Bernardo de Galvez

Bernardo de Galvez

(1746-1786)

Remembered today in New Orleans and along the Gulf of Mexico, Bernardo de Galvez was the most energetic and successful of the governors of Spanish Louisiana. He helped the American patriots during the Revolutionary War, and he restored a measure of glory to the Spanish Empire in North America.

Galvez was born in Malaga, Spain in 1746. His father and his uncle were both prominent court officials. Galvez entered the Spanish army as a lieutenant and was promoted to captain in 1762. Three years later, he went to Mexico with his uncle, Jose de Galvez, who had been appointed ministergeneral of the province of New Spain (Mexico.)

Galvez fought in a campaign against the Apache Indians along the Rio Grande in 1770. He returned to Spain in 1775, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel after he was wounded in a Spanish campaign in Africa. Galvez was sent to Spanish Louisiana in 1776, and was named acting governor in January, 1777.

In November, 1777 Galvez married Felicite Destrehan, a widowed daughter of a prominent French Creole family. The marriage quickly gained him the affection and loyalty of the native Creole population of New Orleans.

Galvez favored the /American colonies in their struggle for independence. He channeled funds to American frontier forces fighting inthe Illinois country. When Spain declared war on Great Britain in May, 1779, Galvez mobilized forces to eject the British from their forts on the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

Two hurricanes—one in August, 1779 and the other in October, 1780—scattered Galvez’s fleets; however, he remained undaunted. His forces occupied the British fort at Mobile in 1780, and captured the well-defended fort at Pensacola, Florida after a four-month siege in 1781. By the time the war ended, Galvez had captured the entire British province of West Florida. King Charles HI of Spain awarded him a royaltitle with the motto, A Yo Solo (I Alone) on his coat of arms.

As a reward for his military exploits, Galvez was made Viceroy of New Spain in 1785; he arrived with his wife and three children in early 1786. Galvez began a new policy toward the Indians, doing away with the old solutionsof building presidios and missions, and replacing them with the idea of tying the Indians to the Spanish through economic and technological dependence.

However, he became seriously ill with fever in 1786, and died before he could see his new ideas carried out. Galveston Bay and Galveston, Texas are named in Galvez’s honor, and he is commemorated in New Orleans with a statue.