Hello and welcome to the history page. Last week our ruminations took us to
Formentera and the return of civilisation to that island at the turn of the
18th century. This week, as we have no pressing business to attend to, we may
as well continue in the same line. Actually, rather than continue, I would like
to take a few steps back in order to recount the interesting chain of events
that led up to the resettlement. It all started back in the 1650s . . .
Ibiza had just recovered from a virulent bout of bubonic plague, but the prospect
of economic recovery remained bleak. A full-scale depression settled heavily
over the island due to the total loss of its primary industry, the production
of salt. The island was literally reduced to bankruptcy when the quondam maritime
practice of bypassing plague-ridden ports turned into a thirty-year boycott.
This trading moratorium effectively strangulated all cash-flow to the island
and its institutions.
The level of destitution that resulted borders on the inconceivable. The population
lived in continual and unrelieved want of life's bare necessities. Not only
was there no money, but the island could not feed itself owing to frequent droughts
compounded by poor agrarian techniques. Hunger afflicted both peasants and town
dwellers, demanding that food be imported from elsewhere - although the local
government's absolute insolvency made that exigency rather hard to fulfil. Not
many merchants were willing to engage in the barter of salt for wheat, which
was the arrangement island authorities most often tried to promote.
It should be pointed out that grain was the primary staple of the Ibicenco
diet during the 17th century. At this time Ibiza was still covered predominately
by her indigenous vegetation, the pine tree. The fig, almond, citrus, carob,
olive and other fruit trees which now grace the island's countryside were not
planted until the latter half of the 18th century. Getting back to the point,
the need for grain was urgent, and islanders were hell-bent on getting it, by
hook or by crook.
As it turns out, it was a private citizen by the name of Marc Ferrer who put
his neck on the line to help his people in a time of need. Ferrer then went
on to lead Ibiza into the largest enterprise she had undertaken in many centuries:
the resettling of Formentera. What follows is a true story - definitive proof
that history is every bit as engaging as fiction!
Have Boat, Will Sail
Marc Ferrer was a sea captain which, in those days, meant that he owned his
own boat and made his living from transporting cargo. The only biographical
information we have of him is that he was Ibicenco by birth, born into a family
of mariners and raised in the marina of the old town. He grew up to be a trusted
sailor and was hired by the city hall to fetch cargoes of grain from Italy and
the Spanish mainland.
On one fateful trip to Valencia, however, Ferrer ran into misfortune. The year
was 1692 and the captain had just purchased a very large cargo of wheat. The
grain would not all fit in the hold of his ship and three trips home and back
were needed to deliver it. On the final run, Ferrer met with the grain broker
to settle accounts and found, much to his consternation, that the man would
not accept payment in salt but insisted firmly on cash. When Ferrer could not
produce the money, the broker took the drastic measure of throwing him in jail,
where he stayed for two years.
Ferrer was not a man to take injustice lying down. From his tower cell he wrote
to the powers-that-be in Ibiza, requesting their immediate intervention and
arguing that he had merely been acting on their behalf. The governor of Ibiza
was, of course, sensitive to the jailed man's pleas, but no amount of negotiation
with the grain broker could persuade the latter to relent on his decision. This
hard-nosed businessman, called Francesc MartÝ, made his intentions very clear.
He was determined that Ferrer should stay in jail as collateral until he, MartÝ,
was reimbursed, in coin, for the total amount due. Maddeningly, not a single
pound was forthcoming from Ibiza's empty coffers, and Ferrer, it seemed, was
a doomed man.
But! where there is a will there is a way. Foiled at the bureaucratic level,
Ferrer resorted to his personal powers of persuasion. He summoned MartÝ and
negotiated a private pact with him. The prisoner would hand over his only land
(Can Parreta, in present-day San Jordi) to be exploited for an indefinite period
of time, until the sale of its produce covered the debt. At the end of that
time, the land would be returned to Ferrer, or in the case of his demise, to
his descendants. MartÝ accepted and Ferrer was released.
The captain returned home to the welcoming arms of his wife and three daughters,
a free man but a poor one. He still felt himself sorely wronged and decided
to write a letter to the king, pleading his case. In the missive, he recounted
the recent chain of events in which he had been involved and asked that, in
compensation for the land he had forfeited in Ibiza, he be awarded half a square
league in Formentera.
This was one bold request for a variety of reasons. First of all, the tract
of land asked for far exceeded the tract of land signed over to the "Valenciano".
Secondly, Formentera was utterly wild; no one but pirates had inhabited it in
over three centuries. In fact, any sane man living in Spain in 1695 would have
viewed owning acreage in Formentera as a curse rather than a blessing. It was
flat, defenceless, infertile, overrun by dense forest - and those were its good
points. To resettle a place like that involved serious risk to life and limb.
Perhaps, for these very reasons, the king looked upon Ferrer with favour, finding
him to be an honest man and a brave one. The land was granted and the resettling
endeavour began immediately. The rest, as they say, is history! Join us next
month for Sant Ciriac and the Catalan Conquest, here at LiveIbiza where the
action never stops!