Monthly Archives: January 2015

Part I: The DNA Trail from Madagascar to Manhattan

This blog post is dedicated to my M23 Malagasy ancestors who survived the Middle Passage and made it to New York and New Jersey. This is Part I of a two part series and is focused on my family’s Malagasy ancestry. My next blog post will discuss how my ancestors arrived in New York based on the actions of unscrupulous NY merchants and pirates.

 

Map of Indian Ocean Countries
Map of Indian Ocean Countries

 

About Madagascar and DNA

Over the past decade, there have been numerous studies done that describe the origins of the Malagasy, the people of Madagascar. For example, in 2005, Hurles et al. discussed the dual origins of the Malasy people as being Southeast Asian and East African. His study was followed by one done in 2009 by Sergio Tofanelli et al.  In this article, they wrote:

“Our results confirm that admixture of Malagasy was due to the encounter of people surfing the extreme edges of two of the broadest historical waves of language expansion: the Austronesian and Bantu expansions. In fact, all Madagascan living groups show amixture of uni-parental lineages typical present in African and Southeast Asian populations with only a minor contribution of Y lineages with different origins. Two observations suggest  that the the Y lineages with “another origin” entered the island in recent times: 1) they are particularly frequent in the Tanosy area (Fort Dauphin), and around Antananarivo, where commercial networks and the slave trade had a focus; 2) they matched with haplogroups typical of present Indo-European (Europeans) and Arabic speaking (Somali) people.”

In addition, a 2012 study by Cox, et al. noted that most Malagasy people can trace their mtDNA back to 30 Indonesian women who made up the founding population of Madagascar. Given the fact that Southeast Asian Y-DNA was also found among the Malagasy, it is assumed that there were also some Indonesian men among this group of women. These women went on to have children with the Indonesian men present as well as men from Africa. Later migrations from Africa also included Southeast African Bantu mtDNA haplogroups from north of the Zambezi River. In 2013, Melanie Capredon et al. also discussed the Arab-Islamic contribution to the Malagasy gene pool as a result of Indian Ocean slave trade. 

 

Austronesian Expansion
Austronesian Expansion

 

Bantu Expansion
Bantu Expansion

 

Zambezi River
North of the Zambezi River is where SE Bantu mtDNA originates

In addition to the Indonesian and African genetic links found among the Malagasy, there are also linguistic and cultural links to these regions as well. 90% of Malagasy vocabulary come from Maanyan, a language spoken in the Baritone River region of southern Borneo. The other 10% comes from the vocabulary of the Bantu, Malay, South Sulawesian, Javanese, and Sanskrit. Tofanelli et al. also raised the possibility that Indonesians may have reached East Africa and were admixed before their arrival in Madagascar probably around 2,300 years ago This initial mainland contact could explain the occurrence of banana cultivation (Asian Musa spp. phytolits) in southern Cameroon and Uganda before 500 BCE; the introduction of Bos indicus, a cattle of Southeast Asian origin, into East Africa from Asia; and the excavation of chicken bones, originating in Southeast Asia, from Neolithic limestone cave site at Zanzibar. They write, “This Malagasy admixture could have had a history in East Africa before it crossed the Mozambique Channel, even though genetic signatures of these first mainland contacts are still missing (2009:21).”

Madagascar and the Slave Trade and After

Madagascar was part of both the global trade in slaves in both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. The Indian Ocean slave trade existed before European colonization and even before the emergence of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries. It saw Malagasy slaves taken to the Mascarene Islands, the Seychelles, Comoros Islands, East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Persian Gulf, and India. The European-driven Indo-Atlantic slave trade began in the 16th century. The Portuguese, Dutch , French, British and Americans brought Malagasy slaves to the shores of South Africa, St. Helena’s Island, Brazil and other South American countries, the Caribbean, especially Jamaica and Barbados, and North America.  It should be noted that both slave trades were facilitated in part by different Malagasy ethnic groups who engaged in the selling of slaves to outsiders in exchange for arms and material goods. As a result of both slave trades— and later as free immigrants— Malagasy DNA spread around the globe.

On Finding Our Malagasy mtDNA

Over two years ago, my cousin Andrea and I decided to take the 23andme DNA test. We were desperate to find more information about our Thompson family history and felt that a DNA test would provide us with more clues. I knew beforehand that my mtDNA was European as my maternal 2nd great-grandmother was a first generation Irish-American. However, Andrea and I were excited to see what her mtDNA would be because she was a matrilineal descendant of our shared 2nd great-grandmother, Laura Thompson Green, while I was not. Well, imagine our surprise when her mtDNA came back M23, a haplogroup that is only found in Madagascar. We were shocked as this was totally unexpected. It seems that our Malagasy ancestors came to the New York City/New Jersey area between 1678-98 or 1716-21. The knowledge that our 2nd great-grandmother had matrilineal ancestry that traced back to Madagascar necessitated that we do further research. Several questions came to mind. Did our Malagasy ancestry still show up in our genes? When did our Malagasy ancestors arrive in the States, specifically NY/NJ? Why did slave traders go to Madagascar to procure slaves?

Our Malagasy Roots and DNA Admixture

We can trace our Malagasy ancestry back to our 5th great-grandmother, Jane Pickett, who was born a slave in NJ or NY around 1775. Her daughter was Tun, also a slave born around 1790 in Tappan, NY, according to a 1860 census record, though she may have also been born in NJ. Both Jane and Tun were born slaves and eventually worked as house servants in their later years. Tun had a daughter named Susan Pickett, our third great-grandmother, who was born in Morris County, NJ in 1809. Susan was born under The Gradual Emancipation Act and thus had to serve her master for 21 years. We don’t know who her father was, but Susan is listed as being “mulatto.” Once freed, Susan married our third great-grandfather, Cato Thompson. Susan and Cato had six children.

