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The New York Times, March 20, 1871, p.2:


Marketing in San Domingo City—The Dogs and Birds of the Place—
A Town of Chimes—The Dominican Flag—Night Sketches—
At a Ball—Local Theatricals—An Historical Myth.

From Our Special Correspondent.

SAN DOMINGO CITY, Saturday, Feb. 18, 1871   
    The market-place of San Domingo City—I begin with the substantial part of life—presents a busy scene every morning, between the hours of 5 and 9 o'clock. The butcher brings his meat in leathern skins, picturesquely thrown over the sides of small donkeys, the most patient and submissive-looking animals I ever saw. The general market woman, in loose gown, which, like the gown of TOM MOORE'S Nora, leaves every beauty free to sport as Heaven pleases, bears in long wicker baskets her little stock of fruits and garden produce, peas and bananas and oranges and peppers; the baker comes with his bread; the fisherman with his fish; the farmer's wife with her poultry and her eggs, and that is about all.

    Those market people are real Yankees, so far as turning an honest or dishonest penny is concerned. A few mornings ago I accepted an invitation from Capt. MCCOOK of the United States steamer Nantasket to breakfast, but he imposed one condition, namely, that I should go with him and buy it.
    It was a delicious experience. We went to the market, just inside the city walls. There were oranges in all their lusciousness of gold, bananas, as many as one and two hundred on a single branch, sweet potatoes and poultry and eggs and beef, pigeons and turkeys and,—but I cannot enumerate the long list. The men were jolly—that is the word. The women were eager to sell to us, but they were quite as eager to drive hard bargains and asked us double the ususal price.

    I endeavored to make my purchases in bad Spanish, and Capt. MCCOOK let me have my own way for a little while, but when I asked his purser to pay the silver and gold, he positively objected and told me that I had been cheated most unmercifully. The Captain has had a long experience in the tropics, a matter of sincere regret to him, and understands better than any man I know here value and prices... I gave up the attempt to buy my breakfast in despair, and placed the matter entirely in his hands.
    I cannot describe how he did it. He swore—no, he did not swear, he vowed that he would pay only one-fourth of what was asked, became indignant, went away, came back again, protested, entreated, and finally the contract was closed.
    When we had purchased all our breakfast supplies he went to a store: "PEDRO, I want you to give me a box to take my supplies off to the ship."
    "You can have this box for two dollass, Captain." This with the blandest smile in the world.
    But anger mantled on the brow of the Captain. "Two dollars for those old boards after all the money I have left with you."
    But PEDRO was unmindful of past favors, and thoughtful only of present gain. The two dollars were paid, but the awful threat was made that trade between the Commander of the Nantasket and PEDRO would be no more in the future.

    That morning I had a magnificent breakfast, for the chef of the Nantasket is fully as great a master of his profession as the chef of the Tennessee, whom Capt. TEMPLE seduced away from his allegiance to Delmonico and Washington Welker.


    If this city is famous for anything except its revolutions, it must be for its dogs and birds. Every family has two or three birds, and every other family has two or three dogs. The birds are very beautiful; the dogs are very ugly.
    There are some streets in which the very air is resonant with bird-music. There is one street in particular, that which leads to the western gate and out into the country, which is a regular aviary. The walls of the houses, outside and inside, are covered with cages containing sometimes one, and sometimes as many as three birds, of different species and plumage, some beautiful, and some as plain as a linnet or lark.

    Mocking-birds appear to be the favorites with everybody. Parrots walk on the sidewalks or call at you from windows, but although mocking-birds and parrots are quite numerous, it is impossible to purchase one except at exorbitant prices. I have seen thirty and forty dollars refused for a parrot, and mocking-birds are absolutely not to be purchased, unless one wants to spend a small business capital.

    The dogs are as ugly as the birds are beautiful. I have never seen more horrible looking brutes in my life. Chinese dogs without hair and with mottled skins are quite numerous, and appear to be pets. There are small dogs, with long hair, white and silky, which are very pretty, but they are rather rare.
    The natives set as high a value on these animals as they do on the birds. I do not think there is a single one of them in the whole city that I would admit into my house; but, for some unaccountable reason, they cannot be bought...


    I believe there are more bells in this city than in the whole United States. The first thing I hear in the morning about 6 o'clock is the chiming of bells, and on Sunday hardly another sound is heard but the rhyming and chiming of the bells. Every church here—and they are more numerous than I can count—has at least a dozen bells, and it appears to be the grand order to ring them all at the same time...


