Plot To Bring Cuba Into the United States to Support Slavery
Frank Yerby: A Victim’s Guilt
The root man looks after the sick and he can see the future. He chooses prayers and makes sacrifices. He knows what foods the gods like and which women attract them. He kills enemies with a handful of powder.
Villagers tell Yerby that the drums signaled Aguero’s ill-fated insurrection. Yerby worries that the drums will signal another premature uprising. It was not that Yerby disliked the drums. He found Pedro ’s drumming rhythmic and soothing. But no two villagers interpret the drum beats the same. Yerby was convinced that beating the drums was no way to communicate during an insurrection. He would prefer that the Lukumi uprising be avoided altogether, but if there was going to be a fight,Yerby wants the Lukumi to use a better way to communicate. “When the Lukumi hear the drums,” he asks Pedro, “do they always know what the drums say?”
Pedro is scandalized. The Babaluaye Tolemeo summoned senor Yerby to help the Lukumi against the Spanish, but questioning the drums blasphemes the gods. Through the drums the gods speak to the people.
Yerby tries to be diplomatic. “When the drums start to beat,” he says, “I’ve ask your people what they say. One says that the drums tells him to hide. Another says that the drums call for a meeting. Others say that the gods are talking but only the Babaluaye Tolomeo knows what they say.”
Pedro nods in agreement, “The drums say all these things,” he agrees.
“And do the drums tell the people that the americanos are going to drop from the sky?” Yerby asks sarcastically. This fellow should be helping his people,Yerby thinks. They need food and clothes. Their huts are falling apart. And all Pedro thinks about is war and he doesn’t even have any weapons.
Pedro musters a weak smile. Since Frank Yerby is an Orisha, he is to be trusted and obeyed. Pedro’s uncle Tolemeo advised him to always ‘listen’ to the Orishas and allow them to direct his affairs. But Yerby’s words are harsh. He says things that Pedro does not want to hear. No one has ever told Pedro things, like this. Senor Yerby is a god isn’t he? Otherwise why would Tolomeo call on him? Pedro asks himself So why is he challenging the gods? “The drums,” Pedro tells Yerby, “are all I know. I’m the best drummer in all of Cuba, but sometimes even I don’t know what the drums say. I just deliver the Orisha’s message. I just play. I believe that the drums must be the voice of the gods otherwise you wouldn’t be here.” Pedro stares at Yerby.
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“Did your drums signal Aguero and the Lukumi to take to the hills?” Yerby asks Pedro.
“No, señor, Frank,” Pedro states emphatically, “I did not signal the insurrection.”
“Well, who did?” Yerby asks.
“I do not know,” Pedro shrugs.
“Did you hear the drums calling the Lukumi to join Aguero in the hills?”
“No, señor.” Pedro is less emphatic and averts Yerby’s steady gaze.
Yerby stares at Pedro for a long time before raising another concern. “You know that neither the hacendados nor the americanos want to free the slaves,” he tells Pedro.
“Why do you say such a thing, senor?” Pedro’s eyes widen in disbelief.
“Because it is true.” Yerby replies.
“Then how do you explain Señor Aguero and those white hacendados who gave their lives to free Cuba?” Pedro asks.
“Whites want to accumulate wealth, not care for blacks,” Yerby says.“Aguero failed because someone began beating the drums too soon and because he was just plain stupid.”
“Senor?” The idea of a ‘stupid’ white man was a concept that Pedro could not understand. It was like questioning the drums.
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“Aguero did not give his life to free Cuba,” Yerby explains patiently. “Aguero thought that 5,000 americanos were coming to fight. But he thought wrong and it cost him his life. Aguero …”
But Pedro didn’t want to hear anymore; he couldn’t concentrate on anything else right now. His destiny was to lead the Lukumi and liberate Cuba from the Spanish. He and Carlota would be married after Cuba was free; their child would be born free. “The Babaluaye Tolomeo is a wise man,” Pedro tells Yerby defiantly. “He speaks to the Orishas who are our gods. The Babaluaye told us that the only way for Cuba to be truly liberated is for us to forget color differences between whites and blacks.We are all cubanos. White hacendados suffer from the Spanish just as much as black slaves.”
“The Spanish enslave the hacendados —si ?” Yerby asks in a mild rebuke.
“Yes ___in a way,” Pedro responds. “But that is not the issue.”
“What is the issue?”Yerby asks.
“The issue is that once Cuba is free, there will be no more slaves, black or white.”
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“No more slaves?” Carlota asks.
