Gaspar Yanga: From Slave To City Founder In Mexico

     *Maroon- Africans that escaped slavery in various segments of the Americas and formed independent settlements. This includes: Cuba, Ecuador, Suriname, Colombia, Brasil, México, Jamaica, Panamá, Haití, Belize, Honduras, Puerto Rico, North Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, and parts of South Asia.


 

     New Spain which consisted largely of Mexico, and had its capital in Mexico city, was said to have possessed the most slaves after Brasil. From these slaves, Gaspar Yanga, would emerge to lead a sizable band of African fugitives known as *Maroons, that would help to establish one of the first independent settlements in the Americas after the beginning of the European slave trade. This settlement would later become the Town of Yanga, located in Veracruz Mexico.

     Yanga is said to have been a former member of the royal family in Gabon, West Africa, who after being captured was sold into slavery, and worked in the sugarcane fields of Mexico. However, in 1570, Yanga, along with a band of followers, would flee to the mountainous region near Veracruz. Using the mountainous terrain to their advantage, Yanga and his followers would put up firm resistance against the Spanish for decades.

     In 1609, the Spanish mobilized over 500 troops to go and besiege the *Maroon colony. In response, Yanga sent peaceable terms to the Spanish (by using a captured Spaniard as a messenger), offering to cease any aide that was being offered to other slaves, and also to stop any raids that were being performed. In addition, he conceded that any slaves that fled to their territory would be returned, in order to ease the tension between the slave owners.

     Yanga’s terms were rejected by the Spanish and the battle began, however, by this time, Yanga had aged significantly and could not physically fight, thus, he allied his band of maroons with those of his friend, Francisco de la Matosa, an Angolan freedom fighter who also led his own band of fugitives, and together fought the Spanish with de la Matosa leading the charge and Yanga directing them with his extensive knowledge of the terrain.

     The battle waged on and caused significant damage to both sides: the Spanish were able to make their way into the *Maroon town and burn it, however, the *Maroons were able to evade capture and continue to rescue slaves from capture, while using their knowledge of the terrain to whittle down the Spanish troops.

     After experiencing a few years with no decisive winner in sight, the Spanish finally decided to negotiate. The treaty was signed in 1618 and granted 11 conditions, of those included were: the right to rule for Yanga and his family, the right to freedom for all *Maroons that had joined the community prior to 1608, and the prohibition of the Spanish within the community.

     The *Maroon settlement would be officially acknowledged by the Spanish as a free black settlement and known as San Lorenzo de los Negros, although it would later be renamed after its founder and called Yanga. In 1871, Mexico City’s Mayor and historian Vicente Riva Palacio would pronounce Gaspar Yanga a national hero, and describe him and his men as, "proud men who would not know defeat”.