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Policarpa Salavarrieta

Topics: Colombian revolutionaries Colombian women

Policarpa Salavarrieta , also known as La Pola, was a Colombian seamstress who spied for the Revolutionary Forces during the Reconquista, a period when Spain attempted to regain control of its colonies in South America. She was captured by Spanish Royalists and executed.


Because her birth certificate was never found, her legal given name is unknown. Salavarrieta is known only by the names her family and friends used. Her father referred to her as Polonia in his will, which Salvador Contreras, the priest who formalized the testament on December 13, 1802, confirmed. Her brother Bibiano, who was closest to her, called her Policarpa.

In her 1817 forged passport, used to get in and out of Bogota during the Reconquista, she appeared as Gregoria Apolinaria. Andrea Ricaurte de Lozano, whom Policarpa lived with, and officially worked for in Bogota, as well as Ambrosio Almeyda, a guerilla leader to whom she supplied information, also called her by that name. Her contemporaries referred to her simply as La Pola, but Policarpa Salavarrieta is the name by which she is remembered and commemorated.

Place and date of birth

'''La Pola'sdate and place of birth are also subject to conjecture in the absence of legal documents. The popular version is that she was born in the municipality of Guaduas, Cundinamarca, between 1790 and 1796. However Rafael Pombo affirmed that she had been born in Mariquita, while Jose Caicedo Rojas confirmed it as Bogota.

Her date and place of birth can be surmised from information available about her siblings which, curiously, was not lost.

Her siblings were:

Maria Ignacia Clara, born in the San Miguel parish of Guaduas August 12, 1789-1802

Jose Maria de los Angeles, baptized in Guaduas on August 12, 1790 - became an Augustinian friar

Caterina, born in Guaduas, 1791

Eduardo, born in Guaduas on November 3, 1792-1802

Manuel, on May 26, born in Guaduas, 1796 - also became an Augustinian friar

Francisco Antonio, baptized in the Santa Barbara parish, Bogota, 26 of September, 1798

Ramon, confirmed in Bogota in 1800

Bibiano, baptized in Bogota, 1801.

Judging by these family records and the fact that Policarpa was born between her two religious brothers, she would appear to have been born between 1791 and 1796. The records also seem to indicate that the Salavarrieta family lived in Guaduas and moved to Bogota after Manuel was born in 1796.

In an attempt to reconcile the discrepancies the Academia Colombiana de Historia (Colombian Academy of History) gave its final ruling on September 10, 1991, in favor of Guaduas, Cundinamarca, as La Pola''''s birthplace.

Early years

Without being titled or of the hidalgo class, Policarpa's family were apparently respectable and well-off, judging by her childhood home in Guaduas, now a museum. The Salavarrieta Rios family moved to Bogota between 1796-1798, living in a small house in the Santa Barbara neighborhood.

In 1802 a smallpox epidemic broke out in the capital, killing thousands, including Policarpas father, mother, brother Eduardo and sister Maria Ignacia. After the tragedy, the family fell apart: Jose Maria and Manuel joining the Augustinian order, Ramon and Francisco Antonio traveled to Tena where they found work on a farm. Catarina, the oldest surviving child, decided to move back to Guaduas around 1804, taking her younger siblings Policarpa and Bibiano with her. They lived in the houses of their godmother Margarita Beltran and their aunt Manuela until Catarina married Domingo Garcia, again taking her two siblings with her.

There is little information about this period in Policarpa's life. What is known is that she worked as a seamstress, and is also believed to have worked as a teacher in a public school.

At that time Guaduas was an important rest stop on the most important road through New Granada, a stretch of land from Bogota to the Magdalena River communicating with the north of the country and out to the Caribbean Sea: soldiers, nobles, artisans, farmers, insurgents, Spaniards and Grenadines of all walks of life passed through Gaduas, making it both a center of commerce and of news and information. During the war, Policarpa's family were involved on the Revolutionary side: her brother-in-law, Domingo Garcia, died fighting alongside Antonio Narino in the Southern Campaign, in which her brother Bibiano also fought.

According to legend, after the Revolution broke out, the Viceroy Antonio Jose Amar y Borbon and his wife Maria Francisca Villanova, fearing for their lives, were smuggled out of Bogota by the mayor Jose Miguel Pey de Andrade. They stopped in Guaduas, where the Vicereine, Maria Francisca Villanova, is supposed to have gone to Policarpa's house and foretold her imminent destiny and death.


