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Narciso Lopez

Narciso Lopez was an adventurer and soldier, famous for his attempts to liberate Cuba from Spain in the 1850s.

Life in Venezuela, Cuba, and Spain

Narciso Lopez was a born in Caracas, Venezuela to a wealthy merchant family of Basque origin; his father was Pedro Manuel Lopez and his mother was Ana Paula de Oriola (sometimes spelt Urriola). He is known to have had at least one sister. It is said that he was recruited by the ruthless Spanish general Jose Tomas Boves (Jose Tomas Rodriguez) when as a young teenager he had been forcibly recruited from the ranks of the defeated independence forces abandoned by a fleeing Simon Bolivar at the city of Valencia [*].

When still a young man, he fought for the Spanish, at the Battle of Queseras del Medio [*], and Carabobo [*] against the forces for independence led by Simon Bolivar, Jose Antonio Paez and others [*].

When the Spanish army withdrew in defeat in 1821 after the decisive Battle of Carabobo in present day Venezuela, Lopez, who had fought at Carabobo, left with them as did many other battle survivors including Calixto Garcia de Luna e Izquierdo, who would be grandfather of Cuban Independence major general Calixto Garcia. Narciso Lopez earned the rank of colonel at the early age of twenty-one and fought in the First Carlist War. After the war, Lopez continued to serve the Spanish government in several administrative posts, including the Cortes for the city of Seville and as military governor in Madrid. Lopez moved to Cuba as an assistant to the new governor-general, but lost his post when the governorship changed hands in 1843. In 1825 in Cuba he married the sister of the Count of Pozos Dulces, Maria Dolores with whom he had a son (Narciso Lopez Frias). After failing in a few business ventures, he became a partisan of the anti-Spanish faction in Cuba. In 1848, during a Spanish arrest of Cuban revolutionaries, Lopez fled to the United States.

Career as a filibuster

As soon as he arrived Lopez began planning a filibustering expedition from the United States to liberate Cuba. He made contact with influential American politicians, including John L. O'Sullivan, an expansionist and coiner of the term Manifest Destiny. Lopez recruited Cuban exiles in New York City and many other adventurers to his cause and in 1849 his expedition was poised to embark simultaneously from New Orleans and New York. However Zachary Taylor, who had renounced filibustering as a valid means of U.S. expansion, took steps against Lopez. He issued orders to blockade and seize his ships. Lopez's first expedition never reached Cuba.

Undeterred by this setback, Lopez decided to plan a new filibuster and to focus his recruiting effort on the southern United States. As a supporter of slavery himself, Lopez realized the advantages for the South of a free Cuba. He and other Southerners hoped that Cuba would become a strong partner in the slavery and perhaps, like Texas, join the Union as a slave state. He moved his headquarters to New Orleans and tried to galvanize popular support by recruiting the influential men of the South to lead his expedition. He solicited the military help of Senator Jefferson Davis, who had distinguished himself in the Battle of Buena Vista, offering him a hundred thousand dollars and a very fine coffee plantation. Davis, to the great relief of his wife, turned him down, but he recommended one of his friends from the Mexican-American War, Major Robert E. Lee. Lee thought seriously about Lopez's offer, but eventually also decided not to become involved. Gen. Lopez was a freemason and member of Solomon's Lodge No. 1, F. & A. M. at Savannah, Georgia. Solomon's Lodge No. 1, F. & A. M. was founded by the renowned freemason James Edward Oglethorpe on February 21, 1734. Solomon's Lodge at Savannah is the "Oldest Continuously Operating English Constituted Lodge in the Western Hemisphere".

Although Lopez failed to recruit these two rising stars, he did win the financial and political support of many influential Southerners including Governor John Quitman of Mississippi, former Senator John Henderson and the editor of the New Orleans Delta, Laurence Sigur. Lopez enlisted about six-hundred filibusters in his expedition, and successfully reached Cuba in May 1850. His troops arrived in and took the town of Cardenas, carrying a flag that Lopez and Tolon had designed and which would become the flag of modern Cuba. Nevertheless, the local support that he had hoped for failed to materialize when the fighting started. Much of the local population joined the Spanish against Lopez, and he hastily retreated to Key West, where he disbanded the expedition within minutes of landing in order to avoid prosecution under the U.S. Neutrality Law of 1818.

In the aftermath of the expedition, Lopez and many of his supporters were indicted by a federal grand jury. Although the indictments did not end in convictions, they did force Governor John Quitman to resign from his office and face trial. Despite military and legal setbacks, Lopez began planning another expedition, one which met with the similar problems, but with more disastrous consequences.

In August 1851, Lopez once again departed for Cuba with several hundred men. When he arrived, he took one half of his expedition to march inland, while the other half, commanded by Colonel William Crittenden, remained on the northern coast to protect supplies. As in his first attempt, the local support that Lopez had counted upon did not answer his appeals. Outnumbered and surrounded by Spanish forces, Lopez and many men were captured. Crittenden's forces shared the same fate. The Spanish executed most of the prisoners, sending others to work in mining labor camps. Those executed included many Americans, Colonel Crittenden, and Lopez himself.

Aftermath and significance

The execution of Lopez and his soldiers caused outrage in both the northern and southern United States. Many who did not support the expedition found the Spanish treatment of military prisoners brutal. The strongest reaction occurred in New Orleans, where a mob attacked the Spanish consulate. Despite its failure, Lopez's expedition inspired other filibusters to attack Latin American countries throughout the 1850s, most notably William Walker's invasions of Central America in 1855-1860. Had he been successful, Lopez could have profoundly altered politics in the Americas, giving a strong Caribbean foothold to the United States and spurring its further expansion. Instead, the failure of Lopez and other filibusters discouraged Americans, especially in the South, from adopting expansionist strategies. Faced with the inability of slavery to move southward, many Southerners turned away from expansion and talked instead of secession.

The present Flag of Cuba is adopted from Lopez's expeditioniary banner [[:es:Narciso Lopez]], [*].

See also

History of Cuba

History of the United States (1849-1865)

Bay of Pigs Invasion

Cuba-United States relations


Caldwell, Robert G. The Lopez Expeditions to Cuba 1848-1851. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1915.

Chaffin, Tom. Fatal Glory: Narciso Lopez and the First Clandestine U.S. War against Cuba. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996.

Lazo, Rodrigo "Writing to Cuba: Filibustering and Cuban Exiles in the United States. University of North Carolina Press, 2005 ISBN 0-8078-5594-4

May, Robert E. ''Manifest Destiny's Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

May, Robert E. The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002.

Quisenberry, Anderson G. Lopez's Expeditions to Cuba, 1850 and 1851. Louisville: Louisville University Press, 1906.

Villaverde, Cirilo 1882 (New translation by Sibylle Fischer and Helen Lane) Cecilia Valdes or El Angel Hill''. Oxford University Press, USA 2005 ISBN 0-19-514395-7

External links

[*] Cuban Filibuster Movement

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