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Exile and RevolutionJose D. Poyo, Key West, and Cuban Independence$

Gerald E. Poyo

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780813049182

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813049182.001.0001

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(p.137) 6 Martí
Exile and Revolution

Gerald E. Poyo

University Press of Florida

Abstract and Keywords

José Martí first visited Key West in late 1891 and found a well organized community with long experience and tradition of nationalist activism led by a cadre of committed, experienced, and skilled insurrectionists. Key West had patriotic clubs and schools, secret revolutionary associations, a nationalist working class constituency, ties with revolutionary groups in Cuba, a financial base in the cigar industry, a certainty that one day Cuba would be rid of Spanish rule, and a predisposition to immediate action. Martí possessed intellectual prowess, political genius, a charismatic presence, superb oratorical skills, and an obsessive energy capable of mobilizing a working class community ripe for revolution. Together they forged the Cuban Revolutionary Party, an émigré-wide organization with a clear and inspiring political platform. José D. Poyo opened Martí’s path to Key West where, under his guidance, the New York nationalist orator became a practical revolutionary organizer. Poyo and Martí needed one another; a mutuality that enhanced their revolutionary aspirations, and produced an affectionate friendship.

Keywords:   José Martí, Charismatic oratory, Cuban Revolutionary Party, Mobilization, Friendship

Let’s help this man by offering him our patriotic support and our cooperation.

José D. Poyo, 1892

On Christmas Day 1892, José F. Lamadriz and José D. Poyo, president and vice-president respectively of the Convención Cubana, stood on the waterfront in Key West, accompanied by a young tobacco worker, Genaro Hernández, the head of the community’s organizing and invitations committee for this event. Other local revolutionary leaders, a large crowd, and the Libertad band waited with them as the steamer Olivette from Tampa eased toward the dock. Visible on the vessel’s deck was a fragile, serious-looking 39-year-old man with a receding hairline and a moustache who was wearing a black suit and tie and a white shirt. José Martí was distinct and unforgettable, and Poyo recognized him immediately. As Martí disembarked from the ship, Lamadriz, Poyo, and Hernández approached him. The crowd cheered and the band played. “I embrace the past revolution,” Martí said emotionally as he embraced Lamadriz. “And I embrace the future revolution,” Lamadriz responded. Poyo also embraced Martí, as did Hernández. Fernando Figueredo, the third-ranking Convención leader, was conspicuously absent; he opposed the visit.

The crowd escorted the four men to a coach for transportation to the Duval House, but even though he was suffering from severe bronchitis, Martí refused to ride. He excitedly walked the couple of blocks to the hotel, where young Hernández stood on a chair in the lobby and gave Martí the official welcome from the organizing committee. Martí said that he already felt better, referring to his bronchial illness, because “this is my medicine, Cubans; here is the comforting medicine of the soul, which like the body also suffers (p.138) illness.” That evening at a banquet, Martí sat between Lamadriz and Juan Arnao, the two most prestigious elders of the revolutionary community. Feeling inspired, he offered toasts on three separate occasions before retiring for the night. The next day he awoke exuberant but even more sick, and Dr. Eligio Palma ordered a strict regimen of bed rest and quiet.1

This encounter initiated Poyo’s and Key West’s relationship with Martí. The Florida group lacked one individual who was capable of rising above the rest and claiming overall leadership of the revolutionary movement. In fact, there had never been such a leader in the communities in exile, which in part explained their inability to work in concert. Poyo and his colleagues brought many talents to the task of revolution but not the characteristics and skills necessary to defuse competing interests and unify a diverse community for a final assault on Spanish rule in Cuba. The Key West community had experience, organization, and commitment, and its members had helped create revolutionary cells in Cuba, but it lacked the charismatic leadership Martí revealed in Florida. Poyo’s friendship with Martí symbolized the integration of talent, skills, and plans required to finally spark a revolutionary movement of national proportions.


This was Poyo’s second encounter with the prominent revolutionary orator and writer from New York, whom he had met briefly just weeks earlier in Tampa. But he had been well-acquainted with Martí’s writings and erudition since his first speech in New York in early 1880, which had been sold in pamphlet form for ten cents a copy in Key West. Poyo no doubt read that speech at the Martínez Ybor factory, introducing workers to the thinking of this young agitator.2

Poyo watched throughout the decade as Martí’s nationalist reputation grew, especially at the Pan-American Conference in 1889 in Washington, D.C. Secretary of State James G. Blaine convened this conference to consider economic relations and reciprocal trade agreements between the United States and Latin American nations. Martí attended as Uruguayan consul in New York and caused considerable controversy when he expressed doubts about the wisdom of linking Latin America’s destiny with the United States too closely.

(p.139) Martí and his friend Enrique Trujillo also wrote eloquently against the renewed pro-annexationist propaganda of prominent exiles Juan Bellido de Luna, José Antonio Rodríguez, José Ambrosio González, Fidel and Adolfo Pierra, Manuel Moreno, and others.3 In 1888, Martí helped found a new nationalist club in New York, Los Independientes, in response to this resurgence of support for annexation and what seemed to be the final failure of the autonomist experiment in Cuba. However, unlike the Convención Cubana’s strategy of fomenting revolution in Cuba, the New York club limited its activities to discussion and promoting nationalist propaganda. Poyo appreciated Marti’s standing as New York’s most prominent leader, orator, and writer, but like most in Key West, he saw him as too moderate and timid.4

Poyo briefly corresponded with Martí in December 1887 when Martí reached out to build bridges with Key West. Although Martí disagreed with Poyo’s radical views, he lauded him as one of the most respected revolutionary figures in exile. He acknowledged Poyo’s role in keeping nationalist sentiment and discourse alive in the 1880s, “during times of least faith among our compatriots,” and saluted him as a man of great energy and dedication to the cause who could be counted on to help prepare the approaching grand but difficult times in Cuba.

Martí also knew of the animosity many in Key West felt toward him and the community’s strong dedication to Máximo Gómez, but this did not detract from his respect for the “exemplary Cubans of Key West.” He assured Poyo of his own complete commitment to armed revolution, which many doubted, but he insisted on a carefully prepared struggle accompanied by a reasoned, convincing program that would be capable of inspiring the Cuban people. The time had come to provide the means to convert growing dissatisfaction with Spanish rule into a confident and well-organized revolution and to avoid the errors of the past, Martí wrote. In this tactful letter, Martí courted Poyo and the Key West community while simultaneously but carefully restating the arguments he had made to Gómez in 1884: that a successful revolution needed more than expeditions and well-known military veterans.5

While Martí did not say so concretely, Poyo knew that his letter stemmed from Juan Fernández Ruz’s October 1887 visit to New York. Martí did not see Ruz as a serious revolutionary leader, but he drafted a statement with a committee of prominent New York nationalists that outlined ideas for uniting (p.140) the communities which they distributed to many of the veterans, including Gómez and Maceo. They called for action that would convince Cubans of the need for revolution and a republic. They also wanted members of communities in exile to prepare a capable military; unify in a spirit of equality and democracy; avoid allowing any class, racial, regional, or group interest to dominate; and combat the debilitating effects of annexationist thinking.6 Gómez and Maceo responded positively, but Martí’s statement and his letter were not well received in Key West. Poyo likely responded to Martí’s letter, but perhaps not with enough encouragement for their correspondence to continue. In April 1888, Poyo reported to Gómez that the “New York Directory [Martí’s group]—as far as I know—has failed to obtain any followers here, though they have tried.”7

In late 1891, Poyo learned that Tampa nationalists had invited Martí to be keynote speaker at their annual November 27 celebration. Tampa’s independence activists, especially labor leaders Ramón Rivero and Néstor Carbonell, had finally succeeded in overcoming radical labor opposition and had formed nationalist clubs just a year earlier. Rivero and Carbonell were not associated with Poyo’s brand of intransigent nationalism, which had failed to consolidate workers in Tampa in 1886. They approached the workers less stridently and at a time when Spanish repression of anarchists in Cuba provided new incentives to support independence. They founded a literary and cultural center called the Liceo Cubano whose members formed the Liga Patriótica Cubana to invigorate nationalist agitation. In 1892, Eligio Carbonell, Francisco Lifruíu, José D. Ramírez, and numerous others founded Club Ignacio Agramonte, which was named after a prominent martyred Ten Years’ War veteran. For the commemorative event in 1891, club members wanted “an orator of renowned eloquence” from outside the community, and Néstor Carbonell suggested Martí because he believed Martí’s recent notoriety and inspiring nationalist oratory could encourage Tampa Cubans to greater activism.8

Sufficiently intrigued with Martí’s growing prominence, Poyo accompanied his friend Francisco María González, a stenographer and a lector at the Gato factory whom Carbonell had invited to transcribe the speeches. González was one of the most talented and respected readers in Key West. He had organized the selectors’ union in the early 1880s and had worked with El Yara. He was also well known in Tampa. Poyo went as a journalist, and (p.141) though he too was well known in Tampa, his historical differences of opinion with Carbonell and Rivero, prominent political leaders in Tampa, may explain why his involvement at the November 27 event was only marginal.

