Category Archives: Yauco

Decolonizing My Family Tree: Revisting Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo

This blogpost is dedicated to my father, Antonio Vega Noboa, who never knew much about his Taino ancestry or his Bonilla family and to my cousin Maddy and my Bonilla Quiles family who still live in Yauco. Our extended family has never left Yauco,  the land of The Taino. We continue to honor our Indigenous ancestor, Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo, who will always be our Puerto Rican Patriot.


Maddy and Me

This blogpost is a corrective update to my two prior blogposts on Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo (see Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo: Our Puerto Rican Patriot . 

The Bonilla Family of Yauco & Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo

When I first met Maddy in 2014,  she told me the oral history of her 2nd great-grandfather, Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo. She received an oral history passed down by her mother and relayed that to me during our first conversation. After a 10+ year search to find the maternal surname of my 2nd great-grandfather, I was overjoyed to have been linked with a 3rd cousin who had his maternal surname on her tree and who AncestryDNA linked as having the same 2nd great-grandfather. As a newbie to Puerto Rican genealogy and to genetic genealogy, I wrongly assumed that Maddy and I shared the same 2nd great-grandfather and that the info that our other Bonilla DNA cousins from Yauco had on their trees was correct. I added their info to my tree which stated that Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo’s father was Marcos Bonilla Bonilla who was born in Coamo, Puerto Rico. The link to Marcus Bonilla Bonilla was incorrect. Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo is no doubt part of our own Bonilla Family of Yauco, but has no direct link to the Bonilla Family of Coamo as of today.  As someone who teaches genealogy and basic genetic genealogy classes,  I have no problem admitting that I made a couple of common genealogy mistakes almost 5 years ago. What can I say? I am human. It is a lesson others can learn from when researching their own family trees. As it now stands, everything has been corrected on my family tree and has been shared with Maddy and her family. I have also removed the section of my first Juan Eusebio blogpost to delete all references to Coamo.

I want to make it clear that this blogpost only corrects my relationship status  to Juan Eusebio which is that of a cousin. He is not my 2nd great-grandfather, but he IS Maddy’s 2nd great-grandfather and we both have  indisputable genetic ties to him. DNA does not lie. #FactsMatter

This is the oral history that my cousin Maddy relayed to me back in 2014:

When I was a little girl my mom (Hilda Quiles Oliveras) told my siblings and me the story of our 2x grandfather’s legend, of his torture, and murder, and how the people from Yauco PR , who lived near the cemetery, could hear my mom’s great granddad moan “Ayudame (Help me).” Some people in town would also say that they saw a man hanging from a tree. That story would scared me. I was about 11 years old. As I grew older I asked my mom if the story was a tale that she would tell to scare us! My mom said “No, my great granddad was murdered, stabbed, and they cut his genitals and stuffed it in his mouth.

Before I started my family tree in 2001, I asked my mom about the story. I thought it was a story told to children on a Halloween night so I asked my mom again if the story she told us was true and she said, “Yes it really happened.  It was true!” I asked my mom for more details. My mom had a stroke in 1997  and it was difficult for her to speak, but her memory was intact and she was able to tell the story as it happened to her great grandfather back then.

My mom passed away in 2013. May she rest in peace. My curiosity as to what happened to my 2nd great grandfather became an obsession. I called my maternal aunt Lucy Quiles Amil in Yauco and she gave me more details of our abuelo. My aunt Lucy told me to Google La Leyenda de la Guasima!  I did a Google search and also found a reference on of the legend…

As someone who only had my paternal grandparents’ names on my family tree until 2013, when another DNA cousin, Luis Rivera,  fleshed out the paternal side of my tree (See On Discovering My Boricua Branches), finding my DNA cousins was a blessing. That I could find a 3rd cousin who lived close to me, and who was related to me on my Bonilla line, immediately bonded us. Maddy’s oral history rang true.  The story seemed like it would be something that people would pass down. It was unforgettable and haunting. The physical violence that our ancestor was subjected to was clearly a message aimed at silencing people in his community—many of whom were of Taino and African descent.

