María de las Mercedes Barbudo

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María de las Mercedes Barbudo
Maria de las Mercedes Barbudo, independence leader from Ponce, Puerto Rico, circa 1815 (DSC03896Z).jpg
The first Puerto Rican woman Independentista
(Freedom Fighter)
DiedFebruary 17, 1849(1849-02-17) (aged 76)[1] [approx.]
NationalityPuerto Rican
MovementPuerto Rican independence movement

María de las Mercedes Barbudo (1773 – February 17, 1849) was a Puerto Rican political activist, the first woman Independentista in the island, and a "Freedom Fighter".[2][3] At the time, the Puerto Rican independence movement had ties with the Venezuelan rebels led by Simón Bolívar.[4]

Early years[edit]

Barbudo (birth name: María de las Mercedes Barbudo y Coronado) was one of four siblings born in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, to a Spanish father, Domingo Barbudo, and Puerto Rican mother, Belén Coronado. Her father was an officer in the Spanish Army. The benefits of being the daughter of a military officer was that she could afford to obtain an education and to buy books. She was one of the few women in the island who learned to read because at the time, the only people who had access to libraries and who could afford books were either appointed Spanish government officials or wealthy landowners. The poor depended on oral story telling, in what are traditionally known in Puerto Rico as Coplas and Décimas. Well educated, Barbudo became interested in politics and social activism.[5]

Political activist[edit]

As a young woman, Barbudo founded a sewing goods store in San Juan, specialising in the sale of buttons, threads and clothes. She eventually became successful as a personal loan provider. She dealt commercially with Joaquín Power y Morgan, an immigrant who came to Puerto Rico as a representative of the Compañía de Asiento de Negros, which regulated the slave trade on the island.[2][6]

Barbudo moved in prominent circles, which included notable citizens such as Captain Ramón Power y Giralt (Joaquín's son), Bishop Juan Alejo de Arizmendi and the artist José Campeche. She had a liberal mind and as such would often hold meetings with intellectuals in her house. They discussed the political, social and economic situation of Puerto Rico and the Spanish Empire in general, and proposed solutions to improve the well-being of the people.[5]

Simón Bolívar and Brigadier General Antonio Valero de Bernabé, known as "The Liberator from Puerto Rico",[7] dreamed of creating a unified Latin America, including Puerto Rico and Cuba. Barbudo was inspired by Bolívar; she supported the idea of independence for the island and learned that Bolívar hoped to establish an American-style federation among all the newly independent republics of Latin America. He also wanted to promote individual rights.[5] She befriended and wrote to many Venezuelan revolutionists, among them José María Rojas, with whom she regularly corresponded. She also received magazines and newspapers from Venezuela which upheld the ideals of Bolívar.

Held without bail or trial[edit]

San Juan National Historic Site "Castillo (Fort) de San Cristóbal"

The Spanish authorities in Puerto Rico under Governor Miguel de la Torre were suspicious of the correspondence between Barbudo and the Venezuelan rebel factions. Secret agents of the Spanish Government intercepted some of her mail, delivering it to Governor de la Torre. He ordered an investigation and had her mail confiscated. The Government believed that the correspondence served as propaganda of the Bolívarian ideals and that it would also serve to motivate Puerto Ricans to seek their independence.[5]

Governor Miguel de la Torre ordered her arrest on the charge that she planned to overthrow the Spanish Government in Puerto Rico. Barbudo was held without bail at the Castillo (Fort) de San Cristóbal, since the island did not have a prison for women. Among the evidence which the Spanish authorities presented against her was a letter dated October 1, 1824, from Rojas in which he told her that the Venezuelan rebels had lost their principal contact with the Puerto Rican independence movement in the Danish island of Saint Thomas and therefore the secret communication which existed between the Venezuelan rebels and the leaders of the Puerto Rican independence movement was in danger of being discovered.[8]

On October 22, 1824, Barbudo appeared at a hearing before a magistrate. The Government presented as evidence against her various letters which included five letters from Rojas, two issues of the newspaper El Observador Caraqueño; two copies of the newspaper El Cometa, and one copy each of the newspapers El Constitucional Caraqueño and El Colombiano, which were sympathetic to Bolívar's ideals. When asked if she recognized the correspondence, she answered in the affirmative and refused to answer any more questions.[2] The government also presented as evidence various anti-monarchy propaganda pamphlets to be distributed throughout the island. Barbudo was found guilty.[5][8]

