Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My Vásquez Family from Colombia's Caribbean Coast (updated 10/29/2018)

This sepia picture from the late 1920s is a rare glimpse at the unity the old Vásquez family had in Barranquilla, Colombia. The picture shows the front porch of Calle 45 #46-197, or Murillo Street between Olaya Herrera and Aduana Avenues. This house, lost when Calle Murillo was widened, was the home of the family matriarch, Mercedes Vásquez Cohen (1885-1963), a pharmacist who ran her business, "Farmacia Mercedes," in the side of the building. In the central patio, Mercedes tended a lush garden of fruit-bearing trees and animals. Her library was filled with Cervantes, Hugo, Dante, and Marx in their original languages. The house was where she raised three generations of her family.

Mercedes was born and raised in the small town of Villanueva, Colombia, about 20 miles inland from Cartagena. Her father, José Ángel Vásquez, who was supposedly the richest man in town, married Mercedes Cohen, a Colombian woman of Jewish descent. Their children were raised Catholic and well-educated - two early artifacts from the Villanueva years are a book of orthography and a book of philosophy, both signed by the siblings. The pride in education accounts for the large number of doctors in the family.

Then came the "Guerra de mil días" (Thousand Days' War), the cruel civil war during which the family may have fallen on harder times. Mercedes fell in love with a young Liberal soldier named José Mejía Ospina (c.1875-1969) and they went to Panamá, which was soon to become an independent country.

José Mejía Ospina was born in Manizales, Caldas (formerly Antioquia), Colombia. He was a direct descendant of Juan Mejía de Tobar (born 1585 in Villacastín, Segovia, Spain; died 1644 in Valle de Aburrá, Antioquia, Colombia) and was possibly related to Colombia's three Presidents Ospina. He may have come from a Conservative region, but he was a Mason and horse and mule trader for the Liberal army. He was especially skilled with paso fino horses. In the battle of Peralonso (1899) or Palonegro (1900), José jumped into a river and swam away to avoid getting shot at, and there were bullets ricocheting around him in the water.

When Panamá became independent in 1903, José and Mercedes had to flee to Cartagena in a little canoe. When waves covered the canoe, they had to bail out the boat with their hats to keep from sinking. Somehow, they made it back to Cartagena, where Mercedes became the first woman to graduate from the School of Pharmacy of the University of Cartagena. Then they settled in Barranquilla, where Mercedes became the city's first female pharmacist, dutifully mixing her medicines with a mortar and pestle.

José and Mercedes finally married on May 8, 1908, and their happy marriage lasted for 55 years. Mercedes was unable to have children so she adopted her sister's son Alejandro (see below). Unfortunately, Mercedes also outlived most of her siblings, so she became a surrogate mother for their children and grandchildren, and a godmother to many as well (my father included).

José Mejía Ospina and Mercedes Vásquez Cohen celebrate their golden wedding anniversary with their family, 1958.

The Vásquez Family

The Vásquez family came from Santa Rosa and San Estanislao de Kostka (Arenal del Norte) in Bolívar Department, according to my great-uncle Calixto Noguera. In these towns slightly inland from the slave trade port of Cartagena de Indias, my ancestors intermarried with the Turbaco and Calamarí Indians, and possibly also African descendants of slaves. 

"Vásquez" is an extremely common last name, and my Vásquez immigrant ancestor is unknown. It is interesting to note that Andrés Vásquez de Estrada, born in Jimena, Jaén, Spain, settled in Santa Marta, Colombia in the mid-1600s. Another two Vásquez families immigrated from Extremadura, Spain to Antioquia, Colombia in the 1600s, with descendants including President Pedro Nel Ospina Vásquez (1858-1927), but they are not likely connected to my family in Santa Rosa, Arenal del Norte, and Villanueva 

Santa Rosa, a town few miles northeast of Cartagena, was called Alipaya by the local Turbaco (Yurbaco) Indians. The site became in 1549 an encomienda, a Spanish plantation that exploited the local Indians, and then in 1735 the Spanish formally "founded" the town and renamed it after St. Rosa of Lima. Census records from 1778 show there were roughly 700 residents in Santa Rosa, including several possible relatives like the 34-year-old widow Bárbara de Vásquez. 

A few miles further east of Santa Rosa was the Indian settlement of Timiriguaco, named after the local mountain, which became an encomienda named San Juan de Timiriguaco. Colonial authorities formally "founded" a town at the site in 1775, and eventually it was renamed Villanueva. The town "founder," Antonio de la Torre y Miranda, led an expedition from 1774-1778 that re-established 43 towns in Caribbean Colombia and forcibly resettled 43,000 people. It was the most successful of several attempts to disband and replace the region's informal settlements (rochelas, palenques, etc.), where mostly free people of color lived beyond the control of the church and state. This period of forced resettlement, followed by post-independence Colombia's division of the common lands of Indian villages, allowed ranchers to grab large amounts of "unclaimed" land. 

San Estanislao, located a few miles southeast of Villanueva and a few miles north of Mahates, is called "Arenal" (sandy) by its residents. A Jesuit mission was established there in 1650, on the northeastern side of the Canal del Dique, a colonial-era waterway that connected Cartagena with the mouth of the Magdalena River.  

The book "Efemérides y anales del Estado de Bolívar" (1889) by Manuel Ezequiel Corrales says that Villanueva had 1,430 residents who were "very industrious and dedicated to work, the reason why this town is not poor." Santa Rosa, which probably had a higher percentage of people of color than Villanueva, is described in racially coded language as "only notable for its abundance of excellent watermelons," and its 752 residents were mostly "indolent and lazy." San Estanislao was a major town of 2,156 inhabitants, with good land for pastures and raising cotton. 

Cockfight in Aracataca (1960), photo by Leo Matiz

My earliest known Vásquez ancestors are my great-great-great-grandparents Manuel de la O. Vásquez and María Natividad Gelis (or Geliz). Manuel served as the mayor of Villanueva when a devastating fire ravaged the town on February 28, 1859. The book "Efemérides y anales del Estado de Bolívar" preserves Manuel's letter of gratitude for the 417 pesos raised by cartageneros for Villanueva's recovery.    

José Ángel Vásquez, a son of Manuel de la O. Vásquez and María Natividad Gelis, had multiple families like many other men in 19th-century Caribbean Colombia. José Ángel and Andrea Marrugo had a relationship and at least one son: 

1. Gabriel Vásquez Marrugo (born September 15, 1868; baptized April 18, 1869 in Villanueva), who was raised by his mother but recognized by his father and allowed to use his father's surname

José Ángel then had a relationship with Dominga Cervantes, with four daughters: 

1. María Aurelia Vásquez Cervantes (born March 18, 1872; baptized August 11, 1872 in Villanueva)

2. Juana de Dios Vásquez Cervantes (born May 24, 1874; baptized June 3, 1874 in Villanueva)

3. María Natividad Vásquez Cervantes (born April 20, 1875; baptized June 27, 1875 in Villanueva)

4. María Herminia Vásquez Cervantes (born May 17, 1877; baptized September 12, 1877 in Villanueva)

In the late 1870s, José Ángel Vásquez married Mercedes Cohen, and they had seven children:

1. Ramón Vásquez Cohen (born August 30, 1879; baptized March 29, 1880 in the Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad in Cartagena)

2. Ana Manuela Vásquez Cohen (born September 4, 1881; baptized February 5, 1882 in the Iglesia de Santo Toribio in Cartagena), who probably died in childhood.

3. José Arcadio Vásquez Cohen, my great-grandfather (born January 12, 1883 in Villanueva; baptized November 12, 1883 in the Iglesia de Santo Toribio in Cartagena) 

4. Mercedes Vásquez Cohen (born January 7, 1885; baptized November 8, 1885 in the Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandría in Cartagena)

5. Rosa del Carmen Vásquez Cohen (born August 30, 1888; baptized August 30, 1888 in the Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandría in Cartagena)

6. Israel Vásquez Cohen

7. María Teresa Vásquez Cohen (born May 28, 1895; baptized July 27, 1896 in the Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad in Cartagena)

The Cohen Family: From Great Britain to Colombia

A wonderfully rich amount of Cohen family lore has been preserved, thanks to Mercedes Cohen's younger half-sister, Cándida Amelia Cohen de Marchena (aka "Tía Memé," born 1873), who in 1967 wrote two notebooks full of genealogy and autobiography. My father's family thought that Mercedes Cohen was a German Jew or the daughter of German Jews, but the reality is much more complex. 

It turns out that Mercedes Cohen's grandfather, Juan Cohen, was a British subject born at some point during the reign of King George III. A direct-male descendant of Juan Cohen has genetic markers indicating that Juan's patrilineal ancestors were Kohanim, members of the Jewish priestly caste. The Kohanim are said to be male descendants of the Israelite high priest Aaron, brother of Moses. The majority of Kohanim share an identical set of DNA variations on their Y-chromosomes, called the "Cohen Modal Haplotype," and some researchers believe a common male ancestor lived between 1250 BC and 600 BC, the time of Biblical Israel and Judah.    