After speaking with Maddy and googling Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo’s name, I came across the book Asesinato Politico. The book, published 50 years earlier, was in the collection of the New York Public Library and I went there the very next day to read it. It confirmed our Bonilla Quiles oral history and added even more heartbreaking details. This book is the closest thing we have to a first person account as it was written by the son of his best friend.


A little over a year later after I wrote my first blogpost, I went to Puerto Rico and filmed an AncestryDNA commercial that was aimed at telling the story of DNA cousins who met via an AncestryDNA test. Before I went, I reached out to yet another Puerto Rican DNA cousin, Luis Ramos, a well-known Taino and Indigenous advocate in New York City and Puerto Rico, to advise me on how to perform a libation ceremony for our ancestor, Juan Eusebio Bonilla  Salcedo. I  performed the ceremony side by side with my Bonilla Quiles cousins and two other cousins, Ralph and Theresa Delgado-Tossas. We honored our Puerto Rican Patriot and let him know that we would keep saying his name and tell the world about him. That was and is our moral imperative as his descendants and kin.

Descendants and kin of Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo, 2016, Yauco, Puerto Rico

On Resurrecting Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo after 125 years…

The genealogy research I do is all about telling the stories of ancestors who have been erased from the historical record and from public memory. I do not only engage in “begat begat genealogy” where names are gathered on a tree which are divorced from historical context beyond a date. I “dig deep” to resurrect the lives of my ancestors and to tell their true stories within their own local historical context. When I read about Juan Eusebio’s torture and assassination, I cried and still do. While I was very familiar with the treatment of Indigenous people worldwide, it never occurred to me that this would have happened to someone related to me in the not too distant past. I still struggle with this horrific event.  Processing historic trauma is never easy. Self-care for genealogists is indeed a MUST.

We have a fundamental belief that there is no separation between our ancestors who transitioned before us and those of us who are still here on Earth. It seemed as though Juan Eusebio was begging us to  resurrect his life story, to tell the truth about who he was and what he stood for,  along with asking us to remind others of how the Taino people continued to resist centuries after colonization. Resurrecting Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo from the pages of Asesinato Politico , and from historic oblivion was our way, as descendants and kin, of paying homage to him. No one else can make that claim as we brought him back to life, figuratively speaking. #FactsMatter  #CiteBlackWomen #CitePuertoRicanWomen 

Ain’t Too Proud to Beg: Ellen Fernandez-Sacco to The Rescue

For this blogpost —- a first for me —- I asked my cousin-homie-friend, Ellen Fernandez-Sacco,  to help me understand why it has been so hard for me to locate my exact relationship to Juan Eusebio. I am no expert in Puerto Rican genealogy and never claimed to be. There are multiple layers of first-cousin and uncle-niece marriage in my Bonilla line over centuries with not just my direct Bonilla family line, but with all the associated families who married into it (e.g., The Vega, Rodriguez, Figueroa, and Velez families). Because of this, I reached out to Ellen for some clarity and for her to elucidate some of the issues I have to deal with that have impacted my ability to pinpoint how I am related to Juan Eusebio. What is important to remember is that Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo’s surnames are those that pop up on my tree AND with my DNA cousins over and over again. In addition, there are numerous Bonilla families in Susua Alta, and surrounding barrios and Sabana Grande, that are clearly collateral relatives of my ancestors. The Bonillas of Yauco include the following surnames: Bonilla Bonilla, Bonilla Figueroa, Bonilla Limardo, Bonilla Lopez, Bonilla Martinez, Bonilla Morales, Bonilla Quiles, Bonilla Rivera, Bonilla Rodriguez, Bonilla Salcedo, Bonilla Sanchez, Bonilla Torres, Bonilla Vega, Bonilla Velez, and Bonilla Zambrana. Please note that future blogposts will be forthcoming that will show the interrelatedness of all these Yauco Bonilla families.