On November 25, a large crowd met Martí at the railway station, and the next evening he gave his first speech at the Club Ignacio Agramonte. Rivero introduced González, who recited a patriotic poem, and then Martí spoke. Before retiring for the night, González prepared the speech for distribution the next day, and news of Martí’s extraordinary performance spread throughout the community. About a thousand filled the hall that next evening. After comments by Rivero and González, Martí delivered a solemn commemoration of the medical students who had been executed in 1871.9 The next day he visited factories, where he was well received and demonstrated an extraordinary ability to inspire and mobilize workers.

Poyo remained an observer until Carbonell asked him to introduce Martí at the Enrique Pendas factory, which presented a particular challenge. The factory employed about 800 mostly Spanish workers, most of whom were probably aligned with anarchist unions. However, nationalist leaders thought they might be ready for a new message given the recent repression of anarchists in Havana. After greeting Pendas in his offices, Martí, Carbonell, Poyo, González, and the rest of the entourage entered the gallery on the second floor, where the workers waited silently. In the center of the gallery, a table bordered with flowers and filled with foods and fine liquors signaled a special event. Poyo took his place behind the lector’s podium and introduced the featured speaker to the large audience of cigar workers, “explaining that Martí came to pay a debt of gratitude to his loyal friends, the sons of labor.”10

Quickly sizing up the challenge, Martí replaced Poyo at the podium and launched into an emotionally charged oration that celebrated the value and dignity of manual work and of those who earned their daily bread through the sweat of their brows, unlike those who happily lived off the work of others. The fate of workers was the same everywhere, he declared, which is why the oppressed from Spain had immigrated to Argentina, Mexico, and other Latin America countries and were contributing to the progress of those nations. Then, “with exquisite tact,” he wondered how it was that Spanish workers who loved liberty and justice contested the aspirations of Cuban workers who were fighting for a nation “with all and for the good of all.” He concluded “with soft and moving accents,” remembering his isolated exile in Madrid as (p.142) a teenager, where a seventeen-year-old never had a better friend than a frank and loyal working-class member of the Civil Guard. At that moment an elderly cigar maker close to the front, who had been listening intently, suddenly stood from his bench with tears streaming down his cheeks and declared that he was that Civil Guard. Whether the exclamation held metaphorical or literal meaning is not clear, but the cigar maker approached Martí and they embraced, most certainly with the enthusiastic acclaim of the tobacco workers. They then gathered around the decorated table, toasted, and ate.

Martí’s performance in Tampa left Poyo and González amazed. His spellbinding oratory, intellectual gifts, and political astuteness impressed them immediately, but his ability to excite Tampa’ working-class community, including the Spanish anarchists, was his most impressive accomplishment. He mobilized the community with an enthusiasm not seen in south Florida in many years, especially with his acute sensitivity to the culture, economic concerns, racial realities, and political perspectives of cigar workers. Despite the anarchist ideals and ambivalence about nationalism of many workers in the second half of the eighties, Tampa’s workers responded to Martí’s oratory and the allure of his message of political unity and racial and social justice.11

Martí’s message was not much different from the nationalist ideas Poyo had been expressing for twenty years, but his eloquence and emotional appeal revived and invigorated excitement for the patriotic message. Poyo had always challenged the anarchists in a no-nonsense, often harsh way, believing that they presented the most immediate threat to the community’s nationalist solidarity. But Martí used his oratorical talents and genial gift with the Spanish language to court the workers. Poyo believed that Martí would be equally effective in Key West and could ignite passions there that would fuel the long-stagnant fund-raising activities needed to stockpile weapons and ammunition. The only question was whether Martí could be counted on to support revolution in the immediate term. Poyo must have talked with him enough to come away with the idea that he was less moderate than his reputation suggested.

Partido Revolucionario Cubano

When Poyo returned to Key West, he wasted little time publishing a special supplement of El Yara with a highly laudatory description of the events in (p.143) Tampa, including an enthusiastic review of Martí’s speeches. González spoke of the Tampa meetings at the Gato factory and throughout the community.12 Soon after the November events, Martí wrote to Poyo to express his appreciation for Poyo’s supportive remarks and an anxious desire to visit Key West “on some respectful occasion.” Martí expressed his readiness for revolution: “It is the hour of the furnaces,” he declared, “and only the light [goal] should matter.”13

Poyo shared the letter with members of the Convención and published it in El Yara. A group of young Key West tobacco workers met at San Carlos Institute, excited by the accounts of events in Tampa and little concerned about the past rivalries and resentments of the older generation. They agreed to invite the New York orator and formed a fund-raising committee to pay expenses. The Convención discussed whether to endorse the visit, knowing full well Martí would not come without their consent.14

Many in Key West remained resentful of Martí, especially Figueredo, who could not forgive him for his disrespectful opposition to Gómez. He thought him either a sincerely committed nationalist whose skills were limited to emotional oratory or a man who was politically opposed to revolution and was intentionally creating disunity. Arnao also opposed him. Poyo disagreed with his colleagues and thought Martí could be counted on or persuaded to promote the kind of revolutionary action that was advocated in the Florida communities. Another member of the Convención, Serafín Bello, also spoke for Martí. He had shared the podium with Martí and others during the October 10 commemorations in 1887 and 1888 and knew of his extraordinary ability to move audiences. He had also participated in Martí’s meeting with Ruz in October 1887 and had signed the subsequent letter Martí had written to the military veterans asking for their collaboration.15 After moving to Key West in 1889, Bello became a lector, maintained a correspondence with Martí, participated in the founding of the Convención Cubana, and most likely influenced his colleagues to give Martí a chance.16

Perhaps Lamadriz’s support for the visit settled the matter. He was likely convinced by the various testimonials and the spontaneous actions of the young workers. With a 15–2 vote, the Convención sanctioned the visit, and Bello and González joined the official invitation committee organized by the workers. In the middle of December, tobacco worker Angel Peláez cabled Martí on behalf of the committee to invite him to come to Key West. He (p.144) received a quick response: “I accept with great enthusiasm.” But Martí did not begin his journey until he received reassurance from Lamadriz that he would be given a fair hearing in Key West. He left New York on December 22, traveling on a steamer to Jacksonville, where he caught a train for Tampa.17 There several of Ybor City’s nationalist leaders joined him on the Olivette for the final leg of the journey to Key West.

During his six-day convalescence from his bronchial illness, Martí eagerly met some of Key West’s leading personalities in his hotel room, many of whom he knew only by reputation. Lamadriz, Figueredo, and Poyo visited the day after his arrival. As Martí later wrote, these three men, “a patriarch, a warrior, and a journalist,” assured him that Cubans were of one mind and wanted their country to be happy.18 Before the three men left, Martí asked for Manuel P. Delgado, who had stepped in to edit El Yara while his father-in-law helped organize the visit. Poyo said, “Manolo, Martí says he knows you don’t love him; that you should go see him; he is sure you will love him.” When Delgado and Poyo went to the hotel, Martí exclaimed, “See me, see me, see how I am, and love me!”19 The three men talked about revolutionary matters, and on December 30, El Yara announced that Martí would be among them on the streets in the next day or two. And perhaps anticipating some opposition, Poyo also made the point that Martí would surely be received in the way a distinguished visitor deserved to be received.20

On New Year’s Day, Martí began his activities, starting with a great reception at the Gato factory. Workers presented him with an album containing pensamientos (thoughts) penned by the workers to honor the distinguished visitor. Poyo’s 19-year-old cigar-maker son, Francisco, made a notation reflecting the general tone of the entries: “To be free, it is necessary to comprehend the rights and duties that liberty requires, and among the apostles that teach these [rights and duties], you, illustrious Martí, are one of the best.”21 This and other comments demonstrated workers’ familiarity with Martí’s writings and the nationalist thought that had been read in the factories for years. Throughout that day and the next, Martí gave speeches, met with several patriotic associations, and began the process of convincing the community of his capacity to lead the revolutionary movement.

Lamadriz, Poyo, and Figueredo again met privately with Martí on January 3 in his hotel room. They listened as Martí discussed plans for a Cuban (p.145) revolutionary party that he had initially sketched out with Tampa’s political leaders. Satisfied with what they heard, the three men invited him to meet with the Convención the following day. At Gerardo Castellanos’s home on Duval Street, the full membership listened, reviewed the text for the revolutionary party, and offered suggestions. The next day the triumvirate again joined Martí at his hotel to review the final revisions he had made throughout the night and agreed on a charter document for the Partido Revolucionario Cubano (PRC; Cuban Revolutionary Party), whose membership would draw from the grassroots clubs in the communities in exile.

