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Race & Identity in Cuba

Time Line II: 1900- present


AfroCuban History: a Time Line
1492 to 1900

Here is a time line of Cuban history with links to resources both within this site and elsewhere. It is updated as we get suggestions and acquire more dates and links.  This section covers up to 1900. See Time Line II for dates in the 20th and 21st century.  We plan to expand the time line before 1492 to cover Native Cuba as soon as we get materials.

1492 Christopher Columbus "discovers" Cuba.  The Genovese capo's favorite Caribbean money-maker: threaten to chop off native people's hands off if they don't bring him enough gold.
1508   Sebastián de Ocampo sailed around Cuba, proving it was an island. Previously it was thought part of North America.
1511   Diego de Velázquez conquers Cuba, fighting the Taíno, the Arawak Ciboney, and other nations, then founds several towns, including Havana.  In one gruesome episode, 2500 Taino welcome the Spaniards with a feast, then are slaughtered, disembowled, and hacked to pieces until their blood runs as in a river.  Hatuey, a Taíno chief who had come to Cuba from Hispaniola to warn his people of the Spaniards, is captured and burned at the stake.
1513   The first record of slavery in Cuba. Landowner Amador de Lares gets permission to bring four African slaves from Hispaniola.
1514   Pánfilo de Narváez establishes the city of Havana, named after a local chief, San Cristóbal de Habana.
  More kidnapped Africans arrive.  The first larger group of slaves (300) arrive in Cuba in 1520.
1519   The first Catholic mass is celebrated in Havana, under a Ceiba tree.
1520   Seven years after the first small group of African slaves were kidnapped into Cuba, the first large group of African slaves, 300 total, are brought to work the gold mines.
1526   Cedula real (royal writ) establishing the right for a slave to purchase their own freedom.
1533   First documented slave uprising: four slaves from the Jobabo mines fight to their death with Spanish soldiers. To reduce colonists' fears, their heads are removed and put on display in Bayamo.
1538   French pirates, with the help of rebel slaves, burn the city of Havana. There are six Christian towns in Cuba at this time: Santiago (80 houses), Havana (between 70 – 80 homes), Baracoa, Puerto Príncipe, Santi Spíritus, and Bayamo with 30-40 homes each.
1550   The Spanish crown allows a wealthy merchant group to import Africans to Cuba.
1557   Havana City Council issues a decree prohibiting African-owned taverns or inns and forbids them to sell tobacco or wine. The punishment: fifty lashes with a whip.
1568   First cabildo in Cuba, Cabildo Shango in Havana
1586   A royal decree regulating tobacco sales specifies that the penalties are doubled if the law-breaker is a negro. In addition, the negro receives 200 lashes in public.
1600   18 sugar mills (ingenias) around Havana, none have more than 26 slaves.
1607   Havana becomes capital of Cuba, replacing Santiago de Cuba.
1682   Second Catholic Diocesian Synode in Santiago de Cuba: blacks and mulatos and metis forbidden from entering any Church orders.  Blacks are not allowed asylum in Churches nor can they sing funeral masses.
1687   Papal Synode orders Cuban priests to adjust African beliefs to the Catholic faith
1708   The Spanish crown issues a decree allowing slaves to purchase their freedom. Those who do so are known as cortados
1761   Retail sales are criminalized. Only purchases from the government are legal, with their selection of goods, at their price. Contraband is a flourishing art, especially in Oriente. Nothing is ever new!
1727   300 slaves revolt in Quiebra-Hacha, a sugar mill in the western part of Havana. The government and the military have to intervene to quell the revolt.
1762   The British seize Havana during the Seven Year War. Over the 10-month period of British occupation from 1762-63, there is a surge of slave trafficking and 10,000 slaves are carried into Havana. End of criminalization of retail sales.

Sample populations of slaves in Cuba between 1760 and 1769 show that 8.22 percent of all slave labor was from Oyó (Lukumí, as described by Miguel W. Ramos). 