My M23 2nd great-grandmother, Laura Thompson Green
Our M23 2nd great-grandmother, Laura Thompson Green

Their children were Richard, Thomas, Jacob, Laura, Mary, and Catherine. My three maternal siblings, my aunt Helen, my first cousin, and I are the descendants of Laura’s son Richard. Andrea, her mother Mildred, uncle Robert, brother, and daughter are the descendants of Laura’s daughter Goldie. My cousin Yvonne and her grandson are the descendants of Laura’s son Stewart. My cousin Helen is a descendant of Laura’s sister Mary and my cousin Lillian is a descendant of Laura’s sister Catherine.

As of today, we have had 15 descendants of Susan Pickett DNA tested, of whom six have mtDNA M23. Having so many relatives DNA tested allows us to see how Malagasy ancestry is passed down generationally. According to 23andme, all of us have ethnic admixture, in varying amounts, from Southeast Asia, Central and South Africa, and/or East Africa, South Asia and Oceania. Those cousins who are matrilineal descendants of our shared M23 ancestors do show higher amounts in these admixture areas. While I don’t think any DNA test can tell you with 100% certainty what your admixture is, I do believe that they can provide clues about your ethnicity especially when combined with knowledge of local and family history.

Please note that I have previously blogged about my own admixture tests. In this blog post I will be mainly discussing my relatives’ admixture results.

Here are the 23andme Ancestry Composition results of my cousins Helen, Mildred, and Robert. You can clearly see the indicators of Malagasy ancestry.

Helen's Ancestry Composiiton
Helen’s Ancestry Composition

 

Mil ac2
Mildred’s Ancestry Composition

 

Robert's Ancestry Composition
Robert’s Ancestry Composition

As a comparison, here are the Ancestry Compositions for my aunt Helen and cousin Lillian. As you can see, their admixture is from the same areas, but in lesser amounts.

My aunt Helen's Ancestry Composition
My aunt Helen’s Ancestry Composition

 

Lillian's Ancestry Competition
Lillian’s Ancestry Composition

A look at the X chromosomes of Mildred, Robert, Lillian and Helen also show how our Southeast Asian ancestry (in yellow) has been passed down from our Malagasy ancestors. All four are the descendants of all three of  Susan Pickett’s daughters—Laura (Mildred and Robert), Mary (Helen), and Catherine (Lillian).

X Chromosomes for Mildred, Robert, Helen and Lillian
X Chromosomes for Mildred, Robert, Helen and Lillian

In addition to testing at 23andme, my cousins Mildred and Andrea, aunt Helen, and sister Elisa also had a DNA Tribes SNP Analysis done in 2013. Again, the Malagasy indicators tend to be Southeast Asia, Central and South Africa, and/or East Africa, South Asia and Oceania. Please note that Bantu, Pedi, and Nguni are all Bantu-speaking groups that were part of the Bantu expansion.

Here are their Native Populations Admixture Analysis from DNA Tribes:

 

Mildred's DNA Tribe SNP Analysis
Mildred’s DNA Tribe SNP Analysis

 

Andrea's DNA Tribes SNP Analysis
Andrea’s DNA Tribes SNP Analysis

 

My aunt Helen's DNA Tribes SNP Analysis
My aunt Helen’s DNA Tribes SNP Analysis

 

My sister Elisa's DNA Tribes Analysis
My sister Elisa’s DNA Tribes Analysis

In 2014, I had my DNA Tribes SNP Analysis done again after they instituted their regional clusters. Here are my results as a Malagasy non-matrilineal descendant:

My 2014 DNA Tribes SNP Analysis
My 2014 DNA Tribes SNP Analysis

 

On chromosome 20,  you can see how our Malagasy DNA, represented by our Southeast Asian admixture in yellow, has been inherited by the same ancestor.

On Chromosome 20, we share the same ancestor who had Malagasy DNA
On Chromosome 20, we share the same ancestor who had Malagasy DNA

 

A Word About Our Malagasy vs. Native American Ancestry

 
My family’s Malagasy (M23) ancestry is separate from our Native American ancestry. I make note of this because there have been claims made that haplogroup M was found in North America, and thus was Native American, based on a 2007 article that has since been debunked. I have written two prior blog posts on M23 and other M subclade haplogroups that mention how I disagree with this assessment and provide comments from well-known genetic genealogists and mtDNA experts about the M haplogroup. In the chromosomal view below, you can see how the Southeast Asian admixture (in yellow) is separate from our Native American admixture (in orange).
 
Mildred's AC Chromosome View
Mildred’s AC Chromosome View
Maria's AC Chromosome View
My sister Maria’s AC Chromosome View
Yvonne's AC Chromosome View
Yvonne’s AC Chromosome View
My brother Michael's AC Chromosome View
My brother Michael’s AC Chromosome View
 As it relates to my discussion of my family’s Malagasy ancestry in my next blog post, Esther J. Lee et al. note in their article “MtDNA Origins of an Enslaved Labor Force From the 18th century Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground in Colonial Albany, NY: Africans, Native Americans, and Malagasy?,” “individuals identified as haplogroup M7 and M resemble lineages found in Madagascar. Historical documents suggest several hundred people were imported from Madagascar through illegal trading to New York by the end of the 17th century. ” Though Lee had access to the now debunked 2007 article, she rightly acknowledges that the M7 haplogroup is found in East Asia, Southeast Asia and Madagascar. It is so important, as the Lee article shows, to look at local historical events to see how individuals with M haplogroups may have arrived in the Americas via the slave trade and who are NOT Native American.
 
 

 

I should also note that African-Americans, with the help of DNA tests, are now discovering their Malagasy ancestry. For example, my 98-year old cousin Helen has 5 DNA cousin matches with Malagasy ancestry from Madagascar, South Africa, and France on her 23andme  DNA Relatives List and many of my family members have DNA cousins with known Malagasy haplogroups. Likewise, my friend Melvin Collier has written an excellent blog post on finding and confirming his Malagasy ancestry via a Malagasy DNA cousin. As a result of these Malagasy ancestral discoveries, there is a now a Malagasy Roots Project at FTDNA that seeks to connect African-Americans with their Malagasy DNA cousins.