Ellen has gifted me with her knowledge of Puerto Rican genealogy and Puerto Rico in general. Her own work dovetails with mine. We are both concerned with researching ancestral family histories’ that have been suppressed, silenced, and/or erased and the issue of how resistance is manifested by those who may be considered to be powerless. As women genealogists of color, we are also  conscious of how our own  identities have emerged as a result of our ancestors being survivors of the triple horrors of genocide, colonization, and slavery. Though both of us descend from European colonizers, slaveholders, and immigrants, we have chosen to focus more on our African and Indigenous ancestors, the ones whose histories remain largely unknown. That being said, Ellen truly has a unique voice of her own that incorporates on many levels the consciousness of diverse groups of people considered to be “forgotten by history.”

Dr. Ellen Fernandez-Sacco

Ellen has almost 20 years of genealogy research experience behind her. She has her own blog, Latino Genealogy and Beyond. She has also published articles on Puerto Rican genealogy in Hereditas, journal of the Sociedad Puertorriquena de Genealogia, and this year, has a two part article in the California Genealogical Society’s The Nugget, first published in The Baobab Tree: Journal of the  African American Genealogical Society of Northern California (AAGSNC); previously on the California Genealogical Society blog. She has a book chapter on the history of Mundillo in the collection Women and Needlework, thanks to a Senior Latino Smithsonian Fellowship. Her articles can also be found on Ellen is one of the panelists, along with myself, on BlackProGen LIVE, a YouTube genealogy channel dedicated to teaching others how to research their ancestors throughout the African Diaspora. Moreover, Ellen has served as  Past President, President, Vice President, and Board Member of the California Genealogical Society , is the founder and co-moderator of Sociedad Ancestros Mocanos on Yahoo! Groups and Facebook since June 2005, is an enrolled member of the United Confederation of Taino People, and belongs to the Yukayeke Guayniana. Finally, she is a graduate of ProGen 16 and ProGen Law (beta).

In her analysis of  The Bonilla Family of Yauco, Ellen will discuss the various issues inherent in Puerto Rican genealogy among which include the issues of who is included and excluded in historical records, women & war, the classification of the Taino people within the  “Pardo libre” racial/ethnic category,  levels of endogamy in small, rural communities, the political economic context of Yauco in the 18th and 19th century, and other topics as well. Ellen also has a way of succinctly pointing out the things that make Puerto Rican and African and Indigenous genealogy research difficult.  I am happy that she embraced the task at hand 1000% as you will see. 

So, thank you, prima Ellen, for being you and for showing a keen interest in documenting the lives of my Bonilla Family of Yauco, and especially, of our own Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo!


A Bonilla Family Tree: Context, Resistance & Reading Indigeneity

Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, Ph.D.

Simply searching for that linear connection to conquistadors or mainstream historical figures can sideline aspects of research.

If that’s the case, there’s so much you’re missing.  As a result of not looking, a lot gets left on the table. Why is genealogy and family history so important? Taken on a personal level, genealogy and historical study enables one to open that identification up, learn about the erasure of people from history, how privilege works and the importance of context. There is something to be said for the weight of context in doing this research.  I want to thank my prima Teresa Vega for the invitation to delve into the Boricua branches of her family history.

Yauco: Whose history?

Historical narratives of Yauco’s steady population growth often focus on the arrival of Europeans over time, largely from France, Italy and Corsica. While their material contribution is not to be denied, this lineage can cast a long shadow over different histories contained within the documentary record.  If one turns their attention to the legal disenfranchisement of Taino and African descendants whose labor they culled, another trajectory of development becomes visible.

Depending on which region of Boriken,  people were undercounted if counted at all, and over time, many escaped the pages of census or parish records creating their own means of privacy as protection. For instance, eighteenth century censuses were not comprehensive and covered only part of the population, leaving the mountainous regions where Native people lived without being subjected to the processes of colonization. The pressures were still there as towns expanded, but if you’ve ever taken the Ruta Panoramica across central Puerto Rico, there are plenty of places that people sought refuge across time.

Indigenous women survived in large numbers, absorbing the men into a culture shaped by matrilineal relationships. [1] The economic repercussions of a shift out of a military structure to the development of plantation economies and its ensuing monocultures of sugar, coffee and tobacco, also shifted the fortunes and conditions of various families.