    The door of my room opens on a balcony—every house here has a balcony—which looks out on the military head-quarters. At the corner is a round sentry-box; alongside the box is an antiquated cannon; near the cannon is a sentry; near the sentry is a flag-staff, running up the gable of a house; in the house lives the brother of the President of the Republic, who is now absent commanding the troops near Azua.
    The precious little bit of bunting which symbolizes the glory and the greatness of the Dominican Republic is raised on this flagstaff every morning with all the military honors imaginable. Just before the sun rises over the eastern hills, three or four men, with muskets, cotton jackets and pantaloons, straw hats, and, generally, no shoes, draw up in line before the flagstaff. A bugler soon joins them, and then a drummer. One soldier holds the halliards, and in a few seconds the colors go up, the bugle gives the glad tidings to the waking city; arms are presented, the old cracked drum rolls and rattles, and finally the ceremony is over.

    This dear little flag, about two feet square, is saluted at 3 o'clock in somewhat a similar fashion, and again about 7 o'clock there is another grand demonstration over it, then it is hauled down...


    The night is not all moonlight in the tropics, and it is sometimes very dark in San Domingo City at 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening. The sidewalks, the widest not more than four feet broad, and for the most part raised two feet above the street, are very uneven owing to the numerous old palaces, ruins and houses with steps ascending or descending, as the case may be, to their entrances.
    There are a few lamps in the street, quite as well made as our own street-lamps, which is not high praise, but gas is unknown, and the sickly kerosene flame only serves to make the shadows of the old ruins more drear and spectral. They who are obliged to be abroad after dusk usually carry small hand-lamps, and for the most part take the middle of the street.

    The door of every Dominican house of any pretensions is of enormous size, resembling the gate of a large warehouse or barn,—fully as rude and strong. When the parlor is on the ground floor, which of course is always the case when the house is only one story high, the doors are open in the evening, and the family may be seen inside in a large room, sometimes fifty feet long and thirty or forty wide.
    From this room or hall branch off smaller rooms in all directions, but instead of doors of wood or iron, rich curtains, or curtains of plain white muslin, and sometimes colored cloths, are used to separate one room from another. The floors are nearly all of tile or brick, which is cool and pleasant.

    But at 9 o'clock all the doors are closed, and the city is silent and deserted. There is not even a barroom open—in fact there are only two that I know of in town. All the business they do is done in the morning, with the market men and women.
    A few nights ago, about 10 o'clock, in company with a friend, I walked through the principal streets of the city in the pooras well as in the richer quarters, and we did not meet four persons in our long stroll. Here and there we heard the sound of a piano, and the hum and buzz of conversations; lights moved about inside the houses, but as a general thing, the whole people were in bed—a ghostly stillness hung over every thing.


    Turning into one street, however, we heard the mingled sounds of a clarionet, a small drum, a fife and a violin, and our guide—a colored boy from Baltimore, who spoke English very well—told us that it was a ball. Fancy immediately painted glittering halls, filled with fair women and brave men, and we promised ourselves,—well, no matter what we promised.
    A few moments and we were in front of the house—and old ruin, at one time an elegant mansion, but which now is cut up into four or five houses. The open door disclosed the ball-room and the gay dancers. A few kerosene lamps were fastened to the walls, and about a dozen colored men and women were dancing to the most melancholy music I ever heard. It was some sort of a waltz, so slow that the dancers almost crept along the floor without the least animation, enthusiasm, or, apparently, pleasure.

    The room was rather small, and the twenty or thirty persons who were the participants in the festivities were more crowded that was either comfortable or convenient. They were all colored people, with here and there a Spanish face, all belonging to the poorer classes. A crowd of black boys, young lads of fourteen and sixteen, crowded around the door outside. In a corner of an adjoining room was a sort of refreshment saloon, where a filthy fellow sold rum and horrible-looking cakes and candies.
    The men were pretty well dressed; the women wore white gowns of muslin, and—the only favorable thing I can say about it—there did not seem to be anything like vice or immorality. They were enjoying themselves in their own way, which, I am glad to say, is not our way.
    I do not know how long the ball lasted, but I am told that parties of this character rarely break up before 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning.

