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Bernardo de Gálvez, Count of Gálvez

Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Viscount of Galveston and Count of Gálvez ( ) (July 23, 1746, Málagamarker, SpainmarkerNovember 30, 1786, Mexico Citymarker) was a Spanish military leader and the general of Spanish forces in New Spain who served as governor of Louisiana and Cuba and as viceroy of New Spain.

Gálvez aided the Thirteen Colonies in their quest for independence and led the Spanish armies against Britainmarker in the Revolutionary War, defeating the British at Pensacola and reconquering Floridamarker for Spain. He spent the last two years of his life as viceroy, succeeding his father Matías de Gálvez y Gallardo, who had been viceroy before him. Galveston, Texasmarker and several other places are named for him.

Origins and military career

Gálvez was born in Macharaviayamarker, a mountain village in the province of Málagamarker, Spainmarker, on July 23, 1746. He studied military sciences at the Academia de Ávila and at the age of 16 participated in the War against Portugal, where he was promoted to lieutenant. He arrived in New Spain, then Mexico, in 1762. As a captain, he fought the Apaches, with his Opata Indian allies. He received many wounds, several of them serious. In 1770, he was promoted to commandant of arms of Nueva Vizcaya y Sonoramarker, northern provinces of New Spain, comprising even New Mexico.

In 1772, he returned to Spain in the company of his uncle, José de Gálvez. Later, he was sent to Paumarker, France with the Cantabria regiment. There, he learned to speak French, which served him well when he became governor of Louisiana. He was transferred to Sevillemarker, in 1775, and then participated in the disastrous expedition of O'Reilly to Algiersmarker. Gálvez himself was seriously wounded. After capturing the fortress that guarded the city, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He then became a professor at the military academy of Ávila.

Spanish governor of Louisiana

In 1777, he was sent to Louisiana, as a colonel and interim governor of the province. This was the large territory that later became the Louisiana Purchase. It had been ceded by France to Spain, in 1763, in compensation for the loss of Florida to England. In 1779, he was promoted to brigadier.

In 1777, he married doña Marie Felice de Saint-Maxent Estrehan, a young Criolla widow. They had three children, Miguel, Matilde and Guadalupe.

He practiced an anti-British policy as governor, taking measures against British smuggling and promoting trade with France. He also established free trade with Cuba and Yucatán. He founded Galvez Town, in 1778, and promoted colonization of Nueva Iberiamarker.

Indian policy

Prior to Gálvez, Spanish policy had always been to deny firearms to the native peoples and in the New World the Spanish dealt severely with those who would trade arms to the Indians. However, Gálvez had relatively few troops and was vastly outnumbered by Indians who had historically warred with each other. He, therefore, reversed the Spanish policy and actively provided guns to the Indians. He wrote in a 1779 report, "The vanquishment of the heathen consists in obliging them to destroy one another."

American Revolutionary War

Galvez let an American force through New Orleans before Spain joined the cause. Gálvez was sent to Florida by New Spain Viceroy Martín de Mayorga, at the head of an expedition of colonial troops to aid American colonists in their rebellion against Britain. Spain's motive was the chance to recover territories lost to the British, particularly Florida, and to remove the on-going British threat.

On June 21, 1779 Spain declared war on England. On June 25, 1779 a letter from London marked secret and confidential, went to General John Campbell of Strachur at Pensacola from King George III and Lord George Germain. General John Campbell was instructed that it was the object of greatest importance to organize an attack upon New Orleans. If General John Campbell thought it was possible to reduce the Spanish fort at New Orleans, he was ordered to proceed immediately to make preparations. These preparations included: (1) secure from Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Parker as many armed vessels as could be spared from Jamaica, (2) collect all forces which could be drawn together in the province, (3) take as many faithful Indians as the Superintendent could supply, (4) draw on the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury for all expenses.

As an unfortunate twist of fate for General John Campbell, upon which his whole career was decided, this secret communication fell into the hands of Governor Galvez. After reading the communication from King George III and Germain, Gálvez, Governor of Louisiana swiftly and secretly organized Louisiana and New Orleans for war.

Gálvez carried out a masterful military campaign and defeated the British colonial forces at Manchac, Baton Rouge, and Natchez in 1779. The Battle of Baton Rouge on September 21, 1779 freed the lower Mississippi Valley of British forces and relieved the threat to the capital of Louisiana, New Orleansmarker. In 1780, he recaptured Mobilemarker from the British at the Battle of Fort Charlotte.

His most important military victory over the British forces occurred May 9, 1781, when he attacked and took by land and by sea Pensacola, the British (and formerly, Spanish) capital of West Florida from General John Campbell of Strachur. The loss of Mobile and Pensacola left the British with no bases in the Gulf of Mexico, except for Jamaicamarker. In 1782, he captured the British naval base at New Providencemarker in the Bahamasmarker.

He received many honors from Spain for his military victories against the British, including promotion to lieutenant general and field marshal, governor and captain general of Louisiana and Florida (now separated from Cuba), the command of the Spanish expeditionary army in America, and the titles of viscount of Gálveztown and count of Gálvez.

