Since arriving in Spain seven years ago, my search for Spanish ancestors (Francisco Bouligny – Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana under Bernardo de Galvez) has given me an awareness of just how little we Americans know about the vital importance of Spain’s assistance in our War of Independence from English rule.
What follows grew out of my own research and discussions with other interested American’s both in Spain and the US. It started out as a desire to share this information with fellow Americans who stayed in my companies (www.rentalspain.com) short term furnished apartments for tourism and business stays in Madrid, and grew into membership in the SAR and involvement with the DAR.
My hopes are that the reader will also catch my desire to learn more, and spread the word in attempt to fill this gap in a very important part of our nation’s history.
At the end of The War of the Spanish Succession 1713-14
Britain was in possession of Gibraltar and Menorca. Over the next 50 years there were a number of European wars and constant struggle for domination which even involved Russia and Poland.
However the real starting point for this commentary was the Seven Years War of 1756 -1763. In the closing year Spain allied itself with France via the “Bourbon” Third Family Compact, and thereby shared in its defeat by Britain
At the Treaty of Paris in 1763 Spain lost Florida which then included the Gulf Coast up to the vast Louisiana territory. To Portugal it lost Uruguay.
France lost all of Canada and India, and ceded to Britain all of its territory east of the Mississippi River. However, New Orleans and the vast Louisiana Territory Louis XV felt better given over to Bourbon Spain.
The size of this territory was huge! It included parts of Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Subsequent to the treaty, Britain was too war-weary to hold onto many of these spoils and returned the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique to France, and Cuba to Spain. It did however retain lumbering and trading rights and activities throughout the Caribbean.
Spain’s King Carlos III was a far sighted and energetic Monarch and took this defeat to heart and commenced building up his naval and military forces towards that time when he and Britain would once again be at war.
Simultaneously he put in place economic and administrative reforms that initiated an economic regeneration both in Spain and its American holdings.
When the time was right for Spain, why did it ally itself with France, in support of the Colonies?
Spain wanted the return of Gibraltar and Menorca, the control of Florida, Jamaica and the Bahamas, and the control of navigation on the Mississippi River. It also wanted to eliminate British establishments on the east coast of Mexico and Honduras.
In order to achieve this, Carlos III and his Ministers decided upon a policy of Divide and Rule. That is, by helping the “rebelling English Colonies” fight for their independence, they could thereby tie up British money, fleets and troops in North America, while Spanish forces set about directly clearing the British out of the Caribbean.
As history has shown, Spain’s Divide and Rule strategy proved especially helpful to the “Rebelling English Colonists” in achieving victory and their own independence.
In the writers opinion, the history of Spain’s contribution is most interestingly told through insights to those whom Carlos III chose to accomplish his goals.
Jose Monnino y Redodo, Conde de Floridablanca: Minister of State – Probably the most important non-combatant, if not person, in all of this. The rebuilding of the naval and military forces Carlos III initiated required time. Unlike France which openly declared war on Britain in 1776 in support of the rebelling English Colonies, Floridablanca kept Spain from declaring war on Britain until 1779. That is to say, not until Spain was prepared to do so.
He doggedly pursued the goal of getting Britain out of the Gulfs of Mexico and Caribbean right up to the signing of peace in 1783. Only in not regaining Gibraltar and capturing Jamaica did he fall short of his goal.
Pedro Pablo Abarca de Bolea, Conde de Aranda: Spain’s minister to France. At the insistence of Floridablanca he was the only Spanish representative through which official business with the American Commission, headed by Benjamin Franklin, could take place and that only in Paris. In fact, in 1777, one American Commissioner was refused entry through northern Spain in order to protect Spain’s “neutrality” vis a vis the British.
Aranda’s close dealings with the American Commission made him a convert to their cause and very pro-American. So much so that he pressured Madrid for Spain’s declaration of war on Britain years before his superior, Conde de Floridablanca, judged Spain ready to do so.
Diego Maria de Garoqui Aniquibar: Basque – Head of the banking firm Gardoqui e Hijos in Bilbao. He spoke English and is one of the few non-governmental participants in this affair.
