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Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y del Castillo


Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y del Castillo [1]was born on April 18, 1819, in Bayamo, Oriente, Cuba, the son of Jesus Maria de Céspedes y Luque and Francisca de Borja del Castillo y Ramirez de Aguilar.  He was baptized on April 26, 1819, in the parish of  San Salvador, Bayamo by the presbítero [priest] Juán Manuel Fornaris.  His godparents were subteniente [sub lieutenant] Francisco del Castillo and Clara María de Céspedes.  He was the third cousin of Perucho Figueredo, that is, they were both descended from the same great, great, grandparents.


Céspedes was educated, first, at the Convento de Nuestro Seráfico Padre San Francisco in Bayamo, where he studied Latin and grammar.  Then in the Convento de Santo Domingo where he studied logic and ethics.  Later, he went to Havana and was admitted to the Real y Conciliar Colegio Seminario de San Carlos y San Ambrosio and the Real y Pontificia Universidad de San Gerónimo de La Habana where, on March 22, 1838, he obtained a degree of bachelor of derecho civil [civil law].


Céspedes married his first cousin, María del Cármen de Céspedes y del Castillo in April, 1839, in Bayamo  María del Cármen, who was born in about 1820, was the daughter of Francisco José de Céspedes y Luque, comandante [commander or major] de la milicias Blancas Disciplinadas [???] de Cuba y Bayamo, and Catalina del Castillo y Ramírez de Aguilar.


                On January 3, 1840, María del Cármen gave birth to their first child, Carlos Manuel, but just six months later, Céspedes traveled to Spain, where he remained for two years.  There, he received a bachelor of law degree from the University of Barcelona and a doctorate of law from the University of Madrid.  In Spain, he had his first taste of revolution, when he became involved in an uprising against the Spanish government !  He was deported from Spain after the uprising failed and travelled, for some time, through Europe learning English, French, and Italian on the way.


                On July 27, 1842, he returned to Cuba aboard the frigate Sílfide and made his way to Bayamo, where, in 1844, he opened a law practice and was named síndico del ayuntamiento [liquidator of bankruptcies for the city council] de Bayamo.  Law soon gave way to politics, however, as a strong anti-Spanish movement began to develop in Cuba.  In 1851, there was an invasion of Cuba led by the Venezuelan General Narciso López.  The invasion failed and López was executed by the Spanish.


Céspedes “burst into” a banquet given by the governor to celebrate the failure of López and loudly condemned the affair as being in bad taste and, carried away by anger, let fall certain phrases which revealed his sympathy for the beaten invasion.  Arrested because of his anti-Spanish statements, he was confined for five months in El Morro de Santiago, and banished for another five months to the village of Baracoa.  He was refused permission to return to Bayamo and took up residence in Manzanillo where he wrote poetry and articles about chess, resumed his career as a lawyer, became interested in the business of agriculture, but, above all, began to conspire with leaders in Bayamo and many of the other areas of Oriente to revolt against Spain and secure a free, independant, Cuba.  In 1855, he was again arrested and confined in the ship, Soberano, and later yet he was imprisoned in Santiago de Cuba.


In 1866, Céspedes purchased La Demajagua, one of the oldest sugar mills in Manzanillo, near the village of Yara, for 81 thousand pesos, and within a year had rebuilt it into a highly successful operation.  He and María del Cármen had two more children, Oscar and María del Cármen, but on January 19, 1868, María del Cármen died of consumption [tuberculosis].

In April, 1868, Céspedes founded the Masonic lodge, Buena Fe, in Manzanillo which became, as they had in Bayamo, Las Tunas, and elsewhere in Oriente, hotbeds of revolutionary unrest.


