Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Spanish Dons of La Trinidad


The house was not very large as estate houses go, neither was it very old. It sat in the contented manner that bungalows do on a quarter of an acre of slightly rolling lawn, surrounded by a startling display of tropical blooms whose names I never learned, but whose vivid, indeed spectacular show I surely will always remember.
She said she was having a lazy morning, her basket filled to overflowing with enormous anthuriums. This told me that she had been working in her anthurium garden. "Come," she said, and I followed. Sitting in the long gallery, sipping lime squash, I had to admire Paulina Sorzano. Well into her late 70s, she possessed a lively mind, witty and very clear. She was also quite lovely and womanly, very feminine, stylish in an old-fashioned, "grande dame" sort of way. She being my father's first cousin, I called her Aunty Polly. I was there to get information on the Sorzanos. This is what she told me:
The Sorzano family has had a long connection with Trinidad for about 220-odd years, the earliest holding of the post of Contador de Real Exercito in the administration of Governor Don José Chacon. After the surrender of the island to the British, it became necessary for him to give an account of his administration of that office. He travelled to Spain with Don Chacon, and was one of the officers mentioned in the last paragraph of the dispatch in which the Spanish governor announced the disaster which had befallen him.
During that time, the Sorzanos owned several plantations on the island, and as such, he made up his mind to return and to take the oath of allegiance to his new sovereign and to regard this new British colony as home. With a view to making his family position perfectly clear, he took occasion whilst in Spain to collect all the necessary documents to prove his descent from a long line of distinguished ancestors.
The family of Don Manuel Thomas Sorzano de Tejada is a very ancient one. Its coat of arms was bestowed upon Don Sancho Martinez Sorzano de Tejada by Alphonso III, King of Austria, for his distinguished gallantry at the battle of Clavijo in the year 872 AD, where he and his thirteen sons gained a great victory over the army of Abdullah, the Arab caliph of Cordoba. The thirteen green pennants which support the shield each have a crescent.
Don Manuel became commandant of Arima under Sir Thomas Hislop in 1803, and served the British government as such for several years. He was given a seat at the Board of Council by Sir Ralph Woodford. An old letter describes that when last he saw Don Chacon as being "in the Fort of San Sebastian outside the walls of Cadiz and for the moment unable to leave it". This was a civil way of saying that the unfortunate governor was a prisoner.
Aunt Polly's grandfather, Thomas Sorzano, had placed on loan at the Royal Victoria Institute 1897 exhibition several interesting exhibits, among these were a pair of very handsome pistols with old-fashioned flintlocks, the nominal roll of slave children on the Torrecilla estate, once owned by the family in 1803, an original printed copy of the Cedula of Population of 23rd November, 1783, and is meant to have been a copy brought out by Don Chacon to whom the working of the Cedula was entrusted, an interesting iron-banded wooden chest, said to have been "the chest of fines" in which the moneys paid to the courts were kept, and a very old flintlock musket.
Because our family is connected to the Ganteaumes and the Pantins, who are in turn connected to the Caracciolos, she was also able to tell me something about the latter. Count Giuseppe Joseph Caracciolo, who died in Trinidad in 1819, was a direct descendant of Domenico Caracciolo, Marchese de Brienza. Count Joseph's father was named Literis, and his name is registered in the Libro d'Oro of Naples. He married Mariana de la Porte Strabia. One of their sons, Joseph, Giuseppe, was born in 1779 and at the age of 18 was named sub-lieutenant in the Royal Cavalry. Impatient to earn military fame, he joined the Russian army under the famous General Suwarov, who was then engaged in aiding the Austrians to fight the French under the Generals Massena and McDonald. Giuseppe served for about a year and then returned to Naples. Subsequently finding his safety, perhaps even his life, endangered in consequence of having taken service with the Russians, he determined to emigrate and arrived in Trinidad in 1801. Four years later, he married Marie Josephine Amphoux by whom he became the father of two sons. His eldest son married Henrietta Pantin de Mouilbert, the other, Alfredo, married Barbara Almandoz.
"Which is the oldest Spanish family in Trinidad in the sense of being here the longest?" I asked.
