The name Pedro Camejo might not be so popular in history books or around the world but in Venezuelan history and to the large black community in Venezuela, he is a celebrated figure whose presence as a soldier in the War of Independence moved the nation closer to becoming free.
Pedro Camejo, who is called the First Black as a sign of reverence and respect in Venezuela, is often depicted wearing a soldier’s uniform; a bright red and yellow soldier’s suit that closely resembles the Spanish flag. Spain ruled Venezuela until they fought for and gained their full independence.
Born enslaved in 1790, Pedro grew up in the city of San Juan de Payara in the Venezuelan state of Apure. He belonged to Vicente Alonzo, a Spanish nobleman who was related to the Spanish royal family. There are no indications of how Pedro worked for Vicente but perhaps it is right to assume that he worked as a domestic slave for the royal as several enslaved black people who found themselves linked to royals did.
For his strength, tough nature and physique, Pedro was forced to join the Spanish Royal Army. Again, due to less information about his life, there is the assumption this happened around 1810 when the Venezuelan war of independence began.
For more than five years, Pedro, who was by then a lieutenant and leader of a group of soldiers, fought diligently for the Spanish and rose among the ranks. He was soon feared by Simón Bolívar and his army who were fighting the Spanish and became famous for his swiftness with weapons often tasked with training soldiers.
In 1816, after realizing the essence of the war for independence, Pedro decided to cut ties with the Spanish royals and their army even though he had built very close ties with many of them. After leaving them, he immediately joined the opposing army to fight for the complete freedom of Venezuela.
It is reported that Pedro Camejo’s passion for independence was solidified in 1816 after finally meeting with Simón Bolívar to discuss the essence of the war which had by then lasted for 6 years. Thanks to Pedro’s display of loyalty, Simon Boliver freed 1,000 of his slaves, helped in the abolition of slavery in the country and recruited around 5,000 freed slaves into the army to fight the Spanish.
As long as he lived, Pedro fought vigorously and tirelessly as if his own life depended on the defeat of the Spanish. In 1891, he received Venezuela’s highest service to nation distinctions, the Order of the Liberator for being among the 150 brave soldiers who fought with a lance during the 1819 Battle of Las Queseras del Medio which was part of the Independence war. Pedro and the 149 other men fought more than a 1000 Spanish soldiers and they won.
Despite being hopeful that Venezuela would one day be free from the colonial rule of the Spanish, Pedro died in the 1821 Battle of Carabobo where oral history explains that he was severely wounded by a Spanish soldier who had targeted him for several years. On June 24, 1821, during the battle, oral history goes on to explain that even though fatally wounded, Pedro managed to walk up to General José Antonio Páez and said “My general, I come to tell you goodbye, because I am dead.”
Today, the Pedro Camejo Municipality in Apure State, Venezuela, was named in honor of the brave black soldier who risked his life for the people.
The First Black (El Negro Primero) Pedro Camejo has also been honoured with a statue in the country and in 2015, his remains were transferred from the National Assembly to the Pantheon in the capital Caracas during the 194th anniversary of the Battle of Carabobo. He was also honored with a stamp and a feature on the Venezuelan currency note.