1775 - 1783

Spanish Assistance in the Independence of the United States

Spanish Legacy in the United States of America

The Contribution of Spain to United States Independence

Spain helped the citizens of the thirteen colonies with money, arms, ammunition, blankets and clothes, and eventually, with direct military assistance. As George Washington himself recognized, without Spain’s help he would not have won the war.

Spain’s decisive aid in support of United States Independence is not a well-known fact. So as to avoid an open and direct confrontation with the British Crown, Spain, under Charles III and his minister Floridablanca, designed a discreet plan to render assistance that strategically involved several fronts: American ships harassing British boats were allowed to dock freely in the ports of the Mississippi controlled by Spain; the country sent large sums of money in support of the Thirteen Colonies’ struggle for independence; and it sent supplies of arms, munitions, blankets and clothing to the army commanded by Washington, who considered the aid from the Spanish fleet and the Spanish positions in North America indispensable. These included Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Estatua Diego Gardoqui, Sanguino, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
Statue of Diego Gardoqui, who was the conduit for the Spanish financial aid to the United States.

When Spain finally declared war on England, (June 21, 1779) the latter was forced to fight on more fronts and divert troops and military resources from North America. Spain was to fight Great Britain in three theaters: around the Iberian Peninsula, in Central America and in North America itself, where Bernardo de Gálvez from Malaga, the young governor of Spanish Louisiana, was to stand out.

The Military Campaign of Bernardo de Gálvez

The victories wrought by Bernardo de Gálvez against the English freed the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico for the cause of the American independence.

When Bernardo de Gálvez received the order from Charles III to take military action against England in support of American Independence, he planned a strategy that has been subsequently recognized and admired in military circles. In a quick and audacious campaign, he took the English forts of Fort Bute, Baton Rouge, and Fort Panmure de Natchez that protected the banks of the Mississippi. The strategy consisted in liberating and clearing the most important waterways for communication. This enabled them to strategically control the area, which in turn propitiated the final victory of the American independence. The victory of the Battle of Fort Charlotte (February, 1780), which protected the strategic city of Mobile, proved to be decisive in the security of New Orleans, which was at the time, the most important Spanish bastion in the area, and it also enabled the subsequent attack on Pensacola, (March, 1781), the last British enclave in the Gulf of Mexico.

Estatua de Bernardo de Gálvez (Nueva Orleans), Borja Cardelús photography, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
There are a number of statues in the United States that commemorate Bernardo de Gálvez, such as those in New Orleans and Washington.

Pensacola was considered impregnable thanks to the formidable battery of cannons at Fort Barrancas Coloradas, which closed off the entrance to the town. In a risky operation, Bernardo de Gálvez managed to introduce his fleet, commanded by José Calvo de Irazabal, into the strait, emerging unscathed from English artillery fire. Galvez himself, on board the brigantine “Galveztown”, in one of the most audacious operations in naval history, successfully guided three additional fleets that led the attack. After he was wounded, José de Ezpeleta took charge.

His brave prowess was rewarded when the motto “Yo Solo”, “I Alone”, was included in his coat of arms in order to pay tribute to his decision to cross alone the dangerous straight that provided access to the bay. The city of Galveston, in Texas, owes its name to this legendary and mythical Spanish man.

Barco Galveztown cañoneado, Juan Carlos Arbex (provided by Borja Cardelús), From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
To take Pensacola from the British, Bernardo de Gálvez penetrated the bay solo, under intense English artillery fire.

The battle and subsequent taking of Pensacola is considered the most important military action undertaken by Spain in the Independence of the United States. George Washington recognized this assistance by inviting Diego Gardoqui, the first ambassador of the Spanish crown in the United States, to accompany him in the parade celebrating American Independence. On that day that went down in history, the only foreign ship anchored in the bay was the “Galveztown”.

Rótulo de Bernardo de Gálvez (Natchez), Borja Cardelús photography, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
Plaque in memory of the seizure by Bernardo de Gálvez of the fort of Baton Rouge, one of the English positions in Mississippi.
Cañón en Barrancas Coloradas, Borja Cardelús, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
The powerful cannons of Barrancas Coloradas were unable to hit Bernardo de Gálvez’s “Galveztown”.
Cuartel de Barrancas Coloradas con bandera americana, Borja Cardelús, From the collection of: Spanish Legacy in the United States of America
In Barrancas Coloradas, Spanish troops fought one of the key battles that impacted the result of the war between England and the United States.
Credits: Story

Autor — Borja Cardelús ©. Para el Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores y de Cooperación del Gobierno de España. www.borjacardelus.com
Créditos de las ilustraciones y de las fotografías © — Borja Cardelús, Eshter Merchán, Bernardo Lara, Juan Carlos Arbex

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
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