Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Lara Family from Colombia's Caribbean Coast (updated 3/3/2018)

My great-great-grandmother Benjamina Martelo, seen here in this beautiful 1883 photograph, came from a family of ranchers on the savannah of the old federal Bolívar State in Colombia, who drifted north from Sincelejo and Corozal (now Sucre Department) towards Mahates (Bolívar Department), where they founded the nearby town of San Joaquín.

Benjamina looks like the embodiment of Victorian ease, but her brief life was scarred by political violence and civil war. Benjamina's first husband, Captain Wolvert L. Ecker (1847-1885), and Pedro Antonio Lara de la Rosa (c.1829-1908), the father of Benjamina's second husband, fought for the Liberal Party to rule Colombia, but its progressive ideals remain unfulfilled to this day. 

Pedro Antonio Lara de la Rosa was born around 1829 in Ocaña, Norte de Santander, to Marcelino Lara and Rudecinda de la Rosa. The previous year of 1828, the town hosted the "Convention of Ocaña," where the followers of Francisco Paula de Santander pushed for a federalist government for Gran Colombia, to counter Simón Bolívar, who favored centralist rule and declared himself a dictator-for-life. Gran Colombia splintered into several nations in 1830, and Santander's followers became the founders of Colombia's Liberal Party in 1848. The historian Jacobo Pérez Escobar notes that Pedro A. Lara was called a "spoiled child of the old golgotismo" ("Golgotismo" referring to the most radical branch of the Liberal Party). Pedro's close associate, Juan Jos
é Nieto (1805-1866), had been a supporter of Santander since the 1820s, and it's possible that Marcelino Lara was also an early member of this movement.

The Liberal Party got President 
José María Obando to enact a new liberal constitution in 1853 that banned slavery, created universal male suffrage, and established federal rule. The radical "gólgota" Liberals did not feel Obando had gone far enough. Congressional efforts to pass free trade laws and reduce the size of the military angered Bogotá's artisans and soldiers, and so they plotted a rebellion in the capital.

Pedro A. Lara's life changed forever on April 17, 1854, when General José María Melo led a coup against Obando and served as a dictator until his military defeat in December. (This year of civil war appears in Juan Gabriel Vásquez's novel The Secret History of Costaguana.) The government investigated the April 17th coup, and Pedro was called as a witness. He was listed as a resident of Honda (now Tolima Department), a center of resistance against Melo's military rule. Pedro testified on October 11, 1854 that he knew a military officer who had plotted with both President Obando's forces and Melo's rebels, and described how the rebels armed themselves. By February 1855, the commission noted that Pedro had fled from Honda, down the Magdalena River towards the more Liberal Caribbean Coast, a move that probably saved his life.

Settling in Remolino in the state of Magdalena, Pedro A. Lara used his doctorate in law to enter politics, becoming a 
Liberal delegate and then a senator. Pedro represented the State of Magdalena in the 1858 constitutional convention, which gave Colombia an extremely federal government. He first married Isabel Surmay Bustos, an Afro-Colombian woman, in her hometown of Mompox in 1861, and after Isabel's death married Manuela Collante, in 1884 in Remolino. Pedro also became involved in the region's multiple civil wars. When General Juan José Nieto governed the state of Bolívar from the battlefield during the civil war of 1860, Pedro was his trusted secretary who maintained the rule of law through correspondence. 

Pedro saw firsthand how multiple civil wars were leaving Magdalena as a land with few resources and a low population. In 1877, when he served as the President of the Assembly of Magdalena, he remarked that Magdalena was "un Estado empobrecido por las guerras, sin rentas y sin crédito, lleno de luto y orfandad. Por doquier no se ve sino lágrimas y destrucción de propiedades, de hogares y familias. ... Proporcionar paz al Estado, es pues, el supremo bien a que debe y puede aspirar una administración honrada. . . La miseria por si sola es elemento de desorden. En lo general el hombre acomodado huye de las revueltas, temiendo comprometer su fortuna; mientras que el necesitado puede ser inspirado por incentivo de lucro."

Yet as Pedro spoke out against war, he was still involved in partisan struggles. In 1879, Pedro served as the secretary of 
General José María Campo Serrano, who led a successful coup against the president (governor) of Magdalena, Luis A. Robles. Nowadays, Robles is remembered for being the first Afro-Colombian to serve in the congress and presidential cabinet.

Dr. Pedro A. Lara reached the pinnacle of his political career in 1882-1883, when he served as the president (governor) of the federal state of Magdalena. He inaugurated construction of a railroad in Santa Marta and led celebrations of the centenary of Simón Bolívar's birth. However, in 1885 when radical Liberals waged civil war against the more conservative and centralist rule of President Rafael Núñez, Pedro joined the rebel ranks and served as the "governor of Barranquilla." 

On April 18, 1885, Pedro became a footnote to history when he issued an order for rebel troops to use the "Ambrose Light," a U.S. ship in Colombian waters, as a warship. Six days later, the crew of another U.S. warship patrolling the area, the USS Alliance, took over the Ambrose Light and imprisoned the Colombians. The two ships sailed to New York, where a judge declared on June 1, 1885 that the orders of the "rebel leader" Pedro Lara were moot and the seizure was legal. This international maritime legal case, United States vs. The Ambrose Light, Etc., is still studied for its definitions of "piracy" and "belligerency." 

During that time, Colombia's Liberal forces were plotting a major attack: the last major naval siege of the famed walled city of Cartagena. Among the rebel ranks was a ship captain from the United States, Captain Wolvert L. Ecker (the middle initial standing for "Lawrence" or "Lachlan"). 

Wolvert was born in 1847 in the port of Darien, Georgia. His father, William Badger Ecker (1810-1854), was a Yankee from New York who went down South during the cotton boom of the 1830s to make his fortune. W.B. Ecker became a lumber measurer and married Margaret Christiana Miller (1825-1884), who was born in St. Mary's, Georgia to a British father and a Scotch mother. 