Through his bank, financial aid and supplies such as blankets, shoes and stockings, and medicines flowed to the Colonies via New Orleans. He secretly outfitted American privateers, like John Paul Jones, who would come into Bilbao and northern Spanish ports to sell the spoils of their captures from British merchant ships.
In 1785, he became Spain’s first ambassador to the United States.
In a certain sense Spain’s contribution to The American Revolution could be called “The Family of Macharavialla Affair”
These three members of the Galvez family were all born in that little Spanish hill town just inland of the southern Mediterranean Coast, not too far from Malaga.
Jose de Galvez – Minister over the Council of the Indies and patron of his older brother Matias and nephew, Bernardo de Galvez. Jose had overall responsibility for Spain’s wartime activities in the Americas and through the Minister of State, Floridablanca convinced Carlos III that Spain’s priority in the Americas should be that of defeating the British in Florida along the Gulf Coast and up the Mississippi River, before concentrating its efforts in the Caribbean campaign.
Matias de Galvez, Brother to Jose and father of Bernardo de Galvez. Like others of his family he rose quickly up the military ranks and was appointed Captain General of Guatemala in 1779 where British timber cutting, illicit trade and smuggling had become a significant drain on Spain’s Central American revenues.
He was quickly successful in defeating and stopping British activities throughout the Gulf of Mexico in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. As importantly, he was a key player in Spain’s “Divide and Rule” policy, with his activities preventing British strategists from concentrating their forces against either the Colonist Revolt or Caribbean campaign.
For his achievements he was named “Viceroy of Nueva Espana” and died in that office in Mexico. Later he would be followed by his son Bernardo, who also died in that office in 1786 at the age of 40.
Bernardo de Galvez After a very successful military career under his uncle Jose in Nueva Espana which included fighting Native American Indians and expelling Spanish Jesuit priest from the same western part of the North American continent. He was made Governor of Louisiana in 1776.
From 1776 to 1783 his diplomatic, financial and military exploits against the British in the Mississippi River valley, along the Gulf Coast of Florida and contribution to British defeat at Yorktown, all proved to be Spain’s most direct and immensely important contribution to the American Revolution.
Already in 1775 Spain was stockpiling gun powder, bullets and clothing in New Orleans in anticipation of the Colonies declaration of independence. Transported up the inland water ways of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, some of these supplies would even eventually reach George Washington’s troops on the East Coast.
Together with an Irish-American merchant and agent from Virginia, Oliver Pollock, Bernardo supplied the successful American campaigns lead by George Rogers Clark against the British in the trans-Allegany regions (Pennsylvania and Ohio of today). And thanks to Bernardo’s wartime activities these were the only British attacks on the Colonists along their western borders.
By the end of the war Pollock had bankrupted himself and forfeited his lands buying supplies from Spain in support of his nescient United States. In the years after the war Bernardo came to his assistance in obtaining repayment from Congress.
Fought by Spanish Forces under the command of Bernardo de Galvez where not one American Colonialist was present.
Upon Spain’s declaration of war in 1779, Bernardo immediately set out from New Orleans to defeat the British. Just 90 miles up the Mississippi river he defeated them first at Fort Bute at Manchac and thence Baton Rouge
1780 – His troops took the British fort at what is now St Louis, Missouri.
1781- His Spanish led French militia operating from St. Louis won a winter victory at St. Josephs on the shores of Lake Michigan!!
1780 – The Battle of Mobile. Was three months in the making from the time Galvez set sail from New Orleans to his victory.
The year before, a hurricane had drowned 400 of his men while enroute. Again he was weather delayed in arriving at the port, followed by the stranding of two of his ships in the mouth of the harbor. While he ultimately did receive reinforcements from Havana on the eve of his attack, it was not before his original troops had manually unloaded the stranded vessels and moved their supplies and cannons miles into position.
In the end he had assembled around 800 men against the 200 British defenders. However during the time he was preparing for his attack, a British force of 1100 from Pensacola had marched to within three leagues distance behind him, so one can not exactly say that he had the advantage!
