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History of Zamboanga

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History of Zamboanga - circa 1800s


1800s A.D. � The Climax and The Transition


Zamboanga History - Fort Pilar in 1800s

In 1831, the decision was made to open up Zamboanga's maritime trade to the rest of the European powerhouse empires operating in the region for many years, ending the almost 200-year monopoly that the Spaniards closely maintained.  This agreement was part of the deal made when the British gave back control of Manila to the conquered Spanish rulers.  Consequently, a customs clearing house was established that year and the Zamboanga port opened up to international trade - although selectively privy to a few powerful signatories.


The circumstances which directly led to the opening of Zamboanga as a commercial port with the southern-most customs processing for the Spanish government in the Philippines are interesting when it is remembered that Mindanao Island is still quasi-independent in the interior - inhabited by races unconquered by the Spaniards, and where agriculture by civilized settlers is as yet nascent.  It appears that the port of Jolo in Sulu Island had been, for a long time, frequented by foreign ships, whose owners or officers (chiefly British) unscrupulously supplied the Sulus with sundry manufactured goods, including arms of warfare, much to the detriment of Spanish interests there, in exchange for mother-of-pearl, pearls, gums, etc.  The Spaniards claimed suzerain rights over the islands, but were not strong enough to establish and protect a Customhouse, so they imposed the regulation that ships loading in Jolo should put in at Zamboanga for clearance to foreign ports. The foreigners who carried on this illicit traffic protested against a sailing-ship being required to go out of her homeward course about one hundred and twenty miles for the mere formality of customs clearance.  A British ship (and perhaps many before her) sailed straight away from Jolo, in defiance of the Spaniards, and the matter was then brought to the notice of the British Government, who intimated that either Jolo must be declared a free port or a Customs house must be established there.  The former alternative was chosen by the Spaniards, but Zamboanga remained an open port for foreign trade which very rarely came.6


Zamboanga (La Caldera fort) in 1842 - Two days in the city�s life


After the La Caldera Fort was burned down by the Spaniards in 1598 and its entire garrison returned to Manila, it was again rebuilt in 1784 as a secondary defensive citadel to the main fort Real Fuerza de Nuestra Se�ora del Pilar de Zaragosa in downtown Zamboanga, 186 years after that fateful decision.

(excerpts from: Narrative of The U.S. Exploring Expedition, Vol. V, Chaps. 8 and 9.; by: Charles Wilkes, U.S.N., Commander of the Expedition)


"On the January 29th (1842), at noon, we had been wafted by it far enough in the offing to obtain the easterly breeze, which soon became strong, with an overcast sky, and carried us rapidly on our course; my time would not permit my heaving-to. We kept on our course for Mindanao during the whole night, and were constantly engaged in sounding, with our patent lead, with from thirty to forty fathoms cast, to prevent our passing over this part of the sea entirely unexamined.


[Mindanao.] At daylight on the January 31st (1842), we had the island of Mindanao before us, but did not reach its western cape until 5 p.m. This island is high and broken, like those to the north of it, but, unlike them, its mountains are covered with forests to their very tops, and there were no distinct cones of minor dimensions, as we had observed on the others. If they do exist, they were hidden by the dense forest.


I had determined to anchor at Caldera, a small port on the south-west side of Mindanao, about ten miles distant from Zamboanga, where the governor resides. The latter is a considerable place, but the anchorage in its roadstead is said to be bad, and the currents that run through the Straits of Basilan are represented to be strong. Caldera, on the other hand, has a good, though small anchorage, which is free from the currents of the straits. It is therefore an excellent stopping-place, in case of the tide proving unfavorable. On one of its points stands a small fort, which, on our arrival, hoisted Spanish colors.


At six o�clock we came to anchor at Caldera, in seven fathoms water. There were few indications of inhabitants, except at and near the fort. An officer was despatched to the fort, to report the ship. It was found to be occupied by a few soldiers under the command of a lieutenant.


Fort at La Caldera, Zamboanga City[Caldera fort.] The fort is about seventy feet square, and is built of large blocks of red coral, which evidently have not been taken from the vicinity of the place, as was stated by the officers of the fort; for although our parties wandered along the alluvial beach for two or three miles in each direction, no signs of coral were observed. Many fragments of red, gray, and purple basalt and porphyry were met with along the beach; talcose rock and slate, syenite, hornblend, quartz, both compact and slaty, with chalcedony, were found in pieces and large pebbles. Those who were engaged in dredging reported the bottom as being of coral, in from four to six or eight fathoms; but this was of a different kind from that of which the fort was constructed.


The fort was built (re-built) in the year 1784, principally for protection against the Sulu pirates, who were in the habit of visiting the settlements, and carrying off the inhabitants as slaves, to obtain ransom for them. This, and others of the same description, were therefore constructed as places of refuge for the inhabitants, as well as to afford protection to vessels.

Depredations are still committed, which render it necessary to keep up a small force. One or two huts which were seen in the neighborhood of the bay, are built on posts twenty feet from the ground, and into them they ascend by ladders, which are hauled up after the occupants have entered.


