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Gálvez, Matías de (1717–1784)

Gálvez, Matías de (1717–1784)

Matías de Gálvez (b. 2 July 1717; d. 3 November 1784), captain-general of Guatemala and forty-eighth viceroy of New Spain. He was born in Macharaviaya, Málaga, Spain, the eldest of at least five sons. His younger brother José de Gálvez, minister general of the Indies from 1776 to 1787, made possible Matías's success. Matías's son Bernardo Gálvez (1746–1786) succeeded his father as viceroy.

After a military career characterized by devotion to duty, Gálvez was ordered to Central America as inspector general of the Spanish forces. He arrived at San Fernando de Omoa, Honduras, in July 1778. Gálvez's immediate duty was to prepare the defense of Central America against possible British attack. On 15 January 1779, Gálvez was appointed to replace Martín de Mayorga, who was named viceroy of New Spain, as captain-general and governor of Guatemala. His principal responsibilities were to speed implementation of the Bourbon reforms, to drive the British from the Caribbean coast of Central America, and to finish the construction of a new capital city.

Gálvez reformed the militia and led successful attacks against the British in Honduras in 1779 and in Nicaragua in 1781. He also negotiated successful treaties with the Miskito Indians on the coast. His successes earned him the accolades of the Ayuntamiento of Guatemala as a "true father" of the region and a promotion to field marshal.

As a Bourbon reformer Gálvez attempted to encourage the economy of the region by offering economic incentives and by weakening the economic domination by a clique of merchants in Guatemala City. He established a banco de rescate in Tegucigalpa, and granted repartimientos of Indians to increase mining production in Honduras. To stimulate indigo production, Gálvez created a monte pío (fund for widows and orphans) for the growers so they would not have to rely on the credit extended by Guatemalan merchants. Also to weaken the Guatemalan oligopoly over the prices paid at the annual indigo fair, Gálvez instituted a pricing board and moved the fair. To assure an adequate supply of cattle and full collection of taxes, he moved the annual cattle fair deeper into El Salvador. During his tenure, tax collections increased over 20 percent, but control of the local economy was never wrested from Guatemala City. Despite short-term success, within two decades most of the changes wrought by Gálvez, both military and administrative, were completely undone.

As a result of his accomplishments in Central America and his family connections, Gálvez was named interim viceroy of New Spain on 14 August 1782 and assumed that post in April 1783. Four months later he earned a full viceregal appointment. His term in Mexico was marked by the reconstruction of Chapultepec Palace, improvement of the drainage system of Mexico City through the construction of dikes and drainage canals, installation of a lighting system, establishment of a branch of the Banco de San Carlos, and tighter administration of the real hacienda. During his tenure there was a tripling of royal receipts, due more to external factors than to administrative changes by Gálvez. He died in Mexico City.

See alsoIndigenous Peoples; New Spain, Viceroyalty of.


Cayetano Alcázar Molina, Los Vírreinatos en el siglo XVIII, (1945).

Troy S. Floyd, "Guatemalan Merchants, the Government, and the Provincianos, 1750–1800," in Hispanic American Historical Review 41, no. 1 (1961): 90-110, and The Anglo-Spanish Struggle for Mosquitia (1967), esp. pp. 133-162.

Mariana Rodríguez Del Valle and Angeles Conejo Díez De La Cortina, "Matías de Gálvez," in Los virreyes de Nueva España en el reinado de Carlos III, edited by José Antonio Calderón Quijano, vol. 2 (1968).

Wilbur E. Meneray, The Kingdom of Guatemala During the Reign of Charles III, 1759–1788 (1975).

Agustín Mencos Franco, Estudios históricos sobre Centro América (1982).

Additional Bibliography

García Granados, Sergio. Libre crezca fecunda: Guatemala en el siglo de las luces, 1729–1821. Guatemala: Magna Terra Editores, 2005.

Rodríguez O, Jaime E., ed. Mexico in the Age of Democratic Revolutions, 1750–1850. Boulder, Co: Lynne Rienner, 1994.

                                      Wilbur E. Meneray

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