Unidentified artist, Prayer card to St. Joseph, c. 1800, engraving[?]


Aponte worked as a sculptor and carver. He appears among the signatories who petitioned to start a confraternity, the Cofradía de San José de Carpinteros in 1800, whose members dedicated themselves to fine carpentry (“Diligencias para establecer una cofradía de San José el Gremio de Carpinteros,” Archivo del Arzobispado de La Habana, Cofradías, leg. 4, exp. 21). We see here the prayer card that was included with those regulations. Free men of color, per their regulations, were to be included; the document that stipulated “individuals of the class [of these candidates] [of] people of color are to be freely admitted” (“Diligencias para establecer una cofradía de San José el Gremio de Carpinteros,” Archivo del Arzobispado de La Habana, Cofradías, leg. 4, exp. 21, 7R). However, the historian Carlos Venegas notes that the guild never actually formed. (Venegas, personal communication, October 2016) The historian María del Carmen Barcia has found that, for the period 1762-1840, nineteen confraternities of pardos (mulattos) and morenos (blacks) existed in Havana (Barcia 2009, 428-433). As a carpenter, Aponte worked alongside other free people of color who fulfilled commissions, and they planned to pledge allegiance to one another and devotion to the “Glorious Patriarch St. Joseph” through this confraternity.

At the top of the prayer card, a text exclamation of devotion to St. Joseph surrounds a framed image of the holy family in the center. An omniscient God, floating in a ring of clouds, holds his right arm outstretched above the family. Mary and Joseph each hold hands with Jesus. The bottom half of the sheet features a prayer to St. Joseph. The prayer card was likely printed in Havana, as by 1791, seven printing houses were in operation (Fornet 2002, 13). Lithographic presses did not begin operating robustly in Havana until 1839 with the establishment of two shops run by Spaniards, although reports of earlier lithographic presses date to 1822 (Lapique Becali 2002, 19). Religious prints circulated widely in the colonial Americas, often produced for the public celebration of masses, saints’ feast days, and other special occasions.

The cofradía‘s devotion to St. Joseph echoes Aponte’s own apparent personal devotion to the Virgen de los Remedios. When colonial Spanish officials searched Aponte’s house, they found an image of Remedios (along with the Virgen de Guadalupe and the Señor de la Sentencia). They also found blank cloth with which Aponte’s conspirators planned to make a flag decorated with an image of Remedios. As historian Ada Ferrer notes, “The Virgin chosen by Aponte was thus a multivalent figure: a protector of men such as Aponte’s grandfather who had battled the British decades earlier and an enemy of the patron saint of the popular forces fighting for an end to slavery and Spanish rule in Mexico” (Ferrer 2014, 296-297).