The PRC sought to unify all the émigré associations and clubs and vowed to struggle for Cuban independence by organizing “a generous and brief war” aimed at bringing peace and prosperity to the island’s inhabitants. This involved dismantling Cuba’s authoritarian and bureaucratic colonial system and founding a new democratic nation with an economic system that benefited all its citizens. The PRC’s strategy for revolution emphasized mobilizing exiles to common action, promoting cooperative relations among those outside and inside Cuba who were willing to contribute to a rapid and successful war, educating Cubans about the spirit and method of the proposed revolution, and raising funds to support all these activities and to purchase war matériel.22

Poyo felt that this document aligned well with the activities of the Convención. The charter document blended Martí’s concerns for unity and a fully developed political platform with Key West’s insistence on activism aimed at insurrection in the near term. While the document stated that the PRC would act only when Cuba was ready, it also declared an intention to prepare for the revolution immediately.23 The PRC’s desire to organize all the communities in exile in support of one program certainly broadened the Convención’s work, and Martí’s ability to mobilize the workers promised even greater opportunities to raise funds.

After this meeting, as Lamadriz, Poyo, and Figueredo left the hotel and walked down Duval Street discussing the encounter, Poyo said, “Let’s help this man by offering him our patriotic support and our cooperation,” and Lamadriz agreed. The still-skeptical Figueredo also agreed but added, “If he fails, let it not be said that the Convención was to blame.”24 After this meeting, Poyo saw Martí as a natural leader who would intensify and advance the (p.146) revolutionary work with the guidance of the Florida leadership. Seeing Martí’s performance in Key West, which generated even more enthusiasm than his speeches in Tampa, cemented Poyo’s determination to back his plans.

With the approval of the Convención’s leadership in hand, Martí presided on January 5 over a broader meeting of community leaders to propose the formal establishment of the revolutionary party. Twenty-seven, including Martí, gathered at San Carlos Institute. The group included representatives of Key West and Tampa nationalist clubs and of various sectors of the community, including military veterans, labor activists, and Afro-Cubans. Only women were missing, but this was consistent with the tradition of gender segregation in the revolutionary clubs. Martí read the PRC charter to the group, and González acted as recording secretary. Because the charter had already been vetted by the Convención, whose members constituted about half of those in attendance, the assembly moved quickly and approved the document without further significant analysis and discussion.25

It remained only to write the PRC’s governing statutes, including rules, offices, and procedures, which the assembly charged Martí with drafting, subject to the approval of the revolutionary clubs. The next evening a general community despedida (farewell) for Martí at San Carlos Institute included the first public reading of the PRC charter. This was the first step in the community’s acceptance and approval of the new revolutionary organization.26

However, the Spanish consul reported in mid-January that some militant leaders remained unconvinced of Martí’s leadership abilities and actively worked to block the community’s acceptance of the new party. They apparently believed that Martí’s discourse still favored political work and theory over immediate revolutionary action. “Filibusterers” who had opposed “the theories of peace advanced by Mr. Martí” continued their opposition and published propaganda that opposed his ideas. The consul felt that although Martí’s well-articulated and emotionally charged nationalist speeches had the power to persuade, they were less threatening than the practical revolutionary activism that mobilized insurgents in Cuba for which Key West was so well known.27

At the same time, the consul had few illusions that the prominent local leaders like Poyo who were embracing Martí had become less militant. In fact, he argued, Martí’s speeches in Key West had a more inflammatory flavor than those he had delivered in Tampa the previous November, an indication (p.147) of his need to gain the support of Poyo, Lamadriz, Arnao, and others.28 The consul also reported that El Yara, which in the past had wanted little to do with Martí and had criticized his ideas, now supported him, which raised serious doubts about perceptions that Martí was a moderate. Poyo “does not accommodate with anything that is not revolution,” he noted.29 Even Figueredo and Arnao, though still not convinced about Martí, did not block the formation of the revolutionary clubs that were needed to approve and legitimize the PRC.

In the next months, Poyo and El Yara supported and defended Martí and the PRC against a series of attacks. A first challenge appeared from veterans Enrique Collazo and several others in Cuba, who published a letter-to-the-editor in the Havana newspaper La Lucha on January 6 questioning Marti’s capacity to lead the movement of revolutionaries in exile. Whether the letter was in inspired by or encouraged by PRC opponents in Florida is unknown, but the response in Key West and Tampa left little doubt of Martí’s popularity and of his acceptance in those two communities. Martí had inadvertently fueled his decade-long feud with veterans by criticizing a book that Havana resident and veteran Ramón Roa had recently published in Cuba that described the difficulties and hardships of the Ten Years’ War. Martí interpreted the book as a discouraging message at a time when organizers sought to encourage a new generation to embrace revolutionary struggle and even ill-advisedly suggested that many Ten Years’ War veterans in Cuba were now in the pay of the Spaniards. Collazo’s letter defended his friend Roa’s book and launched a sharp personal attack against Martí, repeating the many familiar charges that had been lodged against him over the years.

The Key West community mobilized to defend Martí even before he learned of the criticism. It is not likely that many shared Martí’s views of Roa, but they thought Collazo’s assault an overreaction that was especially divisive at the very time when they hoped to encourage unity. On January 11, 1892, Poyo, González, and Bello presided at a public meeting to discuss Collazo’s letter, which they read aloud. Heated discussion resulted in an official acta, or declaration, from the Key West revolutionary community that reaffirmed their support for Martí and the PRC. They encouraged Martí to respond to the letter on his own behalf, but the Key West revolutionaries took it upon themselves to contradict an insulting passage in Collazo’s letter that characterized Marti’s work in Florida as little more than a calculated flattering of a (p.148) “naïve people in order to grab their savings.” The accusation that Martí had tried to extract the savings from “naive” émigrés was “false and calumnious,” they declared.30 Martí did respond to Collazo, but the Key West leadership intervened to defuse the increasingly bitter exchange to avoid further damage in nationalist ranks. Two Key West representatives visited Collazo in Havana while Figueredo wrote to Martí, and the two agreed to put their dispute aside.31

Revolutionary clubs in Tampa and New York quickly approved the PRC charter, but Key West leaders moved slowly and carefully to circumvent the still-considerable opposition to Martí and ensure broad support. On March 2, Martí wrote to Poyo to express his anxiety about the delay in ratifying the charter and proclaiming the birth of the PRC.32 Martí also wrote to Bello and González to encourage them to prod the clubs forward and to skeptics such as Figueredo and veteran Gerardo Castellanos, hoping to assuage their concerns.33 He told Poyo that it would be “a real crime” if war broke out in Cuba and exiles remained unorganized, but he did not want to insert himself too much since this might incite his opponents. He hoped Poyo would help move matters along.34

Two weeks later, the presidents of all the Key West clubs finally met at San Carlos Institute in a session presided over by Castellanos and González to ratify the PRC. They read the names of fifteen clubs who had ratified the charter, but some demanded a delay in the ratifying vote, saying that at least four of those clubs had not yet formally consented. Bello proposed another meeting for March 26. On that day, only presidents of twelve clubs accepted the PRC, revealing continuing resistance to Martí, but on April 8 the clubs in the various exile centers unanimously elected Martí to the post of delegado, leader of the party, and confirmed his candidate for treasurer, Benjamín Guerra. Guerra, an employee of the Manuel Barranco Tobacco Company in New York, was a prominent member of the Spanish-American Literary Society with Martí and served as vice-president of New York’s Los Independientes nationalist club.35

On the evening of April 8, the Key West community gathered at San Carlos Institute to celebrate the birth of the new revolutionary party. Poyo inaugurated the activities. The PRC, Poyo argued, represented the aspirations of a nation that had long been engaged in a brutal struggle to achieve its (p.149) freedom. The party was not interested in invading the island but wanted to organize and foment armed rebellion and accumulate the weapons and other resources needed to support the war at the appointed time. As the PRC revealed its existence, Poyo called on “all men of good will” to support the cause of liberty without regard for race or nationality. The new organization dignified the “innumerable sacrifices and torrents of blood” as well as the spirit of the Guáimaro Constitution, which had been ratified on April 10, 1868.36

Many club presidents followed with speeches that declared their allegiance to the PRC, and the meeting ended with a cable sent to El Porvenir and Martí’s newspaper, Patria, proclaiming the existence of the PRC in Key West: “Viva Cuba!—Poyo—González.”37 Two days later, thirty-four clubs in the various communities publicly endorsed the PRC, including clubs in Key West, New York, Tampa, Kingston, Philadelphia, Boston, Ocala, and New Orleans.38 The final institutional step was the creation of local PRC governing councils, the Cuerpos de Consejo, which were composed of the presi-dents of the affiliated clubs, to advise the delegado in revolutionary matters. The Key West consejo elected Poyo president and Gualterio García secretary.