The Kohanim are part of the larger J1 (or J-M267) haplogroup, a branch of our Y-chromosomal family tree that stretches back to a common male ancestor who lived in Africa c.200,000 years ago. His direct male descendant who lived c.70,000 years ago joined a small band of people who crossed into southwest Asia and became the patrilineal ancestor of most non-Africans living today. One branch of male descendants stayed in western Asia, where the first man with the genetic markers of J haplogroup lived c.48,000 years ago, and the first man with the genetic markers of J1 haplogroup lived maybe 24,000 to 17,000 years ago. The J1 haplogroup may have accompanied the spread of agriculture from Anatolia and Iran and then later trade routes through the Middle East and northern Africa. Today, a sizable portion of men in the Middle East, northern and eastern Africa, and the Caucasus belong to J1 haplogroup, and the Kohanim in this haplogroup are close paternal genetic relatives to other Arab and Semitic subgroups.

The Jewish diaspora brought some Kohanim and their male descendants to Roman territory in Europe. It's not clear whether my Cohen ancestors were Sephardic Jews who fled from Spain and Portugal to Holland and other Dutch territories, or Ashkenazi Jews who migrated from France to Germany, but by the 18th century they had settled in Great Britain. 

Cándida Amelia Cohen said her paternal grandfather's full name was Juan Agustín Cohen, and he came from London. He had a sister named Sahara Cohen, who married but never had children and lived in a large London manor. Juan Cohen went to Madrid, married a woman named Manuela Arévalo, and they moved to Cartagena where their son Juan Agustín Cohen was born in 1826 or 1827. A few months later, Manuela died of yellow fever, and Juan left little Juan Agustín to be raised by an Indian woman named Constanza.   

The Colombian genealogist Rocío Sánchez (who runs the blog "Camino Arriba") thinks that the older Juan Cohen had the full name of Juan Bautista Cohen, and he probably came from England to a territory like Jamaica or Curacao, before resettling in Colombia. Rocío Sánchez also thinks he is the same "Captain Cohen" who was sailing and trading through the Caribbean during this time. 

I found a news item from December 1815 that circulated in various British newspapers for months that mentions a John Cohen who may be my ancestor, who was caught in the middle of the brutal Spanish reconquest (or "pacification") of Colombia: 

"From the Kingston Chronicle, of December 30: — "A letter from Santa Martha to a Gentleman of this city, dated the 23d inst. states, that a Gentleman on his route to the head quarters of General Morillo's army, fell in with Messrs. John Macpherson, John Cohen, John Welsh, and Leonard Hebden (British subjects, and lately resident at Carthagena), stripped of every farthing they possessed in the world, and not even common rations allowed them by General Morillo. They had been ill of fever and ague for near two months, notwithstanding which, they were driven about, tied arm in arm, from town to town, without shoes or hates, existing merely upon the charity of the inhabitants. All their hopes were in the arrival of a British man of war to claim them as British subjects, and to carry them off. The property of Messrs. Macpherson and Hebden, General Morillo had in his own private possession.""

Somehow, Juan Cohen survived the hardship, and possibly got his revenge on the Spanish. "Captain Cohen, a Sephardic Jew from Curacao" took part in Admiral José Prudencio Padilla's naval attack on Cartagena on June 24, 1821, commanding "El Centinela," a corsair brigantine. Padilla captured 11 war ships that night, a major step toward the eventual liberation of Cartagena that October.

After Colombia gained its independence, the new country reversed colonial restrictions and allowed foreigners to freely settle and run businesses. Juan Cohen spent four decades working in business and shipping on the Caribbean region, including: 
1825: As an agent for Gualterio Whitty in Cartagena
1828: Appointed to the Tribunal del Consulado (a court) in Cartagena. 
1829: The firm Cohen & Charles operated probably out of Barranquilla. The partner "Charles" is unidentified. 
1840: Member of the district council of Barranquilla.
1849: Inspector of the bogas (commercial rowboats) in Barranquilla.
1854: Accountant for the customs office of Sabanilla. 
1858-1862: Receiver for the British firm Powles, Gower & Co., which was trading tobacco grown in El Carmen de Bolívar, Colombia. 

Juan Cohen is listed as a godfather on the 1851 baptism record of his granddaughter, Ana Manuela Cohen Herrera, implying that he had converted from Judaism to Christianity by his later years. If Juan did trade in Colombia while it was still under Spanish control and the eye of the Spanish Inquisition, he probably converted earlier in life. 

Church at Barranquilla (1844) by Edward Walhouse Mark
While Cándida Amelia Cohen did not mention that Juan Cohen was in any other relationships, Rocío Sánchez has traced three other families of Juan Bautista Cohen:

Juan Bautista Cohen and Eliza Macfarlane had a son in England: 

1. Henrique Cohen (aka Henry Cohen, born c.1810), who immigrated to Colombia and had at least six children through four long-term relationships.  One daughter with Bernarda Cortina, named María Susana Cohen Cortina, was baptized in 1852 in Mahates, and her godfather was her half-uncle Juan Agustín Cohen. 

After the death of Manuela Arévalo, Juan Bautista Cohen had a relationship with Pastora Herrera in Arjona, Bolívar, Colombia, where Juan was the administrator of the hacienda of the English merchant Henry Grice. Juan and Pastora had one son: 

1. Juan José Cohen Herrera (died 1886 in El Carmen de Bolívar), who had reached the age of majority by 1860, married Patricia Hernández and had a family. 

Juan Bautista Cohen then married Bartola Villalobos in Barranquilla, and their children included: 

1. Mercedes Cohen Villalobos (born c.1844; died 1878 in El Carmen de Bolívar), who married José de Jesús Torres and had a family. 

2. Vicente Cohen Villalobos (died 1901 in El Carmen de Bolívar), who reached the age of majority by 1865. He married twice, and his second wife Teodosia Cohen Terán (c.1850-1927) was the daughter of his half-brother Henrique Cohen.   

3. Jorge Cohen Villalobos (born c.1853), who married Emilia Barrios in 1879 in El Carmen de Bolívar and had a family. 

4. Leandro Cohen Villalobos, who married Adriana Fuentes Pupo and had a family.    

Henrique Cohen and Juan José Cohen joined their father in El Carmen de Bolívar, where they became the town's first tobacco growers. Most of their half-siblings joined them, and there are still residents with the last name "Cohen" to this day. 

Juan Cohen died around 1865 in a house fire according to Cándida Amelia Cohen, but other descendants say he died after falling off a horse. 

Juan Agustín Cohen: From Colombia to the Dominican Republic

Juan Agustín Cohen (c.1827-1878) started out his life on the margins of Cartagena. An illegitimate child who lost his mother at a few months of age, Juan Agustín had a foreign-born father who was likely absent due to business, and his caretaker Constanza was an Indian woman. Although Juan Agustín was baptized, his clearly Jewish last name probably invited anti-Semitism in a time when Catholicism was still the only official religion in Colombia. Yet Juan Agustín soon found a strong social network that would nurture him his entire life: Freemasonry. 

The first Freemasons in Colombia included independistas like Antonio Nariño, Simón Bolívar, and Francisco de Paula Santander. After Gran Colombia fell and Santander became president, the secret societies began to open permanent lodges. Juan Agustín Cohen was probably the 18th-degree Mason "Juan A. Cohen" who helped found Logia Unión No. 9 in Cartagena on July 14, 1847. Among the lodge's members were General Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera, who served as president of Colombia four times, and General Juan José Nieto, who became governor of Cartagena and president of the federal state of Bolívar. 

These Masons mostly belonged to the newly formed Liberal Party, which stood for laissez-faire economics, a federalized government, and separation of church and state. For generations the Caribbean coast of Colombia was a stronghold for Masonry and Liberal politics, and many costeño families like mine included numerous Freemasons, Liberal Party members, soldiers of the Liberal army in various Colombian civil wars, and people who married into similarly Liberal families.

Juan Agustín Cohen formed his own family in 1847, when he married Andrea Herrera in Cartagena. The wedding record, erroneously dated "February 29th," says that Juan Agustín was an illegitimate child, and Andrea was an "hija expósita" (foundling) raised by Francisco de Paula Herrera. They needed a marriage dispensation, possibly due to Juan Agustín's Jewish background. On October 4, 1847, Andrea Herrera de Cohen bought from Henry Grice, the business associate of her new father-in-law, for 100 pesos a "casa bujío [hut-like house] made of wood, mud, and palm" on a plot 46 varas (38.5 meters) long, on the road named Camino Arriba in Pie de la Popa, an area outside Cartagena's walls. The transaction is quoted in the book "El encanto de un barrio cartagenero: historia del Pie de la Popa" by Claudia Eugenia Abello Gómez. 

Cartagena (1845) by Edward Walhouse Mark
Francisco de Paula Herrera, Juan Agustín's father-in-law and a judge, was probably the son of Lázaro María Herrera Leyva y Cornelis and María Teresa Paniza y Navarro de Azevedo, two descendants of Cartagena high society. On his paternal side, Francisco de Paula Herrera was the great-great-grandson of Juan Toribio de la Torre y López, a successful Cartagena official who in 1690 bought from the Spanish crown the title of "Conde de Santa Cruz de la Torre." The Conde de Santa Cruz's wife was closely related to Juan Pando de Estrada, the governor of Cartagena who on Christmas Eve of 1683 tried to fend off an attack from Dutch pirate Laurens de Graaf. Pando de Estrada lost three ships to de Graaf, including his flagship San Francisco, which de Graaf renamed The Fortune. A few years later, Pando de Estrada attempted to destroy the region's palenques, settlements founded by runaway slaves and other Africans, but the palenqueros fended off the racist Spaniards, and as mentioned above, their settlements survived for nearly another century. 

