Spain’s Involvement in the American Revolution


    About the author

    Dr. Mildred Murry and Chuck Lampman
    Dr. Mildred Murry and Chuck Lampman


      The French and Indian War, 1756-1763, was the genesis of Spain’s aid to the Patriots in the American Revolution, for Britain, in conquering France and Spain, set the stage for international revenge. August 15, 1761 Spain and France pledged mutual support to each other in perpetuity with the Bourbon Family Pact, and, on October 16, 1762, France ceded Louisiana to Spain. The Treaty of Paris, 1763, gave Britain nearly all of the French Empire in North America and a large part of Spain’s. Short of another war, how could Spain recoup her losses?

      Britain provided the answer. Her harsh laws, acts, and proceedings after the war forced her colonial empire, especially the 13 colonies in North America, to help pay for the war, to raise additional revenue and to maintain British government leaders and military forces in the colonies. This new policy generated strong opposition to these measures. Spain was watching the unfolding colonial reactions — Boston Tea Party, Lexington and Concord, oratory by the likes of Patrick Henry and the writings of Tom Paine among others, which were viewed as acts of treason by Britain, but noted as steps toward independence by Spain. Patriot Commissioners, who were to meet with heads of state in Europe, were sent by the First and Second Continental Congresses to offer them the return of lands lost in the French and Indian War and to grant favored trade nation status to any country or duchy that would provide war materiel and/or other aid to the Patriots.

      Spain responded to this offer; in four ways, but not openly: money loaned, money given; a clandestine world trading company to provide war materiel and to bring European military leaders to America; opening literally a second front; and sending Spanish observers to America.

      Money loaned, money given

      The first recorded moneys were two million livres in hard currency and war material. Thus, the United States currency, the Continental, was secured by Spanish silver dollars. Two additional sums were noted: the first, $74,087.00, was loaned to Patriots Oliver Pollock and Thomas Willing and, second, $174,011.00 to John Jay, United States Emissary to Spain. Another source was King Carlos III’s August 17, 1780 Royal Order asking Spanish and Indian males in the Americas to donate two dollars and one dollar respectively in equivalent goods, the records of which were sent to Mexico City for distribution — a mystery of history not quite solved, although rumors abound. Fr. Serra, Father President of Alta California, called this a “war tax.” Alta California sent $4,216.00.

      A clandestine operation

      This project provided war materiel and brought European military leaders to the Patriots through a “dummy” world trading company — Roderique Hortalez et Cie. Based in Paris, but operated out of St. Eustatius in the Lesser Antilles, the Bourbon Kings of Spain and France each provided one million livres to start the company in May of 1776, six weeks before the Declaration of Independence. The materiel and leaders were sent via ships from St. Eustatius to Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Charleston, South Carolina and New Orleans in the Spanish Province of Louisiana, then up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and across the Braddock and Bedford roads. For example, Patriots received this support for the Battle of Saratoga and during the Northwest campaigns led by George Rogers Clark. Baron F. W. Augustus von Steuben was brought to Valley Forge with these funds as were Casimir Pulaski, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, et al for other Patriot activities.

      Another military front

      Spain literally started another military front against the British as soon as war was declared in 1779. Governor of Louisiana, Count Bernardo de Galvez, received orders to take back forts the Spanish had lost to the British in 1763. September 6, 1779, Galvez took Ft. Bute at Manchas in the Mississippi River Valley with no losses to Spain. Taking the fort at Baton Rouge was a more formidable task, but the Spanish captured it September 20. Galvez next secured the peaceful surrender of Natchez October 5. The next year, Galvez led his forces to capture Mobile, West Florida. The attack on Pensacola in 1781 was on land and sea with Galvez Commander-in-Chief; however, Joseph Calvo de Irazabel led the fleet from Havana. Pensacola proved to be the most difficult of the three-year campaign, although, again Spain triumphed. There was one more battle between Spain and Britain May 8, 1782 when Spain regained the Bahamas from England. Although more military action was planned, negotiations for the Treaty of Paris 1783 had begun, and hostilities ceased in the Atlantic and along its seaboard. Protection of Spanish treasure ships from British pirates continued from the Spanish Main (Cartegena and Bilboa to Havana to Cadiz) and from Manila to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) to Acapulco.