 

Using Gedmatch Admixture Calculators to Detect Malagasy Ancestry

I have been asked repeatedly how one can tell if they have Malagasy ancestry in the absence of a known Malagasy mtDNA or Y-DNA. One of the ways is to take an autosomal DNA test from any of the three major testing companies — 23andme  (highly recommended as you also get your haplogroups), AncestryDNA, or FTDNA Autosomal Family Finder— and then upload the results to Gedmatch, a free site, where you can run additional admixture calculators.

Based on my family’s known Malagasy ancestry, I feel confident enough to state that Malagasy indicators are Southeast Asia, Central and South Africa, and/or East Africa, South Asia and Oceania. It is crucial to realize that it is a combination of all these admixtures that may indicate Malagasy ancestry. Just having Southeast Asian, South African,  East African ancestry or any one individual admixture is not enough to indicate Malagasy ancestry. I would also mention that one should research the local history/area where your ancestors resided. Slaves from Madagascar were known to have been imported into Boston, New York/NJ, and Virginia. However, there were many Malagasy slaves who may have arrived in the States via the Caribbean, Brazil, Europe, India, as well as a host of other countries. Many Malagasy also came to this country as free immigrants. In essence, you need to really do your research.

Some additional things to do would be to also have other relatives tested to confirm your Malagasy ancestry as well as to check your Gedmatch One-To-Many list to see if your DNA cousins have a Malagasy haplogroup.

If you you have Malagasy ancestry or have a Malagasy haplogroup, either mtDNA or Y-DNA, please consider taking a FTDNA FS mtDNA test or Y-37 DNA test and joining FTDNA’s Malagasy Roots Project.  

Below are some of Gedmatch admixture calculators that I use to detect indicators of Malagasy ancestry. I am going to use my mother Joyce as an example because you can easily see her Malagasy admixture indicators. Plus, I think it is really cool to use a Gedmatch Lazarus recreated genome based on her four children, sister, niece and a host of 2nd and 3rd cousins. For the record, I use the following Gedmatch admixture calculators: MDLP-World 22, MDLP-K23b, Dodecad v3, Dodecad World9, Dodecad Africa9 (to detect South African and East African ancestry), Eurogenes K13, Eurogenes K36, and HarappaWorld. Most of these calculators detect Southeast, Oceanian, Austronesian, South Asian, Melanesian/Polynesian, Papuan, Malayan, South African, and East African admixture.

 

Joyce's MDLP-World 22 Admixture Calculator
Joyce’s MDLP-World 22 Admixture Calculator Results

 

Joyce's MDLP-K23b Admixture Calculator
Joyce’s MDLP-K23b Admixture Calculator Results

 

Joyce's Dodecad v3 Admixture Results
Joyce’s Dodecad v3 Admixture Calculator Results

 

Mom World9
Joyce’s Dodecad World9 Admixture Calculator Results

 

Joyce's Dodecad Africa9 Admixture Calculator
Joyce’s Dodecad Africa9 Admixture Calculator Results

 

Joyce's Eurogenes K13 Admixture Calculator
Joyce’s Eurogenes K13 Admixture Calculator Results

 

Joyce's Eurogenes K36 Admixture Calculator
Joyce’s Eurogenes K36 Admixture Calculator Results

 

Joyce's HarappaWolrd Adnxiture Calculator Results
Joyce’s HarappaWolrd Adnxiture Calculator Results

 

Malagasy MtDNA and Y-DNA Haplogroups

 
Map of Ethnic Groups in Madagascar
Map of Ethnic Groups in Madagascar
 
Disclaimer: Please note that the list below has some of the haplogroups found in Madagascar that come from several scientific studies (see references below). The nomenclature of these haplogroups may have changed since the articles were written. Also, if you have taken a 23andme test, their v4 chip may not give a definitive haplogroup assignment. For example, I am H1 on 23andme since I tested with their v3 chip, however, my siblings are just H since they tested with the v4 chip. Likewise, some folks who are B4a1a1b may show up as only B4a1a1 on 23andme. Note these haplogroups can be  found in other places as well. There are only two haplogroups that I know for sure that are found only in Madagascar and they are M23 and B4a1a1a haplogroup subclades. I am by no means an expert on mtDNA or Y-DNA, but I think this list is valuable to those seeking more answers on their Malagasy ancestry.
 
 

 

 MtDNA: B4a, B4a1a1a, B4a1a1a2, B4a1a1b, E1a, E1a1a, F3b, F3b1, M, M7, M7c1c, M7c2a, M7c3c, M23, M32c/M46, L0a, L0a’k, L0a1a, L0a2, L1c, L1c1, L2, L2a, L2a1, L2a1b, L2b, L3, L3b, L3b1, L3d, L3d1, L3e, L3e2, L3e1a, L3e1b, L3e2b, L3e3’4’5′, L3f, L3k, L4b1, R9
 

 

Y-DNA: B2a, B2b, B2a1a, B2b4, E1b1a, E1b1b1, E2, E2b, E3a, E3b1a, E2b, E3a, J1, J2b, L, O1a, O1a2, O2a, O2a1, O3a2c, O303,R1a1, R1b1 and T1
 

References

 

http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2009/06/17/molbev.msp120.short?rss=1

http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2012/03/15/rspb.2012.0012 

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0080932 

http://www.nature.com/ejhg/journal/v21/n12/full/ejhg201351a.html

http://www.nature.com/jhg/journal/v53/n2/full/jhg2008213a.html 

http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2164/10/605

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1199379/#!po=34.0909

http://massey.genomicus.com/publications/Razafindrazaka_2010_EurJHumGenet_v18_p575.pdf

http://www.nature.com/ejhg/journal/v18/n5/fig_tab/ejhg2009222t1.html

 

 

 

 


Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo: Our Puerto Rican Patriot

I dedicate this blog post to my Bonilla ancestors, especially my father, Antonio Vega Noboa, who would have been proud to learn that his great-grandfather was a true Puerto Rican patriot. I also dedicate this blog post to my dear cousin, Madeline Castañon Quiles, and her family, who grew up hearing about the brutal death of our 2nd great-grandfather. I hope I tell his story the way he would have wanted it to be told. May Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo continue to rest in peace. Que Dios le bendiga.

