María Remedios del Valle (ca. 1768–1847) an army nurse turned counter-intelligence spy helped Argentine soldiers escape captivity from the Spanish Army.
Remedios de Valle was known as the “Madre de la Patria” (Mother of the Homeland) because of her powerful influence and consummate bravery.
Remedios was shot in battle, captured, imprisoned, and tortured. She then successfully escaped back home, only to find her entire family was killed during the war.
After the conflict, Maria returned to Buenos Aires a homeless hero, having to turn to begging in the very land she fought to free from the Spaniards.
One fateful day, Del Valle was discovered by one of the generals under whom she had fought. That chance encounter was a life-saver — and Maria finally began receiving a pension that was paid over the last decade of her life. So today, as the movement for recognition of the contributions of African people has received significant attention, Mariá Remedios Del Valle is widely celebrated for her sacrifice as a soldier and healer in the fight for Argentina’s independence. In 2013, the National Day of Afro-Argentines and African Culture was observed on the 8th of November, the anniversary of her death.
María Remedios Del Valle was born in Buenos Aires. She was a parda, a name given to the descendants of enslaved Africans. Research found that testimony given in the Diario de Sesiones, a Congressional record in 1828 during her petition to receive a pension, states that she was “sixty or more years old,” calculating her birth year around 1768.
Del Valle, with her husband and two sons, joined the Army of the North which had been deployed to liberate Peru, and what is now Bolivia, from Spain. This was the first military expedition into the interior and the troop left Buenos Aires in June of 1810 under the command of Bernardo Joaquín de Anzoátegui, a captain of the Volante Artillery Battalion’s 6th Company. Initially, del Valle was among the rabonas or camp followers, who were called on and recruited from the urban poor and peasantry to follow the troops and provide cooking and nursing services, carry arms and munitions, and gather important intelligence which could assist the military.
The army arrived to battle in December of 1810 at the Potosí post deep in the Argentine interior. Del Valle was a true warrior – fighting in the battles of “Huaqui in June of 1811 and the army’s subsequent retreat to Jujuy, where they remained until August of 1812. This fierce female soldier fought in the victories at Tucumán in September of 1812 and another win in Salta on the 20th of February in 1813. She continued to soldier through crushing losses at Vilcapugio in October of 1813 and another in Ayohuma just a month later in November. Thankfully Maria Remedios de Valle’s bravery and name was recorded so that her participation could eventually be rewarded with the battle pay she ended up receiving some decades later.
Maria’s intelligence and persistence became a secret weapon of her generals. Before the Battle of Tucumán, she sought permission from General Belgrano to tend the troops who had fallen on the front lines. Belgrano denied permission, on the grounds that women were not suited for duty at the front. Remedios del Valle went on with her plan anyway and was later promoted by Belgrano to the rank of captain in the army.
Remedios del Valle was shot in the Battle of Ayohuma and was taken prisoner by the Spanish forces. Despite her captivity, she was diligent in helping to free several prisoners. Maria was consequently sentenced to be flogged in public for nine consecutive days. She eventually escaped and returned to her army nursing wounded soldiers through the end of the conflict.
Not much is known of Remedios del Valle’s story after the war ended in 1818. Research of records indicate that in 1826 she applied for compensation for services rendered by her family during the War of Independence but the claim was denied. Sadly, Maria Remedios del Valle began begging for food at convents in the city.
General Juan José Viamonte found her destitute in the streets ofBuenos Aires. The General petitioned the legislature on her behalf to pay her rightful pension. And the generals supported her – like Anzoátegui, who was then a captain. General Eustaquio Díaz Vélez testified that Maria served as a guerilla fighter as well as a nurse to the wounded. Colonel Hipólito Videla, confirmed del Valle had been wounded, imprisoned and tortured at Ayohuma. The records show Del Valle had to be examined to confirm she had six scars proving she had been wounded by bullets and swords.
A political member of the legislature Tomás de Anchorena, presented a case in her defense and the government agreed to pay Remedios del Valle a salary for the rank of captain of the infantry. This was later elevated to compensation as a sergeant major of the cavalry. Del Valle was placed in inactive status, with full salary corresponding to her rank in 1830. She received a pension until her death in 1847.
A note dated 8 November 1847 in the military archives pension records indicates the legendary warrior had died. Maria Remedios history was denied until her story appeared in a history book in Argentina in the early 1930s, by Carlis Ibarguren. Then in 1944 Buenos Aires named a street in her honor.
Maria Remedios Del Valle was largely forgotten until the beginning of the 21st century, when activists and scholars began to tell the true stories of enslaved African people in Argentina.
Mariá Remedios Del Valle is now widely recognized for her contributions and numerous publications have retold her story. Since 2013, November 8this celebrated in her honor, as the National Day of Afro-Argentines and African Culture.
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