Gálvez, Bernardo de

views updated May 29 2018

Bernardo de Gálvez

Born July 23, 1746
Macharaviaya, Spain
Died November 30, 1786
Mexico City, Mexico

Governor of the Spanish province of Louisiana, viceroy of New Spain (Mexico)

Bernardo de Gálvez, an aristocrat born in Spain and trained for a military career, became governor of the Spanish colony of Louisiana in 1777. When Spain entered the Revolutionary War on the side of the American colonies, he helped fight the British in Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida. He kept the British busy in the South, and finally drove them from the area, freeing it up for American trading. For these successes, he was named a don (an aristocratic title similar to the British earl) by the Spanish government, and eventually was made viceroy (overall ruler) of New Spain (Mexico).

Bernardo de Gálvez was born in the Malaga province (state) on the southeast coast of Spain in 1746. His parents were Matías and Josepha Madridy Gallardo de Gálvez. He came from a wealthy and highly regarded family, whose members served the kings of Spain as advisers, governors, and military leaders. His father, Don (Earl) Matías, was viceroy of Mexico, and his uncle, Don José, was minister of the West Indies, the highest position in the Spanish colonial empire. (The West Indies is an island chain extending from Florida to South America.)

During de Gálvez's boyhood, European nations were frequently at war. Many had interests in other parts of the world, and sought to gain power, influence, and wealth through their colonies. In the conflicts, Spain was most often allied with France and an enemy of England. Not surprisingly, if a family was wealthy and important, some of its sons would be trained for military careers. Their job would be to expand their nation's empire and then rule its territories as their king's representatives.

De Gálvez attended a famous military school in Ávila in west central Spain, where he learned military tactics, Spanish history, how to lead and inspire his troops, and devotion to the Roman Catholic religion. His family was Catholic, as was much of the Spanish population, including the aristocracy and the Spanish king, Carlos III.

Begins military career

De Gálvez's first military campaign was in 1762, when he served as a lieutenant (pronounced loo-TEN-ent), fighting for his king's interests in Portugal. For his service, he was made captain of the military unit at La Coruña in northwest Spain. At this time, the way to further a young man's military career was to gain experience protecting or expanding the king's interests in the colonies. For a Spaniard, this meant service in New Spain, the territory now known as Mexico and the south western United States.

De Gálvez first journeyed to America with his uncle when Don José did a tour of inspection of New Spain. He was assigned to the northern frontier of New Spain in 1769, where he was in charge of Spain's military forces in the Mexican state bordering on what is now Arizona. While on this tour of duty, he fought Apache Indians, whose raids along the Pecos River in Texas and the Gila River in Arizona were interfering with trading in the area. De Gálvez demonstrated some of his diplomatic skills at this time by forming alliances with the Native Americans who were enemies of the Apaches. During this 1770–71 military campaign, he was wounded and decorated for bravery under fire. A ford (a shallow place for crossing) on the Pecos River was named Paso de Gálvez in his honor.

Further education in France

De Gálvez returned to Spain in 1772, and then traveled to France to learn about French military tactics. While there, he learned the language and an appreciation of French culture. When he returned to Spain in 1775, he participated in an assault on Algiers, in north Africa, as an infantry captain (infantry were foot soldiers). He was wounded, promoted, and sent to teach at his old military school in Ávila.

In 1776, de Gálvez was made a colonel (pronounced KER-nuhl) and sent to command the Spanish military post at New Orleans, Louisiana. He was named governor of Louisiana on January 1, 1777. He was just thirty-one years old at the time.

The king of France gave the territory of Louisiana to his friend and ally, King Charles III of Spain, as a gift. Most of the European settlers in Louisiana were of French descent, and they did not like the idea of Spanish rule. During his governorship, de Gálvez again demonstrated his genius for getting along with the local population. In colonial Louisiana, the local population was the Creoles. Creole, as it is used here, means a person of French heritage who was born in America. The Creoles kept their French language and customs, and resented any discourteous behavior by European-born visitors or rulers.

De Gálvez did more than make friends with the Creoles; he married one of them. His wife was Félicité de St. Maxent d'Estrehan, the daughter of an important Creole leader in New Orleans. Local merchants liked de Gálvez because he restored certain trading rights that had been taken away by a previous Spanish governor.

As governor of Louisiana, de Gálvez turned a blind eye to the American stockpiling of weapons in New Orleans warehouses. The Americans were preparing to declare war against Great Britain.