By 1850, W.B. Ecker owned 19 slaves and 800 acres along the Altamaha River. It's uncertain when the Eckers sloughed off the horrid practice of owning people. The 1860 U.S. slave census shows the widow Ecker as owning 21 slaves in Darien, but she is listed in the main 1860 census as living in New York State, the ancestral home of the Eckers. 

Young Wolvert was named after his great-grandfather, Wolvert Ecker (1730-1799), a Minuteman captain in the American Revolution and another slave owner who lived in the Gomez Mill House of Newburgh, N.Y. The elder Wolvert was in turn named for his grandfather, Wolfart Acker (c.1668-1753), a son of Dutch colonists and a supposed councilor for Peter Stuyvesant who was known for his homestead Sunnyside, which was immortalized in Washington Irving's book Wolfert's Roost.

Choosing to become a sailor instead of a yeoman, the younger Wolvert started as a cabin boy at age 13, and by age 23 was serving as first mate. In 1873, 26-year-old Wolvert registered with Lloyd's of London as a captain for the British-owned Atlas Mail Line, which sent steamships laden with mail, merchandise, and passengers from New York and Liverpool to the Caribbean and back. Two voyages of the S.S. Etna commanded by Ecker in 1874 will give an idea of his monthly schedule: June 3rd it left New York; June 17th it reached "Santa Martha" in Colombia; June 23rd it reached Savanilla in Colombia (an old port 15 miles from Barranquilla); June 26th it reached Kingston, Jamaica; it arrived in New York on July 4th; reached Santa Martha on July 25th; reached Savanilla on July 31st; reached Kingston on August 5th; left Santa Martha on August 7th; arrived in New York on August 12th. 

By 1877, Wolvert had an American wife, Rose G. Ellis, and a one-year-old daughter, Harriet Evangeline Ecker, but slowly he was identifying more with the Caribbean. By 1881, he listed himself on a ship manifest as a resident of the "United States of Colombia" (the country's old federalist name).

Somehow, Wolvert came to the lakeside town of Mahates, Colombia, about 25 miles inland from Cartagena. There, he stayed the night and met Benjamina Martelo, the petite, pretty brunette daughter of a ranching family. They married (keep in mind I don't know what happened to the first Mrs. Ecker) and they had two daughters, Jessie and Maggie, the latter named for Wolvert's mother.

Their idyll in Mahates was soon shattered by civil war. President Rafael Núñez of Cartagena took command of the country in 1884 and installed strong centralized rule and reversals of the past 20 years' mild attempts at a more secular country. Soon, Liberals on the Caribbean coast formed armies to rebel against Núñez, and Wolvert, with his knowledge of the area's ports, rivers, and lakes, was recruited.

On May 7, 1885, a small Liberal flotilla approached the walls of Cartagena, ready to lay siege. Wolvert commanded the boat "Colombia" which bore the country's only modern cannon, nicknamed "El Vigilante." A legend repeated in newspapers and history books says that Wolvert fired the first shot and the last shot of the siege. When he fired the cannon for the last time, the cannon backfired and tore him in half. The Conservative historian José María Samper wrote, "And there are those who deny the justice of Divine Providence, manifest in the logic of Good and Evil!" One American newspaper called Ecker a "soldier of fortune" but a Liberal memoir by Foción Soto remembered him as being sincere to their cause.

The siege of Cartagena failed and Núñez's centralist Constitution of 1886 was law for the next century, but the Liberal struggle continued. Pedro A. Lara remained a prominent Liberal Party member through the 1890s, attended national conferences in Bogotá with younger members like Rafael Uribe Uribe, and maintained correspondence with ex-President Aquileo Parra. Pedro died in Remolino on June 8, 1908, at age 79, and was buried the same day.

The widow Benjamina Martelo married Pedro's son, Dr. Saturnino Lara (c.1852-1920), who was a lawyer educated in the prestigious Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá. Saturnino was a 33rd degree Mason and his Liberal ideas led to his frequent imprisonment in the "b
óvedas," vaults built into the walls of Cartagena. Saturnino and Benjamina had four children, and then in the mid-1890s their life together came to a tragic halt -- criminals set fire to their house and Benjamina died of a heart attack. The partisan and senseless struggle exploded again during the "War of a Thousand Days" (1899-1902), and then "La Violencia" (1946-1964), a bloody civil war that almost lasted 20 years and was succeeded by a guerrilla war that still continues to this day.

Now let's look in-depth at the individual families that contributed to this Caribbean Colombian saga...

1) The Martelo Family

"Martelo" is both the Galician and Portuguese word for hammer, versus "martillo" in Spanish, so the family probably came from western Iberia. My Martelo family eventually settled in Sincelejo and Corozal, now in Sucre Department, Colombia, probably after the towns were resettled during the expedition of Antonio de la Torre y Miranda (1774-1778).

At the time, according to historian Aline Helg, roughly half the population of Caribbean Colombia lived in rochelas (unofficial small settlements), palenques (communities founded by runaway slaves), and other areas without control by church or state. The 1777 census showed that about two-thirds of the people living outside the region's main cities and at least 90% of people in villages along the Magdalena River were libres de todos los colores (free people of color). Since the 1740s, Spanish officials had led expeditions to re-establish towns in the region, but Antonio de la Torre y Miranda was the most successful, founding or resettling 43 towns and forcibly relocating 43,000 people in only four years.

Sincelejo and Corozal attracted a higher number of poor, land-hungry Spaniards and mestizos, and the Martelo family was probably among the recipients of land grants who created ranches. The white and mestizo ranchers employed black cowboys, who often used their wandering herds to trample other people's land and incorporate it into their bosses' properties.

The male settlers took indigenous women from the nearby pueblos de indios as their common-law wives. These foremothers were probably Zenú Indians, descendants of a civilization that lasted from 200 BC to the 1500s. The complex Zenú canal system still irrigates the region, and their handmade woven hats, the sombreros vueltiao, have recently become a popular national symbol of Colombia.

