This nation is celebrating the bicentennial of the War of 1812 – the war that inspired the Star Spangled Banner and echoed the climatic volley of cannon fire and ringing chimes, the 1812 Overture. The US was a young boot nation on a protracted revolution matching up against the daunting British Royal Navy, the most powerful sea power of the era. But, equally daunting is to have a Filipino serving in the War of 1812.
The decisive battle of New Orleans actually happened in the swampy St Bernard parish. A large British fleet had anchored in the Gulf of Mexico to the east of Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borne. Defending the US was a ragtag military of slaves, free black militia, creoles, Choctaw Indians and band of pirates and sailors. A separate legend would be passed on among the various ethnic lines. One the stories of Filipinos fighting against the British invasion were about the early Filipino strugglers from St.Bernard Parish.
This would remain apocryphal until Agustin Feliciano came to my radar. Over a hundred years ago, a Filipino student magazine based in Washington DC received a strange letter from New Orleans. “The Largest Colony of Filipinos in America”, The Filipino, March 1906, pp.19-20.
“We received a subscription from a Filipino living in New Orleans, and as we did not know there were any Filipinos in the southern part of this country, we were very much surprised, and wrote to him, asking that he send us some details concerning himself and any other Filipinos that there might be in his neighborhood. The Filipino whom we addressed was Mr. Eulogio Yatar, and he sent us some most astonishing news; in fact, we feel almost as the ethnologist does who discovers a new race of people, for we find that there is a colony of 2,000 Filipinos in that Queen City in the South.”
This community had been established for about a hundred years; the first one who landed there being a Bikol by the name of Augustin Feliciano, who later served in the American navy in the war of 1812.
Filipino sailors landing in New Orleans can be traced as far as 1763, but we are only all familiar with Filipe Mardriaga and the Burtanog Sisters. Felipe married an Irish girl, Bridgette Nugent. One of their three daughters Elizabeth, born in June 1857, married Valeriano Baltic Borabod. This couple’s second daughter, Othelia Lilian Borabod, was born on Jan 7, 1881. Eulogio L Yatar was born on Dec 7 1877 in Malinao, Capiz and moved to New Orleans where he married Othelia. Rhonda Fox,a 6th generation of the Madriaga family and now the mantle of historian connected us to Eulogio Yatar, died on 1928 and was buried at the Yatar Family Crypt, St Vincent Cemetery No.2.
The War of 1812 is more than the classic overtone, it is the rise of the United States Navy around the world. It inspired Teddy Roosevelt’s Naval War of 1812 and changed the course of history, he was probably thinking about Manila Bay already. Alex Fabros calls Agustin Feliciano, the first Filipino in the US Navy. On the lull of the thundering 1812 overtones, we can hear the name of Agustin Feliciano, the Bicolano in the bayous of this bicentennial year.