TAMPA — When he was a child growing up in Tampa, Andres Andrade’s grandmother told him exciting tales of his ancestors. They knew famed Cuban freedom fighter Jose Marti and were instrumental in a clandestine mission to start the Cuban War of Independence, which successfully drove colonialist Spain from the island nation in the 1890s.
“But I just kind of filed it all away,” said Andrade, who now lives in New York.
Over the last two years, Andrade traced his ancestry and discovered a famous photograph of Marti with dozens of supporters outside an Ybor City cigar factory. It’s the only picture of Marti in Tampa and, today, most of the men and boys in it are nameless. But Andrade has identified three as family, including a great-grandfather, and possibly a fourth.
“Hearing the stories was one thing,” Andrade said. “Seeing it was different. I was filled with pride.”
Marti is considered the George Washington of Cuba for his role in inspiring the nation’s residents to revolt against Spain.
A poet, he wrote and disseminated well-read essays about Cuba’s need for independence.
In the 1890s, he took his movement to U.S. cities with large Cuban American populations. Through public speeches, he asked that they financially support the effort and recruited soldiers. Historians estimate his efforts included some 20 such trips to Ybor City, where Cuban immigrants had settled and formed a cigar industry.
“My grandmother told me that my family was among the revolutionaries,” Andrade said. His ancestors immigrated from Cuba to Key West, where “they joined the movement probably as early as the 1870s” and later moved to Tampa.
Marti’s most famous Tampa speech occurred in July 1892, according to James Lopez, director of the University of Tampa’s Center for Jose Marti Studies, which examines Tampa and Florida’s role in the Cuban War of Independence.
More than 100 gathered outside the Vicente Martinez Ybor Cigar Factory at 1300 E Eighth Ave., today owned by the Church of Scientology. Newspaper archives report that those in attendance shouted “Cuba Libre” throughout the speech and then carried Marti’s message to thousands of cigar workers who vowed to donate one day’s pay to the cause.
Following the speech, Marti posed for a photograph on the factory steps with dozens of men and boys.
Marti is in the middle, with the white shirt and mustache.
Gerald Poyo, a history professor at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, says his great-great-grandfather Jose D. Poyo, a leader of the Key West revolutionary community, is the man standing to Marti’s left. A tall man to Poyo’s left and staring at Marti is Serafin Sanchez, also of Key West and who later served as a major general during the war.
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News archives report that Esteban Candan, Eligio Carbonell and Pedro Garcia of Tampa and José Aguirre of Cuba are in the picture, but do not identify where they are standing.
Candan was head of the Patriot Instruction League, which was a night school for Cubans. Carbonell’s father, Nestor Leondo Carbonell, was among those responsible for arranging Marti’s visits to Tampa. Garcia, a child at the time, was later a Tampa cigar-maker. Aguirre also served as a major general in the war.
“The story within the story is fabulous,” Tampa historian Gary Mormino said. “What a group think tank.”
Until now, those were the only identified supporters.
In 2020, Andrade discovered a family photo from 1908 that includes his great-great-uncle Sixto Martinez. Also pictured is Sixto Martinez’s father-in-law, Rafael Fernandez-O’Halloran.
“Then, while I was perusing this well-circulated photo of Jose Marti, I noticed something,” Andrade said, “Sixto and Rafael. They are younger in that picture, but it’s them.”
He had the image blown up and next noticed his grandfather, Francisco Andrade, in the photo, too.
He thinks a fourth man might be his great-great-uncle Tranquilino Martinez, who later served as West Tampa’s city marshal.
“I can’t be certain because I have seen no pictures of young Tranquilino,” Andrade said. “But he bears a striking resemblance to Sixto.”
He shared the photos with other family members, who agreed with his assessment, Andrade said. One cousin recalled hearing that Francisco Andrade was at that speech.
Fernandez-O’Halloran, who owned a West Tampa cigar factory, is the most prominent of the four.
From New York in February 1895, Marti wrote the order to begin the war and sent it to Tampa. Fernandez-O’Halloran then rolled five cigars, one of which contained the order.
Those cigars were smuggled into Cuba, made it through a search by Spanish authorities, and were delivered to the revolutionary army.
In December 1898, Cuba declared victory.
“It’s a fascinating story,” Andrade said. “And my family is a part of it.”