Francisco Antonio Zea

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Francisco Antonio Zea Díaz
Pedro Lovera 2012 000.jpg
1874 painting of Francisco Antonio Zea
1st Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of Colombia to the United Kingdom
In office
16 June 1820 – 28 November 1822
President Simón Bolívar Palacios
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by José Fernández Madrid
1st Vice President of Colombia
In office
17 December 1819 – 21 March 1820
President Simón Bolívar Palacios
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by Francisco de Paula Santander y Omaña
President of the Congress of Angostura
In office
15 February 1819 – 7 September 1819
Deputy Diego de Vallenilla
Personal details
Born Juan Francisco Antonio Hilarión Zea Díaz
(1766-11-23)23 November 1766
Medellín, Antioquia, Viceroyalty of New Granada
Died 28 November 1822(1822-11-28) (aged 56)
Bath, Somerset, England, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Resting place Bath Abbey
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Nationality Neogranadine
Spouse(s) Felipa Meilhon Montemayor
Children Felipa Zea Meilhon, Viscountess of Rigny
Occupation Diplomat, botanist
Religion Roman Catholic

Juan Francisco Antonio Hilarión Zea Díaz (born 23 November 1766 – 28 November 1822) was a Colombian journalist, botanist, diplomat, politician, and statesman that served as the 1st Vice President of Colombia under then-President Simón Bolívar. He was also Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of Colombia to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland where he tried in vain to gain recognition for the nascent nation of Colombia.


Francisco Antonio Zea was born to Pedro Rodríguez de Zea Casafus, a Spaniard from Marchena, Seville, and María Rosalia Ignacia Díaz Peláez whose paternal family hailed from Asturias while her maternal side was a well established Criollo Paisa family. He was baptised on 23 November 1766 with the name Juan Francisco Antonio Hilarión Zea Díaz.

Zea married in Madrid in 1805 to Felipa Meilhon y Montemayor, a gaditana born in 1788, daughter of Juan Antonio Meilhon, a native of Béarn, France, and Antonia Montemayor, native of Ronda, Málaga. Out of this marriage was born only one daughter, Felipa Antonia Zea Meilhon, who would later become Viscountess of Rigny after marrying Alexander Gaulthier, Viscount of Rigny, son of Henri, Count of Rigny. His widow died in Madrid in 1833, and his daughter then-window of Rigny, died on 4 September 1887 at the Château de Fougères.[1]

Early career

Zea began his education in Medellín, afterwards he travelled to the Real Colegio y Seminario de Popayán, where his distant relative José Félix de Restrepo was a professor. In the Seminary he became acquainted with other young Neogranadines who would go on to become precursors and martyrs of the independence such as Francisco José de Caldas, Camilo Torres Tenorio, Francisco Antonio Ulloa, and José María Cabal. He finished his studies in 1785, and although his father wanted him to continue his ecclesiastical studies, Zea moved the next year to Bogotá in hopes of studying jurisprudence, goal which he attained by applying and receiving a scholarship from the Colegio Mayor de San Bartolomé. He had to endure poverty and sickness, to the point that he was expelled for not being able to pay his pension. He was able to continue his studies with the help of Gabriel Muñoz, and in 1788 he became an adjunct professor of grammar and in 1789 adjunct professor of philosophy, positions which allowed him to improve his living situation. Maybe it was his love of teaching, or his need and desire for a stable income, but he decided to postpone his degree to teach full-time, degree which he never did achieve. He became renowned as a tutor to the extent that Viceroy José Manuel de Ezpeleta hired him as a private tutor for his children. [2]

Spanish exile

In 1794, with Antonio Nariño, he was implicated in the circulation of the"Droits de l'homme, sent to Spain, and for two years kept prisoner in the fortress of Cadiz. Although absolved in 1799, he was sent to France on a scientific mission, as the government desired to keep him away from New Granada. On his return, in 1803, he was still prohibited from returning to his country. He was elected member of several Spanish scientific societies, and was editor of the Mercurio de España and Semanario de Agricultura.[3]


In the Real Colegio y Seminario de Popayán, he wrote his "Hebephilo," for the Papel Periodico inviting young men to the study of nature, and in 1789, when José Celestino Mutis retired from the academy known as the Royal Botanical Expedition to New Granada, Zea was appointed his successor. In 1803, on his return to Spain from the scientific mission in France, he was appointed director of the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid.[3]

Exile in France

In 1808 during the Peninsular War, Zea was one of the 85 deputies from Spain convened by order of Napoleon I of France at Bayonne, to select a new king of Spain. The new king selected was Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's elder brother, under whose authority Zea entered Spain and who shortly afterwards named him prefect at Málaga. Zea's insubordination to Spain, his allegiance to France and his love of French culture and French language which he spoke fluently made him one of the few Neogranadine afrancesados of his time. Zea's time as prefect did not last long however, as with the defeat of the French in 1814, Zea had to return to seek refuge in France.[5]

Founding of Colombia

President of Congress

House of the Congress of Angostura

In 1819 Zea took part in what would be known as the Congress of Angostura, a legislative body gathered by Simon Bolivar in the city of Angostura in Venezuela, where delegates from the New Granada planned to charter the course for the new liberated nation of the Gran Colombia. When the congress first convened on 15 February 1819, Zea, as delegate for Caracas was elected President of the Congress of Venezuela and Diego de Vallenilla Arana its Deputy Secretary. This meant that while congress deliberated on the future political composition of the nation and elected its leaders, Zea was both the chief executive officer and the chief legislative officer.