History indicates that Policarpa was not involved in politics before 1810, but by the time she moved back to Santa Fe de Bogota in 1817, she was actively participating in political issues. Because Bogota was the stronghold of the Reconquista, where most of the population were Spanish Royalists and approved of the take over by Pablo Morillo, it was very difficult to get in and out of the city. Polycarpa and her brother Bibiano entered the capital with forged documents and safeguards, and a letter of introduction written by Ambrosio Almeyda and Jose Rodriguez, two Revolutionary leaders; they recommended she and her brother stay in the house of Andrea Ricaurte y Lozano under cover of working as her servants. In reality Andrea Ricaurte's home was the center of intelligence gathering and resistance in the capital.

In Guaduas Policarpa was known as a revolutionary. Because she was not known in Bogota, she could move freely and meet with other patriots and spies unsuspected. She could also infiltrate the homes of the Royalists. Offering her services as a seamstress to the wives and daughters of royalists and officers, Policarpa altered and mended for them and their families; at the same time she overheard conversations, collected maps and intelligence on their plans and activities, identified who the major Royalists were, and found out who were suspected of being Revolutionaries.

Policarpa also secretly recruited young men to the Revolutionary cause; with assistance from her brother. Together, they helped increase the number of soldiers the insurgency in Cundinamarca desperately needed.


Her operations ran smoothly and undetected until the Almeyda brothers were apprehended while carrying information back to the insurgents outside Bogota. Their information directly linked La Pola to the Revolution. The Almeyda brothers and La Pola were implicated in helping soldiers desert the Royal Army and join the Revolution; transporting weapons, ammunitions and supplies to the insurgents; in helping the Almeydas escape from prison when they were captured in September of the same year, and finding them refuge in Macheta. They had hoped their connection with La Pola could come in handy in the event of a revolt in the city. The Royalists now suspected her of treason, but lacked solid evidence to accuse a seamstress of espionage and treason.

The arrest of Alejo Sabarain while he was trying to escape to Casanare was the event that allowed them to arrest La Pola: he was apprehended with a list of Royalist and Patriots given to him by La Pola.

Sergeant Iglesias, the principal Spanish officer in Bogota, was charged with finding and arresting her. Policarpa Salavarrieta and her brother Bibiano were both arrested at the house of Andrea Ricaurte y Lozano and taken to the Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Senora del Rosario, which had been turned into a makeshift prison.

Trial and death

They were taken to the Council of war and on November 10 Policarpa, Alejo, and six other prisoners were sentenced to execution by firing squad, set for the morning of November 14.

The hour chosen for her execution was 9 in the morning of November 14, 1817. Hands bound, La Pola marched to her death with two priests by her side and led by a guard. Instead of repeating the prayers the priests were reciting, she cursed the Spaniards and predicted their defeat in the coming Revolution. She was to die with six other prisoners and her lover, Alejo Sabarain, in the Bolivar Square. After ascending the scaffold she was told to turn her back, as that was the way traitors were killed. She asked to die kneeling, a more dignified position for a woman.

As was customary, the bodies of Alejo and the other six prisoners were paraded and exhibited through the streets of Bogota, to scare off would-be Revolutionaries. Her body, being that of a woman, was spared this humiliation.

Her Augustinian friar brothers, Jose Maria de Los Angeles and Manuel Salavarrieta, claimed the body, to give her a proper Christian burial in the convent church of San Agustin, in the neighborhood of La Candelaria.


Most historians consider Policarpa Salavarrieta the most significant woman of the Revolution.


Day of the Colombian Woman

On November 8, 1967, Law 44 was passed by the Congress of the Republic of Colombia and signed by President Carlos Lleras Restrepo, which declared in its 2nd Article that November 14 would be the Day of the Colombian Woman in honor of the anniversary of the death of Our heroine, Policarpa Salavarrieta.

Colombian currency

Policarpa Salavarrieta has been depicted on Colombian Currency many times over the years. While many idealized or mythological female figures have also appeared, her portrait is the only one of an actual female historical personality ever used.

[Other images include: Lady Liberty; Justice; an unknown Native American woman representing all indigenous peoples in Colombia; and more recently Maria, a fictitious character from the Jorge Isaacs novel of the same name, pictured with the author. The "Diez Mil Pesos" bill is currently the only denomination with Policarpa Salavarrieta's image still in circulation.


To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the independence of Colombia in 1910, the Government of Colombia issued a series of stamps that featured the images of the some of the Heroes of the Independence, including Policarpa Salavarrieta, Simon Bolivar, Francisco de Paula Santander, Camilo Torres Tenorio and others.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Policarpa Salavarrieta