Tampa, Cuba & Josè Martì


























































































































..In 1539, Hernado de Soto set sail from the island of Cuba, destined for Tampa Bay and the area was discover. By the 1820's Cuban fishing “ranchos” dotted the Gulf Coast of Florida, including one at the mouth of Spanish-town Creek, located in present-day Hyde Park. In the 1850's Tampa 's Capt. James Mc Kay inaugurated a profitable cattle trade between Florida and Cuba, where Tampa 's Lykes family owned ranches, shipping lines and packing houses.

In 1886, Ybor City was born, the product of Spanish owners and Cuban tobacco. Thousands of Cuban immigrants followed. At the time in September 1885, in the small township of Tampa there were a little over 2,000 residents. And was then when Vicente Martinez Ybor purchased a total of seventy acres from Mr. John T. Lesley, and begun the construction of “ Cigar City ” to be designed by no other than Gavino Gutierrez.

By 1888, the tobacco industry of Tampa announced that more than one hundred millions hand made cigars had been produced and shipped from the city to the markets in the north.

Ybor City under construction in 1886

Suddenly, after years of trying, Tampa, thanks to the cigar industry, was a real city. The rustic town from years before was one with big changes. There was artesian water and fire hydrants, streets paved with shell and crushed stone, even electric lights. Cigar money kept generating more money of all kinds as additional railroads opened lines into the Tampa area for their share of the lucrative business.

Franklin Street as it looked in 1886



"It was the cigar industry, coming to this city in 1886, that was the incentive for a slow but steady growth of the little village of Tampa. Due to its proximity to the tobacco fields of Cuba, and always available supply of cigar makers in Havana and Key West, are two reasons why Tampa become a large clear Havana cigar manufacturing center." Tobacco Leaf 1889

Photo: Franklin Street, Tampa's main thoroughfare, as looked in 1886, when Ybor City was founded.

Is in 1891,when Josè Martì visited Tampa, where he Organized the Cuban Revolutionary Party, Cubans organized 41 patriotic clubs to further the Cuban revolution. Ybor City as a community was not quite six years old when Marti came here, but those cigar makers were not born yesterday. They were already well organized and they had not only their native intelligence and experience of life with which to judge a speech of Marti's; they had also the experience of listening to their “Lector” in the cigar factories each working day.

Cubans cigar makers helped finance the “apostle” dream by supporting the Cuban War of Independence (1895-1898). Indeed, “the orders for the general uprising” were folded inside a cigar hand made by Blas O'Halloran at the O'Halloran Cigar Factory, located in West Tampa , (where today's the West Tampa Library stands). It was smuggled in to Havana and presented to Gen. Juan Gomez, leader of the insurgents. This attempted of revolution on January 1895 fail, but not the dream.For good reason, a Spanish general cursed Tampa as the “very heart of the conspiracy”.

How was Josè Martì ?

Josè Juliàn Martì Pèrez (January 28, 1853 – May 19, 1895) was a leader of the Cuban independence movement as well as an esteemed poet and writer. He is considered the Cuban people's greatest hero.


Josè Martì (top center) during one of his visits in 1893

On November 26, 1891, after his arrival Martì and breakfast, with some revolutionary local leaders, he departed to visit the factories of Vicente Martìnez Ybor and Manrara; Marti and his group went up the iron stairway that led to the entrance of the cigar factory. Was then when the famous historical photograph with Marti and the cigar makers was taken. Minutes later Marti was introduced from the "Lector" stand to the workers. The cigar makers rising from their stools, greeter the visitor with a noisy and prolonged banging of the blades use to cut the tobacco leafs (chavetas) on their work tables. By then he realized that he can have their support, and no one could doubt that the revolution was at hand. After this one, several others visits to Tampa were made. From Tampa he left to New York.


In words and deeds, Ybor City had a reputation as a center for labor militancy, hand made cigars and lost causes, but also the hot bed of the revolution. Was then in 1893, that Spanish agents created a plan to kill Marti by poison; the plan fail and Marti survived. He resided in the cigar makers home of Ruperto and Paulina Pedroso located at 13th Street and 8th Ave. He met them first in Key West and then again in Ybor City, for they were active in the independence movements in both places. Were he was nursed back to health and protected for a few months.

On April 11, 1895, Martí landed in Cuba with a force of rebel exiles, including the rebel Generalísimo Máximo Gómez y Báez. José Martí was killed in battlewith Spanish troops at the Battle of Dos Ríos on May 19, 1895. He is buried in Cementerio Santa Efigenia in Santiago de Cuba.


Pedroso home at 13th Street & 8th Avenue in Ybor City, ca. 1940's


"This city contains by far the largest settlement of Cubans of any city in the United States, and more money has been sent from Tampa by the Cubans residents to assits in carry on the warfare, than any other city". (Tampa Morning Tribune, March 24, 1898.

-Hostilities ceased on August 14, 1898, and the war came to end... Spain will relinquish all claims of sovereignty over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, Philippines and Hawaii. The Cubans of Tampa were pleased at the"end of the war". At the same this transformed the meaning of exile. The emigre community, so long occupied with the cause of independence, faced an uncertain future. The era of self-imposed exile had come to an end. Yet the opportunity to return to Cuba opened painful choices. Many had come to look upon Tampa as home, the birthplace of their children's and the place where they owned homes. Also the was affected the cigar manufacturers and for then our economy. The old style cigar manufacturer, usually Spanish or Cuban, is about to be eclipsed by the northern corporations and tobacco conglomerates merges.

-In the early 1950's, Havana businessman Manuel Quevedo purchased the historic Pedroso home in Ybor City. It was not ordinary house, for the Cuban community was a very special place.

-The Cuban government took possession of the decrepit wooden building. Though Batista personally donated thousands of dollars to save it, Tampa authorities condemned it and later was demolished.The site were the house was located is now “ Jose Marti Park ”, and theoretically owned by the Republic of Cuba.

Over 60 years later in November 26,1955 a young Cuban revolutionary named, Fidel Castro made a speech to a group (26th of July Club) in the CIO Hall (1226 7th Avenue) against the regime of Fulgencio Batista.

"Fidel Castro, young Cuban revolutionary, yesterday promised an Ybor City audience to fight to death, to free his country from what he called the dictatorship of President Fulgencio Batista... Castro praised Tampa and Tampans. "The Republic of Cuba is the daughter of the cigar makers of Tampa, 'he declared. As for his revolution, he said he could not disclose his plan, and he quoted Josè Martì, the apostle of Cuba: "The results are public, but the methods are secret." (Tampa Morning Tribune - Nov. 28, 1955)

Years later, Fidel Castro would create not only international havoc, but fundamentally alter the course of Cuban history and Tampa-Cuba relations.

Note: Then on December 17, 2014, the United States and Cuba started negociations to eventualy open diplomatic relations and embassys on both countries. By now 2015 that happened, still working in eventually remove the economic embargo. (After September 20, 2015, both countries open their embassies).

...As we can see, history has link the city, the country and the man...for over one hundred years...

Fidel Castro in the Ybor City's Italian Club - Nov. 27, 1955



Reference: "Tampa Cigar Workers" - Robert P. Ingalls & Louis A. Pèrez, Jr. - Tampa Tribune Archives - "Cuidad de Cigars" - Armando Mendez - USF Historical Archives - Tobacco Leaf Journal - Florida State Archives - "Once Upon a Time in Tampa" - W. Reyes, Ph.D. - 2014



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11 - 07 - 2015