After retaking first Cartagena and then the rest of New Granada, the Spanish instituted a regime of retribution against the leaders of the independence movement.  In Cartagena, they executed a number of supporters of independence, the most well known being the 9 Martyrs of Cartagena.  Read on for a history of Cartagena’s 9 Martyrs, how they were executed, and how they are remembered today.

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A painting of the execution of Cartagena’s 9 Martyrs.  Read on for their story.  Image Source:  El Universal

Cartagena and New Granada Fall to Spanish Reconquest

In 1815, after a devastating siege, Cartagena fell to a reconquest force led by Spanish general Pablo Morillo.  With the stronghold of Cartagena and its fortified walls captured, the rest of the colony of New Granada, offered only token resistance.  Demoralized by Cartagena’s fall, when the governor of Bogotá asked for men to fight the approaching Spanish, only 6 volunteered.  By mid-1816, Morillo had succeeded in retaking Bogotá and all of New Granada.

(*Read more about the siege of Cartagena here)

Once Morillo had reestablished Spanish colonial authority, he created the Permanent Council of War to punish those who had been disloyal to the Spanish crown.  The Permanent Council of War was responsible for sentencing contributors to the patriot cause.  In early January there were executions of the city’s soldiers who refused to swear allegiance to Spain, and on February 1, those accused of killing Spanish prisoners were executed.  However, the most well known executions were those that took place on February 24, known as the 9 Martyrs of Cartagena.

Cartagena’s 9 Martyrs are Executed

Cartagena’s 9 Martyrs were sentenced to after Morillo had marched on and they were overseen Franciso de Montalvo, who had been named the new Viceroy of New Granada.  Below are the names and a short biography of each:

  • Manuel del Castillo y Rada
    • He had been the commander of Cartagena’s forces during the Siege of Cartagena and had long served in the army of the Free State of Cartagena.  His leadership during the siege was questionable and he was deposed before it was over, yet he would still pay with his life.
  • José María García de Toledo
    • Toledo had been a lawyer and was the first president of the junta governing council established in Cartagena in 1810.  He was among the signers of Cartagena’s Declaration of Independence in 1811, and served various roles in the government of the free state during its existence.
  • Antonio José de Ayos
    • Also a lawyer, De Ayos had initiated the call for the removal of Spanish appointed governor Francisco de Montes in 1810.
  • Miguel Díaz Granados y Nuñez Dávila
    • Another lawyer, Granados was originally from Santa Marta but had settled in Cartagena in 1796.  He had worked as a defense attorney for defendants in the Inquisition.  He served as a mayor of Cartagena, the director of naval and land forces, and a member of the senate.
  • Panteleón Germán Ribón
    • From Mompox, he was a military leader that fought in a number of battles.  He had been captured in September by Morillo’s forces and held until Cartagena fell.
  • José María Portocarrero
    • From Bogotá, Portocarrero was also a military leader.  Dispatched with a small force and supply of rifles to help the besieged Cartagena, he was captured by the Spanish on his journey and brought to Cartagena to meet his fate.
  • Martín Amador
    • From Cartagena and the brother of of political leader Juan de Dios, Amador had been a military officer since 1810.  By 1815 he had been named a colonel and was operating to the south of Cartagena when he was captured.
  • Manuel de Anguiano
    • Born in Spain, Anguiano was an officer in the Spanish army and moved to Cartagena as a military engineer.  He joined the cause of independence.  Since he had been a Spanish official, he was condemned to death by espaldas.
  • Santiago Stuart
    • An Irishman, Stuart had tried to flee on the night of December 5, but his ship had run aground in the Rosario Islands and he was captured.
A photo of the plaza of the 9 Martyrs with the clocktower in the background.
The Camellón de los Mártires, located outside of the Clocktower near to where the 9 Martyrs were executed.  Image Source:  Wikimedia Commons

All but one, Anguiano, were sentenced to be hung and have their property seized.  Anguiano was sentenced to be shot in the back.  In the end, the newly appointed governor Gabriel Torres, ordered all to be killed by firing squad.  They were marched outside the city gates on February 24, 1816.

Traditionally, they are said to have been executed all at once and under the city’s walls.  However, the only surviving first hand account, written by an Englishman who had been detained by Morillo’s forces after his ship wrecked along the Caribbean coast, states they were killed in separate groups, and rather than against the city walls, against the wall of a destroyed building on the path between the city gates and Getsemaní.

