In the last days of January 1895, Gonzalo de Quesada boarded a train in New York City headed for Tampa, Florida. He carried with him a message whose impact would be felt around the world.
A few days earlier, on January 29, Quesada hosted a group of Cuban revolutionary leaders at his home in the city. That night, Quesada, Jose Marti, General Enrique Collazo, and others voted for and drafted a declaration of war against the Spanish Colonial Authority. The orders were written in longhand and given to Quesada for safe transport to Tampa.
Once the cigar industry relocated from Key West in the 1880s, Tampa took center stage in the build-up to the Cuban revolution. Cuban exiles, who followed the industry's move northward to Tampa, printed newspapers with titles like La Nueva Republica (The New Republic) and La Liberdad (Liberty). Cigar workers contributed a portion of their daily wages to the Partido de Revolutionario (the Cuban Revolutionary Party). Cuban Mambi soldiers trained for battle in the cow fields surrounding urban Tampa years before Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders arrived.
In West Tampa, Cuban cigar workers and political organizers plotted and planned their uprising against the Spanish colonial government in Cuba. The first mayor of West Tampa, Fernando Figueredo, worked as the head bookkeeper for the O'Halloran Cigar Factory on the corner of Howard and Albany. In 1895, as the Cuban revolutionary effort gained momentum, Figueredo was named treasurer of the Cuban Revolutionary Party in Tampa.
During the Ten Years War for Cuban independence (1868-1878), Figueredo served as secretary of the Cuban Provisional Government. He fled Cuba for Key West in 1878, where he continued to build support for Cuban independence. He became a U.S. citizen in 1884, and in 1885, he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives representing Monroe County, the first Cuban to hold that office. Together with Jose Marti, Jose Dolores Poyo, and other leaders of the Cuban revolutionary effort, Figueredo helped found the Cuban Revolutionary Party in Key West in 1892.
In 1893, Figueredo, now employed with the O'Halloran Cigar Company, was asked to relocate with the firm to West Tampa. Figueredo's home at 404 Main Street served as the office of the Revolutionary Party in Tampa.
The O'Halloran Cigar Company, owned by brothers Blas, Estanislao, and Ignacio, became a focal point for organizing efforts in Tampa. In October of 1896, an estimated crowd of 3,000 workers turned out to hear speeches by Figueredo and other Party leaders. But one year earlier, in February of 1895, The O'Hollaron Factory and its owners played a pivotal and direct role in the war for Cuban independence.
Once in Tampa, Quesada met with Figueredo and the O'Halloran brothers to discuss plans to transport the sensitive information Quesada was carrying to Cuba. Blas O'Halloran personally rolled five identical cigars inside his West Tampa cigar factory. The only difference was that one of them carried a declaration of war. With cigars in hand, Quesada boarded the Mascotte, a passenger ship bound for Key West.
Only 90 miles from Cuba, Quesada met another Cuban Revolutionary Party operative, Miguel Duque Estrada. De Estrada was the next link in a chain stretching from New York to Florida to Cuba. De Estrada sailed from Key West to the Port of Havana with the five Tampa cigars in his possession. On February 21, De Estrada delivered the "revolutionary" cigar to Juan Gualberto Gomez, military commander of the Cuban army. Gomez immediately sent word back to New York the message had been received. Three days later, on February 24, 1895, the cry "Viva Cuba Libre!" echoed throughout the island.
Information for this article was taken from The Cigar That Sparked Cuba's Revolution by Tony Pizzo, which appeared in the April 23, 1955, edition of The Tobacco Leaf.
CIGAR CITY MAGAZINE- JULY/AUGUST 2008
Art & Photography Contributors: Hillsborough County Public Library, Tampa Bay History Center, The Florida State Archives, The Tampa Tribune/Tampa Bay Times, University of South Florida Department of Special Collections, Ybor City Museum Society, private collections and/or writer.
Manny Leto is the Executive Director for the Preserve the 'Burg in St. Petersburg, Florida. He also worked as Director of Community Outreach for the Ybor City Museum Society, then became the managing editor of Cigar City Magazine and Director of Marketing for 15 years with the Tampa Bay History Center.
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