Finding Maddy via AncestryDNA

Two years ago, I had a very off-balanced family tree. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, my father was an only child and his parents divorced when he was a child. My paternal grandmother then moved from Carolina, Puerto Rico to Brooklyn, NY in the early 1940s. My dad and his parents were the only three names I had on my tree. After I took my first DNA test, I met a cousin, Luis Rivera, who helped me expand my tree immensely. He took me back to all my paternal great-grandparents, 2nd great-grandparents, as well as some third and fourth great-grandparents.

My Bonilla line can be traced to my paternal great-grandmother, Juana Florentina Bonilla Bonilla, the mother of my grandfather,  Antonio Vega Bonilla. Based on Juana’s marriage record to my great-grandfather, Segundo Vega Rodriguez, I knew her parents were Juan E. Bonilla and Josefa Bonilla. Other than the fact that both were “mestizo” and were born in Susua Alta, Yauco, I was at a dead end. I had hit my Bonilla brick wall. Without their maternal surnames, it would be difficult to trace Juana’s parents further back.

Early last year I decided to take the AncestryDNA test. When I first received my results, I looked up the Bonilla surname to see if I could locate any of my Bonilla cousins from Susua Alta, Yauco. I did find Bonilla DNA cousins, but their trees started and ended in Coamo, Puerto Rico which didn’t seem to help me at all. That was until September 6, 2014 when I realized that I had a new cousin hint. I was so excited when I saw Madeline Castañon Quiles on my list. She was one of the cousins I had been waiting for for some time. Maddy turned out to be the cousin who helped me break down my Bonilla brick wall with a big KABOOM!
Me and Maddy
Me and Maddy

 

 The Walls Came Tumbling Down…And So Did The Tears

As soon as I saw her name on my list with the exact 3rd cousin relationship, I wrote immediately to her and let her know that we were related via our shared 2nd great-grandfather, Juan Eusebio Bonilla. I was excited to finally learn his maternal surname…Salcedo.

 

AncestryDNA shared hint
AncestryDNA shared hint

Juan Eusebio was one of four children born to Marcos Bonilla Bonilla and Rita Salcedo in 1852. In addition to his siblings Rosario and Antonio, he had a twin brother named Jose. Juan Eusebio was apparently married three times and had six children from all three marriages. My 2nd great-grandmother, Josefa, was his first wife and with whom he had Juana and Domingo. Maddy’s 2nd great-grandmother, Carmen Avallanet, was his second wife with whom he had Juan. Maria Dominga Camacho Torres was his third wife with whom he had Angel, Agueda, and Eusebio.

From Maddy, I also learned about “La Leyenda de la Guásima,” an urban legend which was indeed based on fact. She told me that our 2nd great-grandfather had been assassinated in a very public, horrific way by a Spanish Civil Guard, Jose Ferreria Tello, on June 30th, 1890. Maddy had grown up hearing about Juan Eusebio’s death from the oral history passed down from her mother Hilda, who had heard it from her elders. I went from feeling happiness at finally locating him to despair. So many questions popped into my head. The two major ones being (1) WHY was he assassinated? (2) WHAT did he do to deserve a death that involved being beaten, tied to a guásima tree, shot in the head, gutted, his mutilated genitals stuffed in his mouth and pant pockets, and finally set on fire???? Tears, tears, tears and more tears…..

I am not too sure about others, but having done genealogy/family history research for quite some time now, I’ve gotten to the point where I sometimes feel my ancestors pushing me in the direction of where they want me to go, as if they are leaving me breadcrumbs to follow. After speaking to Maddy, who I also found out lived in NYC, I googled Juan Eusebio’s name and found my first breadcrumb—a short 50-page book titled Asesinato Politico by E. Gutierrez Velez.

Asesinato Politico by E. Gutierrez Velez
Asesinato Politico by E. Gutierrez Velez

It is a book about the events of the “El Componte Era” in Puerto Rico, which led up to Juan Eusebio’s’s death in 1890, followed by “La Intentona” in 1897, the last uprising in Puerto Rico against Spanish colonial rule. The author was none other than the son of one of Juan Eusebio’s good friends, Venancio Gutierrez.

With the spirit of the ancestors leading the way, I indeed felt Juan Eusebio nudging me to discover the truth about his life and death almost 125 years after the fact.  It is my intention to rescue him from obscurity. As his descendants, both Maddy and I owe that to him at the very least. He is our Puerto Rican patriot de verdad. If we don’t remember our ancestors, who will? Moreover, who will speak for those whose voices have been silenced? No matter how hard it was to read this book, I am grateful to have such an account, despite the horror of it all.

About His Death Record

We were able to locate Juan Eusebio’s death certificate which proved to be informative all around. His death record indicated that he was only shot in the head, that there was a criminal case made against the Civil Guard Jose Ferreria, his assassin, and that he was married, but had no living children. His parents were recorded as being Marcos Bonilla and Rita Salcedo.

Death record of Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo
Death record of Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo, Pt. 1
death record1
Death Record of Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo, Pt. 2

Given the amount of birth , marriage and death records for him and his children, his death record smacks of a coverup and, at the very least, a great minimization of his death. Why was the truth about his death not mentioned? My inquiring mind wanted to know.

