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The Ayamo Uprising

Key West: The Old and the New


On October 10, 1868, Carlos M. de Cespedes, a distinguished lawyer and wealthy Cuban planter, gave the cry of "Cuba Libre" on his estate, La Demajagua, near Manzanilla, in the eastern part of Cuba. He was joined by thousands of patriots, and on the 18th took possession of the city of Bayamo, his garrison birthplace, after having subdued the Spanish.

Spain not having on the island sufficient troops to oppose the increasing revolution, raised companies of volunteers from the lowest class of the Spanish population. The cruelties and atrocities of the volunteers was the cause of many Cubans, who were not actively engaged in the revolution, abandoning the island and coming to Key West.

In 1869 a Spanish resident of Havana, a wealthy manufacturer of cigars, Senor Vicente Martinez Ybor, thinking that his business was exposed in Havana to the caprice of the volunteers, who were then committing every sort of depredation, concluded to open a branch factory at Key West. As soon as he commenced making arrangements to do this he was suspected of treachery to the Spanish government, and put under surveillance of the volunteers, who made threats against him and his property.

He then decided to remove his entire business to Key West, and came here with his family. He founded his factory, El Principe de Gales, during the early part of 1869, and thus was laid the foundation of Key West's reputation as the greatest clear-Havana cigar manufacturing place in the United States.

Among the prominent Cubans who early came to Key West, were the Borroto Brothers, Jacinto, Julio and Francisco. J. M. J. Navarro; the Barrancos, Francisco, Augustin and Manuel; Enrique and Esteban Parodi; Mateo and Luis Someillan, and Don Fernando Valdez. Of these only two have any descendants in Key West, Mrs. Robert O. Curry, a daughter of Mr. Valdez, and Mr. Jose M. Navarro, a son of Mr. J. M. J. Navarro, have large and attractive families.

Later came Mr. E. H. Gato, who now has one of the largest clear-Havana cigar factories in the United States, with a reputation second to none.

The continued acts of cruelty by the volunteers, and the establishment of cigar factories at Key West, where labor could be readily obtained, brought an influx of Cubans to our city.

One of the first public acts on their part was to erect a building to be used for the discussion of political matters, for dramatic purposes, and to provide a place for the education of their children. It was dedicated on January 21, 1871, and called San Carlos Hall after Carlos M. de Cespedes.

The chief spirit in this movement was Mr. Martin Herrera, and to his energy and patriotism, the Cubans owe this monument. It is regarded by them as a sanctuary. Many of the leading Cubans of the present generation were educated there, the most distinguished of whom is Hon. Antonio Diaz y Carrasco, the Cuban consul at Key West.

"San Carlos" was destroyed by the fire of 1886-the conflagration is supposed to have originated in the building. It was promptly rebuilt and has had frequent additions. The upper part is used for school rooms, and the lower part as an opera house. It receives annually five hundred dollars from the Monroe county board of public instruction, and twenty-four hundred from the Cuban government.

Excerpt from "Key West: The Old and the New" by Hefferson B. Browne, 1912.


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