1763   Widespread raiding of the Yoruba territories began in this year. The capital is Oyó.
1764   Possible beginning of the custom whereby African cabildos are received at the palace on the Day of Kings.
1774   According to the census, Cuba has a total population of 172,620 inhabitants: 96,440 whites, 31,847 free blacks, and 44,333 black slaves.
1775   With slave labor, sugar plantations produce 4,700 tons of sugar this year. 
1789   Spain opens the slave trade to Havana, and a royal decree authorizes shipbuilding in the port -- part of a general program of imperial reform loosening colonial commercial restrictions in Cuba. The Yoruba were among the largest slave population in Cuba by this year.

King Charles III issues a new codex for slavery -- “The Royal Document on the Trades and Occupations of Slaves.” From the age of 17 through the age of 60, slaves are to toil in Cuban fields. It allows only 270 work days per year. Masters are forced to feed and clothe slaves according to accepted standards. They are forced to instruct them in Catholicism and convince them to take Mass regularly. However, slave-master regulations are generally not enforced on a consistent basis.

1791   Boukman sacrifices a pig in a Dahomey ritual and launches a slave uprising.  The uprising erupts near Le Cap in St. Domingue (Santo Domingo, now Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and spreads like wildfire -- the beginning of the end of slavery in the French colony.   The subsequent decade sees a big wave immigration of French planters taking refuge in Oriente with their Haitian slaves.  The Haitians maintain their identity and their creole language to this day.
1795   Nicolás Morales, a free black, leads an uprising, beginning in Bayamo and spreading throughout the eastern part of Cuba. It is quickly suppressed by the Spanish army. In A History of Cuba and its Relations with the United States, Volume I, 1492-1845: “. . . what especially disturbed the slave-owners about this uprising was that whites and negroes joined together in the revolt and demanded, as in the Haitian revolution, equality between black and white.”

Cuba now produces 14,000 tons of sugar a year due to increased slave labor.
1805   Cuba now produces 34,000 tons of sugar each year, due to increased slave labor. That is a huge increase from 1795, in which the production was 14,000 tons.
1806   The first known Matanzas AfroCuban cabildo founded.  These are self help organizations based on African cultural and religious identities.  Members collaborate to purchase freedom for some slaves. The cabildo instution actually dates back to 14th century Seville in Spain, so it is possible there were cabildos before this one.
1809   March 18th: Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés (Placido) is born in calle Bernaza, Havana, son of Diego Ferrer Matoso and the Spanish dancer Concepción Vázquez. He later becomes a famous poet and is exdecuted for rebellion in 1844.
1812   Aponte Conspiracy:  Aponte is a free Black militia commander who organizes a revolt of slaves and free people of color to overthrow slavery and Spanish colonialism. José Luciano Franco, an AfroCuban historian after the Revolution, writes about this.

José Aponte and the other accomplices are put to the gallows. Aponte’s head is displayed in an iron cage in front of his house. His hand is displayed in another street. The heads of his accomplices are also displayed.

1815   "Mira Cuba, de lo mas tranquilo, nadie discute la dominacion de los españoles y las plantaciones con los esclavos como si nada." ["Look at Cuba, very peaceful, no one is talking about the domination by the Spaniards, and the plantations with their slaves go on as if nothing were happening."]  -- Simon Bolivar, circa 1815.  He is referring to a time when the the most conservative Spanish families fleeing the struggles for liberation in South America take refuge in Cuba.  It is a movement that is repeated in post 1959 Cuba, when the most Spanish families again flee, this time to Miami...
1816   Epidemic of smallpox in Cuba

The First Seminole War in Florida offers interesting parallels to modern relations between the US and Cuba. The original Seminoles came to Florida because it was nominally controlled by the Spanish, who had no interest in returning slaves to the British. The Seminole Nation was really a mix of peoples who had taken refuge in the then very extensive Florida swamps.  One of the Seminole Nations was called the Black Seminoles, run-away slaves who helped their Indian brothers adapt to the swamps thanks to rice growing and other techniques they brought with them from Africa. By 1816, "Black Seminoles had taken over a British fortress on the Apalachicola River on the Florida panhandle. 'Fort Negro' was manned by 300 black officers, men, and their families under the direction of Commander Garcia, who hoped his fortress and troops would shield the Seminole plantations that lined the riverbanks for fifty miles. There peaceful men and women raised crops, tended cattle, and brought up children. It would take a miracle to dislodge Garcia and his followers from behind their three-walled fortress. It was situated in a treacherous swamp area impossible to storm. Each month more slaves joined Garcia’s band, and to add to his numbers, Garcia’s soldiers ventured outside to raid plantations and free more slaves."

