The Journal of Caribbean History: Volume 40, Issue 2

Article 4
Morenos and Pardos (Blacks and Mulattos) and the Defence of Cuba: 1511 to the First War of Independence (1868–1878)

Mavis C. Campbell


Blacks and Mulattos played a critical role in the defence of Cuba from the inception of settlement in 1511, when, like the white settlers, they too (whether free or bonded) were called upon as “volunteers” to fight in informal armies first against the Indians and, from the 1520s, certainly against European intrusion that developed exponentially as the centuries passed. A part of Spain’s response to this major challenge was the establishment of militia companies in Cuba divided along race/colour lines. By the 1760s, the white, the pardo (mulatto) and the moreno (black) companies together became the dominant military presence on the island. In all this, the moreno and pardo militias stood out and earned for themselves universal recognition from the highest-ranking Spanish officials and the Crown for their military skills and distinguished service, creating, for the most part, jealousy and resentment from the Cuban white Creoles. This helped to exacerbate the existing social tensions on the island arising from the new Western democratic thinking that brought revolutions to the area from the latter part of the eighteenth century, robbing Spain, in the event, of her Hispanic empire (Cuba and Puerto Rico exempted) by the first two decades of the nineteenth century. The democratic tendencies affected not only the enslaved population in Cuba, sparking general restiveness and rebellions on plantations, but also members of the coloured militia, especially the Morenos. They became politically active and this finally brought the entire coloured militia, as well as other Blacks and Mulattos, free or bonded, under suspicion, leading to many “purges” that came to a head in the 1840s. With the loss of most of her empire in the region, Spain could now afford to send enough veteran soldiers to defend Cuba from both external and internal enemies, making the entire militia superfluous. But Blacks and Mulattos continued to serve in the Cuban armies as regular soldiers, and when later they fought in the independence wars with the other groups, they did so as nationalists fighting for political independence.