Piracy and threat of invasion always hounded Cartagena, a main trading port rich from the exploitation of African slaves. The 1st Conde de Santa Cruz de la Torre gave up living on the Caribbean coast and became the first of the many creole nobles who lived inland at the riverside city of Mompox, according to Genealogías de Santa Fé de Bogotá. The count's great-grandson Antonio de Narváez y La Torre (1733-1812), the 5th and last Conde de Santa Cruz de la Torre, tackled these issues by becoming an engineer and the disciple of Antonio de Arévalo, the architect of Cartagena’s greatest defense and later its greatest tourist attraction: seven miles of impenetrable stone walls. Antonio de Narváez helped the plans for the walls become a reality and also worked on the Canal del Dique, which connected Cartagena with the Magdalena River. As a military commander, Antonio de Narváez served as the governor of Panamá and then Santa Marta, and finally became commanding general of Cartagena. In his last years, Antonio de Narváez served on the revolutionary junta that declared Cartagena’s independence from Spain on November 11, 1811.

Antonio’s son, Juan Salvador Narváez Latorre (1788-1827), also signed Cartagena’s Declaration of Independence and took to the battlefield, fighting the royalists of Santa Marta (1812-1813) and joining Bolívar’s army in Magdalena and Venezuela (1813). He took part in Cartagena’s defense from the Spanish siege led by General Pablo Morillo in 1816, then after the city’s loss fled to Jamaica with his wife, Ana Herrera. 

Juan Salvador Narváez returned to Colombia in 1820, but the Spanish captured and imprisoned him in Santa Marta. Amazingly, as Juan Salvador Narváez faced the firing squad he gave a Masonic hand signal and the platoon officer, who was also a Mason, immediately released him. Again Juan Salvador fought the Spanish, helping liberate Riohacha and Valledupar. After settling in Bogotá in 1824, Juan Salvador served in many government positions, including governor of Cartagena and a negotiator for Great Britain’s diplomatic recognition of Gran Colombia. The exploits of Juan Salvador Narváez may have inspired the family of his third cousin Francisco de Paula Herrera.  

Juan Agustín Cohen and Andrea Herrera had three children: 

1. Ana Manuela Cohen Herrera (born April 12, 1851 in Cartagena; baptized June 13, 1851; died c.1883), who married Francisco Padrón Navarro on November 29, 1879 in the Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad in Cartagena. They had a daughter, Ana María PadróCohen.  

2. José Cohen Herrera (died October 17, 1920 in Cartagena), who had a long-term relationship with Concepción Rodríguez San Juan (who was born in Villanueva). They lived in the Espinal section of Cartagena, and on May 5, 1917 were wedded inside their house, which legitimized their seven children: 
a. Luis Cohen (born c.1873)
b. Mercedes Cohen (born c.1875)
c. Juan Cohen (born c.1877)
d. María Isabel Cohen (born c.1884)
e. Ana Teresa Cohen (born c.1887)
f. Guillermo Cohen (born c.1889)
g. Aura María Cohen (born c.1893)

3. Mercedes Cohen Herrera, my great-great-grandmother and the wife of José Ángel Vásquez, mentioned above.

Juan Cohen, his son Juan Agustín Cohen, and granddaughter Mercedes Cohen Herrera are all listed as godparents in various baptism records, implying that the entire Cohen family practiced Catholicism. Barranquilla's first Jewish congregation was only formed in 1874, by which point my Cohen ancestors had dealt for three generations with a complete lack of synagogues, Jewish schooling, and kosher food. Their total assimilation into Colombian Catholic society is understandable, given this absence of Jewish culture and institutions.  

Andrea Herrera de Cohen died on October 7, 1856 and was buried the following day, and following her untimely death the family split. Ana Manuela Cohen went to her godmother, her aunt Eloisa Herrera de Castillo who was a director of a school, while José and Mercedes Cohen went to their "grandmother," who was either the wife of Francisco de Paula Herrera or Juan Cohen. Juan Agustín Cohen corresponded regularly with his father and sister-in-law, but he never returned to Colombia. 

Cándida Amelia Cohen wrote that her father first spent four years in New York City teaching English, which is an impressive career move for a son of an Englishman who had only lived in South America. Juan Agustín Cohen probably spent a shorter time in New York, because by 1861 he was living in Ponce, Puerto Rico.   

While in Ponce, Juan Agustín Cohen befriended a fellow Mason, Rafael de Marchena y de Sola (1813-1879), a Sephardic Jew from Curacao who owned a store with two employees and three slaves. The De Marchena family took kindly to the young widower with three young children left behind in Colombia, and Juan Agustín fell in love with Rafael's oldest daughter, Emilia de Marchena Sánchez (1843-1927)
Rafael de Marchena (1813-1879), painted by Alejandro Bonilla, exhibited in Centro Leon. 
Rafael de Marchena's family had lived on Curacao since 1659, when his 4th-great-grandfather Isaac de Marchena joined a group of Jewish settlers bringing from Amsterdam a Torah scroll that is still being used in Curacao's Mivké Israel Synagogue, the oldest continually used synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. Curacao's Jews prospered in the 18th century as they became more involved in Caribbean shipping and the Atlantic slave trade. From the 1790s on, Curacao dealt with several invasions and its economy began to suffer, prompting Jewish migrants to leave for better economic opportunities throughout the Caribbean. The riveting book "Once Jews: Stories of Caribbean Sephardim" by Josette Capriles Goldish (a descendant of Rafael de Marchena's brother) gives the full story of the Curacao Jews and their diaspora, as well as the De Marchena family history.  

According to Josette Capriles Goldish, Rafael's older brother Mordechai de Marchena, the first member family to come to Hispaniola, took part in the Dominican war of independence from Spain in 1821. Mordechai returned to Curacao but his younger brothers Benjamin and Rafael de Marchena settled in Santo Domingo in 1835, purchased haciendas and ran successful import-export stores. The few Jewish settlers in Santo Domingo did not have organized congregations, but many Jewish men like the De Marchena brothers became dedicated Freemasons. 

Rafael de Marchena fell in love with a local Catholic woman, Justa Sánchez Carrera, their first child Emilia was born in 1843, and they married in a civil ceremony on November 9, 1848. They eventually had nine children — Emilia, Eugenio, Abraham, Dília, Rosa Julia, Ofelia, Amelia, Rafael, and Enriquito de Marchena — and reached an unusual compromise on religion, baptizing their daughters but not their sons.

Once civil war erupted again on Hispaniola in 1849, Rafael de Marchena and his family found refuge in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Being a Spanish colony, Puerto Rico outlawed Freemasonry and actively persecuted Masons. In 1861 the governor of Puerto Rico, Rafael Echagüe y Bermingham, visited Ponce and accepted the dinner invitation of a professor, Colombian ex-pat Federico Matos González (1829-1900). When Matos and three friends — Juan A. Cohen, Rafael de Marchena, and José Rivas — presented the governor with a degree, the governor was shocked to see the degree named him a "Sovereign Prince of Rose Croix" — an 18th degree Mason! The governor alerted the Spanish Minister of War of this illicit Masonic activity, and the four men were detained, questioned about any existing Masonic lodges, and faced expulsion from Puerto Rico. Juan Agustín Cohen and his friends did not reveal any details, and in June 1861 the authorities allowed them to stay in Puerto Rico, after they took an oath to not join any Masonic group. This episode is preserved in "La masonería de obediencia española en Puerto Rico, en el siglo XIX" by José Antonio Ayala. 

While Juan Agustín Cohen and Rafael de Marchena could technically stay in Puerto Rico, they left for the Dominican Republic, which had recently returned to Spanish rule. Juan Agustín Cohen married Emilia de Marchena in Santo Domingo's Iglesia de Santa Bárbara on June 18, 1863, and with his new brother-in-law Eugenio de Marchena started a successful tile-making business.

Dominicans rebelled against Spain and their Spanish-supporting president in August 1863. Juan Agustín Cohen fought and killed Spaniards on the battlefield, while Rafael de Marchena helped smuggle war materials and gun powder to the rebels. Spanish soldiers destroyed Juan Agustín's tile factory and Rafael's store, the entire family's livelihoods. 

In December 1863, Rafael took his wife and children, including his newly-married daughter Emilia, to join his relatives in Curacao. Juan Agustín Cohen sent his bride off with two forlorn poems that Cándida Amelia Cohen included in her family memoirs more than a century later. One of the poems, which is an acrostic of Emilia's name, concludes: 

Horrible es la ausencia, infierno constante. 
Es Ay! para aquellos que amor los unio. 
No olvides, mi esposa, mi bien un instante 
a aquel que por siempre su alma te dio.

The Dominicans won the "Guerra de la Restauración" in March 1865, and Juan Agustín Cohen planned to reunite his wife and newborn daughter Leonor, his aging father, and his three children from his first marriage. Yet a few months later, Juan Agustín learned in a letter that his father had died in a house fire, and the plans to gather the Cohen family never came to pass. My great-great-grandmother Mercedes Cohen remained in Colombia, destined to never see her father again or meet her Dominican siblings.

