This Day in History: Bernardo de Gálvez, Spanish Governor — and American hero!

On this day in 1746, a future Spanish Governor and supporter of the Patriot cause is born in Malaga, Spain. You probably don’t know his name, but you’ve surely heard of a city named in his honor: Galveston, Texas! Or maybe you’ve traveled down Galvez Street in New Orleans?

General Bernardo de Gálvez has been described as one of those historical figures “whose contributions are barely noticed in classroom histories, but without whom, events would have turned out dramatically differently.”

“For Spain and King: Galvez in America” — Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau.

Gálvez was born into a military family. As early as age 16, he was fighting in a war against Portugal. Gálvez thrived in this military atmosphere and was designated commander of the Spanish troops in Louisiana at about the time that America was declaring its independence. He was also appointed Governor of Louisiana.

His appointment was a boon for Americans.

Gálvez helped Americans, even though Spain had not formally entered the war against England. He secured New Orleans so that British supplies could not be sent up the Mississippi —and he looked the other way when the Patriots smuggled supplies through themselves. He expelled all British subjects out of Louisiana. In fact, his efforts were so helpful that they elicited admiring comments from Oliver Pollock, an American agent in New Orleans.

“I cannot conclude this important Subject,” he wrote to Congress, “without giving the greatest Applause to Governour Galvez for his Noble Spirit & Behaviour . . . .”

When Spain declared war against Britain in 1779, Gálvez seized the opportunity to help in a more proactive fashion. He mobilized a force of 1,400 men and embarked on a campaign against British forts in the area. Would you believe that a hurricane chose that moment to strike, sinking the boats that he and his men were supposed to use? Not to be hindered, Gálvez’s force continued on, marching more than 100 miles on foot toward Fort Manchac.

Perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear that this campaign and two subsequent ones were wildly successful. Multiple British forts and naval vessels were captured. Mobile and Pensacola were both secured for Spain.

Gálvez’s efforts were vitally important to the American war effort. If nothing else, they distracted the British and forced them to maintain another theater of war to the south.

Gálvez became Viceroy of New Spain after the war, but he unfortunately died in 1786. Thus, he saw us gain our independence, but he did not live long enough to see the new United States government get off the ground in 1789.

Yet without him, one wonders if our Constitution would ever have had an opportunity to be written in the first place.

P.S. The painting is “For Spain and King: Galvez in America” by Barcelonese painter Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau.