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Drawn portrait of Bernardo de Gálvez

Bernardo de Gálvez

Bernardo de Gálvez was no patriot. But like the patriots, he found an enemy in Great Britain. El enemigo de mi enemigo es mi amigo.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Born in Spain in 1746, a young Bernardo Vicente Apolinar de Gálvez y Madrid participated in the Spanish army's invasion of Portugal and fought against the Portuguese and their British allies during the Seven Years' War. De Gálvez became a colonel in 1776, the same year America declared independence, and became governor of Spanish-controlled Louisiana on January 1, 1777.

It may not have been de Gálvez's intention to become involved in the politics of the rebelling thirteen colonies, but his position was strategically important to advancing Spain's global interests.

Spanish aspirations

Great Britain defeated Spain in the Seven Years' War. Charles subsequently looked for a way to weaken the British, thwart their efforts in the American colonies, and reap the global benefits of a defeated Great Britain. Spain’s plans remained a closely guarded secret

An illustrated map of North America showing the territories of East Florida and West Florida changing from Spanish-controlled to British-controlled

Spain's loss of Florida left most of the coastline east of the Mississippi under British control.

An illustrated map of North America showing de Gálvez's location in New Orleans

From his post in New Orleans, de Gálvez was the perfect conduit for Spain's clandestine support of the American cause.

An illustrated map of North America showing a route into New Orleans.

Ships could pass undetected into New Orleans, avoiding the blockade that the British Navy established around most of the port cities on the east coast.

An illustrated map of the route ships took on the Missisippi and Ohio Rivers.

As they brought muskets, gunpowder, and other supplies into the city, de Gálvez arranged for their transportation up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and eventually into the hands of patriot troops, avoiding British detection.

An illustrated map of North America showing locations of American troops raiding Florida

When Americans launched raids along the Mississippi in 1778, de Galvez allowed them to sell their captured goods in New Orleans.

Declaration of war

The next year another treaty changed everything. On April 12, 1779 Spain signed a treaty of alliance with France, embracing Great Britain as their mutual enemy. King Charles III's own declaration of war on June 21, 1779 made de Gálvez responsible for managing the whole of the Spanish war effort in North America. With only 600 soldiers and two warships under his command, de Gálvez launched his attacks.

An illustrated map of the gulf coast showing the locations of forts captured by the Spanish

Within a month de Gálvez led his troops to capture four British forts including Baton Rouge and Natchez and, later, Mobile and

An illustration of Bernardo de Gálvez during the siege of Pensacola

His from March 9 to May 8, 1781 was one of the longest sustained sieges of the Revolutionary War. His efforts were worth it.

Image: Wash drawing depicting the siege of Pensacola; Library of Congress—Rare Book Division

A pivotal victory

Once the city fell, all of British West Florida was under Spanish control, and a weakened British army and navy could not effectively support efforts in other theaters. The rest, as they say, is history.

After the Revolutionary War another Treaty of Paris (1783) ceded Florida back to Spain.

The legacy of Bernardo de Gálvez

Bernardo de Gálvez did not live long to enjoy the honors bestowed upon him for his extraordinary efforts. Though he died of yellow fever in 1786, even after his death Spanish and American citizens continue to honor him as a hero—just ask anyone in Galveston, Texas.

Today, a bronze equestrian statue of de Gálvez overlooks Virginia Avenue in Washington, D.C., where in 2014 the U.S. Congress bestowed upon Bernardo de Gálvez honorary citizenship to the country whose independence he helped to secure—patriot or not. His portrait was also recently hung in the United States Capitol building. Read more here.

Themes of the period
Modern-day Legacy

Namesake city: Galveston, IN

Namesake city: Galveston, KY

Namesake city: Galveston, TX

Namesake city: Galveston, VA

Bronze Statue: Washington, DC

Portrait in Capitol: Washington, DC

View full Monuments & Memorials Map