For the remainder of his life, Juan Agustín Cohen was dedicated to Freemasonry, the Catholic Church, and education. From 1873 to 1875, Juan Agustín helped publish "La colmena masónica" [The Masonic Beehive], the newsletter of the Santo Domingo Masonic lodge, where he is listed as a 30th-degree Mason and the Grand Secretary. He also befriended Padre Francisco Xavier Bilini (1837-1890), a spirited educator and philanthropist who founded a hospital and organized what became the national lottery of the Dominican Republic to fund schools. When Bilini founded in 1875 the Colegio de San Luis Gonzaga, a night school for artisans and soldiers, he got Juan Agustín Cohen to teach English and possibly basic subjects like reading, writing, or arithmetic. 

Juan Agustín Cohen had one more brush with history on September 10, 1877, when his colleague Padre Bilini chanced upon the tomb of Christopher Columbus. As his daughter Cándida Amelia Cohen wrote, "Padre Bilini who was the priest of the [Santo Domingo] Cathedral was making an excavation in the presbytery, Papá was with him, when upon opening a vault they found the remains of Columbus, with the inscriptions. Papá very happily told this to Mamá." Either Juan Agustín was among the couple of workmen helping Padre Bilini with renovations that fateful morning, or he was among the crowd of dignitaries who viewed the opening of Columbus’s lead coffin that afternoon. 

The claim that Columbus still lies in Santo Domingo remains controversial. His body was transferred from Spain to Santo Domingo in the mid-1500s, but the Spanish say they moved his body twice more, to Havana in 1795 when the French occupied Santo Domingo, and then to the Cathedral of Sevilla in 1898 when the United States took Cuba. Dominicans claim that the Spanish took the wrong body in 1795, while the Spanish call the coffin uncovered in 1877 a forgery. If Columbus did remain buried in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, then it's poignant that my ancestor Juan Agustín Cohen, a Catholic converso of Jewish descent, helped locate the bones of Columbus, another rumored converso of Jewish descent.

Less than five months after "discovering" Columbus, Juan Agustín Cohen died suddenly at the age of 51 of a heart attack, received the final sacraments, and was given a Catholic burial on February 4, 1878. He left five children, ranging in age from 13-year-old Leonor to 1-year-old Luis, who had not yet started walking. His widow, Emilia de Marchena de Cohen, entered a deep Victorian mourning and wore only black thereafter.

Emilia and her children moved in with her father Rafael de Marchena and unmarried sisters on Calle El Conde, where they lived above Rafael’s import-export store. In 1879, Rafael de Marchena also died, and his granddaughter Cándida Amelia Cohen remembered his unusual funeral full of Sephardic Jewish customs and Jewish attendees. Rafael de Marchena had a plain wooden casket and the "rabbi" who led the service circled the casket seven times. After Rafael’s death his son Eugenio de Marchena took over the family store, which was named La Canastilla (The Little Basket).
Calle El Conde and its horse-drawn tramway, Santo Domingo (c.1894) 

Juan Agustín Cohen Arévalo (c.1826-1878) and Emilia de Marchena Sánchez (1843-1927) had five children: 

1. Tomasa Leonor Cohen de Marchena (1864-1924), who married Angelo Porcella (1864-1927), an Italian, and had nine children. 

2. Enrique Marcelino Cohen de Marchena (1866-1942), who married Ana Virginia Soler Machado (1869-1946) and had three children. 

3. Alejandrina Isaura Cohen de Marchena (1868-1939), who married Alvaro Logroño (1855-1915), the illegitimate son of Santo Domingo's Archbishop Fernando Arturo de Meriño, and had 11 children.

4. Cándida Amelia Cohen de Marchena (1873), aka "Tía Memé," who wrote a family chronicle in 1967, married Alejo Sánchez Valdés (1859) and had a family. 

5. Luis Julio Rafael Cohen de Marchena (1876-1908), who settled in Curacao, where he died a young bachelor. 

Many Dominican descendants of the De Marchena and Cohen families became accomplished in the fields of business, politics, and the arts, including: 

Eugenio Generoso de Marchena (1842-1893), a nephew of Rafael de Marchena, was an executive of the National Bank of Santo Domingo who served as the governor of Azua and helped acquire major European loans for railroad construction. His concerns about misappropriation of funds and growing political influence of U.S. investors led him to run for president of the Dominican Republic in 1892 against the incumbent dictator, General Ulises "Lilís" Heureaux. Eugenio Generoso lost, and when he tried to freeze the president's bank accounts the following year, Heureaux had him imprisoned, tortured for months, and finally shot on December 22, 1893. Heureaux ruined the Dominican economy with his disastrous borrowing and spending, and then was assassinated in 1899. Eugenio Generoso's son, Dr. Pedro Emilio de Marchena (1863-1939), became an accomplished doctor and a hospital in Bonao bears his name today. 

Amelia Francisca de Marchena Sánchez (1850-1941), daughter of Rafael de Marchena, is considered the first Dominican novelist. She wrote four novels under the pen name "Amelia Francasci," including "Madre Culpable" (1893) and "Francisca Martinoff" (1901). 

Arturo Logroño Cohen
Arturo Logroño Cohen (1893-1949), son of Isaura Cohen de Logroño and a grandson of Juan Agustín Cohen, studied pharmacy but then took to law, becoming an accomplished lawyer, writer, journalist, historian, and orator. By age 18 he was the private secretary of President Juan Isidro Jiménes and he published the following year a major work of Dominican history, "Compendio Didáctico de Historia Patria." His writings and speeches were intensely artistic, florid, and patriotic, but his accomplishments are overshadowed by his close association with General Rafael Trujillo, the bloody dictator who seized control of the Dominican Republic in 1930. Since Arturo served in at least nine ministerial positions under Trujillo, including Secretary of Justice and Secretary of State of the Interior and Police, he probably had full knowledge of the regime's repression. Arturo was remembered by his son and aunt Cándida Amelia Cohen as a quiet critic of Trujillo, privately opposing such moves like the 1936 renaming of Santo Domingo as "Ciudad Trujillo." But publicly Arturo sang the regime's praises, famously comparing the Generalissimo after an assassination attempt to "the sandalwood that perfumes the ax that hurts him." In another speech, Arturo called the horrific 1937 massacre of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic the "exasperation and just anger of working men stripped of their patrimony." Arturo Logroño Cohen suffered from diabetes and fell out of favor with Trujillo shortly before his final decline in health. A Santo Domingo street was renamed in Arturo's honor, but the street name was changed again after the end of the Trujillato

Enrique de Marchena y Dujarric (1908-1988), a great-grandson of Rafael de Marchena, was a composer of over 90 works, mostly in an Impressionist style, a music critic, and a founding member of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Santo Domingo (1932) and the Sociedad Pro-Arte (1937). With notoriety came access to Trujillo's inner circle, and Enrique served the ruthless dictator as a diplomat. Enrique attended the 1947 United Nations Assembly that voted for the partition of Palestine and the creation of a Jewish state, and then served Trujillo as the ambassador to the United States and the Secretary of State for Education and Fine Arts. His grandson, Enrique de Marchena Kaluche, helped develop the Dominican Republic's tourism industry. 

Juan Alberto Cohen Sander (born 1960), a great-grandson of Enrique Cohen de Marchena and great-great-grandson of Juan Agustín Cohen, is president of the Partido Nacional Voluntad Ciudadana and was the party's candidate in the 2016 presidential election. 

The Cohen family history is part of a larger historical saga of immigrants helping to develop and modernize their new homelands throughout the Caribbean. As Barranquilla became Colombia's most important trading port during the late 1800s and early 1900s, its small immigrant communities, including Germans, Curacao Jews, and Syrians and Lebanese, founded crucial, pioneering businesses. For example, local German and Jewish businessmen created in 1919 the world's second airline, SCADTA (its full name in English was "The Colombian-German Air Transport Partnership"). In 1941, the Colombian government took over the airline, renaming it Avianca. 
As Colombia developed its trade and industry, the Vásquez siblings began a family legacy in medicine. Gabriel Vásquez Marrugo and Mercedes Vásquez Cohen became pharmacists, and Ramón, José Arcadio, and Israel Vásquez Cohen became doctors. Some of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren still practice medicine today. 

My grandmother and her Vásquez relatives on the farm of her uncle, Israel Vásquez Cohen, in Piojó, Atlántico, 1939.

Herrera Leiva: How a family won the Inquisition's approval

Cándida Amelia Cohen's narrative mentions that Andrea Herrera had a sister, Eloisa, who was the director of a Cartagena school. This was probably the same Eloisa Herrera who in 1839 married the widower José María del Castillo (1781-1847), and is described in the marriage record as a foundling (espósita) in the household of the lawyer Lázaro María Herrera y Paniza (1786-1859). Andrea Herrera is described in her own marriage record as a foundling daughter (hija espósitaof Francisco de Paula Herrera, probably Lázaro's brother of the same name (born 1795). Were Eloisa and Andrea biological sisters, and were they biologically related to the Herrera family? Either way, Eloisa and Andrea Herrera became adopted into an old Cartagena family with a long history.    