As skepticism toward Martí slowly dissipated in Key West, new resistance to the PRC emerged from another source in New York where critics felt that Martí and the PRC were influenced too much by the radical communities in Florida. These included moderate nationalists as well as prominent annexationists such as Juan Bellido de Luna and José Ignacio Rodríguez. Martí expected attacks from annexationists and autonomists but not from fellow nationalists such as Enrique Trujillo, who tried to block approval of the PRC at a meeting of Los Independientes, the most influential Cuban nationalist club in New York.39 The club’s members dismissed Trujillo’s concerns and joined the PRC, as did the other New York clubs. Trujillo responded by initiating a vigorous anti-PRC campaign in his newspaper.

Some may have attributed Trujillo’s opposition to the PRC to a personal estrangement between him and Martí. Trujillo had secretly helped Martí’s wife obtain permission from the Spanish consul in New York to return to Cuba with her son. Though Martí’s marriage had been troubled for some time, he never forgave Trujillo for what he saw as a terrible betrayal. Manuel P. Delgado remembered a conversation with Martí as he boarded the steamer after his last visit to Key West in October 1894. When Delgado asked him if (p.150) there was some way to mend fences with Trujillo, Martí responded emotionally, “Manolo, this is not possible! What he did to me is too deep; I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. Leave me now. Leave me.” They embraced and Delgado returned to shore.40

Trujillo’s opposition went much deeper than the estrangement with Martí; he expressed substantive concerns about Martí’s plans that were consistent with his moderate nationalist beliefs. Trujillo and many of his colleagues believed that Martí had embraced the radical perspectives of Florida’s working-class communities and that the PRC did not represent the political values of the New York community. Trujillo supported the idea of a separatist party of exiles dedicated to attracting as many dissident voices as possible, including annexationists, but he could not support a party dedicated to instigating revolution, which he did not believe was the responsibility of exiles. This had been the predominant attitude of New York Cubans throughout the 1880s, and Trujillo insisted that this had been Martí’s position as well. Trujillo also condemned what he saw as the PRC’s highly centralized and dictatorial structure. An organization led by a charismatic leader who could not easily if necessary be removed by the local consejos and whose roles were consultative rather than legislative. It was “dictatorial and excessively reliant on one personality” and sinned against democratic principles.41

El Yara defended the PRC and debated El Porvenir on many occasions. Poyo rejected Trujillo’s suggestion that the organization be called a separatist party, since this would have legitimized the participation of annexationists, which Poyo opposed outright. The term “revolutionary party” was adopted because “that is the environment in which it moves,” but the real name was the Cuban Nationalist Party, Poyo said. He also rejected Trujillo’s characterization of the PRC as an organization whose goal was to invade the island; that was a strategy of the past, he insisted. While the PRC would help prepare and support insurrection, its primary activity would be to organize revolutionary cells in Cuba that would ignite the revolt.

Poyo also supported the centralized structure of the PRC, which he believed appropriate for conspiratorial activities. This was consistent with his long-established support for vertically structured revolutionary organizations. Poyo encouraged Trujillo to take his concerns to his local party and seek reforms, knowing full well that Trujillo had already attempted to do so but had failed.42 Trujillo made little headway in his efforts to stall the PRC, (p.151) but the episode taught Martí that his most supportive allies lived in Florida, not in New York.


Despite the Key West leadership’s support and enthusiasm for Martí and the PRC in early 1892, this did not signal the wider community’s unconditional acceptance or eliminate concerns many had about his commitment to revolutionizing Cuba in the near term. In effect, Key West placed him on probation while he revealed his intentions and demonstrated his capabilities. The death of José Francisco Lamadriz on February 2 may have facilitated things for Martí. Poyo, his strongest supporter among the main revolutionary leaders in Key West, became president of both the Convención and the Cuerpo de Consejo, the community’s two most important revolutionary organizations.43 But Martí still had to prove himself to the community, and while his dance with Key West continued, the Convención resumed its normal and secret activities, about which Martí knew little, if anything.

Poyo and Figueredo had for some time felt that the Las Villas region of Cuba was most prepared to spark the insurrection, and they continued to encourage the work of Luis Lagomasino and his revolutionary group, which remained in continual communication with Key West leaders, especially Poyo.44 In early 1892, Lagomasino, in coordination with Key West revolutionaries, contacted Máximo Gómez about an uprising he was planning for later that year. About the same time, Serafín Sánchez, an important military veteran from Las Villas and a former aide of Máximo Gómez, arrived in Key West to see for himself the nature of these preparations.

Though Sánchez, who was born in 1846, was much younger than Lamadriz, in some ways he replaced him in the leadership triumvirate with Poyo and Figueredo. He was an accomplished veteran; he had joined the Ten Years’ War as a lieutenant but rose to lieutenant colonel under Gómez’s command. Later he fought with General Carlos Roloff and participated in the Little War, but he left Cuba in August 1880 as resistance to Spanish rule crumbled. After a short residence in New York, he joined Gómez in the Dominican Republic, where he lived for eleven years. In 1891, he again moved briefly to New York and established a relationship with Martí before moving to Key West, where he joined the Convención and played an important role, especially with (p.152) military matters and plans. He worked in a cigar factory and settled down in Key West with his family. He and his wife, Pepa, became close with Poyo and his family; in July, Sánchez was one of the official witnesses at the wedding of Poyo’s son, Francisco.45

Believing that the revolutionary moment was almost at hand, the Convención asked Lagomasino to come to Key West to personally report on conditions in Las Villas and discuss plans for the insurrection. On the evening of June 21, Poyo, Sánchez, and Rosendo García greeted the Las Villas conspirator as he disembarked from the Mascotte. Lagomasino explained the plans of his groups, which included recognizing Gómez as overall military leader of insurrectionary efforts and Sánchez as head of military operations for Las Villas. They then met with the full membership of the Convención at Figueredo’s home. Poyo opened the session by explaining Lagomasino’s plan in general terms. Sánchez followed by announcing his—and by implication—Gomez’s support for the initiative. Lagomasino then explained the details of the plan, indicating he had at least 200 armed men who were ready to act. The Convención approved of this plan and vowed to send weapons and ammunition as soon as possible. It also informed Lagomasino of ongoing activities in Oriente and Matanzas and instructed him to coordinate with these groups while maintaining contact with Key West. Finally, before returning to Cuba, Lagomasino met with the Convención’s War Committee, which was led by Sánchez, to develop plans for strengthening the insurgent forces. They set August 25, 1892 as the day of insurrection.46

Even before Lagomasino’s visit, Poyo, the consejo, and leading personalities had learned that Martí also possessed practical skills for transforming the theoretical PRC into an effective revolutionary organization. Key West received a frenzy of correspondence from Martí expressing his ideas for organizing the party’s work. On May 13, Poyo and the Cuerpo de Consejo received their first official communication from Martí. He outlined the work ahead under various categories, including communications, war, and organization in exile and in Cuba, giving direction to the new revolutionary movement.47

The presidents of the revolutionary clubs in Key West received another missive that was written on May 16 in which Martí asked them to work with great secrecy and discretion since the Spanish consular offices watched closely and adeptly used spies to infiltrate the clubs. This was certainly not new information for the Key West conspirators, but it revealed Martí’s (p.153) understanding of the situation. Another letter dated May 27 outlined the rules and procedures for handling the funds raised by the clubs. And yet another letter dated June 9 asked the consejo to prepare a report on how many Ten Years’ War veterans were in Key West and what their disposition was toward a new insurgency; Martí also requested information on other patriots who were willing to support the war effort.48

Finally, the Key West leadership heard from Martí what they saw as their first priority: he announced the need to send agents to Cuba to open channels of communication and asked the consejo to provide the necessary funds. The need for dispatching agents, he insisted, was urgent and extraordinarily important, but he also cautioned against premature action. His language suggested that he knew something about the plans in Las Villas. “Let us wait,” he urged, “like giants working quietly” while developing information and the necessary forces on and off the island to launch the insurrection.49 If his agents were to be successful, they would need as much information as possible about revolutionary groups and plans in Cuba. Armed with that information they would travel more quickly, with less danger, and with the likelihood of fewer mistakes. Martí also told Poyo that he had “valuable information, some alarming” about certain elements in Las Villas that could compromise the revolutionary movement.50

Martí also wanted to organize military veterans publicly and affirmatively under the banner of the PRC; Serafín Sánchez became his primary military correspondent in Key West. He wrote to Sánchez about military strategy, highlighting unity as the top priority, and encouraged him to write Gómez about the PRC. Martí also emphasized the need for accumulating adequate military resources to support the eventual conflagration. Martí thanked Poyo for the list of military veterans he had sent, and in July he made a second visit to Florida to court them. Key West Veterans remained fundamentally loyal to Gómez and Maceo, and without their backing Martí had little chance of building the revolutionary party.51

In Tampa, Martí spoke with General Carlos Roloff, who had arrived from Honduras with his family. Originally from Warsaw, Poland, Roloff immigrated to the United States around 1862 and joined the 9th Ohio Regiment. Shortly after the end of the Civil War, Roloff went to Cuba to work as a bookkeeper in the Bishop Sugar Importing Company and became active in the Masonic lodge in Caibarién, Cuba. When the Ten Years’ War erupted, (p.154) insurgent leaders who were looking for experienced military personnel made Roloff a major general of the rebel forces in Las Villas under Gómez. In 1876, he replaced Gómez as commander of the province’s forces, and he continued the struggle until the Zanjón Pact. During the Little War, he worked with the revolutionary committee in New York, where he first met Martí. Later, he joined with Gómez and Maceo during the activities of the mid-1880s.