Zenú gold filigree nose pendants displayed in Cartagena's Museo del Oro Zenú. Each one represents an ancestral life.
As some point my Martelo ancestors went north to Mahates, possibly following Colombia's independence and the Colonialization Law of 1823, which allowed the region's elite and few European immigrants to expand their landholdings. The Martelo family continued with ranching and being involved in the area's politics. 

Ezequiel Martelo, my probable great-great-great-grandfather, is mentioned in 1852 as a founding member of the Nueva Sociedad Democrática (New Democratic Society) of Mahates, which backed the radical Liberal government of President José Hilario López (1849-1853). The society's secretary, Manuel Marcelino Martelo, was probably Ezequiel's brother or close relative. Ezequiel Martelo and Manuel M. Martelo are among the signers of an 1859 document pledging Mahates's support of the 1858 Constitución para la Confederación Granadina, which made Colombia extremely federal, allowing the new "Estado de Bolívar" to have its own separate president and legislature. This arrangement lasted until, as mentioned above, President Rafael Núñez crushed the Liberal rebellion in 1885 and passed the centralist Constitution of 1886.

The surviving parish registrars of Mahates are fragmentary, but they have some information about the families of Ezequiel and Manuel M. Martelo.  

First generation

Ezequiel Martelo married Lucía Pimienta and their children included:

1. Ezequiel Martelo Pimienta (born c.1863 in Mahates), whose family continues below. 

2. (probably) Benjamina Martelo, who was married first to Captain Wolvert Ecker and then to Dr. Saturnino Lara, and whose families continue below.

Ezequiel also had several hijos espositos (foundlings) left at his house, who may or may not have been his illegitamite children: 

3. Marcelino Martelo (born 1853)
4. Virgilio Martelo (born 1858)
5. Ana Joaquina Martelo (born 1873)

Manuel Marcelino Martelo and Olimipia González had at least a son:

1. Porfirio Martelo González (born 1876 in Mahates)

Manuel also had an hijo esposito (foundling) left at his house, who may or may not have been his illegitamite child: 

2. Aureliano Martelo (born 1852)

Second Generation

Ezequiel Martelo Pimienta (born c.1863 in Mahates) was the founder of San Joaquín, a small village outside of Mahates. Today there is a school in that settlement, the Institución Educativa Tecnica Agropecuaría Ezequiel Martelo Pimienta, which bears his name. Ezequiel married Celestina Llerena Nieto (born c.1865) in 1908 in Mahates. They had seven children prior to their marriage:

1. Eladio Martelo Llerena

2. Horacio Martelo Llerena

3. Rosario Martelo Llerena

4. Francisco Martelo Llerena

5. Lizardo Martelo Llerena (born 1891 in Mahates; died 1964 in Mahates), who married Tomasa Pacheco Moreno in 1913 in Mahates.

6. Santander Martelo Llerena (born 1892 in Mahates; died 1978 in Mahates), who married Josefa Cantillo Lionés in 1913 in Mahates. His godparents were his aunt Benjamina Martelo and uncle Saturnino Lara. 

7. Benjamina Martelo Llerena (born 1895 in Mahates)

2) The Colombian Ecker Family

Captain Wolvert L. Ecker (born 1847 in Darien, Georgia; died May 7, 1885 during the Liberals’ siege of Cartagena) was first married in the United States to Rose G. Ellis, and they had one daughter:

1. Harriet Evangeline Ecker (born 1876 in Barranquilla), who in 1895 married Frank Robinson Parsons (1867-1901), a dentist, in St. Peter's Episcopal Church in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York, NY. By the 1900 Census, Frank had divorced Harriet and was listed as single and living with his father, "capitalist" William R. Parsons, in Springfield, MA. Frank accidentally died the following year in Peru, Indiana. It's unclear what became of Rose Ecker or her daughter, Harriet Ecker.

Wolvert Ecker than had a relationship with Lorenza Espinosa. They had at least one son:

1. Guillermo Ecker Espinosa (born July 30, 1880; baptized December 21, 1880 in Cartagena). In the baptism record, Wolvert was listed as "Guillermo Ecker" and his parents were listed as "Guillermo B. Ecker" and "Margarita Ecker." Guillermo Ecker married Manuela de León, and their children included:

a. Guillermo Ecker de León (born in Santa Lucía, Atlántico, Colombia) who on March 22, 1936 in Mahates married his second cousin Guillermina López Ecker, seen below.

b. Eduardo Antonio Ecker de León (born 1909 in Calamar, Bolívar, Colombia)

Captain Wolvert Ecker then married Benjamina Martelo, probably in Mahates, and had two daughters: 

1. Margarita "Maggie" Ecker Martelo (born 1884) first had an illegitimate son with Cristóbal Bossa, named Alfredo Bossa Ecker (born 1902, baptized 1903 in Mahates).

Maggie then married Luis Felipe Molina on October 8, 1914. Among their children was a son who became a ship captain.

Maggie then married a man named Lambis and had another family.

2. Jessie Isabel Ecker Martelo (born 1885; died 1975), who lived in Mahates, married Darío Alberto López Díaz (c.1882-1959), and their children included:

a. Sócrates López Ecker (born 1904)

b. Josefa María López Ecker (born 1908)

c. Darío López Ecker (1911-1979), who had a son, Wolbert López López (born 1942), who carried on the old family name.

d. Benjamina López Ecker (baptized 1913 in Cartagena)

e. Eduardo López Ecker

f. Euclides López Ecker

g. Guillermina López Ecker, who in 1936 in Mahates married her second cousin Guillermo Ecker de León, seen above.

h. Isabel Segunda López Ecker (born 1917; baptized 1918 in Mahates)

In December 1889, Benjamina Martelo appeared before the court in Mahates to officially name her brother Marcelino Martelo the guardian of her two daughters, Margaret aged 5 1/2 and Isabel aged 4. Benjamina wanted to marry Saturnino Lara, as seen below, and this was the only way that her daughters could remain the heirs of land once owned by their late father.

