Childhood & Early Life
Espejo was born in 1747 to Luis de la Cruz Chuzhig, a Quichua Indian from Cajamarca, and Maria Catalina Aldás, a mulatta native to Quito. Espejo had two younger siblings, Juan Pablo and María Manuela.
Despite his family’s unstable economic condition, Espejo had a good education and acquired medical knowledge by working alongside his father at de la Misericordia hospital.
He was spared from racial discrimination as his family was considered of white race. He graduated from medical school on July 10, 1767, and later went on to study canon law and jurisprudence under Dr. Ramón Yépez from 1780 to 1793.
On August 14, 1772 he asked for permission to practice medicine and was granted the same on November 28, 1772. After that, there is no information about his whereabouts until 1778, when he wrote a polemical sermon.
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In 1779, Espejo wrote a satirical manuscript in the style of the Greek satirist, Lucian. The manuscript, called the El nuevo Luciano de Quito, was written in dialogues so that it could be understood by the common man. This work was written by Espejo under a pseudonym and criticized the corruption of the colonial authorities and the lack of education among the people of the Audencia.
In 1781, he wrote La cienciablancardina, a second part to his first satirical manuscript, as an answer to the criticism of a Mercedarian priest from Quito.
In an attempt to get rid of him, the authorities named him head physician for the scientific expedition of Francisco de Requena to the Pará and Marañon rivers to set the limits of the Audiencia. Espejo tried to decline the appointment but wasn’t spared. He then tried to flee but was unsuccessful and was captured and brought back as a criminal of serious offense.
In 1785, Espejo was asked to write about smallpox by the town council, and he wrote a detailed work, criticizing the hygiene conditions in the Audencia. In this work, he severely criticized the physicians and priests who were in charge of public health in the Audencia. This work won him a lot of enemies and he was forced to leave Quito.
On his way to Lima, he stopped in Riobamba, where a group of priests asked him to write a reply to a report written by Ignacio Barreto, chief tax collector. Espejo took up the task and wrote Defensa de loscuras de Riobamba (Defense of the clergy of Riobamba), a detailed study of the way of life of the Indians from Riobamba and a powerful attack on Barreto's report.
In March 1787, he wrote eight satirical letters which he called Cartas riobambenses. In response to these letters, his opponents in the government denounced Espejo before the President of the Royal Audiencia, Juan José De Villalengua. On August 24, 1787, Villalengua requested that Espejo either to go to Lima or return to Quito to occupy a post in the government, and subsequently arrested him.
Espejo was accused of writing a satire against King Charles III and the Marquis de la Sonora, called El Retrato de Golilla. He was taken to Quito, and from prison he sent three petitions to the Court in Madrid, which decreed, on Charles III's behalf, that the case was to be taken to the Viceroy of Bogota. President Villalengua sent Espejo to Bogota.
In Bogota, Espejo met Antonio Nariño and Francisco Antonio Zea and began to develop his ideas on liberty. In 1789, one of the followers of Espejo arrived in Bogota and both of them got the approval of important members of the government for the creation of the Escuela de la Concordia, called later the Sociedad Patriótica de Amigos del País de Quito (Patriotic Society of Friends of the Country of Quito).
On October 2, 1789 Espejo was set free and was given permission to return to Quito on December 2.
In 1790, Espejo returned to Quito and began to promote the Patriotic Society. The society’s main duty was to improve the city of Quito. Its members met once a week to discuss issues such as agriculture, education, politics, and social problems. The Society founded Quito's first newspaper, Primicias de la Cultura de Quito, published by Espejo starting on January 5, 1792. Through this newspaper liberal ideas were spread among the people of Quito.
The same year Espejo was appointed as director of the National Library.
On November 11, 1793, Charles IV dissolved the Patriotic Society. Because of his liberal ideas, Espejo was imprisoned on January 30, 1795. He was allowed to leave the cell only to treat his patients as a doctor.