Europe watches the American revolution

At the time of the American Revolutionary War, most of what is now the United States was claimed by other countries. England had claims in the northeast, northwest, and what was called "the Floridas"—portions of the states of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. The British had lined the east bank of the Mississippi River with a series of forts and trading towns to protect British interests.

Spain owned most of the territory west of the Mississippi River. (The vastness of this part of the Spanish American empire stretched uninterrupted from the middle of the present-day United States to the Rocky Mountains, into northern California, and then south through Mexico, down through Central America, and into most of South America). In contrast, by the mid-1700s, France had lost much of its Canadian territory to England as part of the settlement of an earlier war. However, France still had hopes of regaining this territory and did have an interest in the Canadian area called Quebec. Its French citizens in eastern Canada were forcibly evicted by the new British rulers. These French Canadians trekked southward into Louisiana, and became known as Acadians.

England, Spain, and France were all interested in keeping or expanding their lands in North America. The British were horrified when their American colonies declared war in 1776, but the French and Spanish waited to see how severe this threat would be to England's empire. The French and Spanish were not passive, however. During the years leading up to the American Revolution, France and Spain helped the rebels by providing information about British movements, and by giving them supplies and ammunition.

During the time before Spain officially entered the war, de Gálvez tried to help the American cause. As a Spanish aristocrat, he did not believe strongly in the American goal of liberty from its colonial parent or in equality for all people. Rather, he saw the revolution as a way to help Spain's interests—including regaining the territories of Florida and parts of Alabama, which had once belonged to Spain. One of his first moves was to make sure that the port city of New Orleans would be open only to Spanish, American, and French ships. He cut off the British from this key supply route into the American heartland. He also stored Spanish supplies so they would be ready for the Americans when Spain entered the war.

Once Spain and France were satisfied that the Americans were serious about separating from England, these two European powers saw a chance to deal England a smashing blow. Spain was an ally of France, and followed its lead in declaring war on Great Britain and officially entering on the side of the American revolutionaries on June 21, 1779. With both Spain and France as allies, the Americans had a better chance of winning their freedom from England. Spain and France had large fleets of warships, which could interrupt British shipments of soldiers and supplies across the Atlantic Ocean. These European allies could also supply the Americans with much needed war supplies such as gunpowder, guns, medicine, food, cloth for uniforms, and information about British plans.

Saving the South for the Americans

De Gálvez helped the Americans by shipping supplies and weapons up the Mississippi River to American troops in Pennsylvania. He used his own army to attack British forts and trading towns on the Mississippi River. Because the British were busy sending men to protect these forts, there were fewer British soldiers to fight the American armies.

De Gálvez's army of fourteen hundred men was made up of his Spanish soldiers from the Louisiana fort, as well as volunteers who were Creoles, Acadians (French Canadians), Choctaw Indians, and free African Americans.

De Gálvez next planned to push the British eastward, back toward the Atlantic Ocean. His army marched eastward to take the British Fort Charlotte at Mobile (in what is now Alabama). This key British fort was also the closest port to New Orleans, and could be a future threat to Spain unless it was captured. By the time of the Mobile campaign in March 1780, de Gálvez's army had swelled to two thousand men, and was supported by Spanish naval forces from their base in Havana, Cuba (a large island off the southern coast of Florida and an important Spanish naval base).

The next fort to fall to de Gálvez's army was Fort George in Pensacola, in the Florida panhandle. This was an important victory, because Pensacola was the capital of British West Florida. In May 1781 de Gálvez took the city through a combined army-navy siege, which lasted two months. (A siege is when an enemy force surrounds a city or fort, cutting the defenders off from all supplies and reinforcements.) His forces now numbered seven thousand men. The guns at the British fort were firing on the Spanish navy ships, and the Spanish commander refused to risk his ships by sailing into Pensacola. De Gálvez took over the commander's ship and sailed it into the bay despite being wounded in the stomach and in the hand. His bravery ensured the victory and earned him the respect and loyalty of both soldiers and sailors.

De Gálvez's overall victories in the southern United States meant that Spain controlled both banks of the Mississippi River and the five thousand miles of shoreline around the Gulf of Mexico. It also meant that just as the British were taking the war into the American South, their lines of supply were cut off. Their lack of support was a major turning point in the war. (In the long run, the removal of the British from the Floridas also helped pave the way for American expansion into the southeast. The United States eventually gained the Florida territory through purchase, not war.)