The lieutenant governor of Louisiana under Galvez, Francisco Bouligny was an acquaintance of and met with the British Commander in an attempt to obtain an early surrender. However that gentleman replied that honor bound him not to surrender without a fight.
The battle and surrender took place in one day!
Fortunately for Galvez, upon hearing of the surrender, the Commander of the Pensacola forces simply marched back home.
For this success Carlos III gave Bernardo de Galvez the title of “Field Marshall for the Spanish Operation in the Americas”.
1781 – The Battle of Pensacola – As much as Bernardo wanted to move directly from Mobile on to this port, he was unable to do so for another year due to lack of support from Havana and another hurricane that frustrated movement into position.
Unlike Mobile when he supported his troops with his own vessels at Pensacola Galvez also had the Spanish naval fleet from Havana. While he was THE overall commanding officer, in the end he had to badger and insult the naval commanders to enter the harbor and engage the enemy. This was because their own Admiral’s vessel ran around on the approach and he adamantly refused to enter the harbor.
Therefore it was Bernardo ALONE on his vessel The Galvezton that entered the harbor under fire from the British fort and set up a beach head. Having seen this, the smaller Navy vessels skulked into the harbor and the real business of preparing to attack the fort finally got underway. Similar to Mobile his troops had to man handle their cannons and supplies into position.
At this point he had 3500 men and with the arrival of a combined Spanish and French reinforcement fleet from Havana his total reached 7000 men.
On the second day of bombardment a Spanish howitzer struck and destroyed the armory in the outer defenses, killing some 150 men. It is reported that Francisco Bouligny led one of the first charges through the destroyed battlements and pulled down the British Colors
For this success Bernardo de Galvez was given the title of “Conde de Galvez” and permission to place the silhouette of his ship The Galvezton and the words “Yo Solo” (I alone) on his Coat of Arms
A bit later in 1781- Bernardo put down a revolt in Natchez on the Mississippi River and conducted mopping up operations around Florida.
October 1781 – The battle of Yorktown, Virginia. Though no Spanish forces were there, it was Bernardo’s strategist Captain Francisco de Saavedra who had planned and funded the French Fleet and Armies presence and aid to George Washington’s troops. At Yorktown the British army under the command of Lord Cornwallis surrendered to this combined French and American force.
It might be said that the unsung hero of this part of the Revolutionary War is this same:
Captain Francisco de Saavedra de Sangronis. Born in Sevilla. Like Jose de Galvez he was trained in theology for a monastic life, but then turned to the military and was invited into the court of Carlos III.
In 1776 he was serving in Spain’s Embassy in Portugal.
After Spain’s declaration of war on England, Saavedra was sent to Havana in 1780 as “Royal Commissioner from the Court of Madrid” and was seated on Spain’s governing body for the Americas, under Jose de Galvez, “The Council of the Indies”.
Saavedra’s orders from Madrid were to convince the “General Committee of War” in Havana to support Bernardo de Galvez’s attacks on the western Florida gulf coast. Having convinced them of that, he then supervised preparation of the expedition of 3500 troops that included a French contingent of 4 frigates and 750 men, to reinforce Bernardo de Galvez’s attack on Pensacola.
Subsequent to Pensacola, Saavedra became Bernardo’s major strategist and principal liaison to the French Forces. In fact the French requested his transfer to the staff of their naval Commander, Comte Francois-Joseph-Paul de Grasse. He was instrumental in forming the French strategies in the Caribbean. He obtained Bernardo de Galvez’s permission to release the French fleet from the Caribbean campaign and sail it north to Virginia. Plus, he raised funds in Santo Domingo and Havana to pay for that French fleet and army’s participation in the climatic battle for US independence at Yorktown.
After Yorktown, Saavedra served the “Viceroy of Nueva Espana”, Matias de Galvez, as his strategist, in defeating the British throughout the Caribbean. His plan for an amphibious attack on British held Jamaica was relatively equivalent in size to some of the major amphibious invasions of WWII.
Years later he became one of Spain’s National heroes when he organized and led the resistance against Napoleon’s forces during their occupation of Spain.
Spain signed a Peace Agreement with Britain on the 20th of January 1783,
What might have been:
Had Britain returned Gibraltar in 1777 Spain might have withheld its support of France when it declared war on the side of the Colonies in 1776. However, at the time, King George III said “No” to the negotiations.
Two years later in 1779, Gibraltar was once again on the negotiation table but this time King Carlos III felt that protecting Spain’s Gulf and Caribbean interests by driving the British out carried a greater importance than peace with Britain and Gibraltar’s return.
Spain’s Financial Contribution:
In addition to the guns, powder, bullets, clothing, and blankets sent by Carlos III to the Colonies, Spain provided a stunning amount of money and credit.
In May of 1776 Spain and France jointly set up the dummy company of Roderique Hortalez et Cie . in Paris. Each country provided an initial investment of one million livres ($750,000) of munitions and supplies. Next they opened a line of credit for 7,730,000 livres ($5,797,500). Later still they provided an additional three million livres ($2.25 million) to be repaid by the Colonies with tobacco, indigo, potash and rice.
The Bilbao Bankers Gardoqui e Hijos, Bilbao, alone sent some 70,000 pesos ($2 million).
As mentioned earlier the strategist Saavedra funded the French fleet and 5000 troops at Yorktown, first by raising 100,000 pesos ($3 million) in Spanish Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo. He then sailed to Havana where he found a shipment of one million pesos from Mexico’s silver mines he was expecting was late. Consequently, in two days time, he locally raised and dispatched 500,000 pesos ($15 Million) to catch up with the French fleet which was already enroute to Virginia! Five days later the original one million pesos ($30 Million) arrived and he dispatched this as well! Authorization for much of this was done simply on the word of Saavedra and Jose de Galvez’s signature!
From the territories of Nueva España was contributed $126,480 from New Mexico and another $672,600 from Sonora Mexico.
Toldeo Spain: Contributed 500,000 reales ($1,875,000). And the little town of Malaga 200,000 copper reales ($37,500).
The monetary impact of Spain’s Contribution:
It is no surprise that this volume of Spanish currency flowing into the Colonies influenced the new American currency – and its appearance. For centuries Spain has used the Pillars of Hercules to symbolize its control of the Straits of Gibraltar. The Greek like pillars usually flank the royal shield and are loosely wrapped with a ribbon. The Colonists came to denote Spanish currency as an S having two vertical lines through it, which evolved into the US Dollar sign of today.
The word “Dollar” itself came from the German line of the Spanish Hapsburg’s “Thaler” and became the English word for the Spanish peso used through out Spain and the Spanish Colonies. The Colonists became accustomed to the word and made it the name for their new currency though spelled and pronounced Dollar.
In 1775, a year before the Declaration of Independence, the first issue of Continental paper money provided that the notes would be payable in “Spanish Milled Dollars or the value thereof in gold or silver”.
The American rhyme teaching children the value of money “Two bits, Four bits Six bits, a Dollar” takes its origins from the Spanish “Piece of Eight” – a coin that could be physically broken apart into 8 equal parts or bits. Two bits from the 8 equals the American “Quarter”, or 25 cent piece.
For its alliance with France in support of the rebelling English Colonies Spain wanted Gibraltar, Menorca, Florida, Jamaica, and the Bahamas and control of the mouth of the Mississippi River. Furthermore, British establishments on the east coast of Mexico and Honduras were to be eliminated.
In the end the Colonies won their independence and Spain achieved all its goals except capturing Jamaica and regaining Gibraltar.
In October of 2006 the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a plaque in the garden of the Casa de Americas in Madrid in recognition of Spain’s contribution to the American Independence. Two nights later the Madrid Council of the US Navy League (www.nlmadrid.org) presented the Supreme Commanding Officer of all Spanish Military Forces, its highest award, The Admiral Farragut Statue, in thanks and recognition for Spain’s contribution to American Independence.
The Commanding Officer was gracious in accepting the award, and responded by observing that when Spain was large and the Colonies in need, Spain gave its support, and that today when those roles have reversed, that Amistad still exists.
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