While the law advertised the power of church and government as total, it was anything but. Higher ground had its advantages.

Barrio Susua Alta y Bajo lies outside of barrio pueblo in Yauco, alongside of Almacigo, and between the two, most family members are based in either of these barrios. As the borders of Sabana Grande (founded in 1817) lies so close, one can see an overlap in the number of families there in the early nineteenth century, possibly the same individuals that are in Susua Alta.

Barrio Susua, Yauco, in red. Google Maps, 2019. Note the elevation and location of the Barrio Pueblo that borders the end of Susua.

Further west and south is San German, the oldest point of European settlement on the western side of the island. Older histories tell the story of Spanish conquistadors encounters with Natives that conveniently soon die off. I’ll come back to this ‘paper genocide’ shortly.

The Reverberation of DNA Evidence: An ethnically diverse society

Some history books stutter over the reality that Arawakan and Carib peoples remained across a region known as ‘El Capital Taino’ The Taino Capital’. This is part of an areas comprised of ancestors with traditions, an identity hidden in plain sight since colonization began. In 2000, Dr. Martinez Cruzado found that 61% of the people he  tested had an Indigenous maternal haplogroup, a reflection of an older, deeper history of genocide. Many Taino males were murdered or sold into slavery, while women had consensual or coercive relationships with the Spanish who arrived on the island.

Map from Martinez-Cruzado, “Mitochondrial DNA Analysis in Puerto Rico”



Beneath Spanish surnames are present Indigenous people, many reduced to the disenfranchising status of a color.  A color simply denies political status, it is reductive and useful in a system that pits capital against the flesh in an endless attempt to conquer or humiliate an individual.[2] Where did the survivors go? The mountains. These are the regions least known and mapped until the military maps of the late 1880s.

War & Women

,What also needs to come to the table is the treatment of women of color within a system of encomiendas and later slavery. Many remained in a service economy post-slavery. While mapping this may be too theoretical for some,  but in Antonia I Castaneda “Sexual Violence in the Politics of Conquest”, she writes, “Under conditions of war or conquest, rape is a form of natural terrorism, subjugation and humiliation, wherein the sexual violation of women represents both the physical domination of women and the symbolic castration of the men of the conquered group.” As women become the symbolic capital of men, rape becomes a “legitimate form of expression of superiority that comes with it no civil penalties” This is a property inheritance system whereby the ownership of property gives legitimacy and can be inherited. It’s backed up by sociopolitical reasons: religion, conquest, slavery, race, class. [3] This process continues into the present.

So we do need to weigh the idea of patriarchal concepts that are at work, embedded in narratives about the past, even those presented in documents. Who do we see in the records?[ How are women described? How are households comprised? What does mtDNA tell us about the past?] Thus, when we read for context, these elements can factor in different proportions depending upon time period or the person or institution presenting the information. The hunter does not tell the lion’s story.

So we do need to weigh the idea of patriarchal concepts that are at work, embedded in narratives about the past, even those presented in documents. Who do we see in the records? How are women described or what is the mtDNA informing us about the past?  Thus, when we read for context, these elements can factor in different proportions depending upon time period or the person or institution presenting the information. The hunter does not tell the lion’s story.

“Pardos libres”

There is often surprise at the realization that pardo literally means brown. The point of color is to compress and deny the complexity of identity, and thereby deny claims to sovereignty or political status. ‘Indio’’Jibaro’ are terms that acknowledge the indigenous presence yet, paper genocide renames them to a generic population. In 1808, Governor Toribio Montes instituted the census category eliminated ‘Indio’ and substituted ‘Pardo’ instead.

The census category of Indios, as Castanha points out, came at the expense of a Puerto Rican national consciousness.[4] The racial identification of Bonillas over time range from mestizo, pardo, mulato, blanco, terms that speak more to power than ancestry, and via the legal process of blanqueamiento literally shifts to white by purchase in the early nineteenth century. Yes, you could buy your white status and that was very handy for marriages into families of higher social status.

