MoAD - Museum of the African Diaspora


Juan Francisco Manzano 1840

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Juan Francisco Manzano was born in Havana, Cuba in 1797. He was born into slavery and remained in servitude until the age of 40. His younger years as a child were spent at the feet of his mistress where he developed his skills as a tailor and artist.

Born to free parents Manzano lived a privileged life as a child. It was after the death of his first mistress and his transfer of ownership at the age of ten to the home of the sadistic Marquesa Ameno, did he become aware of his status as a slave due to the beatings and punishment he received on a regular basis. He was his mistress's attendant and also an attendant in his master's drawing class. Here is where he developed his skill as an artist. Few privileges he was afforded at the whims of his mistress. Over the years he suffered from severe beating and punishments for the slightest infractions. Often times he was sent to the overseer where he was punished again for the same incident. In his own words, "I was like my mistress's lap-dog, since I had to follow her where ever she went..."

During these years he taught himself to read, write and compose poetry. Mistress Ameno would invite authors and poets into her home for evening entertainment. Manzano would memorize each verse and carefully transfer to paper during his time alone. It was under the rule of slavery that most of his poetry was written. Poetry that would later be instrumental to him acquiring his freedom with help from admirers of his work.

Manzano became a favorite in the household for his skills as a tailor. He created elaborately designed pillows, clothings and linen. He pushed to learn all he could for he knew that one these skills would help him as a free man.