After several days of activities in Tampa, Roloff went to Key West and again demonstrated the prestige military veterans enjoyed. Roloff ’s arrival inspired celebrations, parades, meetings, and patriotic events in his honor as he toured the factories. Several days later, Martí came to Key West, where on July 6 he met formally with eleven veterans, including Roloff, Sánchez, Tuerto Rodriguez, Rogelio Castillo, and Francisco Lufríu. The veterans agreed on a document that declared their faith in the PRC.52

At a meeting at San Carlos Institute on July 12 that was “ably prepared by his friends,” Martí delivered an inspired oration, but before the event ended someone rose to challenge him, making allusions to rumors that were still circulating about him. The Spanish consul reported that Martí rose to the challenge, and “making use of his ostentatious language and high-sounding phrases disputed the doubts expressed by his countryman.” Thunderous applause disarmed his challenger and all seemed to embrace Martí as the leader of a new revolutionary movement.53

Martí’s month-long visit to Florida finally convinced the Convención and military veterans that his priorities did in fact mirror their own and that he had the qualities that were needed in a leader. The urgent tone of Martí’s correspondence in May and June and his success in wooing military veterans left little doubt about his energy, revolutionary intentions, political skills, and extraordinary ability to persuade. Convención leaders recognized the usefulness of PRC’s structure for coordinating the insurgent elements across the island and in exile, and the long-standing perception that Martí’s revolutionary politics were timid disappeared and was replaced by a perception of him as a bold, energetic leader who was dedicated to insurgency in the near term. Martí had also added a broader programmatic dimension and attracted a mass revolutionary constituency in all the exile centers, a development that went far beyond what the Convención had considered possible. After Martí left Key West, El Yara declared that the task of convincing the community of (p.155) his leadership capabilities had been accomplished. “So logical was Mr. Martí,” it noted, that “he rooted in the spirit of the people a profound conviction that today, at least, the PRC fills all the necessary qualities of a sensible, intelligent and practical revolutionary movement.”54

It was likely during this trip to Key West that the Convención formally revealed its plan for the August 25 insurrection in Las Villas to Martí. In a meeting with Poyo, Roloff, Sánchez, and Gerardo Castellanos at a local restaurant, Martí predictably expressed his opposition to the uprising. Martí had declared on many occasions and perhaps repeated there that revolutions had to be carefully planned and brewed in their own time and the local leaders now fully agreed. During Martí’s visit, El Yara published an editorial that argued that the revolution had to be prepared carefully in Cuba with sufficient support to be viable.55 Then, Poyo remembered, “Martí said that he needed a prudent, civic-minded, patriotic man to go to Cuba to hear opinions, organize revolutionary clubs, and preach.”56 He and his colleagues recommended Castellanos on the spot and Martí agreed.

Forty-eight-year-old Castellanos had joined the insurrection in February 1869 and operated in Oriente and Camaguey Provinces under General Carlos Roloff and others. He reached the rank of commander before he was taken as a prisoner, but Spanish family members helped him escape to New York. After the war he settled in Key West, where he learned to make cigars and then established a modest factory. It earned him a living, but most of his profits went to support revolutionary activities.57

Soon after leaving Key West, Martí informed Poyo that in two days’ time, Castellanos and other agents would leave on his mission that would be facilitated with the valuable data Key West provided about conditions in Cuba. Martí encouraged Poyo to use the Convención’s influence to ensure that groups in Cuba came to an agreement with his agents.58 On Martí’s instructions, Castellanos offered Juan Gualberto Gómez the leadership of the PRC in Havana and recruited Julio Sanguily to manage military matters in the province. Castellanos met with conspirators in Matanzas, Las Villas, and Camaguey, introducing them to the new revolutionary party and gained their general support. On August 13, 1892, invoking the Convención’s authority, Castellanos instructed a reluctant Lagomasino in Las Villas and the Sartorio brothers in Holguín to postpone the planned uprising. On a subsequent (p.156) trip Castellanos traveled to Santiago. Numerous other Key West Cubans accepted revolutionary missions to Cuba from Martí, including manufacturers Gato and Teodoro Pérez and cigar maker Juan de Dios Barrios.59

After Castellanos’s first trip to Cuba, the primary authority for preparing the insurrection belonged to Martí and the PRC, but the Convención remained a critical component, and Martí became an official member. The local council of the PRC brought together the presidents of dozens of revolutionary clubs, but was too large to effectively carry out secretive conspiratorial work. Martí instead relied on the leadership of the Convención (or Club Luz de Yara, as it was mostly known), especially Poyo, Figueredo, Roloff, Sánchez, and Castellanos, to provide day-to-day advice and support for clandestine activities. This worked especially well because Poyo served as president of both organizations.60

To further allay suspicions about Martí’s leadership, Castellanos—on Martí’s authority—assured insurgents in Cuba that General Máximo Gómez was the military chief of the revolutionary movement. Though this was a premature statement, since Gómez had not yet formally agreed to participate, it confirmed Martí’s acceptance of the legendary warrior as the undisputed military leader and headed off concerns that the delay he demanded was attributable to timidity. Instead, the delay was a strategy that was calculated to strengthen and consolidate revolutionary cells before the insurrection was launched.61


The new enthusiasm both workers and manufacturers demonstrated for Martí and the PRC encouraged Poyo and the local revolutionary leadership to resume the fund-raising activities that Key West had abandoned in the late 1880s in the face of worker ambivalence. As Martí took charge of expanding revolutionary networks in Cuba and devising the logistics for arming expeditions, Poyo turned to strengthening grassroots organizing and securing resources. This involved creating effective fund-raising mechanisms, insisting on revolutionary discipline, and maintaining enthusiasm for revolution through the pages of El Yara.

After Martí’s second visit to Key West, when workers responded enthusiastically to his factory visits and speeches, Poyo, Roloff, Sánchez, and Tuerto (p.157)


Figure 5. José Martí (standing, center) with cigar workers at the Martínez Ybor cigar factory in Ybor City, Florida, July 1892. José D. Poyo is second from Martí’s right, and Serafín Sánchez is on Poyo’s right. From Guillermo de Zéndegui, Ambito de Martí (Havana: P. Fernández y Cia, 1954).

(p.158) Rodríguez accompanied Martí on a statewide fund-raising campaign that began in Tampa. On the afternoon of July 19, 1892, the PRC delegation visited Tampa’s Pons, Fernández y Sabby, Haya, and Martínez Ybor cigar factories. After dinner they attended the general meetings of Club Ignacio Agramonte and the Cuban black community’s Liga Cubana de Instrucción. The next morning the delegation visited individual homes; it returned to other factories that afternoon. Workers greeted Martí enthusiastically at each event. The crowd that gathered at the Martínez Ybor factory was so large that the delegation struggled to enter the large brick building, but as they entered the workers exploded in applause and shouts of “Viva!” while the Cuban band struck up the revolutionary anthem “Hymn of Bayamo.” Introductory speeches by men who represented a broad political, social, and racial constituency prepared the audience. Poyo and Arnao spoke for the community’s traditional political leaders; Roloff and Sánchez represented the military veterans; Ramón Rivero and Ramón Rubiera expressed the views of labor; Joaquin Granados and Cornelio Brito represented the Cuban black community; and even Spanish anarchists who were disgusted with Spanish colonial oppression offered Cuban workers their solidarity through the presence of José Pérez Molina and Silverio Gómez. Martí delivered the main oration to an enthusiastic working-class audience.