The war moves to the islands

In May 1782 de Gálvez's forces took their fight into the Bahamas, a group of islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the southeast coast of Florida. The islands were held by the British. De Gálvez and his combined army-navy force captured the British navy's key supply city of New Providence. De Gálvez next turned his attention to the nearby island of Jamaica, also held by the British. However, the Revolutionary War ended before he could launch his campaign against this British stronghold.

For his efforts on behalf of the American cause, the U.S. Congress gave de Gálvez a citation (a document honoring him) and asked for his advice in writing some of the terms of the treaty with England that ended the war. Always a Spanish patriot, de Gálvez made sure that the Floridas returned to Spanish control as part of the treaty. This same treaty made the Mississippi River the western border of the United States, giving the new American republic much more land than Great Britain had originally planned.

Promotion and rewards follow

De Gálvez returned to Spain with his Creole wife and two small children at the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War in 1783. In 1783–84, he served as an adviser to the king on Spanish policies toward the Florida and Louisiana territories. For his war efforts and in recognition of his continuing service to the crown, de Gálvez was awarded the title of "don," an aristocratic title similar to a French count or an English earl. He also was named a major general in the Spanish army, and made captain general of the Floridas and Louisiana.

In 1784 de Gálvez was named captain general of Cuba. His headquarters were in Havana, from which he commanded all Spanish military forces in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1785 de Gálvez succeeded his father as viceroy of New Spain and took up residence in Mexico City. (Viceroy is the Spanish title given to the governor of a country or province who rules in the name of his king.) As viceroy, de Gálvez again demonstrated his ability to help opposing parties reach agreements. He involved local politicians in decisionnaking and was a very popular leader. One of his acts as viceroy was to order maps to be made of New Spain. In his honor, one of his mapmakers named a bay off the coast of east Texas "Bahía de Galvezton" (or Galveston Bay in English). The Texas city of Galveston is also named for de Gálvez.

Barely a year later, in November 1786, de Gálvez died of a fever and was buried at the Church of San Fernando, next to his father, the former viceroy. Shortly after de Gálvez's death, his widow gave birth to their third child. Some historians believe de Gálvez died of an epidemic that swept through Mexico City, while others believe that he finally fell victim to the malaria that he first contracted during his service in Louisiana.

For More Information

Blanco, Richard L. "Galvez, Bernardo de" in The American Revolution: 1775–1783, An Encyclopedia, vol. A–L. New York: Garland Publishing, 1993, pp. 613–15.

Fleming, Thomas. "Bernardo de Gálvez: The Forgotten Revolutionary Conquistador Who Saved Louisiana" in American Heritage, vol. 33. (April–May 1982): 30–39.

Fleming, Thomas. "I, Alone." Boys' Life, vol. 70. (November 1980): pp. 22–24, 69.

Sinnott, Susan. Extraordinary Hispanic Americans. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1991, pp. 68–70.

Tyler, Ron., ed. "Gálvez, Bernardo de" in The New Handbook of Texas. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1996, pp. 73–74.

Web Sites

Diaz, Héctor. Hispanics in American History [Online] Available http://www.coloquio.com/galvez.html (accessed on March 12, 1999).

PBS. "Bernardo de Galvez and Spain." [Online] Available http://www.pbs.org/ktca/liberty/chronicle/galvez-spain.html (accessed on March 21,1999).

An Inspiring Leader of Men

Bernardo de Gálvez was one of the first leaders of an international army. When he marched on British possessions in the American South in 1779, his army included soldiers from many different backgrounds. There were the Spanish soldiers (called "regulars") who were posted at the fort in Louisiana. They were joined by Acadians (the French Canadians who had been expelled by the English and who had migrated to Louisiana, then a French territory). Armed by their hatred of the British, the Choctaw Indians further swelled de Gálvez's force. Local militiamen (citizen soldiers, not professionals) joined, and included New Orleans Creoles, free blacks, and American frontiersmen.

By the time de Gálvez was ready to march on the British islands in the Atlantic Ocean in 1782, his forces included Spanish and local marines from Havana, Cuba. Another regiment under de Gálvez's command included the Irish Brigade, made up of Irish soldiers who offered their services to the Spanish because the Irish resented British control of Ireland. More than five hundred French soldiers also fought under de Gálvez.

De Gálvez's gift for finding common ties among groups of people was a valuable asset throughout his military and political life, but never more so than when he commanded his international army. His skill as a leader helped ensure the American victory during the Revolutionary War (1775–83).