"Worried by the slaves escaping and holding a fort, General Andrew Jackson ordered, without a declaration of war, General Gaines to take a massive force of regular U.S. troops, Marines, and five hundred Creek Indian mercenaries  and blow up Fort Negro and "restore the stolen negroes . . . to their rightful owners." The invaders were aided by U.S. Navy ships who bombarded the fort until a cannonball, heated red hot in a ship’s furnace, landed with miraculous accuracy inside the fort’s ammunition dump. In an instant Fort Negro was a roar of flames as hundreds of barrels of gunpowder exploded, making 270 dead, three uninjured and sixty-four wounded, some fatally. Garcia, found alive, was executed and the surviving men, women, and children brought back to slavery in Georgia.   The U.S. public heard nothing about this massacre for twenty years. In 1837 Congressman William Jay broke the story. [Summarized from "Black Indians: A Hidden History" by William Loren Katz, (, in]

Around this time some Seminole families flee Florida and take refuge in Guanabacoa, a small town outside of Havana which is a center of African culture in Cuba today. Doug Sivad researches this.

1818   Epidemic of smallpox in Cuba
1820   The legal slave trade into Cuba abolished by terms of the 1817 treaty with England. However, between 1821 and 1831 more than three-hundred expeditions bring an estimated sixty thousand slaves to Cuba and slavery is not abolished until 1886.
1822   US naval forces suppressing piracy landed on the northwest coast of Cuba and burned a pirate station.
1823   U.S. navy lands on the northwest coast in pursuit of pirates. Actions occurred on April 8th and 13th as well as October 23rd and 24th.
1824   In October the USS Porpoise landed bluejacket marines near Matanzas in pursuit of pirates. This was part of the cruise authorized in 1822.
1825   Cuban independence movements lead Spain to declare martial law and suppress newspapers. Mexico and Venezuela plan an expedition to Cuba in order to help the stuggle for independence. But the United States, fearing an independent Cuba would lead to the end of slavery with repercussions in the Southern states, let it be known through Secretary of State Henry Clay that it would block any move to liberate Cuba from Spain. The decision was based on the belief that in due time, under the operation of the law of political economy, Cuba would fall into the lap of her North American neighbor.

In March cooperating American and British forces landed at Sagua La Grande to capture pirates.
1826   The Spanish government proclaims free any slave managing to prove he had been illegally imported, and implements new regulations requiring captains of vessels arriving from Africa to turn their logbooks over to port authorities to be inspected for evidence of illegal slaving. British officials complain that the new measures are paper-thin. When British naval officers try to prosecute the Spanish schooner Minerva for landing six boatloads of slaves in Havana at night, General Francisco Dionisio, the captain-general of Cuba, refuses to let the case be brought before the court of mixed commission, on the grounds the incident had not occurred on the high seas. This was one of a series of incidents in which Cuban authorities block British efforts to curb illegal slaving.
1827   A census of Cuba reveals a slave population of 287,000, most of them working on some 1,000 ingenios (sugar plantation-mill complexes).
1828   Epidemic of smallpox in Cuba
1831   A slave revolt breaks out in the British colony of Jamaica and is brutally repressed by colonial authorities.
1832   British colonies abolish slavery.
1833   Cholera epidemic in Havana.
1836   The fall of the Yorubas' Oyo Empire, destroyed by the Fulani Jihad, the predecessors to the present northern moslems in Nigeria.  As a result, many Yorubas were sold into slavery by their conquerors and went mainy to Cuba and Brazil. The fall is precipitated by the actions of the Alafin of Oyo, as recounted by Wande Abimbola in his book, Ifá will mend our broken world.
Spain appoints a consul in Jamaica, to report on abolitionist activity there. Over the next few years, this office reports on a series of (largely imagined) plots to send agents and propaganda to Cuba to foment a slave insurrection.
  The British government dispatches a Superintendent of Liberated Africans to Havana to oversee the disposition of Africans freed from captured slavers.
1837   Spanish Captain-General Miguel Tacon orders the imprisonment of all foreign black seamen while their ships are in port in Havana.

