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An unheralded hero of Mexico’s Independence War

Shortly after Father Miguel Hidalgo launched the fight for Mexico’s independence from Spain in December 1810, he received a message from the priest of the small town of Ahualulco in Jalisco.

Padre José María Mercado had been influenced by Hidalgo’s thinking and was requesting permission to aid the rebellion by taking control of the port of San Blas.

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Modern-day San Blas, located 90 kilometers north of Puerto Vallarta, is noted for its water birds, crocodiles and—unfortunately—its legions of pesky gnats. Through most of the colonial period, however, San Blas was New Spain’s most important Pacific Coast port, because its bay was deep enough to allow the entrance of very large ships. So renowned did the port become that it inspired American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to immortalize San Blas in his final poem, “The Bells of San Blas.” These church bells represented, in Longfellow’s verse, as:

“a voice of the Past,

Of an age that is fading fast,

Of a power austere and grand;

When the flag of Spain unfurled

Its folds o’er this western world.”

That was not to be for long though. Hidalgo readily gave consent to Mercado’s plan to capture San Blas and take down the Spanish flag.

The priest wasted no time. He swiftly raised an “army” of 50 indigenous volunteers and marched northward from Ahualulco, located 60 kilometers west of Guadalajara.

They took Tepic and soon his contingent of warriors numbered 1,000. Finally, without a fight, San Blas surrendered to them.

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