Biography of Jose Maria Morelos, Mexican Revolutionary

Jose Maria Morelos on a Mexican 50-peso note

Amanda Lewis / Getty Images

José María Morelos (September 30, 1765–December 22, 1815) was a Mexican priest and revolutionary. He was in overall military command of Mexico’s Independence movement in 1811-1815 before the Spanish captured, tried, and executed him. He is considered one of the greatest heroes of Mexico and countless things are named after him, including the Mexican state of Morelos and the city of Morelia.

Fast Facts: Jose Maria Morelos

  • Known For: Priest and rebel leader in the war for Mexican independence
  • Also Known As: José María Teclo Morelos Pérez y Pavón
  • Born: September 30, 1765 in Valladolid, Michoacán, New Spain
  • Parents: José Manuel Morelos y Robles, Juana María Guadalupe Pérez Pavón
  • Died: December 22, 1815 in San Cristóbal Ecatepec, State of México
  • Education: Colegio de San Nicolás Obispo in Valladolid, Seminario Tridentino in Valladolid, Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo
  • Awards and Honors: The Mexican state of Morelos and city of Morelia are named after him, and his picture is on the 50-peso note
  • Spouse: Brígida Almonte (mistress; Morelos was a priest and could not marry)
  • Children: Juan Nepomuceno Almonte
  • Notable Quote: "May slavery be banished forever together with the distinction between castes, all remaining equal, so Americans may only be distinguished by vice or virtue."

Early Life

José María was born into a lower-class family (his father was a carpenter) in the city of Valladolid in 1765. He worked as a farm hand, muleteer, and menial laborer until entering the seminary. The director of his school was none other than Miguel Hidalgo (leader of the Mexican revolution) who must have left an impression on the young Morelos. He was ordained as a priest in 1797 and served in the towns of Churumuco and Carácuaro. His career as a priest was solid and he enjoyed the favor of his superiors. Unlike Hidalgo, he showed no propensity for "dangerous thoughts" before the revolution of 1810.

Morelos and Hidalgo

On September 16, 1810, Hidalgo issued the famous "Cry of Dolores" to kick off Mexico's struggle for independence. Hidalgo was soon joined by others, including former royal officer Ignacio Allende, and together they raised an army of liberation. Morelos made his way to the rebel army and met with Hidalgo, who made him a lieutenant and ordered him to raise an army in the south and march on Acapulco. They went their separate ways after the meeting. Hidalgo would get close to Mexico City but was eventually defeated at the Battle of Calderon Bridge, captured shortly thereafter, and executed for treason. Morelos, however, was just getting started.

Morelos Takes up Arms

Ever the proper priest, Morelos coolly informed his superiors that he was joining the rebellion so that they could appoint a replacement. He began rounding up men and marching west. Unlike Hidalgo, Morelos preferred a small, well-armed, well-disciplined army that could move fast and strike without warning. He would often reject recruits who worked the fields, telling them instead to raise food to feed the army in the days to come. By November, he had an army of 2,000 men and on November 12, he occupied the medium-sized town of Aguacatillo, near Acapulco.

Morelos in 1811-1812

Morelos was crushed to learn of the capture of Hidalgo and Allende in early 1811. Still, he fought on, laying an abortive siege to Acapulco before taking the city of Oaxaca in December of 1812. Meanwhile, politics had entered the struggle for Mexican independence in the form of a Congress presided over by Ignacio López Rayón, once a member of Hidalgo's inner circle. Morelos was often in the field but always had representatives at the meetings of Congress, where they pushed on his behalf for formal independence, equal rights for all Mexicans, and continued privilege of the Catholic Church in Mexican affairs.

The Spanish Strike Back

By 1813, the Spanish had finally organized a response to the Mexican insurgents. Felix Calleja, the general who had defeated Hidalgo at the Battle of Calderon Bridge, was made Viceroy, and he pursued an aggressive strategy of quashing the rebellion. He divided and conquered the pockets of resistance in the north before turning his attention to Morelos and the south. Celleja moved into the south in force, capturing towns and executing prisoners. In December of 1813, the insurgents lost a key battle at Valladolid and were put on the defensive.

Morelos’ Beliefs

Morelos felt a true connection to his people, and they loved him for it. He fought to remove all class and race distinctions. He was one of the first true Mexican nationalists and he had a vision of a unified, free Mexico, whereas many of his contemporaries had closer allegiances to cities or regions. He differed from Hidalgo in many key ways: he did not allow churches or the homes of allies to be looted and actively sought support among Mexico’s wealthy Creole upper class. Ever the priest, he believed it was God’s will that Mexico should be a free, sovereign nation: the revolution became almost a holy war for him.


By early 1814, the rebels were on the run. Morelos was an inspired guerrilla commander, but the Spanish had him outnumbered and outgunned. The insurgent Mexican Congress was constantly moving, trying to stay one step ahead of the Spanish. In November of 1815, the Congress was on the move again and Morelos was assigned to escort it. The Spanish caught them at Tezmalaca and a battle ensued. Morelos bravely held off the Spanish while the Congress escaped, but he was captured during the fighting. He was sent to Mexico City in chains. There, he was tried, excommunicated, and executed on December 22.


Morelos was the right man at the right time. Hidalgo started the revolution, but his animosity toward the upper classes and his refusal to rein in the rabble that made up his army eventually caused more problems than they solved. Morelos, on the other hand, was a true man of the people, charismatic and devout. He had a more constructive vision than Hidalgo and exuded a palpable belief in a better tomorrow with equality for all Mexicans.

Morelos was an interesting mixture of the best characteristics of Hidalgo and Allende and was the perfect man to carry the torch they had dropped. Like Hidalgo, he was very charismatic and emotional, and like Allende, he preferred a small, well-trained army over a massive, angry horde. He notched up several key victories and ensured that the revolution would live on with or without him. After his capture and execution, two of his lieutenants, Vicente Guerrero and Guadalupe Victoria, carried on the fight.

Morelos is greatly honored today in Mexico. The state of Morelos and city of Morelia are named after him, as are a major stadium, countless streets and parks, and even a couple of communications satellites. His image has appeared on several bills and coins throughout Mexico's history. His remains are interred at the Column of Independence in Mexico City, along with other national heroes.


  • Estrada Michel, Rafael. "José María Morelos." Mexico City: Planeta Mexicana, 2004
  • Harvey, Robert. "Liberators: Latin America's Struggle for Independence." Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 2000.
  • Lynch, John. "The Spanish American Revolutions 1808-1826." New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986.
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Minster, Christopher. "Biography of Jose Maria Morelos, Mexican Revolutionary." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Minster, Christopher. (2023, April 5). Biography of Jose Maria Morelos, Mexican Revolutionary. Retrieved from Minster, Christopher. "Biography of Jose Maria Morelos, Mexican Revolutionary." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).