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    Explored and claimed by Christopher COLUMBUS on his first voyage in 1492, the island of Hispaniola became a springboard for Spanish conquest of the Caribbean and the American mainland.
    In 1697, Spain recognized French dominion over the western third of the island, which in 1804 became Haiti. The remainder of the island, by then known as Santo Domingo, sought to gain its own independence in 1821, but was conquered and ruled by the Haitians for 22 years; it finally attained independence as the Dominican Republic in 1844.
    In 1861, the Dominicans voluntarily returned to the Spanish Empire, but two years later they launched a war that restored independence in 1865. A legacy of unsettled, mostly non-representative rule followed, capped by the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas TRUJILLO from 1930-61. Juan BOSCH was elected president in 1962, but was deposed in a military coup in 1963. In 1965, the United States led an intervention in the midst of a civil war sparked by an uprising to restore BOSCH.
    In 1966, Joaquin BALAGUER defeated BOSCH in an election to become president. BALAGUER maintained a tight grip on power for most of the next 30 years when international reaction to flawed elections forced him to curtail his term in 1996. Since then, regular competitive elections have been held in which opposition candidates have won the presidency.
    Former President (1996-2000) Leonel FERNANDEZ Reyna won election to a second term in 2004 following a constitutional amendment allowing presidents to serve more than one term.
    CIA World Factbook: Dominican Republic

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    Last Thursday morning the Dominican flag was raised over the solid stone walls of the old Jesuit monastery, now used as a theatre, which told the city that there was to be a performance there that evening by the permission of the Government. In a few hours handbills were distributed through the city, but so far as I could see none were posted on the dead walls—which heaven knows are numerous enough.
    The play was entitled The Grand Comedy of La Levita. The prices of admission were set down as follows: Boxes three dollars; forty-five cents, thirty cents, and twenty-five cents to the other portions of the house, orchestra, dress-circle and galleries, as we would call them.

    This San Domingo theatre is absolutely indescribable. I made my way in through the grand old doorway of the building and found myself in what was once the vestibule of the chapel. It was at least one hundred feet from the floor to the arched ceiling. The nave of the church is railed and boarded off from the aisles and in this apartment the audience were seated on rude benches. The stage occupies a portion of the place once devoted to the altar and the sanctuary.
    A sort of balcony runs around the entire hall, rectangular in shape. This balcony is divided off into boxes, which, so far from being private, are really the most public portions of the building.

    I formed one of a party of gentlemen who took one of these for the evening. We laughed very heartily when we saw the place which bore this high-sounding title. There was not a single chair or seat of any description in it, and when we came to the performance, we were obliged to bring with us chairs from the hotel!
    The President's box was opposite to our own; but its sole occupant during the evening was a little boy who had the Bacz features and head, and we afterward found that we were not wrong in our supposition.

    Only two other boxes were occupied—one, next to our own, in which sat Mr. WADE, Mr. WHITE and Mr. DOUGLASS. The box opposite that of the Commissioners contained half a dozen colored women and children and one or two men. There were not altogether more than 350 people in the hall, and they were, for the most part, of the lower and poorer classes.
    The sepulchral vault was made more dingy than it really was by the score of oil-lamps on the walls, and the atrocious strumming of a couple of fiddles and drumming of a couple of drums.

    The stage was very good in its way, and the most attractive portion of the building. The drop-scene was far better than could be expected under the circumstances. On it was painted a picture of the old church at Santiago, to which something remarkable happened at some time or another—nothing less, I believe, than its total destruction by fire or war. Close by the church was a palace, which was pretty well executed, and showed a little skill if not genius in the artist. He knew something about the laws of perspective, but his cloud coloring was something more even than tropical.

    The company was composed of two women and three or four men, all members of the same family, I am told, an arrangement which has its disadvantages as well as its advantages. The performance was the dreariest I ever witnessed. The dialogue was in Spanish, and by no means entertaining. One of the ladies, however, was rather pretty, and she was the only attraction which kept some of us in our seats during the last half of the play.
    The performance began at 8 o'clock. I do not know when it ended, and I am not altogether certain that it is over yet. I have not attended the theatre since, and I do not intend to go there again...
J. P. F.

The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1871 was equivalent to $17.16 in 2007.

The New York Times, April 12, 1873, p.3:

Return to San Domingo City

The Sugar Interest—Tobacco...

From Our Special Correspondent
San Domingo, Hotel Du Commerce
Wednesday, March 19, 1873.
    While we linger here in expectation of the Tybee, we are, unfortunately, debarred by the weather from visiting certain points in the south that are of interest. These are notably Azua, to the west of San Domingo City, and various small ports to the eastward, in the undeveloped but rich province of Seybo, the southern half of which is one extended plain, diversified by fine rivers, some of which are navigable fro a short distance from the mouth. At Azua the spirit of progress has come personified by a French company of exploitation. The word, I'm aware, is not English, but the English language does not contain anything that expresses it.

    The leading man of this association is a M. Schacher, a Belgian, who has for a long time made his home in Paris, and who is certainly worth from $5,000,000 to $6,000,000. He has establishments in various parts of France, in South Germany, in Russia, and in the Island of Guadaloupe.
    In this last place he established what the French call an "Usine Centrale," which is an immense mill for crushing sugar cane, used by every one within carrying distance. The toll is paid either in money or cane, or the manager will purchase all the cane that is brought to the mills.