By the twentieth century, the categories reflect admixture and many in the census are listed as blancos. A similar process occurs in the US, where the context of admixed populations occupies different terminology depending on location, space, time period.

In 1776, the census by Fray Inigo Abbad included Blancos, sus Mujeres, Hijos, HIjas; Pardos libres; Negros, sus mujeres.

Nearly a century later, the numbers of POC in Puerto Rico are much higher than Cuba; note that the number of Indigenous, Afro-Indigenous and African people is almost equal to that

of those deemed white in this caste system in Puerto Rico.

Tracing Male Bonillas in the Early Nineteenth Century

The 1817 Lista de Milicias Urbanas has several Bonillas listed— 56 of them in fact. The spreadsheet created by Walter Cardona Bonet and others for the SPG from the original census in the Archivo General de Puerto Rico. Their document, (available with membership!)  has an alphabetical index. Yauco is not part of the areas transcribed, however, there is the adjacent municipality of Sabana Grande.

43 listed had an identity listed: 24- Pardos, 19 Blancos, with a distribution of Bonillas as follows.  The majority of militia in Sabana Grande and Coamo in 1817 were Pardos. The years of birth for these men ranged between 1757 to 1792, as service was from ages 25 to 60.

10 Coamo – 8 Pardo; 2 Blanco

8 Anasco – not identified

8 Sabana Grande – 8 Pardo

8 Humacao – 8 Blanco

5 Rincon – not identified

4 Guaynabo-  4 Pardo

3 Gurabo – 3 Blanco

3 Juana Diaz – 3 Pardo

2 Caguas – 2 Blanco

1 Aguada – 1 Pardo

1 Hato Grande – 1 Blanco

1 Las Piedras – not identified

1 Maunabo – Blanco

1 Toa Alta –  – not identified

Clearly there is more going on than meets the eye in terms of potential identification and categories for these Bonilla men across the island. I’ve written briefly about why some people in past decades put a halt to their genealogical research– upon discovering that their ancestor wasn’t the European one, but the black or mulatto or mestizo person of the same name; of segregated parish books disappearing, of pages surreptitiously ripped out in fear of being discovered one had pardo, Indian, black or slave ancestry listed on their documents.  Things are changing, and people are owning their past.[5]  That is less likely to happen now.  Given the numbers above, we are looking at a lot of blended people, mostly identified as Indigenous or Afro-Indigenous with the surname Bonilla.

Market Day in Yauco

Yauco was one of Puerto Rico’s sugar exporting towns.

Violence and Family Histories

Through Black ProGen LIVE, we have worked on genealogies whose trees have been scarred by racial terror, the threat of erasure, lynching and attempts to disenfranchise different groups of POC, allies and others. As I came to learn, Puerto Rico is no different. I came to the story of Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo through my cousin, Teresa Vega almost five years ago, when she shared the publication Asesinato Politico. [6] Clearly Juan Eusebio Bonilla became a symbol of the movement the Spanish colonial government sought to crush.



To have a family member, an ancestor lynched requires time to absorb and to literally sit with the implications of a violence perpetrated by institutions that one expects help rather than harm.  The historical time period during which Juan Eusebio Salcedo lived came during a shift back to the monarchy in Spain, with two revolts, Grito de Lares in Puerto Rico and Grito de Yara in Cuba. There was a deterioration in living conditions reflected in increasing levels of mortality— for the general population and the birth rate.  There was a long process of gradual emancipation, in which people were sold up to the last moment possible in 1873, and the formerly enslaved were required to work three years for their former masters in exchange for freedom. [7] This was a population of color that could be found in every municipality, but in varying numbers.

The Path to Decolonizing Family Histories

Yauco had a series of uprisings since the fifteenth century. A map of rebellions by Hector Andres Negroni from his Historia Miitar de Puerto Rico shows clusters of related events occurred during the nineteenth century.  The late 1880s saw the both the establishment of the Partido Autonomista (Autonomist Party) and the arrival in March of General Romulado Palacio Gonzalez. A conservative aligned with the colonial center in Madrid, “identified, persecuted, pushiness, tortured and jailed dozens of autonomists,” [8]

1887 was known as “The Year of Terror” The General was removed from office by that November and returned to Spain.  “El Componte” imprinted many oral histories before the Spanish American War of 1898.