      Much less is known about major military actions in the Pacific. Since 1768, Spain had a major port and shipbuilding center at San Blas on the west coast of Mexico in addition to Acapulco. More than 20 ships plus treasure galleons operated on a regular schedule supplying Pacific Coast missions, presidios and pueblos as well as trading up and down the coast, across the Pacific and in the Far East. Skirmishes were reported between Spanish and British ships during the American Revolution. Explorations of the northern Pacific also took place in what is known today as Vancouver Island, Glacier Bay, Prince William Sound and Unalaska where lands were claimed and lookouts established for Russian and English ships.

      One of the greatest impacts of the Spanish navy was keeping the English in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico from reinforcing Cornwallis at Yorktown in October 1781.

      Spanish Observers

      These were sent to the United States in much the same way that the Patriots sent Commissioners to Europe. The first and best known was Juan de Miralles who became a partner in the trading firm of Robert Morris and Thomas Willing. Miralles and George Washington also became personal friends and professional correspondents.

      The early land claims from the Atlantic to the Pacific made by four colonies — Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina — were finally settled by the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

      Information confirming Spain’s role in the American Revolution can be found in the acts and proceedings of the Continental Congresses recorded by Charles Thomson. Additional material is available in the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Historical Park Service and university and private collections. Spanish sources include California Mission Archives and Archivos General de Indies, Seville, Spain.

      Copyright 1999 by Murry and Lampman. All rights reserved.

      Recommended Further Reading

      In English

      Abbey, Kathryn. “Spanish Projects for the Reoccupation of the Floridas during the American Revolution.” Hispanic American Historical Review, 9 (August 1929), pp. 265-285.

      Arena, Carmelo Richard. “Philadelphia-Spanish New Orleans Trade.” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1959.

      Bjork, David K. “The Establishment of Spanish Rule in the Province of Louisiana, 1762-1770.” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, 1923.

      Bjork, David K. “Alexander O’Reilly and the Spanish Occupation of Louisiana, 1769-1770.” In George P. Hammond, editor, New Spain and the Anglo-American West (2 vols.; Los Angeles: Privately printed, 1932), 1: 165-182.

      Bobb, Bernard E. The Viceregency of Antonio María Bucareli in New Spain, 1771-1779. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1962.

      Boligny, Francisco. Louisiana in 1776: A Memoria of Francisco Boligny. Translated and edited by Gilbert C. Din. New Orleans: Louisiana Collection Series, 1977.

      Bueno, Jose M., and Rene Chartrand. “Spanish Presidial Cavalry, 1780-1794.” Military Collector and Historian, 36 (Spring 1984), p. 23.

      Bueno, Jose M., and J. Hefter. “Spanish Militia in Cuba, 1770.” Military Collector and Historian, 20 (Fall 1968), pp. 86-88.

      Caughey, John Walton. Bernardo de Gálvez in Louisiana 1776-1783. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1934.

      Caughey, John Walton. “Louisiana Under Spain, 1762-1783.” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, 1928.

      Cummins, Light Townsend. “Spanish Agents in North America During the Revolution, 1775-1779.” Ph.D. Dissertation, Tulane University, 1977.

      De Paolo, William A., Jr. “The Establishment of the Nueva Vizcaya Militia During the Administration of Teodoro de Croix 1776-1783.” New Mexico Historical Review, 48 (July 1973), pp. 223-249.

      Din, Gilbert C. “Cimarrones and the San Malo Band in Spanish Louisiana.” Louisiana History, 21 (Summer 1980), pp. 237-262.

      Fisher, Lillian Estelle. “Teodoro de Croix.” Hispanic American Historical Review, 9 (November 1929), pp. 488-504.

      Haarmann, Albert W. “Spanish Army Uniform Colors, Circa 1779.” Military Collector and Historian, 20 (Summer 1968), p. 54.

      Hefter, J. “Viceroyal Bodyguard in New Spain, 1770.” Military Collector and Historian, 15 (Summer 1963), p. 46.