"Oh, the Farfans of course," Auntie Polly answered. The first by that name had come out in 1644. His name was Don Manuel Farfan de los Godos. He founded the Hermanidad del Santisimo  Sacramento at St. Joseph. From him are descended the Farfans of today. For many years, indeed for more than a century, they dominated the Illustrious Cabildo, the government, wielding great power on the island, imprisoning governors, forbidding others to leave. Their power was not altered until the arrival of Don Jose María Chacon, the last Spanish governor. The distinctive epithet "de los Godos" indicates that they belong to one of the Gothic families at the disastrous battle of Guadaletec in 711 AD, where Rodrigo, the last of the Gothic Kings of Spain, was slain by the victorious Saracens.
In 1566, Don Pedro Huarez Farfan emigrated to New Granada, now Venezuela, and his descendants some 90 years later crossed over to Spanish Trinidad. An interesting connection of the Farfans is the Marquis de Creny whose daughter married a Farfan in the latter part of the 18th century. Another old Spanish family of Trinidad is that of Don Jose Mayan, who at the time of the capitulation in 1797 held the important post of Teniente de Justicia, Mayor of St. Joseph, an office that was created when the seat of government was removed to Port of Spain in 1774.
This move away from St. Joseph to Port of Spain was very upsetting to the old Spanish families. The office of Teniente, a kind of lieutenant governorship, was always held in reserve to be awarded in a special circumstance. Don Jose was the son of Don Matias Mayan who emigrated from the province of Galicia, Spain, in the 1750s. He settled at St. Joseph and married Augustina Prieto de Posada, daughter of Don Antonio Prieto de Posada and his wife Donna Josefa Gonzales, on the 7th April 1777. Jose Mayan married Dona Antonia de Salas, by whom he had issue one daughter, Trinidad de los Angeles. In 1797, Trinidad married Don Pablo Giuseppi. All the Giuseppis of Trinidad come from this union, so too the Ciprianis, Fitts, Frasers, and Monagas.
It was in the house of Don Jose Mayan on the Valsayn estate, St. Joseph, that the articles of capitulation were signed under which Don Chacon surrendered the island to the British crown, this on the 18th February, 1797. The old house was long ago knocked down. It stood in an area just behind where WASA now is in St. Joseph.
In 1880, the Royal Princes, the Duke of York and the Duke of Clarence, visited Trinidad in the H.M.S. Bacchante, honouring with their presence an entertainment given for them by Mr. Paul Giuseppi. His ancestor, Don Pablo Giuseppi, was a native of Corsica. He belonged to a family of considerable wealth and importance. In 1791, when the troubled times of the French Revolution were commencing, he was chosen commandant of the national guard of his district. His father, a staunch royalist, did not approve of his giving any countenance to the revolutionary party, and sent him away to Martinique, from which he subsequently emigrated to Trinidad, where he married the only child of Don Jose Mayan, Trinidad de Los Angeles, and became joint owner with her of Valsayn estate.
Another old Spanish family of Trinidad are the Basantas. Aunt Polly related that Don Valentine de Basanta, at the time of the capitulation to the British held the office of First Commissary of Population, to which he had been appointed by the King of Spain in the year 1792. He was also an officer in the Spanish navy like his friend Don Manuel Sorzano. He too owned property, had married in Trinidad, and decided to remain here after the conquest, taking the oath of allegiance to the King of England.
The name Basanta occurs in the chronicles of the 14th and 15th centuries as taking part in the wars with Navarre under Pedro the Cruel and in those waged by Ferdinand and Isabella against the Moors. Connected to the Lezama and Garcia families, many descendants still live in Trinidad.
"Did Don Jose Chacon leave any mementoes behind?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, he did. A Mr. Diaz once showed me an embroidered robe, a prayer book, and a group of the Virgin and Child which belonged to his daughter, Maria Chacon. She married M. Henri Joberty and as such the descendants of Chacon still live amongst us."
A little bell tinkled from the dining room of Mausica estate house, calling us to lunch, ending a lovely morning, reminiscing about the old Spanish Dons of Trinidad.

4 comments:

DMaia said...

Thanks for this information. I am a descendant of the Don Pablo Giuseppi line, do you have any history about his family?

Watch Me Whip said...

Inadvertent misspelling of husband of Marie Chacon, Henri Joberty as in Jobity (Jean Baptiste) and any historical reference to last representative of Spain in the colony, Governor Don Jose Marie Chacon?

trinbago said...

Is the Sorzano family of Spanish decent?

Spanishpac said...

Yes, the Sorzano family are of Spanish decent - However there are African-Trinidadians who also carry the same last name (free slaves would have normally taken the last name of their former overseers)The hill in Lavantell ( not sure if that's spelt correctly) was one part of the Sorzano estate until squatters settled there.