José María del Castillo, the husband of Eloisa and a witness at Andrea's wedding, was born in Tunja and signed Cartagena's Declaration of Independence in 1811. He joined the group of independistas who fled to Jamaica in 1815 to escape the Spanish reconquest. His first wife's brother, Manuel Rodríguez Torices (1788-1816), stayed behind in Bogotá, briefly served as the president of Nueva Granada in 1815, and was executed alongside Camilo Torres by Spanish authorities the following year. 

That same repressive year of 1816, the Inquisition in Cartagena interrogated the father of Lázaro María and Francisco de Paula Herrera y Paniza about whether he had aided the independistas. It must have been a shock for Lázaro María Herrera Leiva y Cornelis, as 30 years before he had successfully applied to be the alguacil mayor (chief justice) of this same Holy Office of the Inquisition. For years the elder Lázaro had destroyed lives, leading arrests, seizures of property, and imprisonments, and now he was on the other side of "justice." 

Yet no modern sense of "justice" ever caught up with Lázaro María Herrera Leiva y Cornelis. Born in the port city of Cádiz, Spain in 1755, Lázaro returned to his father's native city of Cartagena de Indias to become a merchant, and his business probably included the official sale and undercover smuggling of African slaves. As a white Spaniard, Lázaro topped Cartagena's racial pecking order, and by joining the Inquisition's administration in 1786 he acquired prestige that allowed his government career to last until the days of Gran Colombia, when he served as Intendente of Magdalena in 1827. 
Genealogies of Lázaro María Herrera and his wife María Teresa Paniza, compiled by the Spanish Inquisition
The Holy Inquisition existed to persecute heretics, so anyone who wanted to join its vile circle needed sufficient "proof" of being a racially pure Catholic born solely to "old Christian" ancestors. Today we can view the time and effort creating the illusion of racial and religious "purity" as boggling and pathetic, but Lázaro María Herrera Leiva and the inquisitors were dead serious. Spain's Archivo Histórico Nacional has digitized the invaluable and unsettling results: Over 200 manuscript pages on the family history of Lázaro and his wife, MaríTeresa Paniza. First inquisitors investigated Lázaro's family in 1786-1787, and then MaríTeresa's family went under the microscope in 1791. 

The documents claim that Lázaro and MaríTeresa are "limpios de toda mala raza" (clean of all bad race), and list all the "bad races": heretics, Jews, Moors, Romani, blacks, "mulattoes," Indians, Lutherans, and anyone who converted to Catholicism. Yet even though Lázaro María Herrera Leiva and MaríTeresa Paniza were deemed sufficiently Catholic, this genealogical file still noted unseemly rumors and speculations about their ancestors raised by witnesses. Inquisitors needed copies of documents from Antwerp to prove that Lázaro's Flemish grandfather really was Catholic. Witnesses noted repeatedly that MaríTeresa's father started his career at a pulpería (small grocery store). MaríTeresa's great-grandmother may have been illegitimate because she did not name her parents in her last will and testament. 

From this noxious, quixotic attempt to legally prove racial purity, I have gleaned valuable transcriptions of baptismal and marriage records dating back to 1663, which helped me piece together this genealogy of the Herrera Leiva y Paniza family, the adoptive ancestors of my Cohen Herrera family. It's fascinating to note how trading cities -- Cartagena de Indias, Cádiz, Antwerp, Genoa -- play a major role in this family history.  

1. Lázaro María Herrera y Paniza (1786-1859) and Francisco de Paula Antonio Félix Rafael Serapio de los Dolores Herrera y Paniza (baptized October 16, 1795) were among the children born in Cartagena de Indias to: 
Parents of the Herrera y Paniza family

2. Lázaro María Herrera Leiva y Cornelis (born August 28, 1755; baptized August 29, 1755 in Cádiz, Andalucía, Spain). Full name: Lázaro María José Vicente Ramón Agustín Cayetano de Herrera Leiva y Cornelis. Merchant belonging to the Universidad de Cargadores a Indias. Alguacil mayor (chief justice) of the Holy Office of the Inquisition of Cartagena, Conjuez of the Tribunal del Comerico of Cartagena.  
~ Married on April 19, 1784 in Cádiz:
3. MaríTeresa Paniza y Navarro de Acevedo (born October 17, 1767; baptized October 24, 1767 in Cartagena). Full name: María Teresa Luisa Florentina del Carmen Paniza y Navarro de Acevedo. 

Grandparents of the Herrera y Paniza family

4. SimóAntonio Agustín de Herrera Leyva y de la Torre (baptized August 10, 1708 in Cartagena). Simón de Herrera Leyva was a ship captain in the Spanish Armada and Sargento Mayor of the Plaza de Cartagena. He helped defend Cartagena during the British siege in 1741, then escorted Viceroy Sebastián de Eslava back to Spain in 1749. His brother, Juan Toribio de Herrera, was the governor of Santa Marta from 1753-1760.   
~ Married 1752 in Cádiz, Spain: 
5. Vicenta de Cornelis y Soroa (born in Cádiz).

6. Antonio María Laurencio Paniza y Pallares (born June 13, 1705; baptized June 17, 1705 in Cádiz; died June 7, 1775 in Cartagena). While Antonio Paniza was born in Spain he identified strongly with his parents' Genoese heritage, and some of the Inquisition's witnesses in 1791 thought Antonio was born in Genoa. Around 1730 Antonio sailed to Cartagena aboard the warship El Fuerte. He started his career as a pulpero (grocer) but eventually became one of the wealthiest merchants in Cartagena. Around 1750 Antonio faced legal proceedings in Santa Fé (now Bogotá) over the serious charge of deserting the Spanish navy, and he even moved back to Spain in 1752 to pursue the trial. He was allowed to return to Cartagena in 1755, married two years later, and his ill fortune reversed. Antonio's trading business had clients throughout the coast and interior of Nueva Granada and as far as Havana and Madrid. The historian Anthony McFarlane notes that Antonio's testament lists his personal estate as worth 150,000 pesos, and his company's assets included four houses in Cartagena and an "hacienda and its small slave force." 
~ Married December 14, 1757 in Cartagena: 
7. María Andrea Eulalia Navarro de Acevedo (born February 11, 1736; baptized February 17, 1736 in Cartagena). Her brother, Francisco Navarro de Acevedo, served as bishop of Santa Marta from 1775-1788. 

Great-grandparents of the Herrera y Paniza family

8. Lázaro de Herrera Leiva (born May 11, 1663; baptized May 17, 1663 in El Coronil, Sevilla, Spain; died c.1745). A career military man, Lázaro started in the Spanish infantry in Flanders in 1682, and was a captain by the time he sailed to Cartagena in 1699. Lázaro also was a widower when he married María Teresa de la Torre in 1699. By 1708 he rose to the high rank of Sargento Mayor of Cartagena. In 1741 the 78-year-old came out of retirement to help defend Cartagena during the English siege led by Vice-Admiral Vernon, and then retired for good the following year.  
~ Married October 15, 1699 in Cartagena: 
9. María Teresa Josefa de la Torre y Labarcés (baptized May 29, 1675 in Cartagena). She wrote her last will and testament in 1742. Her brothers Juan Damián and Antonio de la Torre y Labarcés became respectively the 2nd and 3rd Counts of Santa Cruz de la Torre. Antonio de la Torre was the grandfather of the 5th count, Antonio de Narváez the military architect.     

10. Juan Francisco Cornelis (baptized May 20, 1687 in Sint Joriskerk, Antwerp, Flanders, now Belgium). Baptismal name: Joannes Cornelissen. He was born out of wedlock in Habsburg-controlled territory and was legitimized by his parents' marriage in 1689. As a young boy, Juan Francisco came to Cádiz, Spain with his father, and he stayed in the city throughout his life. 
~ Married April 9, 1720 in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Cádiz, Spain: 
11. Francisca de Soroa y Arostegui (born in Cádiz, Spain). 

12. Jacome Paniza (born in Villanova d'Albenga in the Republic of Genoa, now Italy). By 1703 he lived in Spain and was a widower.
~ Married January 14, 1703 in Cádiz, Spain:  
13. Blanca Pallares (born in "Cheve," which is probably Civezza in the Republic of Genoa, now Italy). Her last name is also spelled as Pallar and Pagliari. 

14. Antonio Navarro de Acevedo (born in Sevilla, Spain). The Inquisition determined that Antonio was baptized on September 28, 1675 in Sevilla's Church of María Magdalena, but his parents have completely different names on that record than what is given on his daughter's baptismal record. Antonio came to Cartagena at the age of 16 (so probably around 1691), and eventually held a number of prestigious government positions, including Official Royal Treasurer of the Reales Cajas, Official Royal Treasurer of the Real Hacienda, Regidor, and Alcalde Ordinario. 
~ Married May 15, 1723 in Cartagena: 
15. Petrona María de Monte y Miranda (baptized July 18, 1706 in Cartagena). 

Great-great-grandparents of the Herrera y Paniza family

16. Juan de Herrera Leiva (born in Antequera, Málaga, Spain). He was the son of Gerónimo de Herrera Leiva and Isabel Padilla. Gerónimo de Herrera was described as coming from a "very noble family in Antequera," a typically Spanish assertion. 
17. Elvira Jiménez, whose name appears as Elvira Campero Gallinato on her son's 1699 marriage record. 