The day ended with a general community gathering at the Círculo de Trabajadores, where some 1,500 people set out in procession across town to the Liceo Cubano. As a correspondent for Patria noted, the march demonstrated “the unity of the oppressed, of the disinherited, of all free men.” That evening so many went to the Liceo Cubano that the assembly moved outdoors. The following morning, Martí, Poyo, Roloff, Sánchez, and Rivero set off for Ocala and then Jacksonville and St. Augustine to spread the ideas that had been reaffirmed in Tampa and Key West.62

Baseball offered the PRC another source of revenue. Cuban baseball teams first organized into a semi-professional league in Key West in 1887. When Francisco Díaz Silveira, a young poet who published nationalist verses in El Yara, formed a baseball team called Cuba, Poyo’s son Francisco joined as catcher. Another Cuban nationalist, Luis Acosta, founded the Esperanza baseball club, and Frank Bolio, who had been on the committee that invited Martí to Key West, organized three additional teams: Habana, Fe and the Key West Greys. The players on the Greys were Anglo-American.63 War (p.159) veteran and cigar selector Alejandro Rodríguez and his wife Eva Adan managed Fe. League organizers also approached Gato about using some of his land for a baseball field on the south side of the Key, close to the beach. He agreed, and they built stands for spectators, put up a fence, and launched the first formal baseball season in 1888-1889. Teams played on Monday afternoons, since local laws prohibited professional contests on Sundays.

On one of his visits to Key West, Martí accompanied Poyo to a game that pitted the Cuba baseball club against a team of Americans. At that game, 19-year-old “Tinti” Molina hit a home run that won the game for the Cubans. Martí congratulated Molina after the game, telling him that the victory was a good omen for the coming struggle. Martí so inspired Molina that the young player later smuggled messages to activists when he traveled to join a team in Matanzas.64 In 1896, after war began, a community group, Sociedad de Instrucción y Recreo José Martí (José Martí Educational and Recreational Society), organized a formal championship designed to support the war effort.65

On November 7, 1892, Poyo, the PRC Cuerpo de Consejo, and an enthusiastic multitude greeted Martí at the docks as he arrived for his third visit to Key West. In September he had traveled to the Dominican Republic, where General Gómez formally accepted an appointment as the revolution’s supreme military chief. The Key West consejo heard Martí’s briefings about his conversations with Gómez and agreed to accelerate its fund-raising efforts. On December 4, Poyo announced to the community that Gómez had accepted Martí’s offer to serve as commander in chief of the insurgent army. In his customary fashion, Martí moved with great intensity, convening meetings at many clubs and societies. He even delivered a speech in English for the Anglo-American community, which responded by declaring its sympathy for the Cuban cause. At another meeting the consejo ratified Martí’s idea of asking workers to donate one day’s wages each month in a plan called “Día de la Patria.” This plan was implemented on December 6, the day before his departure. Later the contribution changed to 10 percent of weekly wages. Many factory owners agreed to contribute the profits of one day’s work each week to the revolutionary treasury.66

With some alarm, the Spanish consul reported that “the persistent and active propaganda of the agitator Mr. Martí, helped by his accomplices, the director of El Yara newspaper, the so-called General Serafín Sánchez and various others, is producing favorable support for his ideas.”67 He complained (p.160) that some of those who were contributing funds did so only out of a sense of obligation in order to keep their jobs and to avoid being called bad patriots or, even worse, pro-Spanish.68 Indeed, like they had in the early 1880s, activists organized factory floors with the cooperation of unions. Factory managers were often reluctant to require workers to contribute to the weekly collections for the PRC treasury as a condition of employment, but they did so. Commissions formed in the factories that acted as courts martial to judge those who did not comply, and Key West became like a military garrison where veterans such as Sánchez sponsored formal military exercises and training in the use of firearms.69

This structure and discipline provided the local PRC with significant funds on a regular basis. A portion of what was collected made its way to a “war fund” in New York under Martí’s control while the rest remained under control of the Cuerpo de Consejo in Key West as “action funds” to be spent on any number of activities, including support for agents who were traveling to Cuba clandestinely. This essential system remained in place through 1898.

At the end of 1892, Martí moved from theory to practice. According to the Spanish consul, at a meeting of the Cuerpo de Consejo held on November 11 and 12, Martí told the presidents of the affiliated clubs “that the time had arrived to purchase arms and ammunition.”70 Poyo was certainly satisfied. In less than a year after Martí’s first visit to Florida, the local PRC and Convención had transformed the excitement of Martí’s energy, charisma, and ideological program into a new and powerful revolutionary movement.

Martí’s oratory struck a special chord in Florida that mobilized communities like never before. This was reflected in Key West’s annual commemoration of October 10, 1892, which was celebrated in an unusually optimistic manner. The day began when men, women, and children representing clubs, societies, military regiments, and organizations of different kinds met at San Carlos Institute at six in the morning. The multitude extended for three blocks. Carrying aloft images of iconic personalities, banners, crowns of flowers commemorating individuals, and flags, the parade set out for the cemetery accompanied by two musical bands. It passed by thousands of spectators who were applauding from the sidewalks. An estimated 5,000 people eventually crowded into the cemetery around a stage erected next to a veiled monument.

Dignitaries mounted the stage and the crowd quieted as Martin Herrera, the president of the organizing committee, began the proceedings by (p.161) introducing Poyo. At that moment the choir of the Cuban Methodist Church “La Trinidad” accompanied by an organ began singing a somber hymn. Since 1869, Cubans in Key West had honored dead patriots at the cemetery every year, but on this occasion the community unveiled a 21-foot granite and marble obelisk that was covered from the base to the top with the names of the Cuba’s martyrs on the site of José F. Lamadriz’s grave. Deeply moved, Poyo offered “a patriotic and soul stirring address listened to by every Cuban with enraptured attention,” according to one reporter.71

Herrera followed with an improvised and extended keynote speech and concluded his comments with an admonition to his compatriots, the autonomists and annexationists. If their love of country had grown cold, he told them, they should come to the Key West cemetery to feel the heat of Cuba’s dignity (vergüenza) in the monument’s cold marble. After over a dozen speakers, including a granddaughter of Lamadriz, the parade retraced its steps to San Carlos Institute, where Poyo read cables of encouragement from Martí in Jamaica and Roloff in Tampa. This day “marks the beginning of a new era in our political life,” El Yara declared. Everyone, the newspaper insisted, now had a moral obligation to show their children the monument. This may have been one of the largest nationalist events to date in Key West.72

As a new year commenced, Poyo and his colleagues focused on raising funds and remained in touch with the expanding revolutionary groups in Cuba. Martí relied heavily on Key West. In December, he wrote to Poyo of the affection, pride, and appreciation all Cubans owed the émigré community of Key West.73 With Key West now firmly supporting him, Martí began stockpiling weapons and made progress convincing insurgents in Cuba to cooperate with the PRC. In June and early July of 1893, he traveled to the Dominican Republic to meet with General Gómez and to Costa Rica to meet with General Maceo. He remained in touch with Juan Gualberto Gómez in Havana and spoke with General Julio Sanguily, who traveled to Jacksonville to apprise Martí of the situation in Cuba.74

Poyo regularly received letters from Martí that reassured him of his organizing activities in Cuba and emphasized the need for resources for a clandestine expedition. He maintained close touch with Key West in 1893 and traveled there in February, May, September, and December. Regular collections in the Key West factories provided the bulk of Martí’s funds, but he also wrote and met directly with manufacturers to make separate appeals (p.162) for resources. In February, Martí arrived to encourage fund-raising, and in March, he instructed the Key West consejo to provide resources to support El Yara, which was rarely financially viable. He saw the newspaper as critical for keeping the community mobilized.75

None of this calmed the impatience of revolutionaries in Cuba, where many remained disgruntled with Martí’s decision the previous August to postpone the uprising in Las Villas. This was particularly evident when Martí visited Key West in November 1892. He met with the members of the Convención and an envoy from Manuel and Ricardo Sartorio in Holguín who was carrying a letter demanding the weapons that had been promised when Lagomasino had visited Key West earlier in the year. After some debate in which Martí argued for more time, the Convención again agreed to wait and refused to provide the weapons. One member, Juan Calderón, angrily resigned from the Convención, complaining that the PRC had been foisted on the community under false pretenses. At the meeting that had approved PRC’s charter, he claimed, a chorus of two or three had urged approval while the rest had said nothing and through their silence had sanctioned something they did not fully understand.76

Impatience grew. In late April 1893, the Sartorio brothers, acting on their own, launched an uprising in Purino in Holguín Province. Martí heard the news on his way to see Maceo in Central America and urgently diverted to Key West, where he arrived on May 3 after a brief stop in Tampa. A multitude met Martí at the docks, and after touring factories and making speeches, he met with Poyo, Figueredo, Sánchez, and Roloff to discuss the troubling developments. They opposed the uprising, believing that it was premature and perhaps had even been instigated by Spanish agents hoping to uncover the numerous revolutionary cells working on the island. However, they did agree to extend support if the uprising gained a foothold.77 The uprising did not prosper, but it highlighted impatience in Cuba and the need to accelerate activities. It also created enthusiasm in Key West, where Martí raised over $30,000 during his two-week stay.78