In 1868, Queen Isabella was forced from the throne of Spain and Céspedes called for immediate revolutionary action, claiming that

 “… the power of Spain is decrepit and worm-eaten.  If it still appears strong and great it is because for more than three centuries we have regarded it from our knees.  Let us rise!”  Some of the conspirators  wanted to wait until they were better armed and organized but on October 8, 1868, the Spanish General, Lersundy, having heard of the planned revolt, sent a telegram to the Governor of Bayamo which read:


“Cuba belongs to Spain and for Spain she must be kept no matter who is governing.  Send to prison D. Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Francisco Vicente Aguilera, Pedro Figueredo, Francis Maceo Osorio, Bartolomé Masó, Francisco Javier de Céspedes…”


The telegraphist of Bayamo, Ismael de Céspedes intercepted the telegram and sent the information to Perucho Figueredo.[2]  Perucho, in turn, informed Carlos Manuel de Céspedes who, on October 10, 1868, freed his slaves and incorporated them into a disorganized and ill armed army. [3]  He also issued the historic Grito de Yara from his plantation, La Demajagua.  This document begins with the words:


Al rebelarnos contra la tiranía española queremos manifestar al mundo los motivos de nuestra resolución.

España nos gobierna a hierro y sangre; nos impone a su antojo contribuciones y tributos; nos priva de toda libertad política, civil y religiosa; nos tiene sometidos en tiempos de paz a comisiones militares que prenden, destierran y ajustician sin sujeción a trámites ni leyes; prohíbe que nos reunamos, si no es bajo la presidencia de jefes militares; y declara rebeldes a los que imploran remedio para tantos males.


It proclaimed Cuba’s independence from Spain, and was signed by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Jaime M. Santiesteban, Bartolomé Masó, Juan Hall, Francisco Javier de Céspedes, Pedro de Céspedes, Manuel Calvar, Isaías Masó, Eduardo Suástegui, Miguel Suástegui, Rafael Tornés, Manuel Santiesteban, Manuel Socarrás, Agustín Valerino, Rafael Masó, and Eligio Izaguirre.


Candelaria (Cambula) Acosta Fontaigne, the daughter of Juán Acosta, the foreman of La Demajuaga, was 17 years old in 1868.  On the day that Carlos Manuel de Céspedes issued the Grito de Yara, she sewed the first flag of Cuba, using material from a blue dress, a piece of white fabric, and part of a mosquito net which was made of red cloth.  This flag, today, hangs in the Room of the Flags, in the Museum of the City of Havana.


Cambula and Carlos Manuel had, it seems, been lovers for some time prior to the death of Carlos’ wife, María del Cármen, and of this relationship were born Cármen and Manuel.  On December 7, 1866, Carlos Manuel wrote a poem telling of his love for La Conchita, which we believe is dedicated to Cambula.  In October 1871, Céspedes wrote that he had visited the house of Cambula to see their daughter [Cármen] quizá por última vez [perhaps for the last time] because, for her safety, Céspedes had recommended that she leave the country.


Cambula left Cuba for Jamaica with Carmen and pregnant with Manuel, but she and Cespedes wrote to each other for many years, and he wrote fondly about her in his diary, almost up until the day he was killed.  In January 1874, Céspedes sent a Francisco Vega to Jamaica with a package for Cambula.  The package contained letters, six ounces of gold, un rizo de sus cabellos y un mechón de sus barbas para los gemelos [a curl of his hair and a lock of his beard for the twins].[4]  The ship on which Vega sailed was shipwrecked and Céspedes’ package never reached Cambula.


Cambula, Carmen, and Manuel stayed in Jamaica, where they were sheltered by Cuban emigrants until “three years after the end of the war”, probably 1881, when they returned to Cuba, settling in Santiago de Cuba. 

In 1885, Cambula married Antonio Acosta with who she had two children, Ernesto and Isabel.  They lived in much poverty until, in 1928, Spain decided to return to Cuba some objects taken during the war, amongst them, they said, the flag of Yara.  But the flag of Yara was thought to hang in the Cámara de Representantes in Havana.  Cambula was taken to Havana on April 16, 1928, and shown the flags.  She passed her hand over the star, kissed it and cried ¡Esta es la bandera!  La misma confeccionaron mis manos del 9 de octubre de 1868! [This is the flag!  The same one that I made by hand on October 9, 1868!].  The flag returned by the Spanish was the one made by Perucho Figueredo’s daughter, Eulalia!


Soon after, the Cuban government gave Cambula a pension and at the beginning of 1935, honored her with the order of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes.  She died, aged 84, on May 23, 1935, and was buried in the Cementerio de Santa Ifigenia in Santiago de Cuba, not far from the tomb of Cespedes. 