18. Juan Toribio de la Torre, who was granted the title of 1st Conde de Santa Cruz de la Torre in 1690 by King Carlos II of Spain. The next section discusses Juan Toribio's life and genealogy. 
19. Catalina de Labercés y Pando, who was probably the niece of Governor Juan de Pando y Estrada of Cartagena (the secondary sources are unclear). Juan de Pando y Estrada was baptized on December 23, 1635 in the Church of San Ginés in Madrid, Spain, and his parents, Juan de Pando and Ana de Mora y Estrada, were from Asturias. 

20. Eduard Cornelissen (or Eduardo Cornelis), who lived in Antwerp, Flanders and then settled in Cádiz, Spain. 
~ Married January 13, 1689 in Sint Joriskerk, Antwerp, Flanders: 
21. Anna Portiers, who married 20 months after the baptism of her son, Juan Francisco Cornelis.  

22 & 23. José de Soroa y Arostegui & Laura González Bustos de Lara. 

26 & 27. Lorenzo Pallares & Magdalena Pallares. Natives of the Republic of Genoa. The genealogist Flavio Álvarez Ángel gives their names as Lorenzo Pagliari and Magdalena Boneli.

28. Nicolás Navarro de Acevedo. He first lived in Sevilla, then settled in Cartagena, and served as Oidor of the Real Casa de Contratación. His name appears on his son's supposed 1675 baptismal record as Rodrigo Navarro y Mendoza.   
29. Juana Jacinta Páez. She first lived in Sevilla, then settled in Cartagena. Her name appears on her son's supposed 1675 baptismal record as Beatríz María de Arrista. 

30. Andrés de Monte y Miranda, whose name appears as Francisco in some records. A resident of Cartagena, he served as Oficial mayor of the Real Hacienda and Contador (an accountant). 
31. Rosa María de Torregrosa (born in Cartagena). As said above, she did not name her parents in her testament, which some Inquisition witnesses thought meant she was illegitimate. 

A Count in Cartagena and Kings of the Canary Islands

When King Carlos II decreed in 1690 that Juan Toribio de la Torre would become the Conde de Santa Cruz de la Torre, it capped off the cartagenero's long career of service to the Spanish crown. Juan Toribio de la Torre had been a military captain who battled the Chimila Indians, served as chief justice of Tamalameque and alcalde ordinario of Cartagena and Santa Marta, and then served as factor and veedor of the Real Hacienda of Cartagena until ill health forced him to step down in 1680.  

In his official paperwork to acquire the noble title, Juan Toribio tried to prove his ancestors' "nobility" as well, focusing on their military service. Juan Toribio said his maternal grandfather, Antonio López de Francia, was descended from the conquerers of the Canary Islands, and his maternal great-grandfather Pedro Alvarez Perdomo, a "close relative" of the Conde de la Gomera, had military service first in the Canary Islands and then Colombia. Pedro Alvarez Perdomo sailed to Santa Marta and became a "capitán comandante in the conquest of the Río Negro" (1545?), where he died battling Indians. 

The genealogist Julio Hardisson y Pizarroso found no "Pedro Alvarez Perdomo" in the annals of the Canary Islands, but he found a possible line of descent from the Canarian Perdomo family. A Canarian named Pedro Perdomo de Cubas was the son of Luis Perdomo, who migrated from the Canary Islands to Latin America and died "in the war of [Gonzalo] Pizarro" (1546-1548). This Luis Perdomo may be the same as Luis Perdomo de Aday (born 1484), the great-grandson of the founders of the Canarian Perdomo family, the Frenchman Jean Arriete Prud'homme and his wife Inés Margarita de Béthencourt (c.1415-c.1480). In turn, Inés was the daughter of Maciot de Béthencourt (c.1390-c.1456), the ruthless "king" of the Canary Islands, and Teguise, the daughter of Guadarfía, the last indigenous king of the island of Lanzarote. Even if Pedro Alvarez Perdomo's family tree does not exactly match the seven generations from Pedro Perdomo de Cubas to the Canarian king Guadarfía, he was likely a descendant of this French-Canarian Perdomo family. 

Maciot de Béthencourt was probably the nephew of Jean de Béthencourt (1362-1425), the French nobleman who led the 1402 expedition that began the Spanish conquest of the Canary Islands and the conversion of its natives to Catholicism. When Jean de Béthencourt returned to France in 1406, Maciot ruled in his name over a realm rife with enslavement, squabbles over land, and military ventures against the "heathen," reminiscent of the rule of Caribbean conquistadors of a century later. From 1414 onward Maciot was repeatedly forced to give up his claims to the Canary Islands. He sold his "kingly" title in 1418, but remained governor of Lanzarote until he sold the island to Portugal's Prince Henry the Naviagtor in 1448.  

Maciot's ancestors were minor noblemen in Normandy, France, stretching back to his 5th-great-grandfather Jean de Béthencourt (fl.1200). Maciot's chivalric grandfather and great-grandfather Béthencourt survived the Black Death and then died on the battlefield. The great-grandfather died during the 1357 English siege of Honfleur and the grandfather was killed fighting for the French king in the Battle of Cocherel (1364). Juan Toribio de la Torre's family history is an example of how many Hispanic families took part in several waves of brutal conquest, first in Spain and other parts of Europe, then in the Canary Islands, and finally in Latin America.
Two subjugated native Canarians carry the Bethencourt coat of arms (source)
Teguise, the indigenous princess and mistress of Maciot de Béthencourt, was one of the Guanches, the native people who had lived on the Canary Islands since 1000 BC or earlier. Genetic and linguistic evidence shows that the Guanches are related to the Berbers, and the Guanches kept a certain level of contact with North Africans through the millennia. Teguise's specific people were called the Majos, and her island of Titerogakaet (or Titeroigatra) was later renamed Lanzarote by the Europeans. Teguise was the daughter of Guadarfía, the last indigenous king of Titerogakaet, and his wife Aniagua. Guadarfía (whose name can be spelled a variety of ways) was either the son of the king Guanarame and princess Ico, or the brother of Guanarame and the son of king Zonzamas (fl.1377) and his wife Fayna. 

Iberians and other European navigators regularly visited the Canary Islands from the 1340s onward, mostly to enslave Guanches. Guadarfía escaped slavers six times before Jean de Béthencourt's expedition reached his island in 1402. Béthencourt's men created and broke a peace treaty within a few months, and even though chroniclers estimate that there were only 200 Majo warriors on Lanzarote at the time, Guadarfía still led armed resistance for over a year. In January 1404 Guadarfía finally surrendered, received baptism, and took the new name "Luis de Guadarfrá.

During the 15th century the Majos were forced into slavery or forced to convert to Catholicism and adopt European customs, and Lanzarote became the first base for the gradual conquest of the Canary Islands. Two more islands fell under Castillian control by 1405, and the last Guanche warriors on the island of Tenerife surrendered in 1496. The Spanish conquerer of Tenerife, Alfonso Fernández de Lugo, had a son, Pedro Fernández de Lugo, who became the governer of Santa Marta in 1535 and appointed Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada to lead a military expedition that invaded and conquered the interior of Colombia.  

Vásquez Gelis 

Manuel de la O. Vásquez and María Natividad Gelis (or Geliz), residents of Villanueva, Bolívar, Colombia who were eyewitnesses to Gran Colombia's war of independence from Spain, had at least three children:
1. Paulina Vásquez Gelis (born 1830s)
2. Tomasa Vásquez Gelis (born 1830s)
3. José Ángel Vásquez Gelis

Paulina Vásquez married Juan E. Fernández Calderón, son of Manuel de J. Fernández and Jacinta Calderón. Their children included: 
1. Jacinta Octavia Fernández Vásquez (born 1854; baptized 1857 in Villanueva)
2. Próspero Fernández Vásquez (born 1859; baptized 1860 in Villanueva)
3. María de la Concepción Fernández Vásquez (born 1873; baptized 1874 in Villanueva)

Tomasa Vásquez married Pedro Tomás Villanueva Polo (born 1835 in Cartagena), a descendant of elite cartageneros. Pedro's uncle, José Villanueva y Arévalo (1781-c.1864) was educated in Spain and became a Spanish colonial official, serving in Madrid, the Philippines, and Cuba and receiving the Royal Order of Carlos III from Queen Isabel II in 1859. Pedro's great-grandfather, the famed military engineer Antonio Arévalo y Porras (1715-1800), designed and completed the imposing stone fortifications of Cartagena, including the massive Castillo de San Felipe (Spanish archives page on Antonio de Arévalo). The children of Pedro T. Villanueva and Tomasa Vásquez included: 
1. Pedro José Villanueva Vásquez (born 1855; baptized 1857 in Villanueva)
2. María Cayetana Villanueva Vásquez (born and baptized 1857 in Villanueva)
3. Eduarda Villanueva Vásquez (born 1859; baptized 1860 in Villanueva)
4. Mateo Villanueva Vásquez, who married Eufemia Correa Rodríguez in 1903 in Pie de la Popa, Cartagena. 
5. Dionicia Villanueva Vásquez (born and baptized 1872 in Villanueva)
6. Manuel de la Cruz Villanueva Vásquez (born 1874; baptized 1875 in Villanueva), who married Plácida Mendoza Gutiérrez (born c.1881) in 1906 in Villanueva
7. María Villanueva Vásquez (born 1877; baptized 1878 in Villanueva)
8. Carmela Villanueva de Jiménez (born c.1878; died 1928 in Cartagena), who was married and lived in the Rodríguez Torices barrio of Cartagena.
9. Joselina Villanueva Vásquez (born and baptized 1882 in Villanueva)