3) The Lara Family

The families of Pedro A. Lara

Marcelino Lara and his wife Rudecinda de la Rosa lived in Ocaña, Norte de Santander in the early 1800s. The "Lara" and "de la Rosa" surnames appear in Ocaña parish records dating back to the 1600s but it is unclear how our family is related. The children of Marcelino Lara and his wife Rudecinda de la Rosa included:

1. Pedro Antonio Lara de la Rosa (born c.1829 in Ocaña; died 1908 in Remolino, Magdalena), whose family continues below.

2. Marcelino Lara de la Rosa, who married Elvira Villa Mora in 1878 in Piñon, Magdalena and had a family.

At the time Pedro A. Lara was born, Ocaña was part of the larger Provincia de Santa Marta, which may explain why the Lara family migrated down the Magdalena River towards the Caribbean coast, instead of staying in the Andes.

When Pedro was a young man, he had a son, probably out of wedlock:

1. Saturnino Lara (born c.1852, probably in Remolino, Magdalena; died August 3, 1920 in Barranquilla), whose family continues in the next section.

As noted above, Pedro A. Lara ended up in Honda, Tolima during the 1854 civil war, and then fled down the Magdalena River for good.

Pedro A. Lara married Isabel Surmay Bustos in 1861 in Mompox, and their children included:

1. Emilia Isabel Lara Surmay (died 1890 in Remolino), who married Julio A. Salofre in 1885 in Remolino.

2. Teresa Lara Surmay (baptized 1866 in Barranquilla)

3. Ignacio Lara Surmay (born 1870, baptized 1871 in Remolino)

4. María Lara Surmay (born 1872 in Barranquilla), who married Miguel Pérez Rosa in 1892 in Remolino.

5. Isabel Lara Surmay (born and baptized 1874 in Remolino)

6. Colombia de la Concepción Lara Surmay (born and baptized 1876 in Remolino), who received her patriotic name while the country was at civil war.

Pedro A. Lara then married Manuela Collante Navarro on June 26, 1884 in Remolino and their children included:

1. Buenaventura Lara Collante (born 1887 in Remolino), who married Emilia Briceño in 1920 in Remolino.

2. Helena Zoraida Lara Collante (born 1892 in Remolino), who married her mother's cousin, the widower Pedro Juan Navarro Collante (born 1846), in 1918 in Remolino. Pedro J. Navarro was a Liberal publisher and politician who founded the newspaper "El Faro" [The Lighthouse] in Sitionuevo, Magdalena in 1899. The publication opposed the rule of the Santa Marta elite and led to the inclusion of Magdalena River towns in a short-lived Department of Barranquilla (1908-1910). 

The families of Saturnino Lara

Dr. Saturnino Lara de la Rosa (born c.1852 in Remolino, Magdalena; died August 3, 1920 in Barranquilla), according to his descendants, was a doctor in law who graduated from the prestigious Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá. His actual student record paints a different picture. Saturnino Lara, age 28, matriculated at the Colegio del Rosario on February 14, 1880, choosing ungraded courses in Civil Law Procedures of Cundinamarca (Colombia) and Judicial Evidence. On September 20, 1880, Saturnino chose a different law course, on Spanish Civil Law. Then on October 28, 1880, Saturnino canceled both his courses in Civil Law and Judicial Evidence. 

Saturnino Lara remained in the Universidad del Rosario as a syndic (official in charge of business transactions) from October 1880 until his resignation in April 1882. Interestingly, most of Saturnino's time at the Universidad del Rosario overlapped with the rectorship of Manuel Ezequiel Corrales, an accomplished "Cartagena mulato" intellectual who attracted the ire of bogotanos when he headed the esteemed Andean institution.

Whatever social advantages Saturnino had as the son of a governor evaporated in Colombia's divisive political climate. Saturnino was costeño, Liberal, and a Freemason in a country increasingly under control of a Conservative, Andean, Catholic elite.

Around 1890, Saturnino Lara became the second husband of Benjamina Martelo, the widow of Captain Wolvert Ecker. They probably married in Mahates and had at least four children (order unknown): 

1. Pedro Antonio Lara Martelo (born c.1891) married Inés Campillo Vásquez (born c.1899) on April 8, 1934 in the Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad in Cartagena. Their children included Leticia Lara Campillo de Campillo, who married a sailor on the Flota Mercante Grancolombiana (a Colombian ocean freight fleet).

2. Sócrates Lara Martelo (born Dec. 19, 1891 and baptized June 19, 1892 in Mahates), who was a lawyer in either Bogotá or Barranquilla.

3. Saturnino Lara Martelo, who lived in El Retén, Magdalena, Colombia, the town right next to Aracataca, the birthplace of Gabriel García Márquez. His children included Saturnino, Arturo, Manuela, Calixto, and Julio Lara Arrieta.

4. Ana Lara Martelo (born August 24, 1893 in Mahates, baptized February 26, 1894 in Mahates; died 1980 in Cartagena), whose family continues below. 

After the tragic death of Benjamina, Dr. Saturnino Lara de la Rosa married Nicolasa Charris on July 15, 1897 in Remolino, Magdalena, Colombia. Among their children were:

1. América Nicolasa Lara Charris (born on, yes, July 4, 1898 in Remolino)

2. Rafael Arcangel Lara Charris (born 1900 in Remolino)

3. Colombia Lara Charris (born 1906; baptized 1907 in San Estanislao, Bolívar, Colombia)

4. Esteban Lara Charris (born 1907; baptized 1911 in San Estanislao, Bolívar, Colombia), who also lived in Tierralta, married Josefa Arjona and their children were Pedro Antonio Lara Arjona, César Esteban Lara Arjona (the mayor of Tierralta from 1987-1988), Iris Lara Arjona and the infamously corrupt Representative Jaime Lara Arjona, who was married to the corrupt Senator Flora Sierra.

5. Gerónimo Lara Charris (born 1909; baptized 1910 in San Estanislao)

6. Carlos Lara Charris (born 1912; baptized 1913 in Cartagena), the mayor of Tierralta, Colombia from 1976-1977

Saturnino also had a long-term relationship with a woman named Edelmira Echenique in Montería, Colombia. They had two sons:

1. Marcelino Lara Echenique (baptized 1903 in Mahates), an old Liberal politician, who married Elvira Solano in 1933 in Montería and had two daughters.