Exile and escape to Venezuela[edit]

Governor de la Torre consulted with the prosecutor Francisco Marcos Santaella as to what should be done with Barbudo. Santaella suggested that she be exiled from Puerto Rico and sent to Cuba. On October 23, 1824, de la Torre ordered that Barbudo be held under house arrest at the Castillo de San Cristóbal under the custody of Captain Pedro de Loyzaga.[2] The following day Barbudo wrote to the governor, asking to be able to arrange her financial and her personal obligations before being exiled to Cuba. The Governor denied her request and on October 28 she was placed aboard the ship El Marinero.[8]

In Cuba, she was held in an institution in which women accused of various crimes were housed. With the help of revolutionary factions, Barbudo escaped and went to Saint Thomas Island. She eventually arrived at La Guaira in Venezuela where her friend José María Rojas met her.[8] They went to Caracas where she met Bolívar. Barbudo established a close relationship with the members of Bolívar's cabinet which included José María Vargas. He later was elected as the fourth president of Venezuela. She worked closely with the cabinet.[5][8]

Legacy and honors[edit]

Barbudo never married nor had any children and did not return to Puerto Rico. She died on February 17, 1849.[1] She was buried in the Cathedral of Caracas next to Simón Bolívar. Interment in the Cathedral was an honor usually reserved only for the church hierarchy and the very rich.[2][5]

In 1996, a documentary was made about her titled Camino sin retorno, el destierro de María de las Mercedes Barbudo (Road of no return, the exile of María de las Mercedes Barbudo). It was produced and directed by Sonia Fritz.[9]

Further reading[edit]

  • "María de las Mercedes Barbudo: Primera mujer independentista de Puerto Rico, 1773–1849"; by: Raquel Rosario Rivera; Publisher: R. Rosario Rivera; 1. ed edition (1997); ISBN 978-0-9650036-2-9.
  • "Mercedes"; by: Jaime L. Marzán Ramos; Publisher:Isla Negra Editores; ISBN 978-9945-455-54-0.
  • "From Eve to Dawn, A History of Women in the World, Volume IV: Revolutions and Struggles for Justice in the 20th Century"; by Marilyn French; Publisher: The Feminist Press at CUNY; ISBN 978-1-55861-584-7
  • "Women in Latin America and the Caribbean: Restoring Women to History (Restoring Women to History)"; by Marysa Navarro; Publisher: Indiana University Press; ISBN 978-0-253-21307-5

See also[edit]

19th Century female leaders of the Puerto Rican Independence Movement

Female members of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party

Articles related to the Puerto Rican Independence Movement


  1. ^ a b Introito a Mercedes. Archived March 12, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Jaime L. Marzán Ramos. March 13, 2011. Retrieved March 20, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e Natalia de Cuba, "Puerto Rico's first female Freedom Fighter" Archived February 1, 2010, at the Wayback Machine (PDF), San Juan Star, October 20, 1997; page 30, Retrieved on June 20, 2011.
  3. ^ Meaning of "Independentista" Archived March 26, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Dictionary Reverso, Retrieved on June 20, 2011.
  4. ^ "Mercedes – La primera Independentista Puertorriquena" (in Spanish) Archived April 21, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on June 20, 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Mercedes, siglo y medio después" (Spanish) Archived June 1, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. (May 29, 2011). Retrieved on 2011-06-20.
  6. ^ Chinea, Jorge L. "Irish Indentured Servants, Papists and Colonists in Spanish Colonial Puerto Rico, ca. 1650–1800" Archived May 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, in Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, 5:3 (November 2007), pp. 171–182. Accessed November 29, 2008.
  7. ^ Antonio Valero de Bernabé: El Puertorriqueño Libertador de América Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on June 20, 2011.
  8. ^ a b c d e María de las Mercedes Barbudo; Primera mujer independentista de Puerto Rico; CLARIDAD; December 1994; page 19 (Spanish) Archived January 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. (PDF) . Retrieved on June 20, 2011.
  9. ^ "Camino sin retorno, el destierro de María de las Mercedes Barbudo" Archived August 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Arteycultura], Sagrado University, Retrieved on June 20, 2011.