The Spanish consul had trouble learning the details about the increasing pace of conspiratorial work. Although he knew that regular communications were arriving from Cuba that described preparations and growth in revolutionary sentiment, only Martí and Poyo read the secret missives and the consul’s agents learned very little. Key West remained active while Martí was (p.163) traveling to communities in exile and overseeing the purchase of arms. In August, Sánchez traveled to New York to meet with Martí, Roloff went to Nassau to confer with exiles there, and Figueredo remained in Key West to help Poyo with a local expedition that was being coordinated with Rosendo García. All the while more veterans made their way to Key West to await developments.79

In August 1893, Convención leaders received an urgent letter from Julio Sanguily requesting $4,000 and urging that the insurrection be launched immediately. They wrote to Martí in support of the idea, but the delegado again disagreed and assured them of the efficacy of his plan to launch an expedition with the most influential military leaders (Gomez, Maceo, Crombet, Roloff, Sánchez) and enough arms to establish a revolutionary foothold. Though revolutionary leaders in Cuba were enthusiastic, he argued, they did not have sufficient prestige and experience to lead a successful uprising. The Convención agreed, but perhaps it was not fully convinced. Martí made an unannounced trip to Key West in the first week of September. He revealed more details about his plan and extracted a pledge from the Convención not to support actions in Cuba without his approval. The Spanish consul also thought he planned to “meet an important person” from Cuba, perhaps Julio Sanguily.80

In early November, another unauthorized uprising occurred in Cuba, this time in Lajas, Las Villas. On November 7, Martí cabled Poyo from New York: “Be attentive, wait for news from me. Telegraph yours.” The next day he cabled Poyo again: “So far there are [revolutionary] groups in Lajas, Cienfuegos and Santa Clara.” Martí began a barrage of correspondence that warned everyone to be alert for what might develop. On November 10, he again headed for Florida.81 After a couple of days in Tampa he moved on to Key West, where he met with the consejo to discuss developments.

The position of the consejo remained the same as before. If the new uprising took hold, they would mobilize to support it, but this initiative collapsed even more quickly than the previous effort at Purino. Rumors circulated in Key West that local revolutionaries had encouraged the uprising; if this was true, they remained anonymous.82 Key West Cubans continued to train and prepare a fighting force while they waited for Martí to finalize other elements of the plan, but they now expected that it would be only a short while before the insurrection started.

(p.164) Friendship

In 1892 and 1893, Poyo and Martí developed an effective working relationship based on the compatibility of their roles and goals. Martí saw in Poyo a dedicated and talented grassroots leader who had played a leading role in creating the most cohesive and militant nationalist community in exile. Since only Key West could provide him with the political legitimacy and economic resources necessary to organize the new revolutionary movement, Martí relied on Poyo to help open doors. As president of both the Cuerpo de Consejo and the Convención, Poyo kept the community organized, mobilized, and committed to the PRC and its leadership. He valued Martí’s extraordinary intellectual and oratorical abilities and natural leadership skills and supported him as the obvious candidate to lead a united movement of revolutionaries in exile. Martí did not disappoint and likely performed even more brilliantly than expected.

They also became close friends. They corresponded regularly, and Martí wrote official and personal letters that expressed his admiration and affection for the Key West leader. Though this was not unique for Martí, whose prolific correspondence regularly poured out his feelings and anxieties to a variety of friends, the letters demonstrated an affectionate relationship. The letters became more personal after Martí’s second visit in July 1892.

On one occasion in August he responded to a note from Poyo, who in his fastidiousness about proper handling of PRC funds had gently reprimanded Martí about some misstep. Accepting the criticism, Martí said, “I welcome this letter carrying your complaint because now I can tell you what I have wanted to say but could not for fear you might consider me parasitical or needy.” He thanked him for his generosity and tenderness and said that the “loving pride with which you watched over me was like that of a father and a brother at the same time.” He valued Poyo for his watchful prudence, the beauty and weight of his words, the reality and courage of his convictions, and his magnificent rebellious soul. Martí enjoyed Poyo’s friendship; he saw truth embedded deep in his being (entra#x00F1;as) and appreciated “the purity and pain of his glorious life, the finest seed of a rough strength, and the poetry and consolation of an affectionate brother.”83

A graver moment again inspired Martí to further expressions of affection for Poyo and his family. After Martí’s trip to Key West in November 1892, (p.165) Poyo accompanied him to Tampa, where they visited factories and clubs and raised funds. Roloff and well-known orator Carolina “La Patriota” joined them in Tampa, and they departed for Ocala on December 14, returning two days later. Poyo prepared to return to Key West the next day, but that night Martí fell ill after tasting a putrid glass of wine that he quickly threw away. Martí called for a doctor, who later confirmed that he had been poisoned, probably with acid. Though he did not consume enough to threaten his life, the assassination attempt affected his intestinal tract for many months.84

Poyo wanted to remain, but Martí insisted he return home to be with his family, who needed him more than he, especially since Francisco’s wife Louisa was about to give birth. “There was certain poetry,” he told Poyo, “in arriving in time to warm the new born to your heart.” “That is Christmas,” he exclaimed. Martí asked Poyo to keep a setting “for the absent one” at the holiday table, asked that Clarita send him thoughts to quicken his cure, and told Poyo to kiss the hands of his noble daughters.85 “We have much to do together. The big moment is close,” he emphasized. Though Poyo was a reserved person and did not have an effusive personality, his letters no doubt expressed similar warm and bonding sentiments of admiration and friendship for Martí, but the loss of his correspondence makes a precise exploration impossible.

When José Martí visited Key West in late 1891 and early 1892 he found a well-organized community with long experience and a tradition of nationalist activism led by a cadre of committed, experienced, and skilled insurrectionists. Key West had patriotic clubs and schools, secret revolutionary associations, a nationalist working-class constituency, ties with revolutionary groups in Cuba, a financial base in the cigar industry, a certainty that one day Cuba would be rid of Spanish rule, and a predisposition to immediate action. Martí had intellectual prowess, political genius, charismatic presence, oratorical skills, and an obsessive energy that was capable of mobilizing a working-class community that was ripe for revolution.

While Martí forged an émigré-wide political party with a clear and inspiring political platform, community members in Key West chipped away at Martí’s traditional skepticism about mobilizing for insurrection in the near term. Leaders in Key West played a critical role in moving Martí from revolutionary theory to action. Poyo opened doors for Martí in Key West, where under his guidance the New York orator became a practical revolutionary (p.166) organizer, a man of action. Poyo and Martí needed one another, and this mutuality enhanced their revolutionary aspirations and produced an affectionate friendship. In his visit to Key West in May 1893, Martí again expressed his heartfelt affection for Poyo in a dedication on the back of a photo: “Cuba’s honor became man, and was called José Dolores Poyo: To your virtue, to your talent, eloquence, to your heart, I dedicate this tribute, your brother, José Martí.”86


(1) . There are many accounts of José Martí’s first visits to Tampa and Key West. See Deolufeu, Héroes del destierro; Mañach, José Martí: Apostle; Lisazo, José Martí: Martyr; Ronning, José Martí.

(2) . José F. Lamadriz to Secretario del Comité Revolucionario Cubano, February 17, 1880, in Rodríguez y Colina, Documentos para server la historia de la Guerra Chiquita, 3:114.

(5) . José Martí to José D. Poyo, November 29, 1887, in Martí, Epistolario, 1:429–431.

(6) . José Martí to Máximo Gómez, December 16, 1887, in ibid., 440; Franco, Antonio Maceo: Apuntes, 1:321–328.

(7) . José D. Poyo to Máximo Gómez, April 1, 1888, Leg. 4, no. 56, Archivo Máximo Gómez, ANC.

(8) . Rivero Muñiz, “Los cubanos en Tampa,” 39–52.

(13) . José Martí to José D. Poyo, December 5, 1891, in Martí, Epistolario, 2:330.

(15) . José Martí to Máximo Gómez, December 16, 1887, in Martí, Epistolario, 1:440.

(16) . Deulofeu, Heroes del destierro, 131; Arnao, Páginas para la historia, 256–257; Trujillo, Apuntes históricos, 25–35; José Martí to Máximo Gómez, December 16, 1887, in Martí, Epistolario, 1:440; José Martí to Serafín Bello, October 12, 1889, in Martí, Epistolario, 2:129–130; José Martí to Serafín Bello, November 16, 1889, in ibid., 158–161; José Martí to Serafín Bello, February 21, 1890, in ibid., 184–187.

(17) . José Martí to Angel Peláez, December 16, 1891, in Martí, Epistolario, 2:332; Arnao, Páginas para la historia, 256–257.

(18) . “Oración de Tampa y Cayo Hueso,” February 17, 1892, in Martí, Obras completas, 4:298–299.