The first signs of internal division began showing soon after as Venezuelans did not want to be ruled by a Neogranadine for they thought of themselves as independent of the new nation, in the end it proved too much as Zea was confronted with a lot of opposition from the Venezuelan armed forces who did not want to be commanded by a civilian, let alone a Neogranadine forcing Zea to step down on 7 September 1819, however he remained a member of congress.

Vice President

Carlos Soublette, Pedro Briceño Méndez, Francisco Antonio Zea, Gregor MacGregor and Luis Brión in Ocumare. 19th century illustration by Carmelo Fernández.

On 17 December 1819, the Congress of Angostura passed the Constitution of 1819 which officially created the First Republic of Colombia, a country made of 3 departments: Venezuela, Cundinamarca, and Quito. Congress also elected Simón Bolívar the First President of Colombia, and Zea as the First Vice President of Colombia, it also elected individual Vice presidents for the departments, Juan Germán Roscio as Vice President of Venezuela, and Francisco de Paula Santander as Vice President of Cundinamarca, the office of Vice President of Quito was left vacant as the Royal Audience of Quito was still under Spanish rule.


Lithograph by Rudolph Ackermann of His Excellency Ambassador Zea with the following extract of his letter inscribed.
"Whoever will approach Columbia with pacific benevolent intentions, may draw in full security from the common source of our riches. Such is the single basis which we are desirous to have with all the people of the earth cordiality, liberty, reciprocity. The jealousies and distrusts which were formally such fruitful sources of mischief are banished from the legislation as well as from the spirit of our fellow citizens. We will never falsify the philanthropic principles for which blood has flowed in such abundance on the field of battle & on the scaffold... Columbia derives her rights for no one. The author of her own strength, she relies upon her own means alone to maintain herself independent, powerful, free and invulnerable." – Extract from Mr. Zea's note to the Ambassadors of the different European Powers at Paris. 8 April 1822.

He returned to England in June 1822 with the objective of acquiring a loan of five million pounds sterling. Zea was able to get support for the independentist cause from many of sympathetic Englishmen who called themselves Friends of South American Independence, among them some notable figures like Edward Adolphus St Maur, 11th Duke of Somerset; Sir James Mackintosh; Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne; William Wilberforce; Sir Benjamin Hobhouse; John Diston Powles, and various other members of the British Parliament, who on 10 July 1822 at the City of London Tavern had given him a dinner party in his honour and that of Colombia's as a way to show support and raise that much needed credit for Colombia.[6] Zea however never saw the conclusion of his mission for he died shortly after.


Death found Francisco Antonio Zea at the age of 56 on 28 November 1822, at the Royal York House Hotel, in Bath, Somerset, England, where he had gone to take refuge in the famous hot springs. His remains were later interred at Bath Abbey[7] on 4 December 1822.

Statue of Francisco Antonio Zea, located at the Zea Plaza in Medellin, Antioquia.


  1. Ibáñez, Pedro María (1923) [1891]. Crónicas de Bogotá (in Spanish) (2nd ed.). Bogotá: Imprenta Nacional. p. 291. OCLC 1246712. 
  2. Córdoba Giraldo, Stella María. Gran Enciclopedia de Colombia del Círculo de Lectores (in Spanish). Biografias. Bogotá: Circulo de Lectores. Retrieved 7 June 2009. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1889). "Zea, Francisco Antonio". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 
  4. Author Query for 'Zea'. International Plant Names Index. 
  5. Ducoudray Holstein, Henri La Fayette Villaume (1829). "Chapter XXII". Memoirs of Simon Bolivar. Boston: S.G. Goodrich. p. 308. OCLC 1871839. Retrieved 9 June 2009. 
  6. Walker, Alexander (1822). "Chapter III, Section: Public Dinner to Don F A Zea". Colombia. London: Baldwin, Cradock, & Joy. pp. 728–747. OCLC 3042177. Retrieved 6 June 2009. 
  7. Britton, John (1825). "Chapter VI". The history and antiquities of Bath Abbey Church. London: Longman. pp. 192–193. OCLC 166065942. Retrieved 6 June 2009.