The British vessel H.M.S. Romany arrives in Havana to take on a load of freed slaves, carrying a regiment of black soldiers. Cuban authorities refuse to allow these men to land in Havana, and the British refuse to withdraw the vessel. After over a year, the Spanish government gives ground.

1838   About 391,000 slaves are brought to Cuba between1762 and 1838.
1839   The mutinied Cuba-bound Amistad is seized off Long Island and taken to New London.  Spanish officials demand the return of the “assassins” and ”mutineers.”
1840   Slaves make up 45% of the Cuban population.  The wealthy white Cuban elite, criollos (Cuban born) and peninsulares (Spanish born), fear the large slave population enough to delay any push for independence.
1843   Carlota, a slave woman, takes up the machete to lead a slave uprising at the Triumvirato sugar mill, in Matanzas, and is killed.  Her name was later given to Cuba's operation Black Carlota in Southern Africa, which culminated in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale and the defeat of the South African army in pitch battle.
1844   "The Staircase Conspiracy" (Conspiración de la Escalera) - one of many slave revolts brutally supressed. Plácido, the gentle AfroCuban poet, is executed for his alleged participation
1845   Antonio Maceo born in Santiago de Cuba.
1848   President Polk offers Spain $100 million for Cuba. Spain refuses.
1849   Yucatecan Indians, from Mexico, are imported for slave labor. At the same time, Chinese contract workers are entering the island in considerable numbers.

White Cubans enforce segregation in public places as a means of imposing their claim to superiority. 

1850   Narciso Lopez, a Venezuelan who fought to free South America from Spain, launches an invasion of Cuba with private US backing to wrest it from Spanish control.   Lopez and General Ambrosio José Gonzales, with a motley troop that includes many US soldiers, land in Cardenas, Provincia de Matanzas, and are defeated by the Spaniards.
1851   Narciso Lopez tries again and is again defeated.
1863   Andres Facundo Cristo de los Dolores Petit is the first to initiate whites into the  Efik and Efo (Cross River Delta, Nigeria) derived Abakuá mysteries in Havana.   The initiates are sons of the well to do who have been accused of conspiring against Spain.
1868   October 10. Carlos Manuel de Céspesdes frees his slaves, issuing the famous Cry of Yara (Grito de Yara) and thereby begins a wave of slave liberations.
1868-78   Ten Year's War against Spain.  Led by Generals Antonio Maceo, Máximo Gómez, and Quintín Banderas, the Mambi rebel army was made up mostly (80% to 92%) of AfroCubans and numbered 40,000 in 1870. It was thus in fact the largest slave rebellion of the hemisphere. The bourgeois criollos supporters finally capitulated in 1878 out of fear of the lower classes and skepticism of the strength of the rural worker and the rebel army.  The effort was very successful in Oriente but floundered when it reached Matanzas, notorious for its wealthy white planters who wanted to keep their slave.
1869 January. Domingo Dulce returns to Cuba as Captain-General.

April 10. A self-appointed assembly proclaims a constitution for Cuba, and elects Céspedes as president. The new republic seeks annexation to the U.S.

José Martí, now 17-years old, is sentenced to six years of hard labor for expressing his opposition to colonial rule.

1870   The colonial government proclaims the "Free Market Law" which frees slaves over 60, those born after September 17, 1868, and all those who fight on the side of the Spanish King.
1871   Eight medical students shot by firing squad for the crime of being born in Cuba in order to appease the "Spanish Volunteers" born in Spain. Five Abakuá also killed for trying to defend them.  Commemorated for the first time at the 138th anniversary in 2009.

Máximo Gómez. sends Guillermo Moncada on a special mission to terminate slave catcher Miguel Perez.

