In the first half of the nineteenth century, notions of Manifest Destiny inspired a phenomenon known as the filibuster, whereby private citizens organized irregular military ventures into Latin America with the aim of fomenting insurrection. Though now forgotten, New Orleans used to be a known hub of filibuster activity, its port well-suited for launching filibuster expeditions.
Narciso López was one of these so-called filibusters, also known as freebooters. Born in Venezuela in 1797, López made a career in service of the Spanish Empire, first as an army officer and later in Cuba’s colonial government. When an 1848 regime change deprived him of his position, the disgruntled López conspired to overthrow the imperial administration and establish Cuban independence. A failed insurrection forced his flight to the United States, where López found overwhelming public support, despite garnering Washington’s disapproval.
When a federal interdiction foiled his plot to invade Cuba from New York, López relocated to New Orleans. The local press, spearheaded by the New Orleans Delta, celebrated his cause as an affirmation of republican ideals. López sold millions in bonds out of New Orleans as soldiers-for-hire flocked to join his ranks. His second-in-command, William L. Crittenden, was the nephew of US Attorney General John J. Crittenden; another, Chatham Roberdeau Wheat, went on to found the Louisiana Tigers battalion of the Confederate Army.
López left New Orleans for Cuba on two separate expeditions, in May 1850 and August 1851. During the former, López’s troops captured Cárdenas, raising the flag he designed in 1849 over the city, then retreated before Spanish reinforcements could arrive. The second time, Spanish troops utterly routed the filibusters, and Crittenden and fifty-one survivors faced a firing squad. The summary execution of American citizens ignited anti-Spanish passions in New Orleans, causing a riot on August 21, 1851, that culminated in the sack of the Spanish consulate on Bourbon Street. López himself was captured and publicly garroted in Havana in September, but his legacy lived on in his flag, officially adopted at the first Constituent Assembly of the Republic of Cuba in 1869.


Citation 1: 
1850; lithograph
Citation 2: 
by Landaluze, draftsman; Marq, lithographer
Accession #: 
1978.123 a,b
Ashton Robinson, Williams Scholar