José Ángel Vásquez first had a relationship with Andrea Marrugo, with at least one son: 
1. Gabriel Vásquez Marrugo (born 1868 in Villanueva)

José Ángel Vásquez then had a relationship with Dominga Cervantes, with four daughters: 
1. María Aurelia Vásquez Cervantes (born 1872 in Villanueva)
2. Juana de Dios Vásquez Cervantes (born 1874 in Villanueva)
3. María Natividad Vásquez Cervantes (born 1875 in Villanueva)
4. María Herminia Vásquez Cervantes (born 1877 in Villanueva)

José Ángel Vásquez then married Mercedes Cohen Herrera, and they had seven children:
1. Ramón Vásquez Cohen (born 1879 in Villanueva; baptized 1880 in Cartagena)
2. Ana Manuela Vásquez Cohen (born 1881 in Cartagena)
3. José Arcadio Vásquez Cohen (born 1883 in Villanueva; died 1924 in San Bernardo del Viento, Córdoba, Colombia)
4. Mercedes Vásquez Cohen (born 1885 in Cartagena; died 1963 in Barranquilla)
5. Rosa del Carmen Vásquez Cohen (born 1888 in Cartagena)
6. Israel Vásquez Cohen
7. María Teresa Vásquez Cohen (born 1895 in Cartagena; died 1941 in Barranquilla)

Villanueva Vásquez  

Cayetana Villanueva Vásquez (born August 7, 1857; baptized December 29, 1857 in Villanueva) had a relationship with Conrad Sonderegger (born 1858 in Heiden, Switzerland; died 1938 in Bad Ragaz, Switzerland), one of the managing engineers of the French attempt to build the Panama Canal in the 1880s. The project, led by Suez Canal designer Ferdinand de Lesseps, suffered from financial mismanagement, political corruption, numerous deaths from tropical diseases like malaria and yellow fever, and ignorance of Panama’s geography. 

While French efforts to build the Panama Canal went bankrupt and halted by 1889, Sonderegger acquired a sizable fortune and married a wealthy Ecuadorian woman named María Agrippina Zuluaga. Back home in Switzerland, “Panama” Sonderegger wrote a book about the canal and built two villas, including what is now the Hotel Schloss Ragaz. It seems that Sonderegger never returned to Colombia.

Cayetana Villanueva and Conrad Sonderegger had one child:

1. Pedro Sonderéguer Villanueva (born October 27, 1884 in Villanueva, Colombia; died October 7, 1964 in Buenos Aires) was raised by his mother and kept contact throughout his life with various Colombian relatives. At age 17 he went to the United States to study engineering, but soon began a lifetime of travel. By 1904 Pedro was living in Costa Rica with his cousin José Arcadio Vásquez Cohen and had published his first book, the novel “Condor.” Pedro then lived in Peru, Panama, and Chile before settling in Buenos Aires in 1908. 

Pedro Sonderéguer began a busy literary career, crafting many novels, short stories, philosophical essays, and over 40 years’ worth of articles and reviews for the porteño publication “La Nación.” Pedro returned to Colombia multiple times from 1928 to 1934 and tried to establish a career as a Liberal politician, but his descendants say that death threats forced him to return to Argentina. One friend from this period, Alberto Lleras Camargo, would later serve twice as president of Colombia.

First Pedro Sonderéguer married Blanca Julia Vidal in 1914 and had three children: Conrado Pedro, Silvia, and Elsa Sonderéguer Vidal. After his marriage ended, Pedro began a relationship with Carolina Rodríguez del Pino in 1934 and had two more sons: Pedro César and Erasmo Pedro Sonderéguer Rodríguez. Biographer Fidel Alejandro Leottau Beleño writes that Sonderéguer’s children remembered him as “un espíritu panamericanista, universal y demócrata. Admirador de Bolívar y de San Martín.... [U]n hombre de profundas concepciones éticas, empeñado en su trabajo y preocupado por desenterrar los misterios de la vida. Hombre de pocos amigos que vivió solo y peregrino.”

Pedro Sonderéguer and his mother, Cayetana Villanueva, c.1928

Vásquez Pérez

Gabriel Vásquez Marrugo (born September 15, 1868 in Villanueva; died in Villanueva), was a pharmacist who fought in the Liberal army from 1899-1900, during the Guerra de mil díaswas captured by Conservative troops and held prisoner for two years in Sabanalarga and the Cárcel de Obando in Barranquilla, and then was freed after the signing of the Treaty of Neerlandia in 1902In 1939 Gabriel applied for a veteran's pension from the Colombian government, a process immortalized in Gabriel García Márquez's "No One Writes to the Colonel," and his pension of 3,000 pesos was finally approved in 1950. 

Gabriel first had a family with Julia Pérez, including:
1. Belarmina de Jesús Vásquez Pérez (baptized 1905 in Villanueva)
2. Sara Ester Vásquez Pérez (born 1910 in Villanueva)
3. María Soledad Vásquez Pérez (born 1913 in Villanueva)
4. Nelson María Vásquez Pérez (born 1914 in Villanueva), who won the lottery in Cartagena and ran a Kraft cheese factory, married Angela Mendoza in 1941, and had a son and a daughter.
5. Gabriel Vásquez Pérez (born 1917 in Villanueva)

Gabriel then had a long-term relationship with a much younger woman, Julia Isabel Pérez (born c.1909 in Villanueva). I don't know if Julia Isabel Pérez was related the older Julia Pérez. Gabriel and Julia Isabel married on February 8, 1955 in Villanueva, when he was 86 years old and she was 46 years old. They had 12 children: 
1. José Gabriel Vásquez Pérez (born 1927 in Villanueva; died 1946 in Cartagena)
Florinda Vásquez Pérez (born 1928)
Angelberto Vásquez Pérez (born 1929), who died young.
4. Judith Esther Vásquez Pérez (born 1930)
5. Roque Jacinto Vásquez Pérez (born 1932)
6. Marlene Vásquez Pérez (born 1934)
Francisco José Vásquez Pérez (born 1936)
8. Zeneida Vásquez Pérez (born 1939)
9. Jazmina Yolanda Vásquez Pérez (born 1940)
10. Pedro José Vásquez Pérez (born 1941)
11. Israel Vásquez Pérez (born 1944)
12. Carmen Bernarda 
Vásquez Pérez (born 1946)

Esquivia Vásquez & Mier Vásquez

Aurelia Vásquez Cervantes (born 1872 in Villanueva) first married John G. Nieustraten, a native of Curacao, on June 6, 1892 in the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción in Colón, Panama. I am not sure whether they had children. 

Aurelia Vásquez then married Esteban Esquivia Ariza (born c.1873 in Cartagena) on December 1, 1917 in the Iglesia de Santo Toribio in Cartagena. Esteban Esquivia was descended from Juan Esquivia, who immigrated from Santiago de Cuba to Cartagena in the early 1700s. Aurelia and Esteban lived in a house on the Plaza San Diego in Cartagena, and their children included:

1. Candelaria Esquivia Vásquez (born May 13, 1902; baptized January 31, 1903 in Cartagena)

2. Selma Esquivia Vásquez (born March 8, 1904; baptized October 2, 1904 in Cartagena)

3. Zoila Esquivia Vásquez (born June 27, 1906; baptized January 1, 1907 in the Iglesia de Santo Toribio in Cartagena), the first wife of the Afro-Colombian poet Jorge Artel (1909-1994), whose verse was compared by critics to that of Nicolás Guillén and Langston Hughes. 

4. Aníbal Esquivia Vásquez (born April 5, 1907 in Cartagena; died August 2, 1986 in Cartagena), a journalist and historian of Cartagena who wrote several books including Lienzos locales (1942) and Poesías de Fernández de Madrid (1945).

5. Alba Esquivia Vásquez

6. Francisco Esquivia Vásquez (born December 3, 1910; baptized April 30, 1918 in the Iglesia de Santo Toribio in Cartagena) 

7. Esteban Esquivia Vásquez (born 1917; baptized April 19, 1918 in the Iglesia de Santo Toribio in Cartagena; died 1977 in Cartagena), who married Delora Ariza in 1940 in Cartagena. 

María Natividad Vásquez Cervantes (born 1875 in Villanueva) married Julio Eduardo Mier de León (born February 21, 1885 in El Carmen de Bolívar, Colombia) on December 26, 1910 in Bocas del Toro, Panama and had two daughters: 

1. María Mier Vásquez (born September 21, 1911 in Bocas del Toro, Panama)

2. Herminia Rosa Mier Vásquez (born September 26, 1913 in Bocas del Toro, Panama; died June 7, 1982 in Colón, Panama), the great-grandmother of Jellissa Alvarado, whose research has greatly expanded and enriched this Vásquez family genealogy.  