    It is, I understand, the intention of the company to have a similar mill at Azua, which is the centre of the sugar-producing region of the south. The method of crushing here is lamentably rustic, and could not have been endured by a people less idle than the Dominicans. There are two wooden rollers fixed in a stand, each of which is armed with a tolerably long handle. The rollers are about six inches in diameter and two feet long. Between these the cane is placed, and two men turn the handle and crush by inches, as one may say, the juice falling into a very small tub below.
    In spite of these primitive methods the rough sugar produced is very good, and the molasses is without doubt the best in the world, infinitely superior to the golden syrup so beloved of fair Americans when in conjunction with corn-bread.
    If I were a capitalist, or a bloated bondholder, or any thing of the sort, I would certainly purchase all the molasses in the south and ship it to New-York. At present there is no sale for it, and it is converted into rum at forty cents the gallon. Before Spofford Bros. sent the Tybee to these waters it was only twenty, but since communication has been opened between San Domingo and Puerta Plata the price has doubled, and there is a constant demand for the article in the northern city.
    The Frenchmen, therefore, have every prospect of success before them as regards the cane...

    But besides erecting central mills the French company designs to erect buildings to extract dyes from the various woods of this island. I know only of logwood and fustic, but am informed that this party is aware of others at present unknown to the world. It is obvious that by extracting these colors on the spot an immense saving will be effected. Heretofore the logs ahve been sent to Europe and America, and being bulky have cost large sums for transportation. Mons. Schacher thinks he will be able to do this, which I believe has never before been attempted, because the processes involved more skill and care than such laborers as are to be found in the regions of the dyewoods could furnish.

    ...I myself doubt the expediency of attempting to make a harbor of Azua, since it is only an open roadstead, like Puerta Plata, but there is some fatality about this island. All the excellent harbors have been ignored, and those that are in existence are either unsafe or else only fitted to vessels of very light draught.
    For example, here is San Domingo. If a vessel draws more than ten feet of water, she must remain outside in the open roadstead. Now Romana, about two days' sail from San Domingo, is, I am informed, and excellent harbor, and well suited in every respect for heavy craft. Romana is the natural outlet of the Province of Seybo, the most neglected part of the island. Not far from this port is the City of Higuey, where, in consequence of the increasing demand for tobacco, some inhabitants have been stimulated to try and cultivate it. Curiously enough, the tobacco they succeeded in raising was so superior in quality that the aristocracy of San Domingo will smoke no other.

    It is unfortunate that the plan of annexation was crushed by Senator Sumner, because, under American rule and with American enterprise, this province of Seybo might be made very renumerative. The northern half is very hilly, but the southern portion is one immense plain, stretching in unbroken verdure from the Ozama to the sea.
    This great expanse is covered with sweet, nutritious grass, and here the finest cattle are raised. Almost all the beef of the island comes from this region, and herds are driven across, I will not say how many ranges, to Puerta Plata.

    The map of Col. Fabens is about as inaccurate as can be imagined, not so much in positive errors as in omissions. The entire centre of the island is a sea of hills and mountains, and it is not until you get to San Juan that there is the least trace of a plain. From this point there is a valley which, sometimes broad, sometimes narrow, creeps up on to the hills of the Haytian frontier.
    West of Santiago there is a long narrow plain—the valley of the Yaqui—which broadens as it approaches the sea. The valley of the Yuna and the Camu, popularly known as the Vega, is much broader, and in fertility very superior to these. But Seybo is really the only part where there is a fine plain, and here it would have been natural to suppose a city would have arisen of considerable magnitude. Such, however, has not been the case, and the traveler who considers the location of the old cities built by the Spaniards, will at once see that the considerations which guided them were either military or had reference to mining.

    Not only does tobacco grow well on these plains, but the sugar-cane has succeeded as well here as in the neighborhood of Azua, and there are sugar plantations at a little place called Macoris, about one day's sail from San Domingo. These are not worked to any great extent, for want of capital, but would be found renumerative to any one with $50,000. One-tenth of this sum I have assigned for obtaining Chinese labor. The fact is, that the population here is very scant... there is not a population greater than 145,000, whereas in Hayti there must be nearly 800,000, and their territory is only one-third of the extent of Dominica...

The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1873 was still equivalent to $17.16 in 2007. Civil War inflation, which began in 1862, did not recede completely until the 1880s, and by 1895 the dollar had deflated to the same value it held in 1850 ($24.71 in 2007).

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