“No more slaves,” Pedro repeats defiantly. Pedro tires of the conversation and, turning his back on Yerby, retreats into his bohio.
So here is Yerby, sitting on a beach with a band of poor, ignorant blacks who, believing in Voodoo, await an American army to overthrow the military and naval might of the Spanish Crown and free them. Gazing up into a starry night, listening to the waves of Caribbean lapping against the shore, Yerby asks himself, Just why am I here? How can I assist this young madman whose ambition drives him to rebellion and insurrection rather than to intelligence and planning. After awhile Yerby just accepts that misery is the midwife of violence. And violence and ignorance makes victims of all.
Ross Pary stands with General Narciso Lopez’ other officers on the foredeck of the Pampero, a decrepit ship steaming out of New Orleans. The ship is so unseaworthy that Pary doubts it can complete the 90-mile trip from New Orleans to Havana. The steamer leaks forcing the bilge pumps to continuously suck seawater out of the Pampero’s hold. Scarely an hour out to sea, one of the steamer’s exhaust pipes collapses causing a boiler to overheat and burn out. Now the rusty old tub crawls across the moonlit Caribbean on one boiler at a painfully slow speed of eight knots. Thank goodness the water is smooth and the wind calm, Pary tells himself.
The Pampero’s captain and crew are noticeably apprehensive. They actively search the horizon for signs of U.S.warships. The president of the United States ordered the US navy to use every means available to prevent the Pampero from delivering its passengers to Cuba. In addition, a flotilla of Spanish warships scour Cuban waters for signs of the americanos. Each Spanish captain hopes to be the one to send the American steamer to the bottom of the Caribbean and earn himself a hero’s welcome in Madrid. The Pampero’s departure from New Orleans was a secret to neither the American nor the Spanish governments.
From his vantage point on deck, Pary gazes at the silvery moon painted upon the Caribbean’s horizon. The crew’s anxiety over the Pampero’s danger annoys Pary even more than the steamer’s snails pace. He wants them to get the Pampero moving. Pary is not concerned for the ship’s safety, nor is he concerned about himself. All that concerns him is the safety of Conchita Izquierdo. She had left him in New Orleans to follow her father back to Cuba. Pary’s love for Conchita is why he joined Narciso Lopez’ mercenary army in the first place. And even had Pary known of Aguero’s failed uprising and that Eduardo Izquierdo was already dead, the young Mississippi planter would still have embarked upon this madcap adventure so desperate was he for his Cuban lover.
“My love, why didn’t you wait for me?” Pary shouts silently into the Caribbean night. Then his thoughts turn morbid. She wasn’t thinking of me at all, he tells himself. She was thinking only of her father and his idiotic belief in a free Cuba. A free Cuba, indeed! Pary looks at the group of rough officers lounging about the deck. These grizzled men, all members of the Knights of the Golden Circle, were veterans of Mexican and Indian wars and committed to making war. They were less intent on freeing Conchita’s Cuba than on expanding the South’s slaveholding empire.
But even as Ross Pary steamed across the Caribbean, Conchita Izquierdo was actually thinking of how much she missed her American lover. She hated herself for thinking of Ross instead of mourning her father’s death. For Conchita, it was like being in hell, torn between her love for her Mississippi planter who believes in racial superiority and loyalty to her father who died for racial equality.
Truly Eduardo Izquierdo had paid dearly for his commitment to ending Cuban slavery. For each slave Eduardo freed from his plantation, the Spanish levied a heavy tax on him. Notwithstanding the tax, Eduardo continued to free his slaves until the Spanish forced him to sell his plantation, altogether. Then Eduardo Izquierdo emigrated to the United States, taking his breathtakingly beautiful daughter, Conchita, with him. In the United States, friends introduce Izquierdo to Narciso Lopez, the general recruiting an army of American mercenaries to fight in Cuba. The two men complimented each other. The wealthy Narciso Lopez spoke little English and the penniless Eduardo Izquierdo had important contacts among Cuban expatriates. Lopez hires Izquierdo as his assistant, but not for Eduardo’s social and linguistic skills. Rather Narciso Lopez valued his assistant’s ravishing daughter. Conchita is beautiful and gay and a bit of a flirt. She could not help herself. She had been raised on Catholicism and Voodoo. She loved music and she loved to dance. Her blood was hot and men were her passion. Conchita Izquierdo’s beauty opened the doors of every Southern cavalier, plantation owner and statesman in the South to Eduardo Izquierdo and his employer, General Narciso Lopez.