My Bonilla Ancestors: We Got Boricua Roots NOT Just Branches

Finding the names of Juan Eusebio’s parents, especially his father Marcos, led us to discover a treasure trove of family history that had remained buried until now. We were able to locate his death record which listed his birthplace as Aibonito and his death location as Coamo. It was just a matter of minutes, upon seeing Coamo listed, that I was able to link all my Bonilla DNA cousins family trees to my own and reclaim my family’s almost 500 year history in Puerto Rico. At the time of his assassination, Juan Eusebio’s family had already been in Puerto Rico for 340 years.

bonilla tree
Marcos Bonilla Bonilla Family Tree
From Marcos’ family tree, I learned that his mother’s line descended not only from a Spanish conquistador sent to Puerto Rico in the 1500s, but also from the governing Spanish conquistadors of the Canary Islands. I was actually able to trace some of her family lines back to Spain to the late 1200s. I will address my Canary Island Spanish conquistador ancestors in a separate future blog post.

Regarding Puerto Rico, my 11th great-grandfather was Juan Lopez de Aliceda, one of the first Spanish conquistadors who arrived in the mid-1500’s with Juan Ponce de Leon. Juan Lopez de Aliceda was the Lieuteant Govenor in San German under Francisco de Solis Osorio (1568-1574) . Juan had a son, also named Juan Lopez de Aliceda, who went on to become the mayor of Coamo in the early 1600s. My Bonilla line descends from some of the founding families of Coamo which include the Colon/Colon de Luyando, Adorno, Aponte, Espinosa, Santiago, and Rivera families. All of these families were heavily involved with the Spanish militia and in the colonization of the island.

That being said, at what point did my Bonilla line become Puerto Rican? At what point did they cease to see themselves as being Spanish? Was this a process that occurred over decades or centuries??? I will never know the answers to these questions, but in 1890, clearly Juan Eusebio considered himself to be 100% Puerto Rican, an identity that was clearly different from that of the Spanish who still controlled all aspects of the political economy of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rican mtDNA and Y-DNA

We know from a 2001 study done by Dr. Juan Martinez Cruzado that 61% of all Purto Ricans have Native American mtDNA, 27% have African mtDNA  and 12% have European mtDNA. MtDNA is inherited only from one’s mother from her matrilineal ancestors and does not change over time. This, of course, means that a majority of Puerto Ricans are descended from a Taino woman. The flip side to this is that a majority of Y-DNA in Puerto Ricans, the DNA that males inherit from their’s father’s patrilineal line, is European. About 74.8% of Puerto Rican Y-DNA is European, 23.8% is African, and 1.5% is Native American.

Looking at Juan Eusebio’s grandsons, Enrique Vega Bonilla, who was my great-uncle, and Maddy’s grandfather, Juan Bonilla Quiles, clearly you see their mestizo ancestry. On her marriage certificate, my great-grandmother Juana Bonilla Bonilla listed her “race” as “mestizo.”

Enrique Vega Bonilla and Juan Bonilla Quiles, the grandsons of Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo
Enrique Vega Bonilla and Juan Bonilla Quiles, the grandsons of Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo

I can only assume that her father, Juan Eusebio, was also mixed-race, most likely mestizo, just like the majority of Puerto Ricans who have Native American mtDNA and a European Y-DNA.

NOTE: In order to really understand Juan Eusebio’s brutal assassination, we have to examine the historical period in which he lived. It is only in this way that we can fully understand how patriotic and brave he was to keep speaking truth to power.

The Puerto Rican Autonomist Party

In February of 1887, the Autonomist Party (Partido Autonomistawas formed in Ponce.  Autonomist Party members advocated for the rights of Puerto Ricans who were born on the island. Their liberal beliefs included self-government, political economic development, education, and social justice for Puerto Ricans.  The party was clear in that they were not asking for independence from Spain. Instead, they were looking to work within the confines of the Spanish colonial system. As a result, the Autonomist Party garnered the support of the Puerto Rican-born population, especially the educated middle class, as opposed to the Spanish-born Spaniard peninsular population who tended to support the more conservative Unconditional Spanish Party.

It should be noted that members of the Autonomist Party came from all racial backgrounds and represented all Puerto Ricans. That the majority of members were of mixed-race infuriated those in power. This new political party and it’s leaders were also closely aligned with the abolitionist movement in Puerto Rico. At a time when Spanish-born Spaniards still controlled all aspects of the politico-economic life on the island, the Autonomist Party was considered radical by the conservative parties on the island.  Within months of the founding of the Autonomist Pary, their liberal ideas made them a target of government repression and conservative scorn.

In her classic book, The History of Puerto Rico, Loida Figueroa writes about how some members of the Autonomist Party decided to organize a boycott against Spanish owned businesses in favor of patronizing Puerto Rican businesses. The boycotters had formed secret societies to promote their boycott.  This boycott was seen as evidence by both the Spanish colonial government and conservatives that the Autonomist Party was engaging in acts of separatism. [She also hinted at how Spanish businessmen burned down their own buildings and then blamed the arson on the boycotters.] Figueroa writes:

 “The Spaniards and Puerto Ricans of the Unconditional sector knew something was going on, just noting the shift of people towards the Puerto Rica businesses and the lack of it towards their own businesses. Since refusing to buy in an establishment could not be declared illegal they had to use other means, such as saying that another Separatist conspiracy had been generated, aimed at ruining the businesses and lives of the Penisulares and those loyal to Spain. Since Puerto Ricans were Autonomists, the  Unconditionals, upon attacking the Society, indirectly attacked the Party. In order to make others believe that national integrity was in danger, since the province was “on the verge of a revolution” the only thing they needed was to succeed  in making the Captain Genral play their game. This Captain was General don Romualdo Palacios.” (Figueroa, p. 375)

It was in this way that the Autonomist Party and their supporters were targeted by the Spanish colonial government which, in turn, gave rise to the El Componte Era.

Map of where El Componte was carried out.
Map of where El Componte was carried out.

