Los Insurgentes had been betrayed by a cleric. He had told the viceroy's office all about their plans to overthrow their European overlords. The viceroy knew about the planned insurrection, for which the rebels were currently trying to secure arms.
Josefa warned that there were house searches to find the rebel leaders. Several homes had already been entered. Guns had been found. People had been arrested. The cells were becoming full all over the district.
Josefa's house had already been raided, but her husband, Miguel Domínguez (himself a sympathizer, but also in the employment of the viceroy and in charge of the search) had locked her in an upstairs bedroom. It placed her out of harm's reach, but it also meant that she shouldn't be able to meet with the others and exchange information.
But Josefa Ortiz was more resourceful than that. She'd managed to alert Ignacio Pérez, the town's mayor, who lived next door. Pérez leapt onto a horse (with Josefa apparently stamping on her floorboards to cover the noise he made outside) and rode like the clappers through San Miguel to the town of Dolores. The news was out.
This was the Viceroyalty of Nueva España (New Spain), in September, 1810. The country covered all of modern-day Mexico, but also the south-western quarter of today's USA. They were all governed from Spain.
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But Spain had troubles of its own over in Europe. The French had invaded, during the Peninsula Wars, and Napoleon was the de facto ruler of the homeland. The Spanish were fighting back, street by street in some cases, but their own administration had collapsed into factions and chaos. It wasn't to be fully over there for another four years, when, though successful in reclaiming their country, the Spanish economy has never recovered.
Meanwhile, in Nueva España, people were horrified by the fact that Napoleon had placed his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, onto the Spanish throne. Napoleonic policies rushed through the country and these were not at all welcome.
Insurgency groups quickly formed, under the cover of literary discussion meetings. Those attending drank hot chocolate, ate pastries and talked about politics. Slowly, and exchanging information from group to group, a consensus was reached. No-one really wanted to cut ties with Spain. They wanted to be ruled by the deposed Spanish king, Ferdinand VII, not Joseph Bonaparte. But, perhaps, not as a colony. As an independent country within a commonwealth.
It was to one of these groups that Pérez rode that day, taking with him the intelligence gained by Josefa Ortiz. He arrived on the night of September 15th and quickly explained the situation to the Catholic priest, Padre Miguel Hidalgo.
Hidalgo was one of those rebel leaders being sought. Hidalgo had been the one to draft all of those December Insurrection plans. He'd gone further than most in his ideas. He'd talked about a Congress, with representatives from each province in Nueva España, to govern an independent country.
He knew with absolute certainty that he was going to be arrested and that he would probably be executed. So did those around him. Ignacio Allende was there. He had been prominent in the December plans, as one of the two men who were going to lead it as generals. Mariano Abasolo was also there. Born and bred in Dolores, he'd been in Los Insurgentes since its inception. Both of them urged Hidalgo to flee. They should all get out of there; hide, regroup, re-assess the situation. Padre Miguel Hidalgo said no.
Hidalgo called upon his brother, Mauricio Hidalgo. He ordered him, alongside Allende and Abasolo, to form groups of armed men. They were to visit the sheriff's office and secure the release of those who had already been arrested. The three men set out into the night and they managed to free 80 people. The padre, meanwhile, was preparing his mass.
Just before midnight, Hidalgo walked to his church, in the center of Dolores, and rang the church bells. With whispers passing like wildfire through the area, over 300 people answered the call. There were so many that they couldn't all fit into the church. Hidalgo made ready to address them all from its steps.
By now, Allende was back from his tour of the cells. He stood up beside Hidalgo, giving his support for what he knew was about to come. On the other side of the padre was Juan Aldama. He was the other man who had been intended to lead the December insurrection. When news of the betrayal had reached him, in his San Miguel home, he'd ridden full pelt to join his colleagues in Dolores. He was here now and his presense too signalled his support for what the padre was about to say.
We have no text for what he precisely told the assembled masses, as Hidalgo didn't write it down. But folk memory, from those who heard it, has survived the centuries, passed down as oral history from mouth to mouth. It was not a mass in the end, but an impassioned call to arms. It beseeched those present to support the cause for an independent Mexico, in the name of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It condemned a bad government. It called for death to the 'gachupines' (native Spaniards in Nueva España). The part which has become 'El Grito' (the shout), repeated through the centuries, was '¡Mexicanos, viva México!'
It worked only too well. Armed with mostly clubs, slings, axes, knives and machetes, the crowds swarmed behind Hidalgo, Allende and Aldama. They were embarking on an epic journey into Guanajuato, with the intention of bringing down the governors there. From there, the plan was to march on Mexico City itself.
Where to Visit:
* Palace of the Corregidora, Santiago de Querétaro, Querétaro. This was the home of Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez. It was the place where Los Insurgentes originally met and it was here that the plans for the December insurrection were made. It is also where she was locked in her bedroom, but managed to get the message out via Pérez.
* Mausoleum of the Corregidora, Santiago de Querétaro, Querétaro. This is the last resting place of Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez.
* San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, where Pérez rode to first warn the rebels. It was San Miguel de Grande in those days, but was renamed in honor of Ignacio Allende, who was one of its residents. This was also the home town of Juan Aldama.
* Dolores Hidalgo Church, Dolores Hidalgo Cuna de la Independencia Nacional (or Dolores Hidalgo to the locals), Guanajuato. This was once the parish church of Padre Miguel Hidalgo. His statue is outside.
* Anywhere in Mexico, at midnight on September 15th. This is when El Grito (the shout) goes up in every city, town and village center. Naturally, the one to really witness is that given from the steps of Dolores Hidalgo Church.