Vásquez Rodríguez

Dr. Ramón Vásquez Cohen (born August 30, 1879 in Villanueva) served in the Liberal army during the Guerra de mil días. Ramón signed up in June 1900, reached the rank of sergeant major, was captured and served in prison for seven months, including a stint in the "Castillo de Bocachica," one of Cartagena's fortresses, before he escaped and returned to the battlefield. His battalion surrendered in Mahates in November 1902, a month after the Treaty of Neerlandia. Ramón later lived and died in Lomitas de Arena, Galerazamba (a section of Santa Catalina, Bolívar, Colombia), where he was a well-respected doctor and the mayor of the town. In 1938 Ramón applied for a veteran's pension from the Colombian government, and his pension of 6,640 pesos was finally approved in 1948. 

Ramón had long-term relationships with three women whom he never married.

- Ramón and Marcelina Rodríguez (died 1974 in Cartagena) had (order unknown): 
1. Edelmira Vásquez Rodríguez (born c.1914), who married Juan Francisco Coronel in 1936 in Cartagena. 
2. Exiquio Vásquez Rodríguez (born c.1919), who married Elvira Caraballo in 1946 in Cartagena. 
3. Napoleón Vásquez Rodríguez
4. Rita Vásquez Rodríguez (born c.1925)
5. Eugenia Vásquez Rodríguez (born c.1927), who married Carlos Quintana in 1946 in Cartagena. 
6. Mélida Vásquez Rodríguez
7. Irma Vásquez Rodríguez
8. Esther Vásquez Rodríguez
9. Rafael Vásquez Rodríguez
10. Zolano Vásquez Rodríguez
11. Armando Vásquez Rodríguez

- Ramón and Matilde Estrada Castillo had: 
1. Alicia Vásquez Estrada (born c.1917), who married Gabriel Blanquicett in 1932 in Cartagena. 
2. Gabriel Vásquez Estrada
3. Graciela Vásquez Estrada (born 1923)
4. Rosa Vásquez Estrada (born c.1925), who married Gabriel Porras in 1944 in Cartagena. 
5. Juan Pablo Vásquez Estrada

- Ramón and a woman with the last name del Puerto had another family.

Among Ramón's many children were a pharmacist and a nurse.

Mejía Vásquez

Mercedes Vásquez Cohen (born January 7, 1885 in Cartagenar; died October 25, 1963 in Barranquilla), a pharmacist, married in 1908 José Mejía Ospina (born c.1875 in Manizales; died September 15, 1969 in Barranquilla), a horse trader and secretary for Don Mario Santo Domingo, the beer mogul.

Their only adopted son, Dr. Alejandro Mejía Vásquez (born c.1923 in Barranquilla; died 1982 in Barranquilla), was really their nephew, the biological son of Guillermo Pacheco and María Teresa Vásquez de Pacheco. "Alejo" grew up to be a general practitioner, married Helena "Rochi" Rodas, and they had three daughters and two sons.

Vásquez Lara

Dr. José Arcadio Vásquez Cohen (born 1883 in Villanueva; died 1924 in San Bernardo del Viento) practiced medicine in poor communities. According to his stepson, José Arcadio traveled during his youth with his cousin, writer Pedro Sonderéguer, and they lived briefly in Costa Rica, probably around 1904José Arcadio married Ana Lara Martelo (born 1893 in Mahates; died 1980 in Cartagena), who he met in Mahates, around 1914. They lived a short while in the tiny town of Pajonal, Sucre Department before moving to the coastal town of San Bernardo del Viento, Córdoba Department. José Arcadio died of a heart attack during a fiesta on August 20, 1924 (St. Bernard's Day, for the town's saint) or December 24, 1924 ("Nochebuena," as Colombians call Christmas Eve). Their children were:

1. Eugenia Vásquez Lara (born 1916 in Barranquilla or San Bernardo del Viento; died 1998 in Miami, FL), a ladies’ garments worker who married Dr. Rito Antonio Rueda Rueda (1922-1997), a lawyer and judge, and had two sons. One son was a Vietnam War veteran and the other son was a Persian Gulf War veteran and a psychiatrist. Separated, Eugenia immigrated to the United States in 1962, thanks to increased immigration quotas under the Alliance for Progress, and settled in New York City and then Miami. Artistically talented, she made indigenous-style pottery.

2. Arcadio Vásquez Lara (born 1917 in Barranquilla or San Bernardo del Viento; died 1995 in Hialeah, FL), a mechanic who worked on the Panama Canal around 1940, worked for the Colombian Air Force, and then immigrated to the United States in 1964. During those years he lived with his sister and nephews and worked in watch factories before retiring to Miami. Arcadio played the piano and composed songs.

3. Ovidio Vásquez Lara (born 1917; died 1920s) was Arcadio's identical twin.

4. Sixta Tulia Vásquez Lara (born c.1918 in Barranquilla or San Bernardo del Viento; died 2001 in Barranquilla) married in 1945 in Barranquilla the recent immigrant Miguel Savignano Briganti (born 1912 in Padula, Italy; died 1980 in Barranquilla, Colombia; son of Pascualiano Savignano and Maria Briganti), who ran the Onyx jewelry store and was Barranquilla's first gem dealer. They had four daughters and one son.

5. & 6. Two other sons, Virgilio Vásquez Lara and Israel Vásquez Lara, died in childhood. There may have been other siblings who died young as well. 

My great-grandfather, José Arcadio Vásquez Cohen

Molina Vásquez

Carmen Vásquez Cohen (born August 30, 1888 in Cartagena; died in Barranquilla) married Carlos Molina Pacheco, the first cousin of Guillermo Pacheco. They lived on Santander Street, between Progreso and 20 de Julio Avenues in Barranquilla. Their children were:

1. Carlos Julio Molina Vásquez (born 1913 in Barranquilla; died 2000 in Queens, NY) was married in 1943 in Barranquilla to Maruja Pion, and they had two sons and two daughters. The family was the first branch to immigrate to the United States, in the late 1950s.

2. Hernando Molina Vásquez (born 1915 in Barranquilla; baptized 1916 in Barranquilla; died 2007 in Florida) married Cecilia Suárez and they had three sons. One of them, Armando Molina, is a Hollywood actor who co-founded the comedy troupe "Latins Anonymous." The family immigrated to the United States around 1960.

3. Alicia Molina Vásquez (born 1916 in Barranquilla; baptized 1919 in Barranquilla; died 2006 in Barranquilla) married Hector Juliao Sarabia (1911-1996), who was descended from an old Sephardic Jewish family from Curaçao. They had eight sons and one daughter, including a urologist and an odontologist.

4. Dr. Alejandro Molina Vásquez (baptized 1920 in Barranquilla; died 2002 in Bogotá) was a gynecologist who in the early 1950s served as an officer in the Colombian Army in the Korean War. Colombia was the only Latin American country to join Harry Truman in that conflict. Alejo married Edith Hernández Birchenall and had five daughters and one son, including an internist and a vascular surgeon.

Vásquez Martínez

Dr. Israel Vásquez Cohen was a general practitioner who lived and died in Barranquilla. In 1932, the year he published a paper in Revista de Medicina y Cirugía on "Tratamiento de las metritis gonocócicas por la Diatermia," he served as the treasurer of the Sociedad médico-quirúrgico del Atlántico. He married Helena Martínez, and they had three daughters and a son: 

1. Gladys Vásquez Martínez (born 1924), whose married name was De La Torre.
2. Gabriel Vásquez Martínez
3. Doris Vásquez Martínez
4. Olga Vásquez Martínez

Pacheco Vásquez

María Teresa Vásquez Cohen (born May 28, 1895; died August 25, 1941 in Barranquilla), married Guillermo Pacheco, a vendor of panela (blocks of processed sugar cane juice) and the first cousin of Carlos Molina Pacheco. They also lived on Santander Street, between Progreso and 20 de Julio Avenues in Barranquilla. Their children were:

1. Dr. Alejandro Mejía Vásquez (born c.1922; see above)

2. Olga Pacheco Vásquez (born c.1923), who was married in 1946 in Barranquilla to Arbelio García Leyva, who sold air conditioning and was very rich. They had two sons and one daughter and eventually lived in Cartagena.

3. Guillermo “Pipo” Pacheco Vásquez (born c.1928), who lived in Cartagena and never married. 

4. Alvaro Augusto Pacheco Vásquez (baptized 1935 in Barranquilla), who married Gloria Arias and had three sons.

5. Dr. Jaime Pacheco Vásquez, an opthamologist who lived in Spain, married Sabina Figueroa Pérez, and had two sons.

6. Dr. Luis Alfonso “Foncho” Pacheco Vásquez (baptized 1938 in Barranquilla; died 2009), who was an orthopedic surgeon in Bogotá, married Gilma Giraldo and had two sons and a daughter.

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


  1. Excelente este documento, yo soy Mauricio Pacheco Figueroa, hijo de Jaime Pacheco Y Sabina Figueroa, esto me llena saber quien mi familia

  2. Edward, de los Vasquez Perez en el segundo matrimonio te dejo los datos

    Del segundo matrimonio de Gabriel Vásquez Pérez con Julia Pérez salieron:

    Jose (QEPD)
    Israel (QEPD)
    Jazmina (QEPD)
    Zeneida (QEPD)
    Angelberto (QEPD)
    Florinda (QEPD)