,

General Romualdo Palacios Gonzelez and the El Componte Era

Governor Romualdo Palacios arrived in Puerto Rico in March of 1887. By April, he had aligned himself with the Unconditional Spanish Party and initiated the start of the El Componte Era.  Palacios  ordered the Spanish Civil Guard to identify, pursue, punish, torture and jail Autonomist Party members and supporters. “Componte” is a term that meant “rectify” or “pacify” by means of torture. Doctors, lawyers, business owners, teachers, musicians, writers, journalists, farmers, workers, and many others were rounded up and tortured. Figueroa goes on to write:
“…the Civil Guard kept on making arrests, with the anomaly that although it was announced that their object was to make investigations respective to the secret societies, the assumed informers were immediately qualified as wrongdoers or revolutionaries. To justify this qualification they proceeded to torture the “witnesses” and pry confessions out of them that would give a conspiratorial air to the boycotting societies. The tortures used were palillos, cordeles, chains or lash, apart from the current slaps, kicks, blows with butt ends of guns, and all kinds of other blows.” (Figueroa, p. 380)
There were many Autonomist Party members and supporters who were held and tortured both in  “Houses of Componte” as well as the Castillo del  Morro. Many were killed and some committed suicide as a result of this torture.

In August, Palacios had 16 leaders of the Autonomist Party arrested and, on November 6th, he ordered all 16 to be taken to the Castillo del Morro where they were sentenced to death.  Those 16 were Cristino Aponte, Roman Baldorioty de Castro, Salvador Carbonell Toro, Francisco Cepeda Taborcias, Ulises Dalmau Proventud, Pedro Maria Descartes, Rodulfo Figueroa Gonzalez, Jose Vicente Gonzalez, Ramon Marin Sola, Antonio Molina Vergara, Bruno Negron, Andres Santos Negroni, Santiago R. Palmer, Epifanio Presas, Tomas Vazquez Rivera and Manuel Antonio Zavala Rodriguez. There was such an international outcry over these arrests that on November 9th, General Palacios was recalled to Spain. On December 19th, all 16 prisoners were freed. As we shall see, the El Componte Era did not end with Palacios leaving the island. It continued on for years.

Freemasonry in Puerto Rico

I have to add here that one of the groups that was heavily affected by El Componte were the Freemasons in Puerto Rico. The government ordered all Masonic lodges to be closed and banned participation in Masonic activities. Because Masonic lodges operate in secrecy, the government found them to be a threat to their existence.

Freemasonry had taken hold in Puerto Rico after the Haitian Revolution with the immigration of French nationals to Puerto Rico. After 1850, Freemasonry attracted a following among the educated middle class population. With the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity inherent in their beliefs,  Freemasons became members and natural supporters of the Autonomous Party. Out of the 16 Autonomous Party leaders imprisoned in El Morro, five were Freemasons. Those five were Salvador Carbonell Toro, Ramon Baldorioty de Castro, Santiago R. Palmer, Tomas Vazquez Rivera and Jose Vicente Gonzalez. Other prominent Masonic Autonomous Party members also included Ramon Emeterio Betances, Segundo Ruiz Belvis, Jose Julian Acosta, Luis Munoz Rivera, Jose Celso Barbosa among others.

Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo: Proud Yauco Autonomist Party Member

Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo, A humble son of the pueblo, very brave, his conduct above reproach, he was loved and respected by his fellow townspeople. But the government had included him as one of their disaffected for his frankly liberal ideas.
Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo, “A humble son of the pueblo, very brave, of irreproachable conduct, loved and respected by neighbors. But the government had included him as one of their disaffected for his frankly liberal ideas”. (Gutierrez Velez, p.11)

Asesinato Politico proved to be a goldmine of information about Juan Eusebio. It is an almost play by play telling of events that led up to my 2nd great-grandfather’s vicious murder at the hands of the Spanish Civil Guard. E. Gutierrez Velez recorded events that his father Venancio relayed to him about the El Componte Era and its aftermath.

Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo and the Autonomist PArty
Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo and the Autonomist Party (Gutierrez Velez, p. 44)

It turns out that Juan Eusebio was one of the first people in Susua Alta, Yauco to become affiliated with the Autonomous Party. He was outspoken in promoting their liberal ideas as well as advocating for the self-determination of Puerto Ricans. He was also a well-known businessman who owned a commercial store and coffee business. In addition, he was part of a group of Yaucanos, who were known to be Autonomous Party members and leaders, and who may have taken part in the boycott of Spanish owned businesses. As such, he came to the attention of the Spanish Civil Guard.

Friends of Juan Eusebio (Form Historia de Yauco by Hector Andres Negroni)
Friends of Juan Eusebio (From the Historia de Yauco by Hector Andres Negroni)

Gutierrez Velez lists the names of all the well-known Yaucanos who were arrested, imprisoned and/or tortured during El Componte.  These men make up El Cuadro de Honor of Yauco, along with Juan Eusebio. I honor their names here as well:

Padre Jose Antonio Pieretti
Dr. Manuel Pasarell Rius
Dr. Dario Franceschi Zeno
Juan Ambrosio Rodriguez Bultos
Arturo Ramos
Francisco Maymi Cabrera
Ibo Martinez Nazario
Manuel Catala Dueno
Eladio Trujillo
Dr. Domingo Mariani
Antonio Abrini
Juan Rivera
Francisco Mejia Rodriguez
Jose Maria Gatell
Francisco Castañer Castañer
Juan Zacarias Rodriguez
Vicente Soltero Pagan
Jose Espada Avila
Andres Santos Negroni Lucca
Eustaquio Medina
Eugenio Rodriguez
L. R. Arroyo

In his book, Historia De Yauco, Hector Andres Negroni mentions the occupations of several of the men above. Antonio Mattei Lluberas and Domingo Mariani both owned sugar and coffee plantations. Francisco Castañer Castañer also owned a coffee plantation. Antonio Abrini owned a shoe store. Jose Maria Gatell was a pharmacy owner. Eustaquio Medina was a clothing manufacturer. Although he is not listed above, I should also mention that Venancio Gutierrez owned a tobacco factory. Clearly, all of these men represented the educated Puerto Rican middle-class that found the Autonomous Party attractive.

Francisco Mejia Rodriguez and Vicente Soltero Pagan were both Freemasons. I don’t know if Juan Eusebio was a Freemason, but he undoubtedly associated with them. As someone whose father and maternal grandfather were Masons, I am proud of the Masonic participation in the Autonomous Party.