Map of Rebellions in PR showing extent of repression of El Componte and resistance to it in the central areas of the island and in Yauco. “Mapa de las rebellions.” Hector Andres Negroni, Historia Miliar de Puerto Rico


Jose Eusebio Salcedo’s Parents

Excerpt, Acta de Defunción, Jose Bonilla y Salcedo, 25 Oct 1885,

The death record for Juan Eusebio Salcedo’s brother, Jose Bonilla Salcedo holds a very different history in the description of his parents. “Era hijo legitimo de Marcos Bonllla y de  Rita Salcedo, naturales y domiciliados que fueron de este pueblo, labradores, difuntos.”   Jose Bonilla Salcedo died of anemia at the age of 33; Probably born in the 1820s, the birth of Jose was preceded by at least three others before 1852. Most outlived them.  Their parents, Marcos Bonilla Torres and Rita Salcedo Sanchez are described as agricultural laborers, which isn’t the same as agricultor proprietarios -agricultural  landowners as with theuan other Bonilla line.

Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo was a business owner, a comerciante, who dealt in coffee. He unlike many Bonillas was literate and able to sign his name. His resistance to processes of colonization has its basis in a longer suppressed history of Indigenous existence on the island.


Working Documents: Marcos & Hermenegilda

There’s a fundamental difference in practice among some family historians. There’s a bit of shoehorning happening with a certain Marcos Bonilla who appears in some trees tied to the Bonillas of Yauco. As a result, it doesn’t take much to disprove the presence of Marcos Bonilla in Coamo who a few assumed was the same Marcos Bonilla Torres of Yauco.

According to the 1888 death certificate, a 50 year old Marcos Bonilla in Coamo died of a wasting disease (caxequia paludica). Francisco Matos, a neighbor, reported Marcos’ vital details.  The secretary notes of Francisco ’sin segundo apellido’, an indicator of potential illegitimacy or class; its often found with POC as there are more single female heads of household. Born about 1838, the record states that Marcos was “hijo ilegitimo de Paula Bonilla natural de esta Villa, ya difunta”— the illegitimate son of Paula Bonilla, born in Coamo, deceased.” Next.

Hermenegilda Limardo Cintron

This Acta de Defunción for Hermenegildo Limardo Cintron is a hot mess. If someone did not already work other areas of the tree from the twentieth back to the early nineteenth century, a special surprise awaits.

Fortunately, I located the baptisms of several of her children, and was able to see who was listed as the father of the children along with her parents, all documents that predate this one by nearly two decades. There are no records listing these children as those of Juan Antonio or Juan Velez; neither are there two marriages with Hermenegilda Limardo Cintron.

This is the information given in the certificate above:

Dionicio Lopez Lugo natural y domicilado, casado, labrador, mayor de edad

primeras nupcias Juan Antonio Velez Agricultor proprietario

7 hijos, Juan, Damaso, Maria, Juana, Evaristo,

2ndas nupcias: Juan Velez, Agricultor proprietario, un hijo,  Juan

The declarante, Dionisio Lopez Lugo (1837-1892) was in his early 50s at the time, and died where he lived, in the adjoining barrio of Almacigo Bajo. He was married to Maria Bonilla, who remains to be identified at this time. Clearly he’s got some relationship to the Bonillas, but, does he have an agenda? As a legal document this is very problematic. Today, if someone tries to build a tree with this document, they will soon be nowhere.

I’ll address the baptismal information in the next section.  I’d like to give a shout out to Anaisa Bayala, for her index to the Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Rosario, Yauco on FamilySearch. Without the links, this is next to impossible to locate.

Close & Closer Still: Endogamy, Big Time. 