 The issuance of the Grito de Yara was followed by the organization of a provisional government with Céspedes as commander-in-chief of the army and head of the government.  It was agreed that Bayamo would be the first to be taken and on October 17, 1868, Céspedes met with his staff to plan the attack.  He sent an emissary to the Governor Udaeta in Bayamo to inform him that they were going to attack the town and to give him the opportunity to surrender.  Flora Mora wrote: El gobernador le contestó verbalmente, por medio del mismo emisario, que prefería la muerte a la rendición.  [The governor answered him verbally, by means of the same emissary, saying that he would prefer to die rather than surrender].


Udaeta put his guards on alert and issued a decree that all who helped the enemy would be executed.  An hour later, the revolutionaries rode through the city, distributing their own publication, encouraging its citizens to take up their weapons against the Spanish.


The insurrectionists took the city of Bayamo on October 20, 1868, and held it until January 11, 1869, when the Spanish general, Valmaseda appeared with a large force. The defenders of Bayamo were ill equipped to withstand his army, and decided to burn the city to the ground rather than have it fall again into the hands of the Spanish.  Holguin was taken and several smaller town and plantations were taken, lost and retaken.  The rebel force grew to nearly 20,000, many being slaves freed either voluntarily or by force.


Despite their initial success, the rebels were never able to advance further west than Puerto Príncipe.  They remained strong in the east but failed altogether to gain active support in the prosperous west.  The Spanish regained control of most of the cities and towns and the rebels, living off the land, remained in the more remote regions of the country, avoiding direct contact with the enemy, while maintaining control of the countryside.


Almost from the very beginning of the war, Céspedes had a rival in the person of  Salvador Cisneros Betancourt, Marqués de Santa Lucía, the leader of the revolutionaries in Puerto Príncipe.  Angered by Céspedes’ unilateral declaration of independence in October 1868, and by Céspedes’ being so quickly named commander-in-chief of the army and head of the government, Cisneros Betancourt initially withheld his support to the insurrection.  They disagreed politically,  Céspedes wanting the total independence of Cuba while Cisneros Betancourt argued for annexation by the USA, and they disliked each other personally.  Céspedes once wrote: “El Marqués de Santa Lucia estuvo dos días borracho, hablando cosas inoportunas y siendo el ludibrio de la soldadesca.”  [The Marqués de Santa Lucía was two days drunk, saying inappropriate things and earning the derision of the soldiers].


Céspedes’ almost absolute power as well as his failure to decree the immediate abolition of slavery caused opposition within the revolutionary ranks and, facing mounting pressure, notably from the representatives of Puerto Príncipe, he called for a constitutional convention to establish a more democratic provisional government.  Delegates from several eastern towns met at Guaimaro on April 10, 1869, and adopted a constitution that provided for a Cámara de Representantes [house of representatives], presided over by none other than Céspedes’ rival, Salvador Cisneros Betancourt, with Céspedes president of the republic, and Manuel de Quesada, commander-in-chief of the army.


In May, Céspedes wrote to President Ulysses Grant asking that the US recognize his government but recognition was never granted.  Colombia, Mexico, and several other Latin American republics did demonstrate their solidarity with the revolutionary movement but it was the recognition of the US that Céspedes needed to legitimize his position.


On November 4, 1869, despite his apparent passion for Candelaria Acosta, Carlos Manuel married Ana María de Quesada y Loynáz daughter of Pedro Manuel de Quesada y Quesada and Cármen Loynáz y Miranda,[5] in the parish of San Diego del Chorrillo, Camagüey, Cuba.  Ana was born on February 14, 1842, and was educated at the Convento de las Ursulinas where she learned embroidery and lace work.  She was the sister of Manuel de Quesada, the new commander-in-chief of the army.


They had three children, Oscar, Gloria, and Carlos Manuel.  In 1871, Ana María, pregnant with twins Gloria and Carlos Manuel, left Cuba for the safety of New York.  She set out with the bayamés poet, Juán Clemente Zenea, but they were stopped by Spanish authorities not far from the Bahía [bay] del Sabinal, to the north of Camaguey, where they were to board the boat for the USA.  Ana was taken to Havana but on January 12, 1871, was allowed to continue her journey to New York where she joined her mother and two sisters.


