Venezuelan Army General. He was known as "El Libertador" (The Liberator) of northern South America, gaining the independence of Spanish colonies that became the countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. He has also been called the "George Washington of South America." Born Simon Jose Antonio de la Santisima Trinidad Bolivar in Caracas, New Spain, in what is now Venezuela, he was the son of Don Juan Vicente Bolivar y Ponte, and Doña Maria de la Concepcion Palacios y Blanco. When he was nine years old, both of his parents died and he was raised by his uncle, Don Carlos Palacios. As an aristocrat, he received formal schooling, and at age 15, his uncle sent him to Spain to continue his formal education. For a while, he toured Europe, and in 1802, he married Maria Teresa Rodriguez del Toro y Alaysa, from a noble family. Shortly after they returned to Caracas, Maria died of yellow fever. Stricken with grief, Bolivar vowed never to marry again; a vow that he kept. In part from his grief, Bolivar moved to France and watched Napoleon Bonaparte become Emperor of France and later, in Rome, watched Napoleon have himself crowned King of Italy. When this occurred, Bolivar thought Napoleon had betrayed the republican ideals of the French Revolution, and then vowed to liberate South America from Spanish rule. In 1807, he returned to Venezuela after a brief stopover in the United States, which he considered an inspiration to freedom. When Napoleon installed his brother, Joseph, as King of Spain in 1808, the Spanish revolted against French rule; this revolt was carried even to the Americas, in which many Spanish colonies also revolted. That same year, Caracas formed a junta and declared itself independent of Spain. The junta sent Bolivar to England in search of military aid and political recognition. The mission was a failure in that England promised only neutrality in the colony's war for independence, and soon Spanish forces recaptured most of Venezuela. Returning to Venezuela in 1811, Bolivar took command of the defeated rebel army, and rebuilt it and retrained it. In August 1811, rebel forces under General Francisco de Miranda captured the city of Valencia, but a year later, Miranda was forced to surrender his army to Spanish forces after a series of defeats. As a member of Miranda's Army, Bolivar escaped to Cartagena, where he wrote the Cartagena Manifesto, asking for New Granada's (now Colombia) aid in defeating the Spanish. With their rebel Army's assistance, Bolivar was able to free Venezuela from the Spanish in 1813. The next year, he invaded New Granada (Colombia) to finish off the Spanish forces holding out there, but after capturing Bogotá, he was unable to hold the city and was forced to flee to Jamaica. Two years later, he returned to Venezuela and defeated the Spanish there, then marched back into New Granada, freeing both colonies to become independent countries. At the conference at Angostura in 1819, Bolivar became the first President of Gran Colombia (an area which encompassed the modern republics of Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela). When Spanish forces landed in Venezuela in 1821, he crushed the Spanish Army at the battle of Carabobo, Venezuela, and then went on to liberate greater Peru, ending all Spanish power in South America. The local leaders of Upper Peru chose to become a separate country (rather then remain part of Peru), and renamed the country Bolivia, in honor of Bolivar. Bolivar hoped to create an American style confederation of the new South American nations, which he called Gran Colombia, and to establish close relations with the United States, but over the next seven years, each nation decided on an independent course and by 1828, he remained President only of what is now Colombia and Panama. In 1830, in ill health, he resigned as President of Colombia, and died shortly afterwards of tuberculosis. His remains were initially buried in the cathedral of Santa Marta, but in 1842, at the request of President Jose Antonio Paez, they were moved to a Memorial Monument in Caracas, Venezuela. Politically, Bolivar was an admirer of the American Revolution and a critic of the French Revolution. Although he believed in a strong central government, he was staunchly anti-slavery, despite having inherited his parents' wealth that came from slave labor. He believed that the aristocracy should control political power, including a lifelong presidency and a hereditary legislature, similar to the British parliament's House of Lords system; these beliefs would spark strong political opposition to his scheme for a Colombia Union of South America. Today, he is mostly remembered for having finally freed South America of the last of the Spanish colonial governments.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson
María Teresa Rodríguez del Toro y Alaiza
1781–1803 (m. 1802)