2. Manuel Esteban Echenique, a pharmacist who moved to Cuba, had a daughter who supposedly married a son of the Cuban dictator Fulgenico Batista (1901-1973).

By 1906 Saturnino Lara was listed as a resident of the settlement at Soplaviento, Bolívar and had sold his property in Mahates. Soplaviento became recognized as a town in 1908 and its first mayor was a médico tegua (unlicensed doctor) from Magdalena named Dr. Saturnino Lara -- probably my great-great-grandfather. 

The families of Ana Lara Martelo

Ana Lara Martelo (born 1893 in Mahates; died 1980 in Cartagena) first married in c.1914 José Arcadio Vásquez Cohen (1883-1924), who worked as a doctor in poor communities. They met in Mahates, then briefly lived in the tiny town of Pajonal, Sucre Department before moving to San Bernardo del Viento, Sucre Department. Their children included:

1. Eugenia del Carmen Vásquez Lara (born 1916 in Barranquilla or San Bernardo del Viento; died 1998 in Miami), a ladies' garments worker who married Dr. Rito Antonio Rueda Rueda, JD (1922-1997) and had two sons. One son was a Vietnam War veteran and the other was a Persian Gulf War veteran and a psychiatrist.

2. José Arcadio Vásquez Lara (born 1917 in Barranquilla or San Bernardo del Viento; died 1995 in Miami), a mechanic.

3. Ovidio Vásquez Lara (Arcadio's identical twin, born 1917 in Barranquilla or San Bernardo del Viento) died in childhood. 

4. Sixta Tulia Vásquez Lara (b. c.1918 in Barranquilla or San Bernardo del Viento; d.2001 in Barranquilla), who married the Italian-born jeweler Miguel Savignano Briganti (1912-1980) and had four daughters and one son.

5 & 6. Two other sons, Virgilio Vásquez Lara and Israel Vásquez Lara, died in childhood. 

Ana Lara Martelo married a second time in the late 1920s to Calixto Domingo Noguera Díaz (1875-1961), a town magistrate with a strong Liberal pedigree.

Calixto's great-great-grandfather, Bernabé Noguera, was a lower-ranking officer in Cartagena's fixed batallion, the Fijo. Bernabé became a footnote to history when he and a fellow officer revealed plans for a royalist coup in Cartagena on February 4, 1811. The coup leaders were arrested and instead 3,000 men, including the so-called Pardos Patriotas, responded by patrolling the streets and demonstrating for a week for independence.  

Calixto's great-grandfather, Calixto Dolores Noguera (1796-1833), was a pardo and a supporter of Santander. He was a Mason and a member of the Sociedad de Veteranos Defensores de la Libertad, a pro-Santander, proto-Liberal society founded in Cartagena in 1831. When obsequies were held for Admiral José Prudencio Padilla in the Cathedral of Cartagena in October 1831, the elder Calixto Noguera sat with his fellow society members, as Helg writes, "in a single block, attired in mourning clothes but with red ribbons on their left breasts, in an imposing display of the new Liberal power."

Calixto's grandfather, Benjamín Noguera Varela (1823-1889), was prefect of Lórica in 1859 during Juan José Nieto's civil war and governor of the old federal Bolívar State in Colombia from 1878-1881. Benjamín Noguera and a Chinese woman with the last name Wong had a son, Mariano Noguera, who married Rebeca Díaz in Lórica, and they were the parents of Calixto Noguera Díaz

Ana Lara and Calixto Noguera Díaz lived in San Bernardo del Viento and had three children:

1. Teresa de Jesús Noguera Lara, who married Daniel Osorio and had one son and two daughters.

2. Adalberto Noguera Lara, who settled in Venezuela. 

3. Dr. Calixto Domingo Noguera Lara, a radiologist, married Zoila Núñez Farah and had two sons, who are also doctors.

4) From Africa to Mompós: The Bustos Navarro Family

The 1809 marriage record of José Joaquín Busto and María de la O. Navarro Fernández, which notes that they were "de color Pardo."

My family's history traces in part back to Africa, with brave individuals who endured the genocide of Transatlantic slavery, left their homes by force, and survived the horrific Middle Passage that killed about 15% of slaves. My DNA ancestry test revealed markers inherited from West Africa an unknown number of generations ago, and while I don't know my African ancestors' names or places of origin, I want to honor their contributions. Many Colombians today cherish folkloric black traditions like the palenqueras who carry baskets of fruit through Cartagena, but they often fail to acknowledge that their own ancestors were enslavers and sometimes also the enslaved, and how many African elements are in Colombian culture.

Yombe mother and child
from Congo or Angola
(Met Museum)
Most slaves entered Colombia through the port of Cartagena de Indias. From the early 1500s to 1570s, the majority of Africans who arrived came from Wolof-speaking nations in what is now Senegambia and Sierra Leone. Between 1580 and 1640, the largest group of African slaves arrived in Colombia, numbering at least 169,000 according to historian Nicolás del Castillo Mathieu. The majority were Kikongo-speaking Africans from Congo and Angola. After 1640, the Dutch gained control of the slave trade, and then French and English traders dominated in the 18th century. The majority of captives from this later period were from central-west Africa, including the Ewe people (from modern Ghana, Togo, and Benin), Akan people (from modern Ghana and Ivory Coast), and Igbo people (from modern Nigeria). Simón Bolívar enacted a law in 1821 that freed children born to slaves, and slavery was finally abolished in Colombia in 1851.

