Meet the Black American ‘Buffalo Soldier’ Who Defected After Connecting With Filipinos Against Racism

David Fagen was an African American soldier who defected to the Filipino Liberation Army during the U.S.-Philippine War of 1899–1902.

 

His early life: It is unclear when Fagen was born, but according to Blackpast.org, he was born in Tampa, Florida around 1875. Author and historian Phillip Hoffman, however, claims he was born in 1878.

  • In his book “David Fagen: Turncoat Hero,” Hoffman writes that Fagen was the son of former slaves, but Blackpast.org also claims he was the son of a merchant and a widower.
  • He was born in a town called The Scrub, “named after the scrub Palmetto which the area was full of. It was a pool for black labor and white developers who were rapidly developing the city of Tampa came there to get laborers. It was the height of Jim Crow.”
  • Fagen worked as a laborer for Hull’s Phosphate Company where he earned $1 a day.
  • On June 4, 1898, at the age of 23, Fagen enlisted in the 24th Infantry, one of the all-Black cavalries and regiments known as the “Buffalo Soldiers,” and was sent to combat in Cuba.
  • After a year in Cuba, Fagen was deployed in Manila to fight in the U.S.-Philippine War.

Defection to the Philippine Liberation Army: Fagen allegedly began to identify more with the plight of the Filipinos during the war and defected to the Filipino side on Nov. 17, 1899.

  • Fagen, who became a highly decorated combat professional at the time of his deployment in the Philippines, became disillusioned by the orders given to them in the country.
  • “They believed that they were being sent to help fight a Tagalog warrior chief who, now that the Spanish had been kicked out of the Philippines, was trying to take over the whole country and govern it on his own, a tyrant,” Hoffman said.
  • “They had learned we weren’t there to help the Philippines establish a democracy. The United States was taking the Philippines. We were going to rule it by force,” he added. “We slaughtering Filipinos by the thousands. And, we were torturing Filipinos to get information on the other Filipinos and we were executing Filipinos.”
  • According to Esquire, several Buffalo Soldiers recounted in diary entries and letters the widespread racism experienced by both African Americans and Filipinos at the hands of the U.S. military.
  • Many Black soldiers in the Philippines were ordered to do “dirty jobs” and often risked their lives on the frontlines, while the White commanders stayed away from harm.
  • In “Black Soldier, White Army: The 24th Infantry Regiment in Korea,” George L. MacGarrigle, T Bowers William, and William M. Hammond write that White soldiers looked down on all people of color, referring to the Filipinos as “gugus,” “n*ggers,” and “Black devils.”

  • After winning the trust of Filipino soldiers, Fagen took sanctuary in the areas around Mount Arayat in Pampanga province controlled by guerilla soldiers.
  • Fagen served in the Filipino army for a few years, earning praise for his bravery.
  • On Sept. 6, 1900, he was promoted from first lieutenant to captain by his commanding officer, General Jose Alejandrino.
  • His popularity among his Filipino comrades also earned him the title of “General Fagen” even though his official rank was captain.
  • He clashed against American troops at least eight times between Aug. 30, 1900 to Jan. 17, 1901.
  • Fagen, accompanied by his Filipino soldiers, was able to capture a steam launch in the Pampanga River and seized its cargo of guns. They were able to flee before the American cavalry arrived.
  • Fagen became a legend in both Filipino and American press.
  • “He became the most notorious and hated American traitor of the Philippine-American War and simultaneously a Philippine hero,” Hoffman said. “That’s how I got the name David Fagen: Turncoat Hero.”
  • At least 20 other soldiers followed Fagen’s footsteps and defected to the Filipino side. Six of them were captured by American forces and two of those soldiers were hanged in front of other soldiers as a warning.

The alleged death of David Fagen: American soldiers had issued a wanted poster for the head of Fagen and placed a $600 reward to whoever could capture him.

  • A Filipino hunter named Anastacio Bartolome approached the Americans on Dec. 5, 1901, and presented a severed head claiming it was Fagen’s.
  • However, no records of Bartolome ever receiving his reward were found.
  • The military file for Fagen’s death is reportedly titled, “The Supposed Killing of David Fagen.”
  • Although the American soldiers were not convinced by the severed head, they still ended the manhunt for Fagen.
  • Reports of his occasional sightings were still made even after his supposed death.

Feature Image via @historic_ly

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