These, it is said, are the sleeping-huts, and are so built for the purpose of preventing surprise at night. Before our arrival we had heard that the villages were all so constructed, but a visit to one soon showed that this was untrue. The natives seen at the village were thought to be of a decidedly lighter color (mestizos) and a somewhat different expression from the Malays. They were found to be very civil, and more polished in manners than our gentlemen expected. On asking for a drink of water, it was brought in a glass tumbler on a china plate. An old woman, to whom they had presented some trifles, took the trouble to meet them in another path on their return, and insisted on their accepting a basket of potatoes. Some of the houses contained several families, and many of them had no other means of entrance than a notched post stuck up to the door.


The forests of Mindanao contain a great variety of trees, some of which are of large size, rising to the height of one hundred and one hundred and fifty feet. Some of their trunks are shaped like buttresses, similar to those before spoken of at Manila, from which they obtain broad slabs for the tops of tables. The trunks were observed to shoot up remarkably straight. Our botanical gentlemen, though pleased with the excursion, were disappointed at not being able to procure specimens from the lofty trees; and the day was less productive in this respect than they had anticipated. Large woody vines were common, which enveloped the trunks of trees in their folds, and ascending to their tops, prevented the collection of the most desirable specimens.


The paths leading to the interior were narrow and much obstructed; one fine stream was crossed. Many buffaloes were observed wallowing in the mire, and the woods swarmed with monkeys and numbers of birds, among them the horn-bills; these kept up a continued chatter, and made a variety of loud noises. The forests here are entirely different from any we had seen elsewhere; and the stories of their being the abode of large boas and poisonous snakes, make the effect still greater on those who visit them for the first time. Our parties, however, saw nothing of these reptiles, nor anything to warrant a belief that such exist. Yet the officer at the fort related to me many snake stories that seemed to have some foundation; and by inquiries made elsewhere, I learned that they were at least warranted by some facts, though probably not to the extent that he represented.


Traces of deer and wild hogs were seen, and many birds were obtained, as well as land and sea shells. Among the latter was the Malleus vulgaris, which is used as food by the natives. The soil on this part of the island is a stiff clay, and the plants it produces are mostly woody; those of an herbaceous character were scarce, and only a few orchideous epiphytes and ferns were seen. Around the dwellings in the villages were a variety of vegetables and fruits, consisting of sugar-cane, sweet-potato, gourds, pumpkins, peppers, rice, water and musk melons, all fine and of large size.


The officer at the fort was a lieutenant of infantry; one of that rank is stationed here for a month, after which he, with the garrison, consisting of three soldiers, are relieved, from Zamboanga, where the Spaniards have three companies.

[Zamboanga.] Zamboanga is a convict settlement, to which the native rogues, principally thieves, are sent (this is why the San Ramon penal colony was established later on).  The Spanish criminals, as I have before stated in speaking of Manila, are sent to Spain.


The inhabitants of the island of Mindanao, who are under the subjection of Spain, are about ten thousand in number, of whom five or six thousand are at or in the neighborhood of Zamboanga. The original inhabitants, who dwell in the mountains and on the east coast, are said to be quite black, and are represented to be a very cruel and bad set; they have hitherto bid defiance to all attempts to subjugate them. When the Spaniards make excursions into the interior, which is seldom, they always go in large parties on account of the wild beasts, serpents, and hostile natives; nevertheless, the latter frequently attack and drive them back.


The little fort is considered as a sufficient protection for the fishermen and small vessels against the pirates, who inhabit the island of Basilan, which is in sight from Mindanao, and forms the southern side of the straits of the same name. It is said that about seven hundred inhabit it. The name of Moro is given by the Spaniards to all those who profess the Mohammedan religion, and by such all the islands to the west of Mindanao, and known under the name of the Sulu archipelago, are inhabited.


The day we spent at Caldera was employed in surveying the bay, and in obtaining observations for its geographical position, and for magnetism. The flood tide sets to the northward and westward, through the straits, and the ebb to the eastward. In the bay we found it to run two miles an hour by the log, but it must be much more rapid in the straits.


At daylight on February 1st (1842), we got under way to stand over for the Sangboys, a small island with two sharp hills on it. One and a half miles from the bay we passed over a bank, the least water on which was ten fathoms on a sandy bottom, and on which a vessel might anchor. The wind shortly after failed us, and we drifted with the tide for some hours, in full view of the island of Mindanao (the Zamboanga Peninsula in this case), which is bold and picturesque. We had thus a good opportunity of measuring some of its mountain ranges, which we made about three thousand feet high.


In the afternoon, a light breeze came from the southwest, and before sunset I found that we were again on soundings. As soon as we had a cast of twenty fathoms, I anchored for the night, judging it much better than to be drifting about without any knowledge of the locality and currents to which we were subjected.


On the morning of the February 2nd (1842), we got under way to proceed to the westward. As the bottom was unequal, I determined to pass through the broadest channel, although it had the appearance of being the shoalest, and sent two boats ahead to sound. In this way we passed through, continuing our surveying operations, and at the same time made an attempt to dredge; but the ground was too uneven for the latter purpose, and little of value was obtained."


Photo Gallery of Zamboanga's Historical Past - circa 1846.

Portraits and Stories of Samboangan life, circa 1873.

The Gems of The East: Zamboanga, 1800s.


In the belief that the Zamboangue�os were loyally disposed towards Spain, the Spaniards, after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, chose Zamboanga as their point of concentration of all the Spanish troops and civil servants in the southern islands.  At that time, General Jaramillo was Governor-General of Mindanao Island and commander of the forces in Zamboanga; but on the arrival there, December 27, 1898, of the ex-governor of Cebu, General Montero, with his co-refugees, General Jaramillo transferred his command to him and left for Manila with General Rios, who had come from Yloilo to Zamboanga to receive refugee passengers for the capital.  Before his departure, Jaramillo had the Zamboangue�o Christians to believe that the war with America was, at every turn, a triumphant success for Spanish arms; fictitious printed telegram were circulated announcing Spanish victories everywhere, and one of the most extravagant reported that General Weyler had landed on American soil at Key West (Florida) with an army of 80,000 Spanish troops. The motive of this ruse was to bolster up Spanish prestige and thereby avoid bloodshed.  During several months no trading- or mail-steamer came, and the Zamboangue�os were practically cut off from the rest of the world.  Military preparations were made for the feigned purpose of resisting a possible attack on the place by the Americans, who were described to the people as cannibals and ferocious monsters more terrible than the dreaded Moros.   Naturally the real object of the military preparations was the Spaniards' justifiable endeavor to be ready to defend themselves against open rebellion when the true situation should ooze out.  Nor was their misrepresentation of the Americans mere spiteful calumny; the Spaniards were in great jeopardy, and they instinctively wished to destroy any feeling of welcome which the natives might have for the new-comers for fear it might operate against themselves at the supreme moment of danger.


Flag of The Republic of Zamboanga - May 18, 1899 - Nov. 16, 1899 (de facto)History of The Republic of Zamboanga

(May 1899 - March 1903)

Researched & written by � 2009





Republic of Zamboanga

May 18, 1899 - Nov. 16, 1899

Vicente Alvarez

Revolutionary / Chosen by the people

Republic of Zamboanga

Nov. 17, 1899 - March 1901

Isidoro Midel

Revolutionary / Appointed by U.S. Army

Republic of Zamboanga

March 1901 - March 1903

Mariano Arquiza

Municipal Election / U.S. Administration

Moro Province - Old Zamboanga is made Capital of consolidated Mindanao, Basilan, & Sulu.

The Moro Province is divided into five districts: Sulu, Zamboanga, Lanao, Cotabato, and Davao.

March 1903 - the duly elected Zamboanga President Mariano Arquiza's government ended & was replaced by a new U.S. governor -  the Republic of Zamboanga was abolished after 4 historic years!

1st U.S. Governor:

Gen. Leonard Wood

Governor's Office & Home located in ancient Zamboanga, the former Republic.

Regional Government under partial

U.S. Military Government

Military Rule in the Moro Province ended in 1913, after Brig. Gen. Tasker H. Bliss (1906-09) & Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing (1909-13) took their turns as Governor, maintaining their office in Zamboanga.


Republic of Zamboanga - the 1st Philippine Republic  Read full history...


(Revolutionary Government of Zamboanga): May 18, 1899 - Nov 16, 1899 (de facto) - This was the timeline when the new republic was independent and free of any foreign influence.


Flag of The Republic of Zamboanga - May 18, 1899 - Nov. 16, 1899 (de facto) (Flag of The Republic of Zamboanga - not verified of its authenticity)


May 18, 1899 - Fort Pilar and its Spanish troops, in Southern Philippines, surrendered to the Revolutionary Government of Zamboanga.


May 23, 1899 - The Spaniards evacuate the city of Zamboanga for good, after burning down most of the city's buildings in contempt of the Zamboangue�os' revolt against them.


President of Zamboanga Republic

May 18, 1899 to November 16, 1899 [barely six (6)months], Vicente Alvarez was chosen by his fellow Zamboangue�os to be their first president and popular leader of the revolutionary government established immediately after the former Spanish garrison troops evacuated to Manila.  The events that followed afterwards were historically described as a mob mentality, filled with divided partisanship that lent to "jealous self-interest, biter rivalry, rapacity, and bloodshed" from assassinations and cattle-shooting for amusement.  The president and his fellow Christian Zamboangue�os' actions could not be considered heroic by any means, but was paralleled with that of the Moro Pirates with whom the fort of Real Fuerza de Nuestra Se�ora del Pilar de Zaragosa was erected to defend against.6


The rivalry between the local revolutionary leadership of President Vicente Alvarez and opposition leader Isidoro Midel allowed for the easy subjugation of the city by the American forces when Midel sided with the Americans upon their arrival.  As a reward for his help, the new American rulers allowed Isidoro Midel to continue as president of the new Zamboanga Republic for about sixteen (16) months, against the will of the people, after former president Vicente Alvarez fled to Mercedes, then later to Basilan, when the Americans arrived and took control of the fort del Pilar and its remaining armament.  The saying "divide and conquer" was aptly applied to the new Zamboanga Republic.6


Story Continues: History of Zamboanga - circa 1900s   Read on...



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