He was nicknamed Andrea il Moro (Andrew the Moor) but was born to enslaved Black parents as Andrea Aguyar in Montevideo, Uruguay. Remaining a slave until his young adulthood, the man of African descent would become a faithful companion and trusted personal assistant of Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi, following him on his travels and in his battles, together with the Italian Legion.
Aguyar, a heroic soldier, did save Garibaldi’s life many times while risking his own. Being the only Black among White European combatants in defense of the Roman Republic in the 1840s, and often close to Garibaldi, Aguyar grabbed media attention before his death in 1849.
This is his intriguing story.
Aguyar’s actual birth date and parents are unknown. He was in Uruguay when slavery was abolished in 1842. It was during this same period that the Uruguayan Civil War broke out. The two sides in the war – the Liberal Colorados and the Conservative Blancos – both proclaimed the emancipation of slaves in order to reinforce their ranks with new soldiers.
Among the community of foreign exiles and expatriates who joined the war was Garibaldi. He was then a young Italian exile who was gaining fame as a guerilla leader. Having recently arrived in Montevideo, he headed the Italian Legion, and through the war, he met freed slaves including Aguyar. Former slave Aguyar was then one of the 5,000 Black defenders of Montevideo against forces led by Blancos leader Manuel Uribe, according to BlackPast.
Garibaldi, in his memoirs, commended these freed slaves: “True sons of freedom. Their lances, longer than normal length, their dark black [nerissimi] faces, their robust limbs used to permanent and demanding work, their perfect discipline”.
By 1848 when calm had been restored and Garibaldi was returning to Italy, Aguyar followed him, having demonstrated his key competencies and skills as a warrior. Aguyar would participate in the First Italian War of Independence at Piedmont and Lombardy alongside Garibaldi and his international team of soldiers before helping ensure victories for Garibaldi in battles at Luino and Morazzone.
Garibaldi’s legion later headed to Rome to defend the Roman Republic which was attacked by the French on the orders of Louis Napoleon. It was during Aguyar’s defense of the revolutionary Roman Republic of 1849 that he made a name for himself. Described as “a single exotic Black man among Europeans”, both foreign and Italian press later recognized him as Garibaldi’s aide-de-camp whom he promoted to lieutenant.
The Illustrated London News magazine published a drawing depicting Aguyar and Garibaldi on horseback. The drawing shows Aguyar wearing a hat with an ostrich feather, similar to the hat worn by Garibaldi. The report referred to Aguyar as “A fine fellow, his dress a red loose coat and a showy silk handkerchief tied loosely over his shoulders”.
Dutch painter Jan Koelman, a volunteer with Garibaldi, also described Aguyar as “A Hercules of ebony colour, a freed slave who followed Garibaldi from Brazil (sic) and who astonished everyone in battle by throwing a lasso over enemy soldiers and pulling them off their horses”.
That trick was “completely unfamiliar” to European soldiers, according to sources. Usually seen behind Garibaldi on the field of battle, Aguyar once saved the life of the revered Italian general when he was thrown off his horse at a battle at Velletri. It is also documented that off the battlefield, the skilled horseman offered his saddle “as a pillow for Garibaldi to sleep on during breaks in marching, and improvising an awning to protect him from the sun.”
On June 30, 1849, Aguyar was hit by a French bomb in the Vicolo del Canestraro near Santa Maria in Trastevere. Bleeding, he reportedly cried out: “Long live the republics of America and Rome!
He was sent to a nearby hospital set up in the Church of Santa Maria della Scala, where he died. Today, a staircase located between the Trastevere and Monteverde bears his name. His ashes are buried in the Garibaldian Mausoleum atop Janiculum Hill in Rome.
In La Vita di Giuseppe Garibaldi (The life of Giuseppe Garibaldi), 1933, Garibaldi says: “Andrés Aguyar was one of those pastes of men that nature formed to be loved. Quiet, good, cold to danger, he was foreseeing for all those who knew how to arouse his sympathy. Its color was pure ebony black, unmixed; color that is worth the blond and brown of the different European breeds.
Aguyar was athletic in form and a perfect knight (not those ridiculous knights, of which the fourth columns of the official newspapers are always full and that it is not known for what the hell they were created knights,) but knight in the true sense of the word those who, when they get on a horse, fall in love with you for the gracefulness and grace with which they launch themselves and alight in the saddle. He was black, but not African; born in the Montevideo countryside of African parents, he possessed the age of the characteristic forms of Creole.
Destined since childhood to tame the horses in the estancia of General Aguyar – of which the relatives of our black were slaves, then freed by the event of the Republic -, he had spent all his active youth in that arduous and martial stables. . Tamer of horses, it was not strange that he was a perfect rider. And those who have traveled through South America will remember that most of the tamers belong to the black race, certainly unduly despised and tampered with for so long ”.