How the Spanish saved the American Revolution

Bernardo de Gálvez (1746-1786) was a Spanish aristocrat who was Governor of Louisiana from 1777-81. He led the successful Spanish attack on Pensacola, then capital of British West Florida, in 1779.

Happy 4th of July!  Did you know that the American patriots would have failed without help from the Spanish – including their representatives in the U.S.?  Below is an illuminating article that serves to illustrate exactly how Spain saved the American Revolution, making it possible for us to celebrate our Independence today.  Viva la Independencia!


by Dr. Mildred Murry and Chuck Lampman

The French and Indian War, 1756-1763, was the genesis of Spain’s aid to the Patriots in the American Revolution, for Britain, in conquering France and Spain, set the stage for international revenge. August 15, 1761 Spain and France pledged mutual support to each other in perpetuity with the Bourbon Family Pact, and, on October 16, 1762, France ceded Louisiana to Spain. The Treaty of Paris, 1763, gave Britain nearly all of the French Empire in North America and a large part of Spain ‘s. Short of another war, how could Spain recoup her losses?

Britain provided the answer. Her harsh laws, acts and proceedings after the war forced her colonial empire, especially the 13 colonies in North America, to help pay for the war, to raise additional revenue and to maintain British government leaders and military forces in the colonies. This new policy generated strong opposition to these measures. Spain was watching the unfolding colonial reactions — Boston Tea Party, Lexington and Concord, oratory by the likes of Patrick Henry and the writings of Tom Paine among others, which were viewed as acts of treason by Britain, but noted as steps toward independence by Spain. Patriot Commissioners, who were to meet with heads of state in Europe, were sent by the First and Second Continental Congresses to offer them the return of lands lost in the French and Indian War and to grant favored trade nation status to any country or duchy that would provide war materiel and/or other aid to the Patriots.

Spain responded to this offer; in four ways, but not openly: money loaned, money given; a clandestine world trading company to provide war materiel and to bring European military leaders to America; opening literally a second front; and sending Spanish observers to America.

Money loaned, money given

The first recorded moneys were two million livres in hard currency and war materiel. Thus, the United States currency, the Continental, was secured by Spanish silver dollars. Two additional sums were noted: the first, $74,087.00, was loaned to Patriots Oliver Pollock and Thomas Willing and, second, $174,011.00 to John Jay, United States Emissary to Spain. Another source was King Carlos III’s August 17, 1780 Royal Order asking Spanish and Indian males in the Americas to donate two dollars and one dollar respectively in equivalent goods, the records of which were sent to Mexico City for distribution — a mystery of history not quite solved, although rumors abound. Fr. Serra, Father President of Alta California, called this a “war tax.” Alta California sent $4,216.00.

A clandestine operation

This project provided war materiel and brought European military leaders to the Patriots through a “dummy” world trading company — Roderique Hortalez et Cie. Based in Paris, but operated out of St. Eustatius in the Lesser Antilles, the Bourbon Kings of Spain and France each provided one million livres to start the company in May of 1776, six weeks before the Declaration of Independence. The materiel and leaders were sent via ships from St. Eustatius to Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Charleston, South Carolina and New Orleans in the Spanish Province of Louisiana, then up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and across the Braddock and Bedford roads. For example, Patriots received this support for the Battle of Saratoga and during the Northwest campaigns led by George Rogers Clark. Baron F. W. Augustus von Steuben was brought to Valley Forge with these funds as were Casimir Pulaski, Thaddeus Kosciuszko et al for other Patriot activities.

Another military front

Spain literally started another military front against the British as soon as war was declared in 1779. Governor of Louisiana, Count Bernardo de Galvez, received orders to take back forts the Spanish had lost to the British in 1763. September 6, 1779, Galvez took Ft. Bute at Manchas in the Mississippi River Valley with no losses to Spain. Taking the fort at Baton Rouge was a more formidable task, but the Spanish captured it September 20. Galvez next secured the peaceful surrender of Natchez October 5. The next year, Galvez led his forces to capture Mobile, West Florida. The attack on Pensacola in 1781 was on land and sea with Galvez Commander-in-Chief; however, Joseph Calvo de Irazabel led the fleet from Havana. Pensacola proved to be the most difficult of the three-year campaign, although, again Spain triumphed. There was one more battle between Spain and Britain May 8, 1782 when Spain regained the Bahamas from England. Although more military action was planned, negotiations for the Treaty of Paris 1783 had begun, and hostilities ceased in the Atlantic and along its seaboard. Protection of Spanish treasure ships from British pirates continued from the Spanish Main (Cartegena and Bilboa to Havana to Cadiz) and from Manila to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) to Acapulco.

Much less is known about major military actions in the Pacific. Since 1768, Spain had a major port and shipbuilding center at San Blas on the west coast of Mexico in addition to Acapulco. More than 20 ships plus treasure galleons operated on a regular schedule supplying Pacific Coast missions, presidios and pueblos as well as trading up and down the coast, across the Pacific and in the Far East. Skirmishes were reported between Spanish and British ships during the American Revolution. Explorations of the northern Pacific also took place in what is known today as Vancouver Island, Glacier Bay, Prince William Sound and Unalaska where lands were claimed and lookouts established for Russian and English ships.

One of the greatest impacts of the Spanish navy was keeping the English in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico from reinforcing Cornwallis at Yorktown October 1781.

Spanish Observers

These were sent to United States in much the same way that the Patriots sent Commissioners to Europe. The first and best known was Juan de Miralles who became a partner in the trading firm of Robert Morris and Thomas Willing. Miralles and George Washington also became personal friends and professional correspondents.

The early land claims from the Atlantic to the Pacific made by four colonies — Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina — were finally settled by the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

Information confirming Spain’s role in the American Revolution can be found in the acts and proceedings of the Continental Congresses recorded by Charles Thomson. Additional material is available in the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Historical Park Service and university and private collections. Spanish sources include California Mission Archives and Archivos General de Indies, Seville, Spain.

About Admin

"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.