 So Why Was He Assassinated?

Gutierrez Velez writes that Juan Eusebio was arrested in 1887 during the Componte Era because, in addition to being an Autonomist Party member, he was accused of insulting the memory of a Civil Guard who had died. He returned to Susua Alta in the first months of 1890 after almost three years in prison in Ponce. While in prison, he was tortured by none other than Jose Ferreria! When he returned to the village, Jose Ferreria was not there. Gutierrez Velez, referring to Juan Eusebio, states:

“Creía tal vez, que la inquina dejada por su improprio proceder durante el “componte” se había extinguido con su repentina ausencia del teatro de las nefastas representaciones, en las cuales fue uno de los más destacados y también odiosos personajes.” (Gutierrez Velez, p.16)
 
“Perhaps, he believed that the gripe left by his improper conduct during “el componte” had been extinguished with the sudden absence of the theater of nefarious representations, in which he was one of the most prominent and also most  hated characters.”

 

Once freed, Juan Eusebio wasted no time in writing to Jose Ferreria reminding him of all the abuse he suffered at his hands while in prison. He also challenged Ferreria to a duel as he considered this to be the best way to even the field with Ferreria—en el terreno de los caballeros. Wow! In effect, he was telling Jose Ferreria to be a real man—-as if to say, abuse me when my hands are not tied, when I don’t have a blindfold on, and when I am standing unfettered on my own two feet and see what happens. That took cojones to do that.

Juan Eusebio’s friends warned him not to go forward with the duel. Even Venancio Gutierrez gave him a prophetic warning when he said:

“Amigo Bonilla, deme la mano, porque si usted va al sitio con sus enemigos, que son menguados, no volveré a verlo vivo” (Gutierrez Velez, p. 19).
“My friend Bonilla, give me your hand, if you go to this place with your enemies, some of whom are devils, you will not be seen alive again.”

Despite the dire warnings of his close friends, Juan Eusebio was adamant that he would still go through with the duel. Obviously, he was not afraid. I often wonder why he showed no fear. I do find comfort in knowing that he was a religious man as Gutierrez Velez often points out in his book. I now know, without a shadow of a doubt, that it was his FAITHthat allowed him to go forward. He walked with God and feared no evil—not even in the presence of his enemies.

How they killed Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo...
How they killed Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo…

 

Venancio’s prophecy had been proven true for Juan Eusebio was found early in the morning on June 30, 1890. His assassins had placed his body on the steps of the entrance to the cemetery—-a clear message that would be understood by all. His remains were found wreaking of gas and and still smoldering. He had been gutted and his genitals removed. His assassins had also placed his body in a supine position and put a revolver in his hand. Of course, this gave them the opportunity to later claim that he committed suicide.

Gutierrez Velez vividly tells of the moment the people of Susua Alta heard of his death. In a nutshell, he writes that  “in an instant, the people came running, like a landslide, toward the churchyard. The Civil Guard had tried to close off the area, but they couldn’t because the people came running from all directions screaming, “They killed Eusebio Bonilla.”

The response from the people of Susua Alta
The response from the people of Susua Alta

La Leyenda de La Guásima is based on the facts about my 2nd great-grandfather’s assassination. There were no human witnesses to the brutality that he was subjected to on that night. However, Gutierrez Velez writes that,  “the wires, the tree, and all the thicket damaged revealed with astonishing eloquence, the how and why of their dilapidated state, with their fresh bloodstains. The red showed definite signs and demonstrated, how much out of the ordinary, what happened there in the middle of the night in question.” It is no wonder that this urban legend states that when you hear the trees making noises at night, it is because they are crying out for justice for Juan Eusebio.

 The Aftermath of His Assassination…

After his death, the Spanish Civil Guard tried to make it look like Juan Eusebio had committed suicide. In addition to placing a gun in his right hand, they also issued restrictive orders to the people of Susua Alta not to say anything about Jose Ferreria being in Yauco before or after Juan Eusebio’s death or  to say, “Let me bring you to the guásima tree ” which was code language for “let me show you where Juan Eusebio was murdered.” The Spanish Civil Guard made clear that they would arrest anyone who violated their orders.

I am happy to say that Juan Eusebio had some good friends who were willing to speak out about his murder, at great personal costs, as well as pursue an investigation into his brutal death. One of those friends was Jose Simidei Rodriguez, who was a dry goods store owner in Susua Alta. Gutierrez Velez writes that one of the most vocal voices of protests over Juan Eusebio’s death came from Simidei  who was arrested as a result. After being released, he thought about what he had said and decided, in hindsight, to liquidate his store and to flee to Santo Domingo out of fear for his life. Such was the fear of persecution that the Spanish Civil Guard created.

His other friends went on to launch a court investigation into his death at the hands of the Spanish Civil Guard in both Susua Baja and in San German. Many townspeople were called to testify against Jose Ferreria and many just showed up hoping to testify in memory of Juan Eusebio. Gutierrez Velez writes that the people were captivated by a man who distinguished himself with his correct conduct and who inspired respect from all because he respected everyone. And so they came to testify in his honor.

However, because the Spanish Civil Guard were agents of the state, the investigation was akin to being a kangaroo court where evidence was lost and the state always maintaining that Juan Eusebio had committed suicide. One of the “lost” documents was one that Juan Eusebio gave Venancio Gutierrez the night before he was killed which documented everything that Jose Ferreria had done to him during his imprisonment as well as the information concerning the duel. Juan Eusebio’s assassins literally got away with murder for Ferreria was found not guilty of anything since he was technically “not working” —he was off the clock so to speak—at the time of the murder and so the Spanish Civil Guard could not be blamed. Unbelievable.