1873   Last slave ship disembarks in Cuba
1878   Protest at Baragua: Antonio Maceo refuses to capitulate to Spain until slavery is abolished.
1884   Permission to come out on the Day of the Kings withdrawn from African Cabildos
1886   October 7. Slavery is abolished in Cuba. Economic conditions make it more profitable to free slaves and hire them for work by day, avoiding the expense of year round support.
1890   Juán Gualberto Gómez, an influential nationalist black politician, founds the Directório Central de Sociedades de Color, the Central Directory of Societies of Color.
1893   Proclamation of equal civil status for blacks and whites.
1895   February 24. Second War for Independence from Spain begins in Cuba. Jose Marti unleashes the war with a letter to his deputy, AfroCuban Juan Gualberto Gomez, on Jan 29.

AfroCubans form the backbone of the Liberation Army ("Los Mambises"), and are estimated to comprise 85% of that army. See Photos of the Liberation Army from Gloria Rolando's film "Roots of My Heart."

March 13. Antonio and José Maceo land in eastern Cuba from Santo Domingo.

April 11. José Martí and Máximo Gomez land in eastern Cuba from Costa Rica.

May 18. In his last letter, José Martí writes that it is his duty "to prevent, by the independence of Cuba, the United States from spreading over the West Indies and falling, with that added weight, upon other lands of our America. All I have done up to now, and shall do hereafter, is to that end… I have lived inside the monster and know its insides."

May 19. José Martí is killed in his first appearance on the battlefield at Dos Ríos in eastern Cuba. He is 42 years old. The rebels try to recover his body, but are unable to do so.

In 1895: Antonio Maceo was betrayed in Havana, but the members of Bacoco Efo, an Abakwá potencia in Belen, of which Lino D'ou was a member, hid and protected him. Many Abakwá members fight in the Mambi Army and composed an elite corps in the Mambi Army from Matanzas.

1896   July 5. José Maceo is killed at the battle of Loma del Gato.

December 7. Antonio Maceo, the "Bronze Titan," is killed in the battle of Punta Brava in Western Cuba.
1897   December. As the rebels declare success, President McKinley refuses to recognize Cuban Independence.

December 24. J.C. Breckenridge, U.S. Undersecretary of War, authors what becomes known as The Breckenridge Memorandum, which outlines U.S. policy towards the Hawaiian islands, Puerto Rico and Cuba. The memorandum went to Lieutenant General Nelson A. Miles, Commander of the U.S. Army.

1898   January. The U.S. sends the USS Maine to Havana.

February 15.The US battleship Maine explodes in Havana harbor, giving the US a pretext for intervention. Of the 266 men killed in the front near the explosion, most were enlisted men of color. The officers were not in that area.

April 25. The U.S. blames Spain and enters the Spanish-Cuban-American War. In Cuba, this is regarded as an intervention in Cuba’s War Of Independence.   The US and Spain fight a war in Cuba, the Phillipines, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere.  The Spaniards are officially kicked out of Cuba, having been worn down and defeated by years of struggle with the Mambises, the Cuban independence fighters, many of whom (92%) are of African descent.

August 12. Spain and the U.S. sign a bilateral armistice. Cuba is not represented at the negotiations.

July 1. The Buffalo Soldiers (Ninth and Tenth Cavalry) take San Juan Hill. Teddy Roosevelt takes the glory.

December 10. Spain and the U.S. sign the Treaty of Paris. The U.S. is granted control of four new territories: Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam. Although the treaty officially grants Cuba independence, the U.S. flag, not the Cuban flag, is raised over Havana, and Cuban representatives are not allowed at the signing.

New York Public Library on the Spanish American War:

1899   January 1. The U.S. installs a provisional military government in Cuba led by US General John R. Brooke. The US thus occupies Cuba and builds schools, roads, and bridges. It deepens Havana harbor in "preparing the land for incorporation into the US economic and educational systems. The voting franchise is designed to eliminate Afro-Cubans from politics."  (Encylopedia Britannica)

See Time Line II for continuation to the present.


History of Cuba


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