Conchita loved Southern society and she loved New Orleans. New Orleans was cosmopolitan and exciting. Conchita easily fell in with the whirlwind social life of parties, teas, recitals and gatherings that made New Orleans one of the world’s great cities. It was so different from Cuba’s dull, sedate hacienda life. In the US South, the gentlemen were passionate about gambling, politics and women. So whenever Narciso Lopez and Eduardo Izquierdo were invited to a social event, the vivacious yet sultry Conchita Izquierdo found herself the center of attention. Very soon, however, one Southern gentleman was able to capture Conchita’s attention ____ and then her heart. The gentleman was the dashing young planter from Natchez Mississippi, Ross Pary.
At first it was Ross’ wonderful blend of Castilian Spanish and Southern English that sparked Conchita’s interest, but soon the dashing architect ignited her passions. After several meetings, a midnight rendezvous and a passionate embrace, both were drawn into an all consuming love affair. From then on, neither Ross or Conchita had time for anyone or anything else. Their passions inflamed, the couple indulged in endless rounds of lovemaking. Each time they met, Conchita found more and more ways to seduce her young and viril lover into fulfilling her voluptuous appetites. And each time they met, Ross became evermore addicted to the Cuban woman’s exotic and erotic charms. Their love affair became the talk in the New Orleans’ salons. Though such liaisons were commonplace, Ross Pary’s and Conchita Izquierdo’s affair was special. It had all the elements to set tongues wagging, political intrigue, racial taboos and military adventure. Their affair was an open secret to everyone, except Conchita’s father. But on the other hand, even Eduardo may also have known about his daughter’s sexual liaison, because when the time came for him to return to Cuba to join Aguero, he did not take her with him. New Orleans’ salons clucked about Conchita making love in Pary’s apartments as her father departed for Cuba to meet his fate. So it was not honor or duty or even adventure that drove the Ross Pary to join General Narciso Lopez’s invasion. He was following after the conscience-stricken Conchita who had left her lover to save her father.
As Ross Pary stood at the Pampero’s railing, staring out at Cuba’s invisible coastline, a young man broke away from the other officers and approached him. “Excuse me, sir.” The young man’s tone was hesitant as if afraid to intrude upon Pary’s musings yet wearing a smile of hopeful expectancy. “Aren’t you, Ross Pary of Natchez?” the young man asks.
Ross studied the young man with reserve. The only men Pary knew on the Pampero, other than General Lopez himself, were George and Henry Metcalf. The Metcalf brothers, quartered below decks with the other men, also hailed from Natchez. Yet knowing on this adventure, he would need as many friends as he could find, Pary dropped his reserve and gave the intruder a friendly welcome. “Why yes, sir, I am at your disposal,” the Mississippian replied.
Relieved by Pary’s friendliness, the young man introduces himself. “Well, sir, I am William Crittenden of Kentucky. I had the pleasure of meeting you at the Brittany’s dinner. I especially remember your remarks to Governor Quitman, about the European reaction to Southern nullification.”
“Of course, sir,” Pary replies, affecting the manners of a Southern gentleman that he uses when he wants to hide his lower class antecedents. “As I remember, you were a member of General Lopez’s party that evening,” Pary says, giving Billy Crittenden a slight bow.
“Yes, sir,” the youth replies, “I’ve been with the General since last year. I met him in Nashville at Governor Quitman’s secession convention. My uncle ….”
Ross Pary, ever ready to advance himself, socially, interrupts, “Yes! Crittenden! Sir, you are related to John J. Crittenden, President Fillmore’s Attorney General.”
“Why yes, sir, I am,” the young Crittenden responds. “John Crittenden is my uncle,
though some of my family, including myself, do not agree with his views on holding the Union together.”
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“You were saying your uncle ….”
“Yes, my Uncle Ted, Theodore O ’Hara, has been serving General Lopez since 1849,” the young man says proudly. “Uncle Ted led a company of Kentuckians for General Lopez in the attack at Cardenas last May and was wounded in the action.”
“In an attack on Cuba?” Pary repeats, getting a better appreciation for the dangers he is about to face.
“Yes, sir,” the young officer replies. “My uncle was shot in the leg and his men had to carry him back to their ship.They just barely escaped a Spanish man-of-war.”
Pary studied the young man. Billy Crittenden looked as if he belonged in a college fraternity rather than with a band of mercernaries.
“In Kentucky, my uncle is very famous,” young Billy continues. “Did you know he wrote the poem, Bivouac of the Dead ?”