Looking at most of the family connections in Yauco lead back to several clusters of Bonillas there that have varying degrees of consanguinity and admixture. Given several close dispensations, and having outlined several trees based on series of civil and parish records, it quickly becomes evident several strategies are at work to keep networks of property and family in the same hands. There can be a high cost, as the records show.

For us today, the problem is a bit different when trying to determine relationships on the basis of DNA.   One hilarious example is using MyHeritage’s system of AutoClustering that intends to group ancestry on the basis of dna. Ideally a set of rectangles isolating each grouping cascades diagonally across the page. When I took the test, the result was distributed into a practically solid pink surface, a visual suggestion of the layers of endogamy embedded in my ancestry; Teresa’s was the same.  Here too, AutoClustering is of no help.

A Second Degree of Consanguinity: Why it matters

What tracing the Bonilla line provided was a similar experience of endogamy first hand, which I will demonstrate. There are several dispensations early on, which begin to collapse the Bonilla tree. Two of the marriages are extremely close, a segundo grado de consanguinidad (second degree of consanguinity). These layered relationships begin early, very early.

As I said earlier these are tools of economic survival, justified by the church and extension, the community.  This isn’t about avoiding color, its about cementing relationships during times of intensive material and social change.

There are also connections across both across two main clusters of Bonillas that I have determined occurring over two centuries. I’ve annotated two charts to make the relationships visible.

First, here is a partial translation of the 1875 petition for dispensation requested by Juan Ramon Bonilla Limardo and Josefa Bonilla Figueroa for a second degree of consanguinity:

In the town of Our Lady of the Rosary of Yauco Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Yauco on the 10 of August 1875, I the undersigned parish priest having explored their intention in respect to contrasting marriage between Juan Ramon Bonilla, legal son of Juan Ramon and Ermenegilda Bonilla, and of Josefa Bonilla legal daughter of Vicente and of Cecilia Figueroa, dispensation granted by the His Grace, the Bishop of this Diocesis Don Juan tu.P Puig, for the canonical impediment of second degree of consanguinity on equal transverse lines, examined by Christian doctrine and conceded the three canonical banns anticipated in the Council of Trent

Second degree here was the marriage of two first cousins, and basically Juan Ramon Bonilla and Vicente Bonilla Sanchez were brothers and their children married each other. While this level of endogamy is not seen today, there are a few among nineteenth century dispensations. Uncle – Niece marriage also happened and falls under second degree. That these children had the same grandparents and the same set of aunts and uncles, is what endogamy and pedigree collapse refers to.


Descendants of Pedro Bonilla + Bernabela Sanchez – Teresa’s 4th great-grandparents as she is a descendant of Juana Florentina Bonilla Bonilla: Note the relationships. ©2019 Ellen Fernandez-Sacco


Descendants of Joaquin Bonilla + Carmen Rodriguez: Another set of Segundo grado. Mostly likely ancestors of Teresa. ©2019 Ellen Fernandez-Sacco

Juan Eusebio Bonilla Sanchez: Tying the Trees Together

Further research to continue but looking at the clusters of family, there will be more endogamy to connect the Bonillas together across time.  The goal here is to bring visibility to POC within the local history, and the costs of that identification during a moment of political repression 125 years ago. This holds meaning for us as Taino today.


Ultimately, people will grapple with this situation, and see the need for deeper historical  context paired with documentation and DNA results. Taken all together: “Finally, we show that the Native American components in some present-day Caribbean genomes are closely related to the ancient Taino, demonstrating an element of continuity between precontact populations and present-day Latino populations in the Caribbean.”[9]

The Bonillas of Yauco are also part of this larger historical context. Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo’s revitalization is  important as is remembering his death and understanding our origins.


[1] Tony Castanha, The Myth of Indigenous Caribbean Extinction: Continuity and Reclamation in Boriken (Puerto Rico). Palgrave MacMillan, 2011.

[2] Castanha,

[3]  Antonia I Castaneda “Sexual Violence in the Politics of Conquest: Amerindian Women and the Conquest of Alta California. ” Building with Our Hands: New Directions in Chicana Studies. Anita de la Torre & Beatriz M. Pesquera. Berkeley UC Press, 1993, 15-33; 26.