At an unknown point in time, my ancestors became free, joining the libres de todos los colores (free people of color) who made up the majority of the population of 18th-century Caribbean Colombia. Africans and their black and mixed-race descendants took many paths to freedom. While some slaves bought their own freedom and some owners practiced manumission, many other slaves escaped bondage and often settled in lands beyond the reach of the cities. Runaway slaves formed informal settlements called rochelas or walled villages called palenques, where they could speak African-derived dialects and defend themselves from colonial soldiers. A genetic study of the inhabitants of Palenque de San Basilio, the only palenque that is still extant, suggests that the residents' genetic origins are in Congo or Angola, and the local Palenquero dialect has words that probably stem from Yombe, a Kikongo language spoken in Congo.

While I do not know the experiences of my own African ancestors, I have gained insight into the Afro-Colombian ancestry of Isabel Surmay, first wife of my ancestor Pedro A. Lara. Isabel's great-grandmother, Patricia Busto (or Bustos), was born in the mid-1700s in Mompox (Bolívar Department), a town founded in 1537 along the Magdalena River and named after Mompoj, a chief of the local Malibú-speaking Kimbay tribe. The residents of Mompox (or Mompós), known as momposinos, were renowned for metalwork and providing the bogas (boats) and rowers for trade between the walled coastal city of Cartagena and the Andean interior. Mompox's population doubled from around 7,000 people in 1777 to around 14,000 people in 1801, as Spain relaxed and then tightened its trade regulations, resulting in increased smuggling. (For more on Mompox's history, culture, and tourist attractions, visit this amazing blog by Luis Alfredo Domínguez Hazbun. "Liberty and Equality in Caribbean Colombia, 1770-1835" by Aline Helg provides further historical background.

Patricia Busto was unmarried (soltera) and had at least two illegitimate children. During her lifetime, women of color far outnumbered men in Colombia's Caribbean cities, as they served as the majority of domestic help, and largely ran the outdoor marketplaces and many small businesses. The record of Patricia's death in 1817, in Mompox's separate registry for pardos (mulattoes), notes that she had a first-class funeral (con cruz alta) with a singing officiate, vigil, and Mass (oficio cantado, vigilia, y misa). Patricia earned this dignified burial by being an hermana de las Nieves, a member of a religious society known as the Cofradía de las Nieves (Cofraternity of [Our Lady of] the Snow). While the Cofradía de las Nieves seems to no longer exist, Mompox still has a number of cofradías that hold elaborate processions and ceremonies during Holy Week (Semana Santa).

The children of Patricia Bustos included:

1. Alexandra Bustos, who married José Anacleto Rodríguez in 1797 in Mompox.

2. José Joaquín Busto, whose family continues below.

Another Afro-Colombian ancestor, Antonio Navarro, was born in Cartagena while its famed walls were being completed. He married Ignacia Fernández, an Afro-Colombian from the town of Soledad, and was a widower by 1809. They had at least two daughters:

1. María de la O. Navarro Fernández, who married José Joaquín Busto and whose family continues below.

2. Martina Navarro Fernández, who married Eusebio Longaray in 1810 in Mompox.

In 1810, Antonio Navarro married Juana Crisostoma Bustos Blanco (a possible relation of his son-in-law) in Mompox. Their children included:

1. Pantaleona Josefa Navarro Bustos (born 1811 in Mompox)

2. Domingo José Navarro Bustos (born 1814 in Mompox)

3. Valentina de la Concepción Navarro Bustos (born 1815 in Mompox)

María de la O. Navarro married José Joaquín Busto on June 27, 1809 in Mompox. The marriage record noted that the bride and groom and their parents were "todos de color Pardo," all brown-skinned. The children of Joaquín Busto and María de la O. Navarro included:

1. José Calixto del Rosario Bustos Navarro (born 1810 in Mompox)

2. José María de Jesús Bustos Navarro (born 1812 in Mompox)

3. José María de la Natividad Bustos Navarro (born 1813 in Mompox)

4. María Josefa del Carmen Bustos Navarro (born 1816 in Mompox), whose family continues below.

During this time, Mompox led the fight for freedom from Spain. The town vicar who conducted the marriage ceremony of José Joaquín Bustos and María de la O. Navarro, Juan Fernández de Sotomayor (1777-1849), led a group of momposino elite that pushed for independence. He even wrote a book, Catecismo o Instrucción Popular (1814), which tried to explain the revolution to a broader audience, like Thomas Paine's Common Sense. Among the Bustos children's godparents were other local patriots like Captain Juan José de León Vigil and his wife Inés Fernández Silguero, and Fray José Antonio Solórzano.

In June 1810, Mompox residents held protests and ousted their Spanish military commander. On August 6, 1810, the day after another wave of demonstrations, the town council signed a declaration of independence from Spain. On August 7, Fernández de Sotomayor held a Te Deum mass to mark the town's "redemption." The liberator Simón Bolívar recruited 400 men from Mompox to fight alongside him, and he famously said, "Si Caracas me dió la vida, Mompox me dió la gloria." ("If Caracas gave me life, Mompox gave me glory.")

I am not sure whether Joaquín Bustos fought in the military, but given his connections to the pro-independence elite he was probably sympathetic to their cause. Mompox had a militia since the 1770s that mostly consisted of free men of color, and it's possible that Joaquín belonged to this force. After Mompox declared its independence from the province of Cartagena in October 1810, Cartagena's royalist troops marched on the town, crushed and disbanded the momposino militia in January 1811, jailed rebel leaders, and confiscated property.

Even after Cartagena declared independence on November 11, 1811, the independistas were still weakened by their own in-fighting. The political rivalries soured to the point that in April 1815 Simón Bolívar led a failed attack on Cartagena, called the Battle of Pie de la Popa, with an army that included momposinos like Juan José de León Vigil. The same month, the Spanish army reclaimed Mompox and Bolívar and León Vigil were among the patriots who then fled to Jamaica.

Mompox faced a new wave of imprisonments and executions under Spanish rule, and only in 1820 did Bolívar's army finally liberate the town. An 1820 enumeration of Mompox buildings that belonged to Spaniards noted that Joaquín Bustos lived in a building in the plazoleta (small square) behind the church and paid 5 pesos a month for rent. Joaquín promised that he would deliver his rent to the new Colombian authorities.

