José Maria Morelos (September 30, 1765 – December 22, 1815) was born in Mexico. He grew up in a lower-class family. His racial makeup included part Indigenous, Spanish and African heritages. His father was a carpenter and he worked as a laborer, a farmer and a muleteer. He entered seminary school at San Nicolasto de Obispo in the current state of Michoacán, at the same time Miguel Hidalgo was the dean of the collage. Morelos was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1797.
Shortly after Miguel Hidalgo gave the famous speech, El Grito, on September 16th, 1810, Morelos joined him. Then, in 1811, after the execution of Miguel Hidalgo on July 30th, Morelos took leadership over the insurgents, and continued fighting the War of Independence Hidalgo had initiated.
Unlike Hidalgo, Morelos preferred a smaller, well-armed and disciplined army. He demonstrated his ability as a brilliant strategist; he won 22 victories within his first 9 months of leadership. He also had a different vision than Hidalgo’s. He did not allow sympathizer’s homes or the Churches to be looted; he pursued allies from the wealthy Creoles and the Spanish in addition to the poor and the enslaved.
His mission was a unified free Mexico rather than having allegiances to cities or regions. He strove for a formal declaration of independence from Spain, equality for all Mexicans and the continued involvement of the Catholic Church in the affairs of Mexico. Under his leadership the Congress of Anahuac was organized. For the most part, Morelos spent his time in the field; he did, however, have representatives engaged in the meetings of Congress on his behalf.
In 1813, Felix Calleja, the Spanish general responsible for capturing Hidalgo, organized a strong and systematized assault on Morelos and his rebels. He was very aggressive; crushing the rebellion, capturing towns and executing the prisoners. By the end of 1813 the revolutionists were on the defensive; after they lost a key battle at Valladolid. Within the first few months of 1814 the Spanish had Morelos on the run, due to their overwhelming number of soldiers and firearms.
One of Morelos’ duties as Commander was to protect and escort the Congress while they were on the move. His job was to keep them one step ahead of the Spanish Army, avoiding their capture. However, the Spanish eventually did catch up and a battle occurred between them at Texmalaca, Veracruz. Morelos fought courageously; holding off the Spanish, long enough, to allow the Congress to escape. Unfortunately, he was captured during the battle; put in chains and taken to Mexico City for his trial and excommunication from the Church. He was executed on December 22, 1815. Two of his lieutenants, Vicente Guerrero and Guadalupe Victoria, maintained the fight for independence after his death.
José Maria Morelos is considered one of the greatest commanders of the Mexican War of Independence. Through his efforts the first Mexican document of independence, known as the Solemn Act of the Declaration of Independence of North America, was signed by the newly formed Congress in 1813. The state of Morelos and the city of Morelia are named for him, as well as many other places. His body is resting in Mexico City, along with Miguel Hidalgo, in the mausoleum located at the base of the Monument of Independence.