Pary had not even heard of Bivouac of the Dead, but out of respect, he exclaims,“So you have famous men on both sides of your family.”
“Yep! Uncle Ted is an outstanding gentleman and I’ve always wanted to follow in his footsteps. He’s the one who introduced me to General Lopez and I’ve been with the general ever since.”
“Try not to be too much like him,” Pary says with mock concern, “don’t want you getting all shot up, now, do we?”see
“No, sir,” the young adventurer agrees, trying to conceal his fear. But Pary can see the fear in young Billy’s eyes. Ross decides that he will look out for the young Kentuckian ___ as much as he can. And for his part, young Billy takes comfort in Pary knowing how scared he is. The other officers are veterans of the Mexican War. Killing is what they do. They’re happy for the thousand dollars Narciso Lopez is payng, but these old campaigners intend to “liberate” more than land in this campaign.
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“You know,” Crittenden murmurs confidentially, glancing about at the other officers, “when I met you at Governor Quitman’s banquet, I do not recall that you had any particular interest in politics.”
“I didn’t then,” Pary admits, “and I don’t now.”
“As I recall you tried Governor Quitman’s patience on certain points touching on whether the South should nullify its relationship with the North,” the young officer smiles. Billy Crittenden’s remembrance of Ross Pary’s remarks was as delicately put as they were kindly meant. Pary’s political opinions had won him few admirers among Natchez’s planter class. And his outcast status did not help Pary’s popularity. He was a mill worker’s son with ambitions parents. Their savings made it possible for Ross to learn architecture at Oxford and study building design throughout Europe. Pary was especially influenced by Spanish architecture where his ability to speak Castilian won him many admirers. Mississippi’s upper class overlooked Pary’s humble background because Pary had designed and built mansions for several of the state’s wealthiest planters. Pary designed mansions with old world grace and charm that were unmatched anywhere in the South
“If you are not here for politics,” Crittenden observes, “you must be here for love.”
“You are right, my young friend.” Ross Pary replies, gaining better appreciation for the Kentuckian’s intelligence. “Do you remember Eduardo Izquierdo, the patriot dedicated to Cuban independence?”
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“Then you must remember his exquisitely beautiful daughter, Conchita?”
“I certainly do remember her,’ Crittenden recalls. “She had lovely sea-green eyes and a sultry walk. Every man at that banquet, young and old, fell madly in love with her.”
“Even you?” Pary asks with a laugh.
“No, not I,” Crittenden replies, defensively.“You probably do not remember, since you only had eyes for the lovely Ms. Izquierdo, but I was accompanying Miss Lucy Holcombe of Texas. Miss Holcombe and I became engaged that evening.”
“Congratulations, sir,” said Pary.
“And are you engaged to the beautiful Ms. Izquierdo, as well?” Crittenden asked.
“I would have asked for her hand but for this terrible business in Cuba,” Pary replies somberly.“That is why I’m on this mission, to save her and her father if I can.”
“To save them?”
“Yes,” said Pary,“it’s complicated.”
“How so?” Crittenden asked.
“When Eduardo Izquierdo, freed his slaves, the other hacendados threatened to kill him.The hacendados want to get rid of the Spanish; they don’t want to get rid of their slaves. Eduardo is a man of honor. When he promised his slaves their freedom, he actually meant it.”
“So the slaves on the other plantations expect their freedom, as well,” Crittenden observes.
“Right,” Pary replies.“But instead, the hacendados ran the Izquierdos out of Cuba.”
“So what happened?” Crittenden asked.
“When Conchita and her father came to the United States, many of his former slaves, tobacco smugglers. kept in contact. And when Conchita learned that her father had returned to Cuba to join Aguero, she left as well.”
“So now you are going to save her?” Crittenden asks.
“Yes,” Pary replies.
“Sir, your mission is even more noble than mine; I go to Cuba for glory, you go for love. I wonder which of us will be successful,” Crittenden muses offering a brief salute.
Just as Pary is about to respond, a dignified figure strolls towards them.The man has a military bearing, tall and handsome with white hair blowing in the ocean breeze. Narciso Lopez reminds many Southerners of Andrew Jackson. And like Jackson, General Lopez, has led many successful military campaigns. As the general strides down the Pampero’s foredeck, his officers assemble about him. But Pary hangs back; he has mixed emotions, pride mingled with trepidation. “How much do you know about the general?” Pary asks Crittenden.
“Not a lot,” Crittenden admits.“He speaks no English and I speak no Spanish.”
“So you know nothing about him?”.