The twins were born in New York in August 1871, but Carlos Manuel, the father, died on February 27, 1874, in San Lorenzo, Oriente, having never seen them.  Ana returned to Cuba many years later  but died, and was buried, in Paris in 1910.


The war dragged on with neither side achieving any notable success.  Céspedes agreed to the burning of sugar plantations in the east to apply economic pressure on Spain, but plans to apply this tactic to the western parts of Cuba were rejected as were proposals to expand the war with an invasion of the west itself.  A large number of  rebel leaders were killed and many fled from Cuba to Jamaica.  Some accepted Spanish offers of clemency and simply stopped fighting.


Céspedes’ handling of the war and the failure of his government to take a firm stand on the question as to whether slaves would be freed should the Spanish be overthrown, cost him support and, on October 27, 1873, the Cámara de Representantes, at a meeting held at Bijagual, voted to remove Céspedes from the office of president to be succeeded by, not suprisingly, Salvador Cisneros Betancourt.  In November, Céspedes applied for a passport so that he could leave Cuba and join Ana and the children in New York and on, January  23, 1874, he retired to San Lorenzo in the Sierra Maéstra, accompanied by his son, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y Céspedes, until the passport should arrive.


In San Lorenzo, Carlos Manuel met the widow, Francisca (Panchita) Rodriguez. Carlos Manuel and Panchita became lovers and produced a son, Manuel Francisco.  Many years later, Panchita lived in Palma Soriano, near Santiago de Cuba, with Manuel Francisco, who related that Panchita had made a living going from house to house with a horse and two saddlebags full of threads, cotton, and other goods.

Céspedes’ passport never arrived and on February 27, 1874, he was ambushed and killed by soldiers of del Batallón de San Quintín near San Lorenzo.[6]  It is believed that he was betrayed to the Spanish by a servant.


German Arciniegas, in his book, Caribbean, Sea of the New World gives the following account of his death:  “… like the day in 1874, when Céspedes ordered his horse Telemaco saddled and set off for the village of San Lorenzo to give the children their lessons in reading and writing.  Céspedes had been obliged to abandon his command and take refuge in the hills, but he was still the great gentleman as he rode along on his spirited horse, in his velvet waistcoat and with his six-shooter.  The Spaniards surprised him and fired upon him.  Céspedes defended himself as he retired along the edge of a ravine, firing his bullets one by one and saving the last for himself.  He had said on one occasion: ‘I pray that God will give me the courage to die with the dignity befitting a Cuban, although I do not think the occasion will arise, for my revolver has six shots, five for the Spaniards and one for myself.’  But he did not have time to use it.  Brigido Verdecia’s bullet pierced his heart and Céspedes’ body rolled down the ravine.  When they recovered it there was still one shot in his revolver.”


Cespedes body was taken to Santiago de Cuba and was later interred in the Cementerio de Santa Ifigenia in that city.


[1] Céspedes’ full name, according to El Diario Perdido, by Eusebio Leal Spengler, was Carlos Manuel Perfecto del Cármen de Céspedes y López del Castillo.


[2] Another version of this story says the telegraphist was Nicolás de la Rosa and that he sent Ismael to warn Perucho.


[3] Some sources say that on October 10, 1868, Cespedes’ small band of supporters and freed slaves attacked the town of Yara near his plantation, La Demajagua.  There they suffered their first defeat and their most motivating moment.  As the liberation campaign was being crushed and only twelve men remained fighting, Cespedes climbed atop his horse and screamed: Quedamos doce hombres, somos suficientes para hacer la Independencia de Cuba [There are twelve of us, we are enough to give Cuba its independence].

[4] This from El Diario Perdido, by Eusebio Leal Spengler. Carmen and Manuel weren’t twins.  Spengler also wrote that Carmen was born in Cuba and that Manuel was born, later, in Jamaica.


[5] Called Pedro Manuel de Quesada y Quesada and Cármen Loináz y Miranda in  Historia de Familias Cubanas.  Called Manuel de Quesada y Quesada and Cármen Loynáz de Miranda by Eusebio Leal Spengler.  Called Manuel de Quesada in Cuba, the Pursuit of Freedom, by Hugh Thomas.


[6] This date is from El Diario Perdido, by Eusebio Leal Spengler.   Santa Cruz says March 22, 1874.



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