Morillo’s “Reign of Terror” in New Granada

After taking Bogotá in May 1816, Morillo established the Permanent Council of War (Consejo de Guerra Permanente) to carry out the task of investigating and sentencing those accused of treason.  The council was basically a military tribunal, and trials were often short with the accused condemned almost immediately.  Independence leaders were investigated, countless had their property taken from them, and many were sentenced to death.

In Cartagena, there were hundreds of others who were executed for supporting the patriot cause, including at least 2 women who were shot and one who died from from her injuries after being publicly whipped.

A photo of the plaza devoted to the 9 Martyrs of Cartagena, you can see the busts on each side and the larger monument in the middle with a few people walking.
View of the plaza with the busts of the 9 Martyrs of Cartagena from the Clocktower.

Historical documentation shows formal records of 303 trials carried out by the council.  Of them, 124 were sentenced to death, 121 were given prison sentences of 2 to 10 years, 32 were pressed into military service, 2 were sentenced to exile, and 24 were found innocent.

A simple look at the numbers gives the impression that the use of the metaphor of Morillo’s rule as a “reign of terror,” may be overblown.  However, there were likely many more who were killed by royalist forces of which there is no record.  It should be noted as well that summary executions of the enemy by both patriot and loyalist forces had been commonplace throughout the conflicts of 1810-1815.  After patriots regained control of most of New Granada in 1819, 38 Spanish army officers were also sentenced to death without trial.

However, Morillo’s repression of the patriot leadership could be brutal.  Manuel Rodríguez Torices, who had been Governor President of the Free State of Cartagena from 1812 to 1814, when he joined the leadership of the United Provinces of New Granada, was also executed.  He along with José Fernandéz Madrid, who had been a Congressman in Cartagena, and other leaders from elsewhere were captured while trying to flee in the spring of 1816.

Fernandéz Madrid was given forgiveness and allowed to flee into exile.  Rodriguéz Torices, however was hanged on October 5, 1816, after which his dead body was shot multiple times in the head and the chest.  He was then dismembered and his head was displayed in a cage on the outskirts of Bogotá.

Black and white portrait of Rodríguez Torices.
Portrait of Rodríguez Torices.  Image Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Therefore, Morillo’s occupation was certainly a reign of terror for the criollo leadership of independence.  Such brutalities as well as Spanish King Fernando VII’s roll back of liberal reforms after returning from exile only added to resentment against Spanish rule and helped to re-galvanize support for independence  (*Read more about the causes of independence here).

Pockets of resistance continued until 1819, when Simón Bolívar won a decisive victory at the Battle of Boyacá, leading to the liberation of most of New Granada.  While Cartagena would have to wait another 2 years to be freed from Spanish rule, the colony was now on its way to overcoming the Spanish reconquest.

Legacy of Cartagena’s 9 Martyrs

Cartagena would suffer under the Spanish reoccupation from 1815 until 1821, when it was finally re-liberated nearly a decade after its initial declaration of independence.  It only came about as a result of another long siege, this time by patriot forces.

Meanwhile, Cartagena’s 9 Martyrs were remembered.  Today, the site of their execution, the promenade outside of Cartagena’s iconic Clocktower connecting the Historic Centro  Oldtown to Getsemaní, is devoted to Cartagena’s 9 Martyrs and known as the Camellón de los martires.  The plaza-size median has busts of each of Cartagena’s 9 Martyrs as well as a obelisk honoring the other citizens of Cartagena who were executed, with some of the more prominent ones being listed.  In the center there is a monument dedicated to all those that lost their lives fighting for independence.

Their sacrifice is remembered in both Colombia’s and Cartagena’s anthems today (*Learn more about the anthems and Cartagena’s other patriotic symbols here).  When walking through the Camellón de los martires today, enjoying the beautiful view of the city’s bay and Clocktower, take a moment and reflect on Cartagena’s 9 Martyrs and all the others who gave their lives for the cause of independence.

Photo of the monument to the 9 Martyrs of Cartagena, a woman holding her hand high on a pedestal with a devotion to the heroic Cartagena.
Monument to those who lost their lives, including 9 Martyrs of Cartagena.  Image Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Interested in learning more about Cartagena’s Independence?

This is part 8 of an 11 part series on the celebration and history of Cartagena’s Independence.  Check out the other parts below:

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