José María Teclo Morelos y Pavón (Valladolid, now renamed Morelia, Mexico, 30th September 1765 – Mexico City, Mexico, 22nd December 1815)
We've gadded all over the globe since I opened the salon doors three months ago, stopping in Australia, India, America and all over Europe and England, but this is our first trip to South America. Once again it's time to pack the fard, leave the heaviest petticoats at home and strike out for a story of revolution, religion and drama with José María Teclo Morelos y Pavón, a priest and rebel who fought for Mexican independence.
Morelos was born into a family that enjoyed less privilege than many of our salon guests as the son of a carpenter, José Manuel Morelos y Robles, and his wife, Juana María Guadalupe Pérez Pavón. He worked in menial jobs and as a farmhand until his mid-20s, when he entered the seminary to pursue his dreams of becoming a priest, hoping to bring some comfort and support to those who shared his faith and the start in life he had known. Upon completion of his studies in 1797 he embarked on a successful career as a priest and was considered by his superiors to be a safe pair of hands, uncontroversial and dedicated. With that in mind, it's hardly surprising that it came as a surprise to everybody when Morelos threw himself fervently into the early days of the Mexican revolution.
The fateful day dawned on 16th September 1810 when Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, parish priest of the town of Dolores, had the bells rung to call his congregation to his church. Form the pulpit he declared his opposition to Spanish rule and called for the people to take up arms and fight for their independence. Weeks of fighting followed as Hidalgo and his followers moved through the country facing the Spanish forces head on. Following a fierce battle in Guanajuato the revolutionaries were excommunicated by Manuel Abad y Queipo, Bishop of Michoacán.
When the revolutionary army arrived in Valladolid in late 1810, Hidalgo y Costilla asked his friend, Morelos, to join them. The priest readily agreed, accepting his excommunication and proving himself a gifted military strategist, rising to the rank of Colonel. Under his command his troops won nearly two dozen victories in nine months and when he continued his campaign the following year Morelos won battles, broke sieges and even negotiated the odd peaceful surrender. He was the first commander to take Acapulco, his troops winning victory in the city on 12th April 1813.
Following this victory Morelos set his mind to establishing a new scheme of political and social reforms in Mexico, calling the National Constituent Congress of Chilpancingo. The Congress endorsed a document entitled Sentiments of the Nation that focused on independence, Catholicism, the abolition of slavery and torture and extensive government and social reform. However, the Spanish had taken the opportunity to regroup and set about aggressively quashing the rebellion, moving systematically through the country and taking back towns and territory as they went.
The following year Morelos was on the run with the by now outlawed Congress in tow and in November 1815 he was captured whilst on an escort mission. Transported to Mexico City in chains, Morelos was tried for treason, the outcome never in doubt. He died before a firing squad in December outside of the city, so fearful were the Spanish of public reprisals. The battle for independence continued after his death, Morelos' name forever linked with the cause he had given his life for.
Morelos became a hero in death as he had been in life, his excommunication eventually lifted by the church. A man of the people, he was a gifted strategist as well as a leader with a social conscience and today his legend continues, honoured throughout the country of his birth.