(19) . Delgado, “Martí en Cayo Hueso,” 72–80; Padilla Miyares, “El ultimo convencional martiano,” 98–100.

(20) . “Martí,” El Yara, December 30, 1891, newspaper clipping, and Pedro Solís to (p.267) Encargado de Negocios, January 18, 1892, both in Leg. 750, Caja 54/7992, Fondo 26.1, Grupo 10, AGA.

(21) . A Martí.

(23) . “Bases del Partido Revolucionario Cubano,” Martí, Obras Completas, 1:279–284.

(25) . “Acta de la constitución del Partido Revolucionario Cubano en Cayo Hueso, 5 de enero de 1892,” Leg. fuera de caja 150, no. 7, Donativos y Remisiones, ANC; Hidalgo Paz, “Reseña de los clubes fundadores,” 217.

(27) . Pedro Solís to Encargado de Negocios, January 7, 11 1892, Leg. 750, Caja 54/7992, Fondo 26.1, Grupo 10, AGA.

(28) . Pedro Solís to Encargado de Negocios, February 4, 1892, Leg. 750, Caja 54/7992, Fondo 26.1, Grupo 10, AGA.

(29) . Pedro Solís to Encargado de Negocios, January 18 1892, Leg. 750, Caja 54/7992, Fondo 26.1, Grupo 10, AGA.

(30) . “El meeting del lunes,” El Yara, January 16, 1892.

(31) . Ronning, José Martí, 73–74.

(32) . José Martí to José D. Poyo, March 2, 1892, in Martí, Epistolario, 3:53–55.

(34) . José Martí to José D. Poyo, March 2, 1892, in Martí, Epistolario, 3:53–55.

(35) . “Cuba Determined to be Free from Spain,” New York Herald, September 13, 1891.

(36) . “El meeting de anoche. El 10 de Abril. Proclamación del Partido Revolucionario Cubano,” El Yara, April 11, 1892, quoted in Deulofeu, Héroes del destierro, 112–113.

(38) . “Clubs cubanos,” Patria, April 10, 1892.

(39) . “Contestación a El Porvenir de El Yara,” El Porvenir, June 8, 1892.

(41) . “Nuestra actitud,” El Porvenir, April 13, 1892; “Continuamos,” El Porvenir, April 20, 1892; “Continuamos,” El Porvenir, April 27, 1892; Rodríguez, Estudio histórico, 278–286.

(42) . “Ante la opinion,” El Porvenir, May 18, 1892; “Contestación a El Porvenir de El Yara,” El Porvenir, June 8, 1892.

(43) . “José Francisco Lamadriz,” El Yara, February 3, 1892, newspaper clipping, and Pedro Solís to Encargado de Negocios, February 4, 1892, Leg. 750, Caja 54/7992, Fondo 26.1, Grupo 10, AGA.

(p.268) (47) . José Martí to Club Presidents of the Key West Cuerpo de Consejo, May 13, 1892, in Martí, Epistolario, 3:91–97.

(48) . José Martí to Club Presidents of the Key West Cuerpo de Consejo, May 16, 1892, in ibid., 3:101–103; José Martí to Club Presidents of the Key West Cuerpo de Consejo, May 27, 1892, in ibid., 113–115; José Martí to President of the Key West Cuerpo de Consejo, June 9, 1892, in ibid., 117–118.

(49) . José Martí to Club Presidents of the Key West Cuerpo de Consejo, June 9, 1892, in ibid., 3:118–121; José Martí to Club Presidents of the Key West Cuerpo de Consejo, June 10, 1892, in ibid., 126–127.

(50) . José Martí to President of the Key West Cuerpo de Consejo, June 11, 1892, in ibid., 129–130.

(51) . José Martí to Serafín Sánchez, June 1892, in ibid. 133–134; José Martí to President of the Key West Cuerpo de Consejo, July 2, 1892, in ibid., 144; Pedro Solís to Encargado de Negocios, July 12, 1892, Leg. 750, Caja 54/7992, Fondo 26.1, Grupo 10, AGA.

(52) . Pedro Solís to Encargado de Negocios, July 2 and 5, 1892, Leg. 750, Caja 54/7992, Fondo 26.1, Grupo 10, AGA; Alvarez Estevez, Mayor General Carlos Roloff, 156–160.

(53) . Pedro Solís to Encargado de Negocios, July 16, 1892, Leg. 750, Caja 54/7992, Fondo 26.1, Grupo 10, AGA.

(54) . El Yara quoted in “Organización y disciplina,” El Porvenir, July 27, 1892.

(55) . El Yara quoted in “Las revoluciones,” El Porvenir, July 13, 1892.

(56) . José D. Poyo to Gerardo Castellanos García, April 8, 1908, in Castellanos, Soldado y conspirador, 92–94.

(57) . Castellanos, Misión a Cuba, 138, 176–177, 193–194.

(58) . José Martí to President of the Convención Cubana, August 6, 1892, in Martí, Epistolario, 3:165–166; José Martí to President of the Key West Cuerpo de Consejo, August 6, 1892, in ibid., 166–167.

(61) . Castellanos, Misión a Cuba, 138, 176–177, 193–194; Lagomasino, La guerra de Cuba, 17–18.

(62) . “Desde Cayo Hueso” and “Manifestación política en Tampa,” Patria, July 30, 1892; “Manifestación patriótica en Tampa,” Patria, August 6, 1892; “A War Fund for Cuba,” New York Times, July 26, 1892.

(63) . Poyo, “Baseball in Key West and Havana,” 103; Burgos, “Entering Cuba’s Other Playing Field,” 15.

(64) . “José Martí y el juego de pelota,” Opus Habana, 52–57; González Echeverría, The Pride of Havana, 83.

(65) . Poyo, “Baseball in Key West and Havana,” 103.

(66) . Pedro Solis to Ministro Plenipotenciario, November 9, 11, 14, 16, 21, 24, and 28, 1892, and December 7, 1892, Leg. 750, Caja 54/7992, Fondo 26.1, Grupo 10, AGA; Stebbins, “The Cuban Convention,” 202.

(p.269) (67) . Pedro Solís to Ministro Plenipotenciario, November 28, 1892, Leg. 750, Caja 54/7992, Fondo 26.1, Grupo 10, AGA.

(68) . Pedro Solís to Ministro Plenipotenciario, November 28 and December 7, 1892, Leg. 750, Caja 54/7992, Fondo 26.1, Grupo 10, AGA.

(69) . “El conflicto de Cayo Hueso,” El Porvenir, January 24, 1894.

(70) . Pedro Solís to Ministro Plenipotenciario, November 14 and December 7, 1892, Leg. 750, Caja 54/7992, Fondo 26.1, Grupo 10, AGA.

(71) . “Viva La Cuba,” The Daily Equator-Democrat, October 10, 1892, newspaper clipping; and Pedro Solís to Encargado de Negocios, October 11, 1892, Leg. 750, Caja 54/7992, Fondo 26.1, Grupo 10, AGA.

(72) . “El Diez de Octubre,” El Yara, October 12, 1892; “Viva La Cuba,” The Daily Equator-Democrat, October 10, 1892, newspaper clipping, Pedro Solís to Encargado de Negocios, October 11, 1892, Leg. 750, Caja 54/7992, Fondo 26.1, Grupo 10, AGA.

(73) . José Martí to José D. Poyo, December 20, 1893, in Martí, Epistolario, 3:486–488.

(74) . Mañach, Martí: Apostle, 295–320; José Martí to President of the Key West Cuerpo de Consejo, February 17, 1893, in Martí, Epistolario, 3:272–275; José Martí to Eduardo Hidalgo Gato y otros, March 9, 1893, and March 17, 1893, in ibid., 302–304.

(75) . José Martí to Club Presidents of the Key West Cuerpo de Consejo, March 18, 1893, in ibid., 305.

(77) . José D. Poyo to Máximo Gómez, July 14, 1893, Leg. 5, no. 93, Archivo Máximo Gómez, ANC.

(79) . Pedro Solís to Enviado Extraordinario, May 16, 1893, August 12 and 15, 1893, and September 12, 1893, Leg. 813, Caja, 54/8011, Fondo 26.1, Grupo 10, AGA.

(81) . Various communications from José Martí to José D. Poyo, Serafín Sánchez, Gonzalo de Quesda, Máxmo Gómez, and Fernando Figueredo, November 7–14, 1893, in Martí, Epistolario, 3:433–455.

(82) . Ronning, José Martí, 98–105.

(83) . José Martí to José D. Poyo, August 18, 1892, in Martí, Epistolario, 3:188–189.

(85) . José Martí to José D. Poyo, December 22, 1892, in Martí, Epistolario, 3:228–229.

(86) . Martí to Poyo, May 16, 1893, inscription on back of photo; copy of photo and inscription in author’s possession.