Born in 1783, Simón Bolívar was initiated into freemasonry either in Spain (Cádiz), or France (Paris). He was passed a Fellowcraft in the Lodge of Saint Alexander of Scotland in Paris in 1805 and subsequently raised to a Master Mason. Two decades later he was one of eighty-four freemasons awarded the 33° Degree in the AASR by Joseph Cernau, the Sovereign Grand Commander of a self-styled Supreme Council based in New York, albeit that there is no evidence that Bolívar had sought or received the degree.
Freemasonry’s Enlightenment principles were part of an intellectual movement that spurred the liberation of Latin America from Spain. Masonic ideals were shared by Latin Americans and their European supporters who included more than five thousand British volunteers who fought for the independence of what was then the Province of Colombia, some of whom formed Lodge Colombiana under dispensation of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Jamaica.
British volunteers were recruited in London chiefly by Luis Lopez Mendez, a Venezuelan lawyer based in Grafton Street, London. The property was purchased by the Government of Venezuela in 1978 and is now a museum and memorial to Francisco de Miranda, and commemorates the part played by the British in the liberation of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, a struggle for independence that ended with the surrender of Spanish forces in December 1824.
A key participant was a Colonel Hamilton, a correspondent of HRH the Duke of Sussex, Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England.
To H.R.H. the Duke of Sussex, Earl of Inverness, Baron Arklow, Knight of the Most
Noble Order of the Garter, etc, etc. 11 September 1819
Sir, Although it is a long time since I had the honour of writing to your Royal Highness, I have never failed to keep myself informed as to your health and have learned with the greatest pleasure that it is so good that it has allowed you to continue those distinguished efforts that have always marked your Royal Highness’s public career and which have so contributed to the Nation’s happiness. Colonel, now General, English has described in the most vivid terms his gratitude for all he owes your Royal Highness, attributing the success of his enterprise in great part to the protection your Royal Highness has been pleased to afford him. He and his troops have given the greatest satisfaction to General Urdaneta, under whose orders they are. We expect from day to day to hear of their landing on the Cumana coast, as according to the latest reports they are very close to it. Many important events have taken place in this country since I last had the honour of writing to your Royal Highness, and the march of American emancipation has been constant and solid, of which your Royal Highness will doubtless have been informed through the public prints.
I have been in this country for 15 months, living in the closest intimacy with the leading civil and military personnel, so that from my personal observations I can testify to their universal adherence to the public weal. There is a generous accord among all personnel and between all classes to suffer the cruellest and most hurtful privations in order that everything may be put to the service of the State: headed by a handful of men without resources or means of any kind, it is astonishing that so much has been done. I have the highest opinion of the personal characters of the persons who compose the Government, and daily experience confirms the justice of that opinion. I am convinced that all the Debts the Government has contracted will be precisely, fully and faithfully paid, and that the delays which have been experienced up to now, however painful, can in no way be charged either to a lack of will or of effort on the part of the Government, but rather to circumstances beyond human power. The most convincing proof I can give of my absolute confidence in the honour and good faith of the Venezuelan Government is just to declare that if I had greater wealth I would contribute all of it, no matter how much I was left in debt.
To overcome these difficulties and meet some pressing needs it has been deemed advisable to send a Commission to London to try to raise a loan of three million pesos, which should be possible as things are now. The Commission consists of two reputable persons who deserve and have the full confidence of their compatriots, and carry the widest powers to negotiate and agree in the name of and for the account of their Government. Both are intimate and special friends of mine, and knowing the interest taken by your Royal Highness in anything to do with the Independence of South America, I have asked them to present themselves to your Royal Highness and deliver this letter to you. I beg your Royal Highness to be pleased to pardon me this liberty and allow me to ask you to be good enough to grant them an audience and favour them with your protection and advice. If your Royal Highness hears my plea, I am certain of the Commission’s success. In one of my previous letters I had the pleasure of informing your Royal Highness that your name is known and justly appreciated as much on this side of the Atlantic as the other, and that your Royal Highness is appreciated as much for your generous, refined and beneficent spirit as for your high rank. The senior of these Deputies is Don Fernando Penalver, Intendent General of the Army, Vice-President of the Congress, and a Deputy for one of the Venezuelan provinces. From the beginning of the glorious struggle in which this country has extended itself, he has shown himself to be a faithful friend and active defender of Independence, the clearest proof of his sincerity being the immense sacrifices he has made. He had vast coffee plantations near Valencia, and when the celebrated Hurnboldt was travelling in this country he stayed with him for some time. Senor Penalver has always shown himself to be the friend and protector of British subjects here. He speaks French and understands a little English. The other deputy is Brigadier General Vergara, a young man of excellent qualities. He comes from one of the first families of New Granada and is Deputy for Casanares, one of the provinces of that vast region. Senor Vergara was an officer in the Regiment of Guards of the Duke of Albuquerque. He was at the siege of Cadiz and the battle of Barroso under the command of valiant Graham, now Lord Lynedoch. He has served in almost all of the campaigns in this country and has distinguished himself for his bravery and humanity. He has a noble and generous soul, an independent spirit, and conducts himself well.
What a stroke of philanthropy, what an event, what an act so worthy of the illustrious and benevolent Duke of Sussex if, through his influence and that of his friends, the British Government should be induced to intervene and put an end to the inhuman, unjust and disastrous war! Whatever may be the outcome of this and the other campaigns, Spain has lost America forever. This beautiful country may become a desert, but it will never submit to Fernando’s yoke. The continuation of the struggle can only serve to go on pouring out human blood uselessly.
I have heard that my son Augustus Frederick, your Royal Highness’s godson, is a fine boy and I pray to God that he may live to show himself worthy of the name he has the honour to bear. I almost dare to hope that your Royal Highness will of your goodness favour me with a few lines. May your Royal Highness live many years, guided always along the path of Well-doing, Liberty and Patriotism. This is, and always will be, the ardent prayer to the Lord of your Royal Highness’s most obedient and humble servant.
Hamilton later translated Bolivar’s ‘Angostura Declaration’ to the Congress of Venezuela (15 February 1819). He is recorded as as a member of lodge Fraternidad Bogotana, No. 1, of which the President of Colombia, Francisco de Paula Santander, was Past Master.