restricted access 4. Burn the Plantations: The Cuban Aponte Rebellion(s) of 1812
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∂ Burn the Plantations The Cuban Aponte Rebellion(s) of 1812 The hangman’s noose tightened once again during the early morning of 9 April 1812. The executioner added another name to the fatal list that included the leader of the rebellion, José Antonio Aponte, the Frenchman Juan Barbier, who had been to Saint Domingue, the slave Tiburcio Peñalver, who routinely traveled from the countryside to the city, the freedman Juan Bautista Lisundia, the militia soldier Clemente Chacón, and the cabildo leader Salvador Ternero. Estanislao Aguilar, a free mulatto from Havana, also suffered execution by hanging for his involvement in the rebellion.∞ Aguilar shared much more with his fellow rebels than having his life end by public execution. He lived in the same Havana neighborhood of Guadalupe outside the city walls where Aponte, Chacón, Lisundia, and Ternero all had their homes.≤ The proximity of the rebels’ houses made it easy for judicial o≈cials to search them for clues and evidence indicating their participation in the revolts.≥ The free mulatto Estanislao Aguilar served as a crucial link between the urban leaders of the revolt and the slaves and free people of color who toiled on plantations outside of Havana. As a literate artisan of an unstated profession , Estanislao Aguilar regularly forged passes for himself and others to facilitate travel between Havana and the countryside.∂ Apparently, Aguilar’s routine trips from the capital to the plantations hid his secretive activities in planning the insurrection. He often escorted urban slaves and free people of color, such as fellow conspirators Juan Bautista Lisundia and Juan Barbier, to the plantations.∑ Aguilar had developed close associations with several slaves and free people of color who worked on plantations and routinely traveled to the city where they often stayed overnight in the Guadalupe neighborhood of the leaders.∏ Aguilar made his last trip from Havana to the Burn the Plantations 121 plantations with Barbier, Lisundia, and the slave Tiburcio Peñalver on the night of 14 March 1812.π Barbier and Aguilar returned to the plantations armed with knives, which judicial o≈cials suspected they purchased from retired carpenter Tomás Gómez , who often sold meat and poultry on plantations.∫ Once Aguilar, Barbier, and Lisundia arrived, they ‘‘gathered all the slaves together’’ and informed them of their plans for rebellion.Ω Aguilar later recalled that when they explained the insurrection would provide ‘‘freedom’’ for the slaves and ‘‘burn the plantations, they became very happy and joyful.’’∞≠ According to slave Tadeo Peñalver, after they announced the start of the uprising, the rebels engaged in a ceremony where ‘‘Lisundia, Barbier, and the mulatto Estanislao Aguilar . . . played [music] and danced.’’∞∞ Aguilar later confessed that the slaves ‘‘played small drums . . . [Barbier] danced . . . and Lisundia beat a drum.’’∞≤ According to the lawyers Francisco María Agüero and José María Ortega, the rebels then committed themselves to insurrection by o√ering a toast of aguardiente [sugar cane alcohol], and making a pact ‘‘to fight for liberty, to kill anybody who attempts to stop their hopes, . . . o√ering to end slavery, and make them [slaves] happy.’’∞≥ Estanislao Aguilar and the other leaders from Havana played a leading role in directing the insurrection when the revolts erupted on the night of 15 March 1812. Free black Francisco Javier Pacheco stated that after Aguilar, Barbier, and Lisundia arrived at the Peñas-Altas sugar plantation, they immediately set fire to the living quarters of the master and his sta√, the boiling houses for processing sugarcane, the stacked and cut sugarcane ready to be milled, and the slave quarters.∞∂ The plantation quickly burnt to the ground. Aguilar, Barbier, and Lisundia gave no quarter in dealing with the white inhabitants of the plantation who did not escape. With machetes and knives, the leaders killed five whites and injured two others in front of the slaves.∞∑ According to Lisundia, Barbier then announced to the slaves that they ‘‘would cut o√ the heads of anyone who did not join them’’ as they organized to spread the rebellion to other plantations.∞∏ Barbier and Aguilar commanded the rebels to carry the insurrection to the neighboring plantations of Santa Ana and Trinidad.∞π Before the rebels reached their destinations, the government had called out the militia and armed the local citizens. By the early morning hours of 16 March 1812, the rebellion had been suppressed. Military authorities quickly arrested hundreds of slaves and free people of color, while numerous others scattered throughout the countryside. Over the next several months most...