The long war took its toll on the new nation of Gran Colombia, especially in the Caribbean coast. Mompox's population declined from 14,000 people in 1801 to around 8,000 people in 1835. The town still remained a major center for travel on the Magdalena River until the mid-1800s, when it was overshadowed by first steamboat travel, and then the growth of coffee exports and the rise of the port city of Barranquilla.

5) The Surmay Bustos Family

Francisca González had an illegitimate son in the early 1800s, Emigdio Surmay, who became a court clerk (escribano). In 1833 in Mompox, Emigdio married María del Carmen Bustos Navarro. Emigdio may be descended from the creole Surmay family, or slaves owned by the family. Originally spelled "Zurmay," this surname is a combination of the Basque words zur (wood) and mai (table), according to the Enciclopedia general ilustrada del País Vasco by Bernardo Estornés Lasa.

The first Surmay to live in Mompox was Captain Juan de Surmay (died 1649), who was born in Sevilla, Spain to Joan de Zurmay and Isabel del Villar. It's unclear how Juan first came to Colombia, but in 1612 he was granted a real cédula (royal order) to return to the "province of Cartagena" with his mother, his sister Adriana de Zurmay, and two slaves that he had brought from Colombia, Francisco (who was described as mulato) and Beatríz Magdalena.

Juan de Surmay married Isabel de Vivero y Montalvo, the daughter of an encomendero from Tamalameque, Cesar, Colombia. Their son, Captain Nicolás de Surmay Salvador, married Catalina de Valverde Suárez de Amaya (died c.1705 in Mompox), a descendant of Captain Francisco de Valverde, a conquistador who earned enough to retire to his hometown of Malagón, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain in 1609. The Genealogías de Santa Fé de Bogotá says Nicolás de Surmay (or as the book erroneously calls him, "Nicolás Guzmán") and Catalina de Valverde ran an asylum for criminals, complete with chains, out of their house in Mompox. After Nicolás's death, Catalina married Manuel de Amuscótegui, an encomendero in Valledupar, Cesar, Colombia.

A granddaughter of Nicolás de Surmay married into high Bogotá society, and her great-granddaughter married in 1778 the Bogotá-born Marquis of San Jorge. Her stepson, Jorge Tadeo Lozano (1771-1816), served in 1811 as the first president of the "State of Cundinamarca," Bogotá's short-lived attempt to remain independent of the viceroy but loyal to the king of Spain.

Another Surmay descendant married a Spaniard living in Popayán, Cauca, Colombia, and her great-grandson, Francisco de Valencia y Sáenz del Pontón, served as treasurer of the Casa de la Moneda in Popayán and in 1789 was made the 1st Count of Casa Valencia by King Carlos IV of Spain. Francisco's son, Pedro Felipe Valencia y Codallos, was the 2nd Count of Casa Valencia, but he renounced his title and became a supporter of Colombian independence, for which the Spanish ordered his execution in 1816. Pedro Felipe's descendants moved to Spain, where the 8th Count of Casa Valencia still lives today. The famous Colombian poet Guillermo Valencia and his son, President Guillermo León Valencia, were descended from the 1st Count's younger brother.

As for Emigdio Surmay, he married Carmen Bustos and their children included:

1. Isabel María de los Dolores Surmay Bustos (born 1839 in Mompox), who married Pedro A. Lara in 1861 in Mompox, as seen above. 

2. José Ignacio Prisco Emigdio Surmay Bustos (born 1842 in Mompox), whose godfather Ramón Benedetti was a Minister of the Court in the District of Cartagena and a member of the "Ministerial" Party of the 1840s that became the Conservative Party.

6) A Partial Genealogy of Captain Wolvert Ecker

The family tree of Wolvert L. Ecker can be easily found online (and can stretch back more than 20 generations if you accept dubious ancestors), so I won't reproduce it here.

Wolvert's mother, Margaret C. Miller (1825-1884), was born to a father from London, England and a mother from Edinburgh, Scotland.

The California gold rush drew part of Wolvert's family. His aunt, Harriet Ecker, left Ithaca, NY, went down to Panama, then sailed up to San Francisco aboard the steamer Oregon in May 1850. A San Francisco land surveyor, William Matthewson Eddy, married Harriet aboard the boat before it docked, with the ship captain officiating the ceremony. Wolvert's uncle, George O. Ecker, also came to San Francisco and worked as a goldsmith. Today, San Francisco has two roads named Eddy Street and Ecker Street. 

The son of Wolvert's first cousin, from the Mead family of St. Louis, MO, was the acclaimed cowboy-turned-artist Charles M. Russell (1864-1926), whose paintings embody the visual myth of the American West. Another Mead relative, author Shepherd Mead, was Wolvert's first cousin twice removed.

A paternal great-grandfather and namesake, Wolvert Ecker (1730-1799), was a leading Hudson Valley patriot in the Revolutionary War who was descended from Dutch, German and French colonists of New Amsterdam. Relations through the elder Wolvert include:

-TV journalist Walter Cronkite (Wolvert L. Ecker's sixth cousin twice removed) 
-"Legend of Sleepy Hollow" heroine Catriena Ecker Van Tassel (Wolvert L. Ecker's first cousin four times removed).

