in Havana. For the most part they had been born in the capital or were Creole. Among them, the most important was the group of merchants followed by the group of senior officials (connected to high posts in administration and the tobacco factories) and military. Their relation with the Basque Society explains the presence of a significant number of Cuban students in the Royal Seminary of Bergara, mostly children of those members.

The example of Peru and its relationship with the Basque Society is very special. It was precisely the distinguished members of the learned Basque society who, according to Lohmann Villena, displayed an exemplary intellectual activity in Peru, becoming involved in the work of corporations that arose there in the heat of the enlightenment to ensure – in learned terms – the happiness of the vassals and the economic development of the whole nation. These distinguished members played an important role in the Diario de Lima or the Mercurio Peruano. Both publications were the expression of culture in general, representing an openness to everything that was related to intellectual life and the well-being of the country in which they lived. Among the subscribers of the Mercurio for example – approximately 318 -, 46 were also members of the Basque Society. The influence of these figures in the society of the time is obvious. Some were senior officials, others aristocrats; or also merchants. Among the first group there were two viceroys (Guirior and Jáuregui), a deputy inspector general of the troops of the viceroyalty and later magistrate (Avilés), a public prosecutor of the court in Lima (Gorbea), a judge in Lima (de la Mata), three ministers of Lima...The group of aristocrats, both those with titles and those with military decorations, consisted of people who combined their position with the exercise of positions of political responsibility or with business activities. Of the 46 members of the Royal Basque Society, 10 were of the Order of St James, 3 were Knights of Calatrava and another 3 were awarded the Order of Charles III. Some also held various noble titles. There were also ship-owners, merchants with positions in the Consulate, etc.

But the most numerous and brilliant group was the one noted for its accomplishments in the field of thought, literature, and as well as its talents, its teaching, training and advanced ideas.

Most of this group of distinguished members of the Basque Society would also join the Sociedad Económica de Amantes de Lima (or Royal Society of Friends of the Country in Lima), whose main means of communication was precisely the Mercurio Peruano.

Outside the capital of Peru, there were also some members of the Basque Society. Specifically in the city of Arequipa there were no less than 32 members. Professionally, they were mostly from the military, men in administrative posts and a fair number of important clergymen who held high posts in the diocese. Among these, we can mention Juan Domingo de Zamacola, who left an outstanding written work. And if there were an important number of distinguished members of the Basque Society in Arequipa, there were also several students from Arequipa in the Patriotic Seminary of Bergara, some like Cosío and Urbicain or O'Phelan and Recavarren, children of members of the Basque Society.

The spread of enlightened thought in Arequipa, led to the founding of the Mineralogical Society of Arequipa, clearly of an enlightened nature, whose aim was to work the mines, promoting its exploitation, "so that – according to its stated aims – being more abundant, we will not be mere administrators of the natural wealth of Peru". The management originally consisted of seven members, five of whom were members of the Basque Society.

As far as Mexico was concerned, the massive number of members of the Basque Society jumps out at you: more than 500. What is even more surprising is the absence of an economic society of friends of the country on Mexican soil. Membership of the Basque Society is a common factor of these members, whose ties were based on family connections, their ideals and shared activities, more than simply a question of country.

Those who joined the Basque Society as distinguished members were an influential group in Mexican society, both in intellectual and economic and political spheres. Some excelled in the scientific and humanistic fields collaborating with their work and thinking to the promotion of culture (Alzate, Martínez de Aguilera, Arregui, Elhuyar – who moved to Mexico as the director of the College of Mining -, Lasaga, etc.). Many helped to adapt New Spain's economy to the reforms of the Bourbon state from the positions they held in institutions such as the Consulate (Basoco, Iratea, Icaza), customs (Astigarreta), New Spain's administration (viceroy Bucareli; the judges Villaurrutia, and Viana, count of Tepa, of the Council of the Indies), or the municipal governments (the mayors Goytia, Villasante o Victorica, etc.). And many of them organized the national economy after Mexican independence.

But perhaps the most relevant group was the merchants. Many of them combined their status as land-owners, miners etc. with that of council members and managers in various institutions. Their influence on Mexican economy was well-known, and their presence in government bodies and the Consulate, was striking to say the least, grabbing the positions of prior and consuls for themselves.

The presence in Buenos Aires is not comparable for example with the high number of members in Mexico. However, the Basque Society managed to recruit high-ranking clergymen, government officials and people dedicated to wholesale trading, as highlighted by the historian José Mª Maríluz Urquijo. All of them had in common their concern for the improvement of the economic, cultural or social conditions of the place where they lived. They were practical men of action, interested in reforming society and disseminating useful knowledge to achieve better living conditions.

But, who were the people linked to the Basque Society? Among the senior government officials were viceroys (Vértiz, del Pino, Avilés), regents (de la Mata Linares), bureaucrats (Albizuri), businessmen (Sarraeta who was also the vice tax collector and board member of the 'Friends' together with Ugarte), merchants, etc. As with members of the 'Friends' in Cuba or Mexico, some of their children also swelled the lists of students of the Seminary of Bergara (as is the case of Manuel and Mariano Sarraeta).

Here again they did not formally make an economic society of friends of the country despite various attempts. Nevertheless, the first newspaper printed in Buenos Aires, the Merchant, Rural, Politic-Economic and Historical Telegraph of the Rio de la Plata, devoted an article to the patriotic societies of friends of the country as an example of the diffusion they had reached. It was also some distinguished members of the Basque Society who contributed to spreading free-trade ideas and building the Consulate to support trade in the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata.

In other places in America such as Guatemala, Mompox or Puerto Rico, although there are no members of the Basque Society (or at any rate very few, like in Guatemala, which only has one recognized member), its influence was clear when it came to establishing their respective economic societies of friends of the country. In the places mentioned, the Basque Society statutes and aims were known and taken into account when establishing their own learned societies while considering the characteristics and conditions of each place.



La Real Sociedad Bascongada y América. Fundación BBV, colección Documenta, Bilbao, 1992.
La RSBAP y Méjico. Actas del IV Seminario de Historia de la RSBAP, San Sebastián-Mexico, 1994.



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