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
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 Martí, made his intentions very clear.
He was determined that Ferrer should stay in jail as collateral
until he, Martí, 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
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 Martí 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. Martí 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
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!