The American Revolution ended while Gálvez was preparing a new campaign to take Jamaica.

The importance of Galvez's campaign from the American perspective was that he denied the British the opportunity of encircling the American rebels from the south, and kept open a vital conduit for supplies. Galvez also assisted the American revolutionaries with supplies and soldiers, a good deal of it through intermediary and committed revolutionary, Oliver Pollock.

Gálvez, who saw it convenient for France and Spain to advance the cause of the American revolutionaries, was among those who drafted the terms of the Treaty of Paris that ended the war. By the treaty Spain officially regained East and West Florida from the British.

In recognition of his work and help to the American cause, George Washington took him to his right in the parade of July 4th and the American Congress cited Gálvez for his aid during the Revolution.

Galveston, Texasmarker and St. Bernard Parish, Louisianamarker were both named after him. The Louisiana parishes of East Felicianamarker and West Feliciana marker were named after his wife Marie Felice de Saint-Maxent Estrehan.

The Cabildomarker, a branch of the Louisiana State Museum located on Jackson Square, New Orleans, Louisiana in New Orleansmarker, has a portrait of General Galvez accompanied by a display of biographical information.

In 1911 in Galveston, TXmarker, a hotel was built and named after him.

Viceroy of New Spain

Gálvez returned to Spain, in 1783, and fought in the campaign in the Netherlands. The following year he was sent back to the Indies, this time as governor and captain general of Cuba. Shortly after he arrived in Havana, his father, Matías de Gálvez y Gallardo (then the viceroy of New Spain), died. Bernardo de Gálvez was named to fill the position. He arrived in Veracruzmarker, on May 26, 1785, and made his formal entry into Mexico City in June.

During his administration two great calamities occurred, the freeze of August 27, 1785, which led to famine, and the plague of 1786. During the famine, he donated 12,000 pesos of his inheritance and 100,000 pesos he raised from other sources to buy maize and beans for the populace. He also took measures to increase agricultural production in the future.

He reconstructed Chapultepec Castlemarker, which had been unoccupied. He began the installation of street lights in Mexico City, and the construction of the towers of the cathedral. He continE work on the highway to Acapulcomarker, and he took measures to reduce the abuse of Indian labor on the project. He dedicated 16% of the income from the lottery and other games of chance to charity.

He promoted science in the colony by sponsoring the expedition of Martín Sessé y Lacasta and Vicente Cervantes. This expedition sent to Spain a comprehensive catalog of the diverse species of plants, birds and fish found in New Spain.

On one occasion, when the viceroy was going on horseback to meet with the Audiencia (according to his own report), he encountered a party of soldiers escorting three criminals to the gallows. He suspended the hanging, and later had the criminals freed.

He was simple, amiable, gallant and frank. He traveled about the city in an open, two-horse carriage, attended bullfights, pilgrimages and public fiestas, and was generally welcomed with applause. The Audiencia, however, did not have such a favorable view of the viceroy. They were suspicious of Gálvez's popularity, fearing that he would follow the American example and declare New Spain's independence. The Audiencia communicated these suspicions to Madrid, and the Crown severely rebuked Gálvez. He became melancholy and unsociable.

Then, he became ill and was confined to his bed. On November 8, 1786, he turned over all his governmental duties except the captain generalship to the Audiencia. He died November 30, 1786, in Tacubaya (now part of Mexico City).He died at age 40. Rumor had it that he was poisoned by his enemies with the approval of the Court. His body was interred in the cemetery of San Fernando, in the city proper.

He left some writings, including Ordenanzas para el Teatro de Comedias de México and Instrución para el Buen Gobierno de las Provincias Internas de la Nueva España.

In popular culture

In the Lorenzo series of young adult novels (Arte Publico Press and Blooming Tree Press), Don Bernardo de Gálvez is a main character. Lorenzo's Secret Mission, 2001; Lorenzo's Revolutionary Quest, 2003; Lorenzo and the Turncoat, 2006; Lorenzo and the Pirate, 2008.



  • Chávez, Thomas E. (2002). Spain and the Independence of the United States: An Intrinsic Gift, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
  • Caughey, John Walton (1998). Bernardo de Gálvez in Louisiana 1776-1783, Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company.
  • Gálvez, Bernardo de (1967) [1786]. Instructions for Governing the Interior Provinces of New Spain, 1786. New York: Arno Press.

  • "Gálvez, Bernardo de," Enciclopedia de México, v. 6. Mexico City: 1987.
  • García Puron, Manuel (1984). México y sus gobernantes, v. 1. Mexico City: Joaquín Porrua.
  • Orozco L., Fernando (1988). Fechas Históricas de México. Mexico City: Panorama Editorial, ISBN 968-38-0046-7.
  • Orozco Linares, Fernando (1985). Gobernantes de México. Mexico City: Panorama Editorial, ISBN 968-38-0260-5.

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