O'Reilly y Mcdowell, Alejandro (1723–1794)

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O'Reilly y Mcdowell, Alejandro (1723–1794)

Alejandro O'Reilly y McDowell (Alexander; b. 24 October 1723; d. 23 March 1794), governor of Louisiana (1769–1770) and inspector general of the Spanish Army. A native of Beltrasna, county Meath, near Dublin, Ireland, O'Reilly was schooled in Spain at the Colegio de las Escuelas Pías de Zaragoza. His military career began at the age of ten, when he became a cadet in the Hibernian Infantry Regiment. He took part in the Italian campaigns of Isabella, queen consort of Philip V, from 1734 to 1736 and again from 1740 to 1748, and was seriously wounded in the latter affair.

Following service in two European wars, O'Reilly studied Austrian, Prussian, and French military organization. As a military consultant, he introduced Prussian tactics to the Spanish army. He was promoted to brigadier and then to inspector general and field marshal of the army. In his role as inspector general he accompanied Spain's captain general of Cuba, the Conde de Ricla, to Cuba and Puerto Rico in 1763 and 1765. Reaching Havana on 30 June 1763, O'Reilly participated in the restoration of Havana to Spanish control following the Treaty of Paris (10 February 1763) in which Havana, under British occupation, was exchanged for Florida. He reformed the Cuban militia, setting up a system that endured for nearly a century. Returning to Spain, O'Reilly won favor with King Charles III when he commanded troops accompanying the king in his flight to Aranjuez during the riots of March 1766 against Esquilace.

Three years later, on 16 April 1769, while in La Coruña, he was appointed to head an expedition to put down a revolt in Louisiana, where dissident elements had expelled the Spanish governor, Antonio de Ulloa, in 1768. Arriving in Havana on 24 June 1769, O'Reilly commanded a force of 2,056 men and twenty-one ships. The fleet sailed on 6 July, reaching New Orleans on 18 August to take control of the colony. An immediate investigation and trial of the conspirators took place and on 24 October the ringleaders of the revolt were condemned to death.

The rapid conclusion of the trial enabled O'Reilly to devote his remaining months in the colony to a thorough reorganization of Louisiana's administration, including political, military, and fiscal reforms, the promulgation of a new legal code, the Code O'Reilly, as well as religious and commercial reforms. The most important of O'Reilly's reforms was his integration of Louisiana into the Spanish commercial system.

O'Reilly departed New Orleans in March of 1770, and in April returned to Spain, where he established a military academy at Ávila for infantry, cavalry, and engineers. On 28 January 1772 Charles III bestowed on him the title of Conde de O'Reilly y Vizconde de Cavan.

O'Reilly's later career was marked by failure. He commanded the ill-fated expedition to Algiers in 1775, which historian John Lynch has called "a model of military incompetence." Uninformed about the strength of the enemy, and following an ill-advised battle plan, some 5,000 Spanish troops were killed or wounded. When O'Reilly later blamed this defeat on the cowardice of his troops, protests took place in several cities. O'Reilly was subsequently referred to as "General Disaster."

In 1780 he was appointed captain-general of Andalusia and governor of Cádiz. With the death of Charles III in 1788, he lost much of his support, resigning his post in 1789 and retiring to Valencia. When the French National Convention declared war against Spain in 1793, he was called back to service to command the Spanish Army in the Eastern Pyrenees. He died en route at Murcia and was buried in Cádiz.

See alsoLouisiana Revolt of 1768; Militias: Colonial Spanish America.


O'Reilly's role in Cuban military reform is detailed in Allan J. Kuethe, Cuba, 1753–1815: Crown, Military, and Society (1986), esp. pp. 31-51. His Louisiana career is described in John Preston Moore, Revolt in Louisiana: The Spanish Occupation, 1766–1770 (1976), and Bibiano Torres Ramírez, Alejandro O'Reilly en las Indias (1969). The disastrous Algiers campaign is described in John Lynch, Bourbon Spain, 1700–1808 (1989). Also useful is Jack D. L. Holmes, "Alexander O'Reilly," in The Louisiana Governors: From Iberville to Edwards, edited by Joseph G. Dawson III (1990), pp. 49-52.

Additional Bibliography

Ingersoll, Thomas N. Mammon and Manon in Early New Orleans: The First Slave Society in the Deep South, 1718–1819. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999.

                                   Brian E. Coutts

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O'Reilly y Mcdowell, Alejandro (1723–1794)

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