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Cuba’s Role in American History, Part I

From Jefferson onwards, writes Arnold Whitridge, many nineteenth century United States leaders hoped that Cuba could be induced to “add itself to our confederation.”

A watercolor painting of Havana Bay, c. 1639. By Johannes Vingboons.Ever since Christopher Columbus sighted the New World from the poop of the Santa Maria, the island of Cuba, which he hopefully believed to be Japan, has played an important role in the unfolding of American history. Columbus brought back glowing tales of gold and spices, none of which he himself had seen but which his lieutenant, Diego de Velasquez, would soon be sending home.

For the next four hundred years Cuba belonged to Spain; but long before the United States had come into being, this great island, the Pearl of Antilles, was recognized by the far-sighted Governor Pownall of Massachusetts as forming part of the North American domain.

During the Seven Years War, Governor Pownall suggested an attack on Cuba and, when in accordance with this suggestion Lord Albemarle captured Havana in 1762, his expeditionary force included three thousand Americans, among them a certain Israel Putnam, who was soon to win a greater name for himself as one of Washington’s most trusted lieutenants.

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