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El Pelayo

Orleans Parish

Founded in New Orleans in 1851, the Spanish-language newspaper El Pelayo took its name from the Visigothic nobleman who, in legend, began the reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from the Moors in the 8th century. The newspaper’s primary purpose was to oppose Narciso López, a Venezuelan-born revolutionary who was attempting to enlist U.S. support for the liberation of Cuba from Spain, a plan which found favor among slaveholding Southern expansionists seeking to broaden their political influence.

The paper’s editor, Eduardo San Just (ca. 1825-1869), was a native of Spain. Most of his editorials are devoted to discrediting López and his American supporters in the eyes of Louisiana’s Spanish-speaking population. He also reported on national opinion about the situation in Cuba, the U.S. government’s handling of the affair, and resulting diplomatic tensions with Britain and France.

In addition to San Just’s opinions on Cuba, El Pelayo carried news of a general nature, focused on but not limited to Spain and Latin America. Some local news items, including a small number of obituaries, were printed, as were advertisements for New Orleans merchants and shipping firms. Published two to three times per week, the four-page newspaper advertised itself as a “political, literary, and mercantile periodical” and the “organ of the Spanish population.”

The last known extant copy of El Pelayo dates from December 1851. Several months earlier, the Spanish consulate in New Orleans had been attacked by a mob angry over the capture and execution of Americans who had participated in López’s failed filibustering expedition. The offices of La Union, a Spanish-language newspaper hostile to López, were also attacked. Bad feelings lingered, and in October 1852, fearing he would be the victim of further reprisals, San Just ended publication of El Pelayo. Leaving Louisiana, he served for a time as a Spanish consul in China before accepting a similar position in Sydney, Australia, where in 1869, in a fit of insanity brought on by illness, he committed suicide by throwing himself from a window.