A paternal great-grandmother, Sarah Pugsley (1752-1821), was a pureblood WASP and the second wife of the elder Wolvert Ecker. One of her great-great-great-grandfathers was Daniel Whitehead (c.1603-1668), who came from England and by 1644 lived on Long Island. In 1653, Daniel and several other English colonists arranged a "Great Purchase" to acquire the future sites of the towns of Oyster Bay and Huntington from Rasokan of the Matinecock tribe, because Englishmen were already illegally squatting on those sites. Daniel's descendants include:

-Railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1843-1899), a sixth cousin of Wolvert L. Ecker
-William Kissam Vanderbilt II (1878-1944), Cornelius's nephew and the founder of Long Island's Vanderbilt Museum
-Socialite and fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt
-Anderson Cooper the anchorman
-The 10th Duke of Marlborough, whose mother was a Vanderbilt, and the 11th and 12th Dukes of Marlborough
-John T. Hoffman, an associate of Boss Tweed, mayor of New York City, and governor of New York 
-Meryl Streep the actress
-Adam von Trott zu Solz (1909-1944), a leader in the failed plot to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944, whose maternal grandmother was related to Wolvert

Another of Sarah Pugsley's great-great-great-grandfathers was the Englishman John Hicks (c.1609-1672), a settler of Newport, RI and an abusive husband who left for New Amsterdam when his marriage to Herodias Long dissolved. His descendants include: 

-Quaker preacher Elias Hicks (1748-1829) who was probably a host on the Underground Railroad
-Valentine Hicks (1782-1850) who helped found the Long Island Rail Road and Hicksville, NY
-Folk painter and Quaker preacher Edward Hicks (1780-1849)
-Willis Haviland Carrier (1876-1950), the inventor of air conditioning
-Astronaut Dr. Laurel Clark (1961-2003) who died in the Columbia space shuttle disaster
-The Hicks family of Hicksville, NY who have run Hicks Nurseries since 1853.

Sarah Pugsley's ancestor Herodias Long (c.1623-c.1705) became a Quaker after she divorced John Hicks and married two more times, to George Gardner and John Porter. She was whipped for her faith when she visited Puritan Massachusetts. Among the descendants of Herodias and George are: 

-Stephen A. Douglas, the famed opponent of Lincoln
-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

A great-great-grandfather of Sarah Pugsley, Robert Field (c.1636-1701), also came from England to New York. His ancestors supposedly stretch back to the 13th-century Del Feld family of Sowerby, England. His descendants include: 

-Meryl Streep
-Adam von Trott zu Solz 
-Native American studies scholar Joseph Epes Brown, 
-"Vogue" editor Anna Wintour 
-RMS Titanic victim William Crothers Dulles (Wolvert L. Ecker's sixth cousin), a first class passenger who sunk with his dog.

7) The Ecker Family's Slaves

This connection with celebrity and the early days of the United States comes with a high price, as the Ecker family owned slaves. The elder Wolvert Ecker fought for freedom during the American Revolution, but is listed in the 1790 census as owning five slaves. 

His son, William Ecker, was not a slaveowner in 1800 but in the 1810 census owned 3 slaves. William's second son, W.B. Ecker, grew up in a slave-owning household, which by 1820 owned two male slaves aged between 14-25, two male slaves older than 45, one female slave under the age of 14, and one female slave aged between 14-25. One free colored man older than age 45 also lived in the Ecker household in 1820. 

W.B. Ecker saw New Yorkers, including his own father, emancipate their slaves in 1827, but by 1840 he lived in Georgia and owned six human beings: one male youth between the ages of 10-23, three men and one woman aged between 24-35, and one man between the ages of 36-55. 

The Savannah Slave Manifests show that W.B. Ecker shipped at least two of the people he owned in 1843. One record shows a slave named Joe, age 25 and 5'6" tall, was shipped by Ecker from Savannah to Darien on the steamer J. Stone, perhaps after being purchased. Another record shows a slave named Joe, age 22 and 5'3" tall, was shipped from Savannah to Florida on the steamer Richmond on May 31, 1843, perhaps after being sold. These are presumably two different men, but it's hard to say for certain. What is certain is that Ecker unashamedly profited from the buying and selling of humans.  

W.B. Ecker owned 19 people by 1850, but the census only listed these slaves' ages and "colour" (only using "black" and "mulatto"). I cannot recover the names of these captive people, but the census lists them in order as: 
1. A 32-year-old black man (possibly Joe?) 
2. A 26-year-old black man
3. A 24-year-old black man
4. A 10-year-old mulatto boy
5. A 9-year-old black boy
6. A 7-year-old mulatto boy
7. A 1-year-old mulatto boy
8. A 9-year-old mulatto boy
9. A 34-year-old mulatto man
10. A 40-year-old black woman
11. A 26-year-old black woman
12. A 24-year-old black woman
13. A 21-year-old black woman
14. A 14-year-old mulatto girl
15. A 10-year-old mulatto girl
16. A 3-year-old black girl
17. A 5-year-old mulatto girl
18. A 24-year-old black woman
19. A 3-year-old mulatto girl. 

This list raises sickening questions. At least half the slaves Ecker owned in 1840 were not present in 1850 -- were they dead or resold? Only one of Ecker's adult slaves in 1850 is listed as a "mulatto," but eight of the 10 slave children are "mulattoes." Did W.B. Ecker own his own children, or the children of overseers? 

W.B. Ecker died in 1854, and his widow Margaret is an even stranger case. In the 1860 census she is listed as a New York State resident, but also as the owner of 21 slaves housed in 7 "slave houses" in Darien, Georgia. It's possible that Margaret lived a double live at the time, and that her "free state" neighbors might not have know about her owning humans in the South. 

The people in bondage under Mrs. Ecker in 1860 were, in the order they were listed: 
1. A 45-year-old black woman
2. A 40-year-old black man (possibly Joe?)
3. A 30-year-old black woman
4. Another 30-year-old black woman
5. A 28-year-old black woman
6. A 22-year-old mulatto woman
7. A 17-year-old black boy
8. A 17-year-old mulatto boy
9. A 12-year-old black girl
10. An 11-year-old black girl
11. A 10-year-old black boy
12. An 8-year-old black girl
13. Another 8-year-old black girl
14. A 6-year-old black boy
15. A 6-year-old black girl
16. Another 6-year-old black girl
17. A 4-year-old black girl
18. Another 4-year-old black girl
19. A 5-month-old black boy
20. A 1-year-old black boy
21. A 2-year-old black girl 

Of the 21 slaves, 15 are children and teenagers. No more than nine of these slaves could have belonged to the Ecker family in 1850, so it's obvious that the Ecker family broke up families on the auction block. 

As for the dozens of people like Joe who were owned by the Eckers, I can only hope they lived to see their freedom in 1865. 

Questions? Comments? Please email me at ruedafingerhut [at]

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