Success attended the arms of the patriots till 1812, when a remarkable event caused them the most serious reverses. In March of that year a violent earthquake devastated the whole province, and among other places totally destroyed the city of Caraccas, with all its magazines and munitions of war. This dreadful calamity, in which twenty thousand persons perished, happened, by a most remarkable coincidence, on the anniversary of the very day in which the revolution had broken out, two years before. The priesthood, who, as a body, were devoted to the royal interest, eagerly seized upon this circumstance. In their hands, the earthquake became the token of the Divine wrath against the revolutionary party. The superstitious multitude were easily deluded and terrified with such representations and denunciations. Priests, monks, and friars, were stationed in the streets, vociferating in the midst of credulous throngs of people trembling with fear, while the royalist commanders improved the occasion by over running one district after another. Bolivar was compelled to evacuate Puerto Cabello. Miranda's conduct having become suspicious, he was ar rested by the patriot leaders and delivered up to the Spanish commander, who sent him to Spain, where he died in a dungeon. Bolivar is supposed to have had a share in this transaction, in consequence of which he has been severely censured. There were some circumstances, however, which appeared to justify a suspicion that Miranda was engaged in a hostile plot with the British cabinet.
Bolivar was now entrusted with the command of an army of six thousand men, which he led across the mountains to the further extremity of New Granada. In the hostilities of this period, deeds of the most revolting ferocity were perpetrated by the royalist troops, and the whole country was reduced to a frightful state of misery. On the most trivial pretexts, old men, women and children, were arrested and massacred as rebels. Friars and military butchers reigned triumphant. One of the Spanish officers, named Suasola, cut off the ears of a great number of patriots, and had them stuck in the caps of his soldiers for cockades. Bolivar, who had hitherto conducted the war with great forbearance, was inflamed with indignation at these cruelties he swore to avenge his countrymen, and declared that every royalist who fell into his hands should be consigned to the vengeance of his soldiery. But this spirit of inexorable justice and retaliation ill accorded with Bolivar's character, and it was exercised only on one occasion, when eight hundred Spaniards were shot. Afterwards it was formally announced by Bolivar, that no Spaniard shall be put to death except in battle. The war of death shall cease.'
The royalists, who, by the practice of the most bloody and ferocious atrocities, had gained possession of nearly the whole country, now began to give way before the arms of Bolivar. Passing from one victory to another, he drove the enemy from every post, and on the 4th of August, 1814, made his triumphant entry into the renovated city of Caraccas. The enthusiasm and joy of the people exceeded all bounds, and this was certainly the most brilliant day in his whole career. Greeted by the acclamations of thousands of the inhabitants, artillery, bells and music, the Liberator was drawn into the city in a triumphal car by twelve beautiful young ladies, of the first families of the capital, dressed in white, and adorned with the patriot colors, while others crowned him with laurel, and strewed his way with flowers. All the prisons were thrown open, and hundreds who had been suffering for political opinions came forth, pale and emaciated, to thank him for their liberation. The royalists throughout the province capitulated, and the triumph of the patriots was complete.
Bolivar was now constituted dictator, and entrusted with unlimited power. This measure was prompted by the sentiments of enthusiasm and gratitude during the first moments of exultation in the people but, as is the case in all infant republics, they soon began to give manifestations of a jealousy for that liberty which had cost them such sacrifices. The power of the dictator, who delegated his authority to his inferior officers, by whom it was frequently abused, redoubled their apprehensions. Suspicions arose, that the primary object of Bolivar was his own aggrandisement. In consequence of this, on the 2d of January 1814, he made a formal tender of his resignation. This lulled the suspicions of the people, and the royalists having begun to rally and arm their negro slaves, he was solicited to retain the dictatorship. The war was now renewed, and many battles were fought. On the 14th of June, 1814, Bolivar was defeated at La Puerta, with the loss of fifteen hundred men and again, on the 17th of August, near his own estate of San Mateo, where the negro leader Boves, with a squadron of cavalry named the infernal division,' with black crape on their lances, rushing with hideous shouts from an ambush, scattered his remaining forces, and would have made him a prisoner but for the fleetness of his horse. His cousin, Ribas, was taken and shot, and his head set upon the wall of Caraccas. Bolivar's beautiful family mansion was burned to the ground, and he was compelled, in September, to leave the royalists again in complete possession of all Venezuela, while thousands of the patriot army deserted to their ranks.