INTRODUCTION: Worse than Aponte
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introduction Worse than Aponte On 24 March 1812 Cuban military o≈cer Vicente de la Huerta and three assistants left the fortress of La Cabaña and headed for the free people of color neighborhood of Guadalupe located just outside Havana’s city walls. Cuban judicial o≈cial Juan Ignacio Rendón ordered Huerta and his aides to search houses ‘‘with the greatest thoroughness’’ for possible clues to a series of slave revolts that had erupted across the island in Puerto Príncipe, Bayamo, Holguín, and Havana during the last two months.∞ A week earlier, Rendón received a special commission from the captain general of Cuba to find ‘‘rapidly and promptly’’ the leaders of the insurrections and end the terrified panic voiced by the white population throughout the island.≤ The first revolts occurred near the east-central city of Puerto Príncipe two months earlier. Over the course of two days, beginning on 15 January 1812, slaves and free people of color rose in rebellion on five plantations all located within three miles of Puerto Príncipe. The first insurrection began at the plantation Najasa and immediately involved all the slaves. The rebels burnt the master’s house, killed three whites, and then spread the movement to neighboring plantations.≥ Within a matter of hours, slaves revolted at the Daganal plantation where they killed the white overseer, Pedro Cabrajal. Then the uprising moved to the San José sugar estate where the insurrectionaries killed two whites. Later, they spread their movement to the Santa Marta plantation where they killed another white and seriously injured two others. The uprising ended at the Montalban plantation where the rebels killed one white and injured another before the local militia, standing army, and armed citizens finally suppressed the insurrection.∂ By the time the rebellions ended, slaves and free people of color had killed eight whites, injured numerous others, and burnt or partially destroyed several plantations. Colonial o≈- 2 Introduction cials responded to the bold challenge to their authority by staging a public execution. A crowd of spectators greeted with ‘‘enthusiasm’’ the execution of fourteen slaves and the shipment of sixty-three prisoners to Saint Augustine , Florida.∑ Shortly after the rebellion’s suppression, authorities in Puerto Príncipe reported that several ‘‘black bandits’’ had escaped to the mountains where they planned to spread their ‘‘terrible movement’’ to the eastern cities of Bayamo and Holguín.∏ The governor of Puerto Príncipe warned Lieutenant Governor Felix Corral in Bayamo to patrol the countryside for rebels who had eluded capture. Rumors, stories, and reports circulated that as many as ‘‘180 of the revolted blacks from Najasa’’ were heading toward Bayamo, according to one terrified resident.π The planned rebellion in Bayamo came to an end on the night of 7 February 1812 when the slave Antonio José informed his master, Lorenzo Vásquez Tamayo, of the uprising.∫ According to the slave, ‘‘many blacks from the town and others from elsewhere were going to unite . . . burn various houses . . . block the entrances [to the city] . . . and attack the military headquarters to seize gunpowder, bullets, and rifles.’’Ω Bayamo’s Lieutenant Governor Corral concluded from the interrogations that ‘‘the blacks from the Hacienda Najasa in the jurisdiction of Puerto Príncipe had proceeded in agreement with those of this city’’ when they began the uprising.∞≠ The discovery in free black José María Tamayo’s house of two rebels who escaped capture in Puerto Príncipe provided the crucial evidence of the link between the two rebellions.∞∞ Bayamo authorities extended their search for runaway slaves suspected of participating in the conspiracy to Holguín where they believed the fugitives had found refuge.∞≤ Colonial o≈cials in Holguín decided to ‘‘exhaust all preventive measures’’ and ‘‘brought the women from the countryside to the city until the movement has been pacified.’’∞≥ The town council of Holguín adopted measures to suppress any possible rebellion and calm the panic of white residents because ‘‘nowhere else is an uprising of blacks more feared than in this city.’’∞∂ With the imminent threat of rebellion terrifying the white population, judicial o≈cials began to question vigorously any suspected rebels to get to the bottom of the planned insurrection. The suspicion of possible connections with revolts in other towns only increased when a rural patrol arrested three runaway slaves from Puerto Príncipe near Holguín at the end of February.∞∑ The questioning of numerous slaves and free people of color finally yielded some...


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