The curious visit of two presidents of the United States to Spain through the Camino de Santiago.
In the Caminos de Santiago there are thousands of stories, anecdotes and curious facts. This is certainly one of those stories that attracts attention.
It was the year 1779 when John Adams (future second president of the newly created United States of America, and vice president of the first of them, Thomas Jefferson) and his son John Quincy Adams, future sixth president of this country, landed in Galicia as a result by chance on an unplanned trip that led them to travel much of the Camino de Santiago Frances.
John Adams and his son embarked in Boston on November 13, 1779 along with other politicians and servants to travel to Paris and negotiate peace with England after the war of independence of the 13 American colonies. A water gap in the hull of the frigate ¨La Sensible¨ when they crossed the Atlantic, forced them to seek refuge in the first possible port and after seeing Cape Finisterre (coincidences of their Camino) they landed in the port of Ferrol on December 8 of 1,779
This setback in his trip to France served so that, determined to reach the Gallic lands by land, the detailed diaries of John Adams left us a curious vision of different places that mostly coincide with places located on different Caminos de Santiago.
This journey took the second and sixth president of the United States to visit cities such as A Coruña, Lugo, Villafranca del Bierzo, Ponferrada, Astorga, Leon, Sahagún, Burgos and Bilbao … and left us interesting comments about the experience of their trip.
Adams says of Ferrol that it is an impressive port. Already in Coruña he is struck by the quality of food such as meats and vegetables, the goodness of the climate and after visiting the remains of the Tower of Hercules (oldest lighthouse in the world still in use), which he mistakenly attributes to the Phoenicians, he complains of the tremendous poverty that he sees among the inhabitants of A Coruña and the lack of commerce and industry, in addition to the dirtiness of the homes and the lice infection that exists even in the well-to-do houses where they are staying.
After passing through Lugo, Villafranca del Bierzo, Ponferrada and Bembibre arrive in Astorga, where they spend three days resting. And it is here where he praises the cleanliness of the city, the curious attire of its people (maragatos, especially the ornaments worn by women) and is impressed by the beauty of its Cathedral, which is above that of Leon. He also comments on the richness and variety of the market’s products (which is still celebrated today every Tuesday in the Plaza Mayor and its surroundings). He also says that it is the first time that he sleeps in a bed without lice or bedbugs since his arrival in Spain.
A plaque in memory of the visit of such illustrious historical figures can be seen at the entrance of the Astorga Town Hall.
They continued their journey through Leon, Sahagun and Burgos, following the route of the French Way of Santiago, with two carriages of posts to finally arrive as accidental pilgrims to French lands through Bilbao, Hendaye and San Juan de Luz.
The calamity of the transport network in Spain at the time caught the attention of the future president, commenting that in all his years traveling (he was an ambassador in different countries of Europe) he had never suffered a trip as painful as the one he made in Spain.
And with his well-known critical character, the result of his Protestant education, he also caught his attention and commented several times in his diary on the wealth of the clergy and the poverty of the people in that Spain subjected to the Catholic Church where as a person educated in the illustration he did not understand the rejection of advances and knowledge that he saw throughout his entire journey.
Without a doubt, this was an unforgettable experience for the second and sixth president of the United States, who knew first-hand the lands of his ally Spain in the War of Independence against England.