[4] Castanha, 90. “In other words, the creation of a Puerto Rican awareness came at the expense of the Indian or Jibaro. This form of ethnocide negated or instantly wiped out the Indian presence from the record books, and since the category of “pardos libres’, which we now know pertains to Indigenous people, has not been interpreted this way in history, the job was complete. As with indigenous groups historically, this negation assumes a national consciousness to be superior to, and thus takes precedence over all things indigenous, particularly one’s identity…” Also see Loida Figueroa Mercado’s observations: “Note: Please note that there was a majority of non-whites. In 1771, 38,259 comparted to 31,951, and in 1778 56,295 compated to 46,756. Please note, moreover, that crossbreeds are not specified (native with White) or other mixtures, under the term free coloured peoples. If we compare this census with O’Reilly’s made in 1765 we see an increase in the number of slaves from 7,592 in 1771 and 11,560 in 1778, compared to 5,037 slaves in 1765.

If we take all this data into account it is evident that the time has come to throw overboard the fallacy of the extermination of the native population. Of course there were grounds for the creation of this fallacy and for the subsequent transmission to future generations, as the documents of the first half of the century repeat that the “native Indians” had been eliminated.” [emphasis added]

[5] Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, Speaking to the Historical Present.Dealing with Genealogy.

[6] E Guiterrez Velez, Asesinato Politico. 1965

[7] Fernando Pico, History of Puerto Rico, Princeton: Marcus Weiner Publishers, 2006, 199-202. Also key is Pico’s observation on p 198

Racial divisions have a serious effect on the development of national identities. This is a problem Puerto Rico shares with the rest of Spanish America, where there have been similar examples of prejudice against the indigenous peoples. But the desperate attempt to gain the approval of the leading cultural institutions in the metropolis led many Puerto Ricans to turn back on their Caribbean reality, to assume exaggerated Hispanophile poses. For a long time our culture defined itself as Spanish.”

[8] Jose Mari Mut, “El componte y la puerta” Foto e historia. Ediciones Digitales

Palacios ordered the manufacture of the windows and doors of the church in Santa Isabel, which are still there today. ; also see Romulado Palacio Gonzalez, Wikipedia,

[9] Hannes Schroeder, Martin Sikora, Shyam Gopalakrishnan, Lara M. Cassidy, Pierpaolo Maisano Delser, Marcela Sandoval Velasco, Joshua G. Schraiber, Simon Rasmussen, Julian R. Homburger, María C. Ávila-Arcos, Morten E. Allentoft, J. Víctor Moreno-Mayar, Gabriel Renaud, Alberto Gómez-Carballa, Jason E. Laffoon, Rachel J. A. Hopkins, Thomas F. G. Higham, Robert S. Carr, William C. Schaffer, Jane S. Day, Menno Hoogland, Antonio Salas, Carlos D. Bustamante, Rasmus Nielsen, Daniel G. Bradley, Corinne L. Hofman, and Eske Willerslev, “Origins and genetic legacies of the Caribbean Taino.” PNAS March 6, 2018 115 (10) 2341-2346; first published February 20, 2018

Hector Andres Negroni, Historia de Yauco. Gob. Municipal de Yauco, 2006.

Hector Andres Negroni, Historia Militar de Puerto Rico: En conmemoración de dos mundos. San Juan, P.R. : Comisión Puertorriqueña para la Celebración del Quinto Centenario del Descubrimiento de América y Puerto Rico 1992. 

Loida Figueroa Mercado, History of Puerto Rico: From the Beginning to 1892.

Guillermo A. Baralt, Yauco: Notas Para Su Historia. San Juan, 1986.

Luis R. Negron Hernandez, Sabana Grande:  Notas Para Su Historia. San Juan,1986.


Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo: Our Puerto Rican Patriot

[Please note the updates to this blogpost found here.]

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.

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)
Decima about the death of Bonilla (Gutierrez Velez, p.47)


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


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.