Written and Edited by Efrain Nieves & Victoria Cepeda
Putting together a piece based on historical facts, about the contributions of Hispanics/Latinos to U.S. History is intricate, time consuming and requires the patience of a monk. Our contributions are often buried in layers of links, manuscripts and, often purposely, obliterated from historical accounts. In other words, we are unlikely to see any of our patriots’ help to the U.S. fight for independence credited in any textbook.
Fortunately, historians that specialize in various eras and wars are not about to let their work go unnoticed. Thanks to them we come upon treasures of info that help us put in perspective how key we have been, from day one, to the expansion, settlements and prosperity of the United States of America. After all, we’ve always been a slingshot away.
Let us meet a gentleman whose contribution to the U.S. Revolutionary War that led to independence is celebrated in certain areas of southeast and southwest of the U.S.
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.
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. Gálvez, as newly appointed New Spain viceroy, 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. 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 the French and American victories at Yorktown.
More material commemorations include San Bernardo, named after Gálvez in 1778 when he was Governor of Louisiana. 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 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 this resolution.
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