Public Vindication for Juan Eusebio

 

La Justicia, 11/6/1890
La Justicia, 11/6/1890
La Justicia, 11/6/1890
La Justicia, 11/6/1890

Public vindication would finally came for Juan Eusebio on November 6, 1890. On that day, the La Razón newspaper, published in Mayaguez, reprinted an article from the Spanish newspaper La Justicia under the heading “Or Between Savages.” The La Justicia correspondent wrote about the horrible details of Juan Eusebio’s murder. The article mentioned that my 2nd great-grandfather had been tortured in 1887 and later violently killed in Yauco. It went on to state that Juan Eusebio had challenged his “componteador” after completing his prison term and that the Civil Guard had set up an appointment for the evening of June 30th, 1890 to meet him. Juan Eusebio was surrounded by a group of Jose Ferreria’s friends who took advantage of their greater numbers and tied him to a guásima tree leaving him at the mercy of his enemy, Ferreria. It went on to say that Juan Eusebio’s corpse was found by the wall of the cemetery with it’s belly cut open and had been partially burned. Around his neck was evidence that his body had been hung from the tree where it was found. At the foot of this tree, there was blood found as well as evidence of a struggle while Juan Eusebio was still alive. The blood came from Juan Eusebio’s castration and his genitals were found in the pockets of his pants. I should add here that my cousin Maddy’s family’s oral history also records that Juan Eusebio’s penis was found in his mouth.

Juan Eusebio’s assassination was now being reported, not only in Spain, but also in Puerto Rico. Although the Spanish colonial government did not hold the Spanish Civil Guard liable for the death of Juan Eusebio, everyone reading that article would. Moreover, they would also know how preposterous it was to say that he had committed suicide. And just like that, darkness gave way to light.

The Taino Factor: Was There More to Juan Eusebio’s Assassination?

In his book, The Myth of the Indigenous Caribbean Extinction,Tony Castanha interviewed the descendants of Puerto Ricans of majority Taino descent whose ancestors survived the El Componte Era in the mountains of Northwest Puerto Rico in 1890. It is very telling that he likewise mentions that the El Componte Era continued lasted until the Spanish were expelled from Puerto Rico in 1898. Castanha mentions that the atrocities committed during the El Componte Era were comparable to those committed at the beginning of the Spanish colonization of the island. He writes:

“Elder Lipio’s mother, who had lived during el componte , used to tell him about what happened. When the Spaniards and the government came, they would follow “los indios” around and kill the men and rape the women. They would also throw the babies in the air and have them fall on their swords. When the people would run away and hide in the woods, the Spaniards would then burn down the forest (Casthanha, p. 100).”
“He said the Spaniards would “throw the babies up” and stick them with their knives. They did this to make the “Boricuas” “respect them,” he added. Again, this happened at the moment, two years before he was born. The elder uttered that the Boricua were fed up with the uprisings and upheaval. Thus, the Spaniards brought el componte to them (Castanha, p.100).”

Castanha’s interviews really resonated with me. I wonder how much of the “overkill factor” surrounding Juan Eusebio’s assassination had to do with the fact that he was of Taino descent and challenged the existing power structure? Was the spectacular way his burned and mutilated body was left on display a warning to others that they better “respect” the Spanish Civil Guard or else they could end up like him? I really think so. As Castanha reiterates, indigenous resistance to Spanish colonialism lasted until the Spanish were expelled in 1898. Had he lived, I have no doubt that Juan Eusebio Bonilla would have continued his own form of resistance against Spanish colonialism, too.

 La Intentona de Yauco (1897)

La Intentona was the second —the first being El Grito de Lares–and last uprising against Spanish colonial rule. Gutierrez Velez sees the formation of the Autonomous Party in 1887, the death of Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo in 1890,  and La Intentona de Yauco in 1897 as one continuous event.

Three linked events (Gutierrez Velez, p. 43)
“The years 1887, 1890, and 1897 chronologically dissimilar dates, but their resonance and gravity had a great resemblance. Therefore when any of them is mentioned the others come to mind inevitably, completing the psychological impression of ideas, causes, and effects linking them (Gutierrez Velez, p. 43).”
He is also easily able to link these three events together because some of the the major players were the same. Antonio Mattei Lluberas, Dario Franceschi, Manuel Catala and other friends of Juan Eusebio were active participants in La Intentona. That it occurred in Susua Alta is also notable as is that fact that it was the first time the Puerto Rican flag was unfurled as the flag of Puerto Rico.

 In Memory of Juan Eusebio

The people of Yauco continued to remember the Juan Eusebio years after his death. They remembered him in both décimas and in poems because he was “un verdadero hombre, a un puertorriqueño neto y completo.” Below are some décimas about the death of Juan Eusebio that Gutierrez Velez recorded in his book as well as the poem  “Hymn For Yauco”  by the famous Yaucano poet Rafael Hernández Ramos that was published in Negroni’s Historia de Yauco.  I am particularly honored and humbled that Hernandez Ramos juxtaposed Juan Eusebio with Agüeybana, the Taino cacique who was in power when the Spanish arrived.  Both Gutierrez Velez and Hernandez Ramos provide testaments to the memory of my 2nd great-grandfather, Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo.

Décimas about the death of Juan Eusebio:

 

Decimas about the death of B0onilla (Gutierrez Velez, p.44
Decimas about the death of Bonilla (Gutierrez Velez, p.45)
Decima3
Decima about the death of Bonilla (Gutierrez Velez, p.47)

 

poem 1
Poem by Rafael Hernandez Ramos (Negroni, p. 277)

 

poem2
Poem by Rafael Hernandez Ramos (Negroni, p 278)

 To My Tatarabuelo-

It has been an honor to have discovered you almost 125 years after your vicious death. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you earned your wings to fly a long time ago. While it has been hard to learn the circumstances of your death, I take comfort in knowing that you continued to keep speaking truth to power — despite the cost. It is clear as day that you loved your people and your isla bonita.

As your descendant, your memory will now live on in me and your DNA still flows through me.  I call you name out loud and clear, not only because you give me strength, but also so that others will know who you are and what you stood for. Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo, you will never be forgotten. Espero honora su memoria.