A Deaf Cuban Revolutionary in London – Captain Juan Fernandez
By H Dominic W Stiles, on 17 June 2016
Unlike most of the South American countries, Cuba was one of the last to break away from Spain, and not without a bitter struggle. One of the heroes of the struggle was Captain Juan Fernandez. Juan Fernandez (born circa 1868) was U.S. born to Cuban parents, and had been educated at both the University of California and at a college in Barcelona (Ephphatha). For three years he served under General Antonio Maceo Grajales, second-in-command in the Cuban Army of Independence, as aide-de-campe. It was in the course of this stuggle that he was deafened by an explosion near Bahia Hondo, when a mine that was being laid to disrupt the movement of Spanish troops on the railway there, exploded early, killing several insurgents. It forced him to leave the army.
In 1896 he travelled to Europe to represent the army of liberation. While in London, Fernandez spoke to meetings of deaf people on several occasions (Ephphatha).
In 1899, when Fernandez was in Paris,
while he was smoking in front of the Hotel Terminus, he was approached by three Germans, who knew his name and all about him, and began to rave about the selfishness of the United States Government in its relation to Cuba. In the course of their talk one of them showed Fernandez a photograph of a German officer, whom Fernandez recognized as the man speaking to him. The German went on to say that through Fernandez he could get the Cubans 250,000 francs at once and plenty more when required, with all the arms and ammunition necessary for a prolonged rebellion against the United States Government, if Fernandez would work in Germany’s interest. At this Fernandez replied: “Gentlemen, I am a Cuban by blood, but I am a citizen of the United States, and will see you and Germany in — before I would raise a finger against the land of my birth. I shall make this public, if it costs me my head. Good day.”
Exit three Germans in great haste and confusion.
In addition to talking about the revolution, Fernandez also pronounced on other subjects regarding Cuba, for example the beauty of the Cuban ladies. He was careful to distance the revolutionaries, who he described as being a mixture of all Cubans as well as being supported by Europeans, from anarchists, who were widely active at that time. He condemned the assassination of the Spanish Prime Minister Cánovas del Castillo whose repressive policies helped foster political instability in Spain.
I was about to say that have not been able to find out much more about Juan Fernandez, then discovered an article in The Illustrated Police News, that says he married in St. Mary’s Islington one Maud Ashton, a deaf lady. That would have been in July 1898. In actual fact, the records show he married Julia Ayshford (June Quarter 1898) –
The article also says that the ceremony was conducted by the Rev. Dr. Kibley, Chaplain of the Deaf and Dumb Asylum. The marriage certificate, were you to obtain a copy, would show that the newspaper made another mistake and that the ceremony was conducted by our old friend, the Rev. Gilby, chaplain to the Royal Association in aid of the Deaf and Dumb. The extraordinary thing is, when I started writing this I had no idea that there was a deeper connection. I just discovered this, in Ephphatha, for July 1898. p.115 –
Julia Ayshford, previously Julia Franklin, was deaf from an accident aged 15 (see 1911 census). She married the St. Saviour’s church stalwart and friend of Gilby’s, H.G.G. Ayshford, who died in 1893. They had a daughter, also called Julia, who Juan adopted. In 1901 they were living in Eastbourne. Julia Fernandez died in Edmonton in 1933, aged 73.
In 1898 he held a commission in the U.S. Army – but perhaps that was related to the Spanish-U.S.A. War. If that is the case, I would expect that there are U.S. Army records that would be worth checking. From the record of his marriage online, I see that his father was a Presbytarian minister, also called Juan Fernandez, and that he was a widower. If his father trained formally as a minister there may well be a record of that at some college.
Any Spanish speaking readers out there who would care to find out more about him and fill in some more details, please leave a comment below. It would make an interesting addition to the history of Deaf people. If you can tell us when or where he died that would also be of interest – he was certainly dead by the 1911 census when Julia was a widow working as a servant.
THE STRUGGLE IN CUBA . Glasgow Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), Friday, December 11, 1896; Issue 297. British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900
Daily News (London, England), Friday, December 11, 1896; Issue 15821. British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900
The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (Sheffield, England), Friday, December 18, 1896; pg. 4; Issue 13178. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900
The Morning Post (London, England), Saturday, August 14, 1897; pg. 5; Issue 39060. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900
The Illustrated Police News etc (London, England), Saturday, July 2, 1898; Issue 1794. British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900
Ephphatha Vol 3 1898 p.37, p.62, and p.115
1911 Census Class: RG14; Piece: 2294
1901 Census Class: RG13; Piece: 880; Folio: 107; Page: 8
NB One of the witnesses at their wedding was Frank Hodgkins.