Today, June 21, 2013, is the 234th anniversary of Texas involvement in the American Revolution.
How did that happen? June 21, 1779, is the day on which Spain declared war on Great Britain, and that triggered a plan by King Carlos III to use the cattle resources of the province of Texas to feed Spanish troops who were to attack British forces in Louisiana and the Bahamas, as well as in what are now Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
Between 1779 and 1782, Texas vaqueros, escorted by Spanish troops from the Presidio La Bahia in Goliad and two other presidios, drove about 10,000 head of Texas cattle to Nacogdoches or Natchitoches, and Opelousas. The presidio in Goliad was the “cowtown” for purposes of the campaign, and rancheros throughout south Texas sent their cattle there for the long drives to Louisiana. Most of the cattle came from missions and ranches around San Antonio de Bexar and Goliad.
The leader of the troops was Bernardo de Galvez, a member of one of Spain’s leading families. Wounded twice during campaigns against the Apaches in the early 1770s, Galvez probably found his service against the British to be somewhat less daunting. He returned to Spain after his ultimately successful (temporarily) war against the Apaches, and then went on to fight in North Africa.
He returned to America and soon became governor of the Louisiana province, just in time to correspond with Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Charles Henry Lee, and others, and to begin helping the patriots even before Spain declared war on Great Britain, mainly be denying British access to the port of New Orleans. The Handbook of Texas says that “over the river…great amounts of arms, ammunition, military supplies were delivered to the embattled American forces under George Washington and George Rogers Clark.”
In the fall of 1779, Galvez took more direct action by taking about 1,400 troops into action, all fortified by Texas beef. Galvez defeated the British at the battles of Manchac, Baton Rouge, and Natchez. In March, after a long siege, Galvez and a combined land and sea force of more than 2,000 men captured Fort Charlotte in Mobile. On May 10, 1781, he led a land and sea force of 7,000 men to victory against Fort George in Pensacola, then the British capital of West Florida.
In May of 1782, Galvez and his men also captured the British naval base at New Providence, Bahamas. He was about to lead an even larger campaign against the British in Jamaica when the Revolution ended.
Later, he was made viceroy of New Spain following the death of his father, the previous viceroy. We will conclude this post with the words of Robert A. Thonoff, author of two books related to Galvez and his era, writing for the Handbook of Texas:
“Gálvez and his family moved to Mexico City, which was in the throes of famine and disease. He became endeared to the people of Mexico City by opening up not only the resources of the government but also his personal fortune to help the populace through the difficult times. Two of his main achievements as viceroy were the start of the reconstruction of the Castle of Chapultepec, today a showplace for the Mexican nation, and the completion of the Cathedral of Mexico, the largest cathedral in the western hemisphere.
“Gálvez died of an illness on November 30, 1786. His body was buried next to his father’s crypt in the wall of the Church of San Fernando. His heart was placed in an urn and reposed in the Cathedral of Mexico. On December 12, eight days after his funeral, his widow gave birth to another child. In 1778 San Bernardo, a Taovayan village on the Red River, was named in honor of Gálvez, then the governor of Louisiana.
“While he was viceroy of New Spain Gálvez ordered José de Eviaqv‘s survey of the Gulf Coast; the mapmaker named the biggest bay on the Texas coast Bahía de Galvezton, a name later altered to Galveston. On November 30, 1986, forty members of the orders of the Granaderos and Damas de Gálvez from Texas, in conjunction with the Sociedad Mexicana de Amigos de España, placed a bronze plaque on Gálvez’s crypt to honor the life and deeds of this great Spanish hero of the American Revolution.”
Editor’s Note: The above material is a somewhat condensed version of two articles in The Handbook of Texas . Please go to the link for the full entrees.