Bernardo de Gálvez

views updated Jun 08 2018

Bernardo de Gálvez

Bernardo de Gálvez (1746-1786), a Spanish colonial administrator, was captain general of Louisiana during the American Revolutionary War. His heroic exploits against the British during the war won him fame both in Spain and in America.

Bernardo de Gálvez was born in Macharaviaya in the province of Malaga on July 23, 1746. Though poor, the Gálvez family belonged to the Spanish nobility, and young Gálvez was able to pursue an active and successful military career. At the outbreak of the American Revolution, Gálvez was assigned the post of commandant of the Spanish troops stationed in Louisiana, with the rank of colonel. He soon became governor and intendant of that Spanish province, assuming office in February 1777. Two years later the Revolutionary War became a world struggle as Spain joined its forces with those of France in the battle against Great Britain. Spain refused to ally itself directly with the United States or to recognize American independence because of its own position as a colonial power. Nevertheless Spain supplied the Americans with secret aid and undertook a vigorous military campaign of its own in America under the leadership of Gálvez.

Even before Spain came into the war, Gálvez had been actively engaged in providing arms to the Americans in the Louisiana area. On Spanish entry into the war, however, Gálvez took direct action against the British, and in three brilliant campaigns drove them out of West Florida, thus securing control of the mouth of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico for Spain. Of all his exploits in this period, the most famous was his daring conquest of Pensacola, in Florida, in May 1781. At the end of the war he returned to Spain to receive a hero's welcome; promotion to the rank of major general; appointment as captain general of Louisiana, East and West Florida, and Cuba; and elevation to the viceroyalty of New Spain.

In 1784 Gálvez went back to America, where he acted as principal adviser to Diego de Gardoqui in preliminary negotiations with the new United States over the Florida boundary question, a treaty of commerce, and the right of Americans to free navigation of the Mississippi River; it was these negotiations that led to the Jay-Gardoqui treaty in 1786. In 1785 Gálvez was responsible for ousting from Natchez, in Mississippi, the Georgia commissioners who had come to establish Bourbon County. That same year, however, he won the thanks of the American government for his part in releasing American merchants being held at Havana. Gálvez died in Mexico on November 30, 1786.

Further Reading

The standard account of Gálvez's career remains Alcée Fortier, A History of Louisiana, vol. 2 (1904). See also John Walton Caughey, Bernardo de Gálvez in Louisiana, 1776-1783 (1934). □

Gálvez, Bernardo de

views updated Jun 08 2018

Gálvez, Bernardo de

GÁLVEZ, BERNARDO DE. (1746–1786). (Visconde de.) Governor of Spanish Louisiana and Florida. Born in Macharaviaya, Spain, of a prominent family at the royal court, he served as a lieutenant against the Portuguese (1762); was promoted to captain and served in New Spain against the Apaches (1769–1770) before being stationed in Algiers (1775); and was promoted to lieutenant colonel, serving at the military school at Ávila. He became acting governor and intendant of Louisiana in January 1777. During the next two years, before Spain's entry into the war, he attempted to weaken the British in his area. He supported the Patriot supply agent Oliver Pollock by providing sanctuary for James Willing in his raids on British West Florida and by seizing British ships that had been engaged in a profitable contraband trade. When Spain entered the war, Gálvez took military action. In 1779 he captured the British river posts of Manchac, Baton Rouge, and Natchez. He took Mobile on 14 March 1780 and forced the surrender of Pensacola during 8-10 May 1781.

He returned to Spain in 1783–1784 to consult on future Spanish policy in the Floridas and the Louisiana territory. Promoted to major general, given his title of nobility, and appointed captain-general of Louisiana and the Floridas, he returned to America and had a prominent part in subsequent diplomatic negotiations with the United States. He became captain-general of Cuba and in 1786 he succeeded his father as viceroy of New Spain while retaining his previous posts. Only a few months after his fortieth birthday, he became ill of a fever and died in Tacubaya, Mexico.

SEE ALSO Manchac Post (Fort Bute); Mobile; Pensacola, Florida; Pollock, Oliver.


Caughey, John W. Bernardo de Gálvez in Louisiana, 1776–1783. 1934. Reprint, Gretna, La.: Pelican, 1999.

Holmes, Jack D. L. "Bernardo de Gálvez." In The Louisiana Governors: From Iberville to Edwards. Edited by Joseph G. Dawson III. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990.

Lafarelle, Lorenzo G. Bernardo de Gálvez: Hero of the American Revolution. Austin, Tex.: Eakin, 1992.

                        revised by Robert Rhodes Crout