“I know he is originally from Venezuela, where he was an officer in the Spanish army,” Crittenden offers. “When Venezuela’s revolutionaries won their independence and kicked the Spanish aristocrats out of their country, the general emigrated to Spain.”
“So why is he leading a revolt against the Spanish now?” Pary asked.
“In Spain,” Crittenden reports, “Lopez allied himself with General Baldomero Espartero who led Spanish troops in a coup against the monarchy. It is rumored that Lopez gave Espartero enough money to buy the army. After the civil war, Espartero became dictator of Spain.”
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“Then what happened?”
Billy laughs. “Espartero appointed Narciso Lopez governor of Valencia and then governor of the Cuban province of Las Villas. General Lopez’ villa occupied most of the town of Trinidad.”
“I still don’t see why Lopez is leading an insurrection in Cuba,” Pary states.
“Sir, if you let me finish,” Crittenden replies good-naturedly, “I will tell you. When Espartero was overthrown by military officers loyal to the Spanish Crown, Lopez not only lost his governorship, he was forced to flee to America for safety.”
“___ making him as much of an adventurer as anyone on this seagoing wreck,” Pary concludes.
General Narciso Lopez strides over to the two Americans absent his usual interpreter, Cirilo Villaverde. “Good evening, Gentlemen,” General Lopez says in halting English.
“Good evening, General,” Ross Pary replies in perfect Castilian. “it is good to get off on the right foot, no?”
“Si, Señor Pary,” the general beams, “I am happy you have joined us. That you speak Spanish will be useful for us. I have risked everything on this adventure. Now I will speak to my officers. Will you translate for me?”
“I would be honored, sir,” Pary bows.
The officers gather around the general. “We are embarked upon a great enterprise to free
Cuba. As you know we could not wait any longer. Many are impatient for action.You are impatient for action.”
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A cheer goes up from the men.
“This is no scheme of conquest. We do not go to rouse the natives to rebellion, but to aid them in driving from their land the oppressors who control Cuban soil.The people are weary of their bondage, their chains cause festering wounds.They will welcome us as their liberators.”
Once again the men cheer.
“Fear no consequences.The Cuban people have given their promise that their actions will match yours.Through their actions they have already committed themselves to deposing the Spanish tyrant and raising the Cuban flag over a free Cuba!”
It was just what his men needed to rally their spirits.They clapped and cheered. The general, in his turn, beamed at his officers and then, waving, abruptly returned to his cabin. Pary turned to his young comrade. “How confident are you about this mission Billy?”
“Why do you ask, Ross?”
“I don ’t know, maybe I’m just jittery, but something doesn’t seem quite right.”
“Well, I sure did expect to see a lot more men,” Billy concedes.
“What do you mean?”
“There ’s only four hundred and fifty men on board.”
“So?” Pary asks.
“We have been recruiting people all over the South. I personally signed up more than six hundred volunteers from Kentucky alone. Yesterday, I signed up a hundred men from New Orleans.They were just hanging around the docks with nothing to do. I asked them if they wanted to go to Cuba and they volunteered.”
“So where are all the other men you recruited?” Ross Pary asks.
“That ’s a good question,” Crittenden replies thoughtfully. “I don’t know.”
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“So what you’re saying,” Pary summarizes,“is that after recruiting hundreds if
not thousands of men who left their homes and signed induction papers, only three hundred plus the hundred or so from the docks of New Orleans with no military experience, whatsoever, are actually on this boat?”
“Yes,” Crittenden replies, “I think that is what I am saying.”
Pary feels a chill running up his spine.
“And another thing,” Billy says. “Ambrosio Gonzales is not on this boat.”
“Who is Ambrosio Gonzales?” Ross asks.
“You met him at the banquet. He is the general’s aide and second in command. But he is not here.” Then young Crittenden goes into a trance before blurting out, “And the cannon…”
“What cannon?” Pary asks.
“There should be cannon on board,”Crittenden said.“I recruited some men with artillery experience.”
“So?” Pary asks.
“Cirilio Villaverde, the general’s aide and translator, who, by the way, is also not on this boat” Billy explains, “told me to tell anyone volunteering for artillery that we would have cannon from the Mississippi and Georgia arsenals. But I looked and couldn’t find a single cannon anywere on this boat.”
The two men lapsed into silence. The thump, thump, thumping of
the Pampero’s single engine makes ominous
sounds, while in the east, rays of the morning sun challenge the steamer to a
race for Cuba’s shore.
Another Exciting Episode Next Week