Bernardo de Gálvez (1746 – 1786)
Bernardo de Gálvez was born in Macharaviaya, among the mountains of Málaga, Spain on July 23, 1746. His birth date is celebrated as Gálvez Day in a few cities across the United States and has been recognized as a day of commemoration by individuals and state congresses. His significant contributions to the independence of the United States from Britain has been recognized by various groups and regions, but is still left out of most textbooks.
Like many in his distinguished family, he chose a military career. By the age of 16, he was serving as a lieutenant in a war with Portugal, which led to his promotion to captain. In 1769, he was selected for service in New Spain. There he led attacks against the Apache, who were crippling the new Spanish economy in that part of the Americas. In the next few years, he was wounded several times but also found honor and recognition in his service. One of the early crossings of the Pecos River was called Paso de Gálvez in honor of his campaigns on behalf of Spain.
In 1772, he returned to Spain and enrolled for military studies in France. After learning the language, culture and furthering his studies of war, he returned to Spain in 1775 to serve in the Regiment of Seville where he would fight a failed battle in Algiers and suffer another wound. As a reward for service, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and assigned to the Military School of Ávila.
At this time in history, France and Spain were close allies with similar interests in the Americas. France had peacefully transferred their territory of Louisiana to the government of Spain, and in 1776 Gálvez was promoted to colonel and assigned to the Regiment of Louisiana. In 1777, be became governor of Louisiana.
Before Spain officially declared support for the rebelling colonies of Britain, Gálvez was assisting the revolution. He corresponded directly with Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Charles Henry Lee and sealed off the port of New Orleans so that British ships could not utilize the Mississippi River. He also welcomed any American patriots at his ports and river. The river, under French and Spanish administration, served as a constant source of money, ammunition and weapons to the American forces under George Washington and George Rogers Clark. By 1777, more than $70,000 had reached American troops.
On June 21, 1779, King Carlos III declared war against Great Britain and commissioned Governor Gálvez to organize forces against the English. His efforts were focused on the Mississippi and the Gulf. Texas Governor Domingo Cabello y Robles provided Gálvez with over 10,000 cattle for food and several hundred horses for the soldiers. In 1779, Gálvez led 1,400 men and captured Baton Rouge, Natchez and Manchac from the British. His troops were made up of free Blacks, Creoles and American Indians as well as his own Spanish forces. He also dispatched more than 10,000 Indians who posed a threat to General Washington. On March 14, 1780, a month long campaign ended against the British, and the 2,000 soldiers under Gálvez had captured Fort Charlotte in Mobile, Alabama. In 1781, General Gálvez dealt another blow to the British by leading 7,000 men against the British capital in Pensacola. The following year, he captured New Providence and the Bahamas. As he was preparing to capture Jamaica, negotiations brought an end to the war. Gálvez helped draw up the final treaty and was acknowledged by the new American Congress for his assistance in the peace process.
In the spring of 1783, he returned to Spain with his wife and two young children, only to be called back to service in 1784 to serve as captain-general and governor of Cuba. In 1785, Gálvez was appointed to his post of viceroy of New Spain to replace his father who had died the year before and held the post before him. Gálvez moved to the impoverished Mexico City, where he used Spain’s wealth, and his own, to decrease the suffering. He rebuilt the Castle of Chapultepec and saw the finishing of the Cathedral of Mexico, which is the largest cathedral in the western hemisphere today.
In 1786, Gálvez became ill and died. His body was placed beside his father in the Church of San Fernando. His heart was placed in an urn and kept at the Cathedral of Mexico.
Today, the legacy of Bernardo de Gálvez can be seen in the freedom America celebrates. In his service, he used men from Spain, Cuba, México, Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Costa Rica, the United States, France, Germany, Italy and Native American Nations such as the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Creek. He captured the Maryland Loyalist Regiment, the Pennsylvania Loyalists , the elite British 60th Foot (Royal Americans), the British 16th Foot, and the German Waldeck Regiment. Gálvez provided funding before Spain entered the war, and was instrumental in raising funds for eth French and American victories at Yorktown.
More material commemorations include San Bernardo, named after Gálvez in 1778 when he was Governor of Lousiana. As viceroy of New Spain, he had ordered a survey of the Gulf Coast and the largest bay was named Bahía de Galvezton. Today, it is known as Galveston, Texas. In 1977, an organization formed in Texas when people realized Gálvez’s place in history wasn’t being recognized or taught. They formed the Granaderos y Damas de Gálvez. In 1980, a US postage stamp was issued on the 200th anniversary of his victory at Mobile. In 1990, the Florida legislature passed a resolution acknowledging his contributions. Jacksonville and St Augustine proclaimed July 23 to be “Gálvez Day” in 1993. In 1996, the Maryland Congress recognized the role of Gálvez and other Hispanics in American Independence with a resolution.