A few huts of sun-dried bricks, thatched for the most part with straw or reeds, a tiny church, and the ruins of a more splendid temple, erected long years before the coming of Cortez and the Cross, constituted the modest settlement. Fruit trees in profusion among the houses, and cultivated land in the valley beyond, attested at once the industry of the inhabitants and the fertility of the upland soil. And at San Pablo Guelatao, on the 21st of March, 1806, was born to Marcelino Juarez and Brigida Garcia, his wife—Indians both of the pure blood of the Zapotecs—a man child, who received at the village church the Christian names of Benito Pablo.
Marcelino and Brigida were small cultivators, tilling their little fields. The childhood of their son Benito was that of an Indian peasant. At the age of three, indeed, he was deprived of both his parents ; and brought up partly by a grandmother and partly by an uncle, he was at the age of twelve years not only entirely ignorant of letters, but even of the Spanish language.
It appears that these children of the mountain enjoyed in the city of Oaxaca a reputation for honesty and hard work, something similar to that possessed by the modern Gallegos in Madrid or the Auvergnats in Paris; and in 1818 little Benito, sturdy and resourceful after twelve years of life and work among his native hills, made his way, alone and unassisted, from San Pablo to the capital, to seek some humble employment in the household of one of the citizens.
His elder sister had, it seems, already obtained some domestic service, and it is possible he may have intended to share her labours; but he more fortunately found a home in the house of an honest bookbinder, one Antonio Salanueva, who had received the minor orders, and was attached to a confraternity of the Third Order of St. Francis at Oaxaca. The man and boy were mutually pleased with each other, and the young Indian, under the care of his good Christian master, promptly acquired the Castilian language, and gave proofs of an uncommon intelligence, as well as of uncommon industry. Benito, indeed, was no ordinary scholar; but Fray Antonio was no common Franciscan, and under his sympathetic care the orphan child of the mountains forgot none of the best traditions of his race and nation, and grew up from an honest servitor to be an honest student.
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TEXT CREDIT: A life of Benito Juarez: constitutional president of Mexico