      Hefter, J., and M. Bueno. “Gulf Coast Lancers, Mexico, 1775-1780.” Military Collector and Historian, 26 (Spring 1974), pp. 30-32.

      Holmes, Jack D. L. A Guide to Spanish Louisiana, 1762-1806. New Orleans: Louisiana Collection Series, 1970.

      Holmes, Jack D. L. “Military Uniforms in Spanish Louisiana, 1766-1804.” Military Collector and Historian, 17 (Winter 1965), pp. 115-117.

      Kinnaird, Lawrence, editor. Spain in the Mississippi Valley, 1765-1794. 3 vols. Washington: American Historical Association, 1949.

      Lewis, James Allen. “New Spain During the American Revolution, 1779-1783: A Viceroyalty at War.” Ph.D. Dissertation, Duke University, 1975.

      Lull, Francisco Ferrer, and J. Hefter. “The Spanish Louisiana Regiment in the Floridas 1779-1781.” Military Collector and Historian,16 (Fall 1964), pp. 79-80.

      McDermott, John Francis, editor. The Spanish in the Mississippi Valley 1762-1784. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1974.

      Murphy, W. S. “An Irish Regiment in Mexico 1768-1771.” Irish Sword, 2 (Summer 1956), pp. 257-263.

      Nasatir, Abraham P. Spanish War Vessels on the Mississippi, 1792-1796. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968.

      Nasatir, Abraham P. Borderland in Retreat: From Spanish Louisiana to the Far Southwest. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1976.

      Ortiz-Squillance, Altagracia. “Eighteenth-Century Reforms in the Caribbean: The Governorship of Miguel de Muesas, 1769-1776.” Ph.D. Dissertation, City University of New York, 1977.

      Robertson, James Alexander, editor. “Spanish Correspondence Concerning the American Revolution.” Hispanic American Historical Review, 1 (August 1918), pp. 299-316.

      Saavedra de Sangronis, Francisco. The Journal of Don Francisco Saavedra de Sangronis, 1780-1783. Edited by Francisco Morales Padrón; translated by Aileen Moore Topping. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1989.

      Thompson, Buchanan Parker. Spain: Forgotten Ally of the American Revolution. North Quincy, Mass.: Christopher Publishing House, 1976.

      West, Elizabeth Howard. “The Indian Policy of Bernardo de Galvez.” Mississippi Valley Historical Association Proceedings, 8 (1914-1915), pp. 95-101.

      Williams, Howard D. “Bernardo de Galvez and the Western Patriots.” Revista de Historia de America, 65-66 (1968), pp. 53-70.

      In Spanish

      Artola Gallego, Miguel. “El pensamiento militar de Santa Cruz de Marcenado.” Revista de Historia Militar, 29 (Special Number, 1985), pp. 75-80.

      Bacerra de Bacerra, Emeho. “El Ejército Español desde 1788 hasta 1802.” Revista de Historia Militar, 28 (#56, 1984), pp. 91-134.

      Canrotte, Manuel. La intervencion de España en la independencia de la América del Norte. Madrid: Victoriano Suárez, 1920.

      Clemente Balaguer, Jose Carlos. “El Ejército Español en la primera mitad del ochocientos.” Revista de Historia Military, 27 (#55, 1983), pp. 83-104.

      Escoffet y de Matas, Joseph. “Instrucción militar cristiana.” Revista de Historia Militar, 23 (#47, 1979), pp. 165-191.

      Gárate Córdóba, José María. “Las Reflexiones Militares del Marqués de Santa Cruz de Marcenado.” Revista de Historia Militar, 29 (Special Number, 1985), pp. 21-48.

      Gil Munilla, Octavio. Participación de España en la genesis histórica de los Estados Unidos. Madrid: Publicaciones Españolas, 1952.

      Gil Ossorio, Fernando. “Artillería británica para la Marina española del siglo XVIII.” Revista de Historia Militar, 18 (#37, 1974), pp. 93-103.

      Gil Ossorio, Fernando. “Morla de Artillería.” Revista de Historia Militar, 25 (#51, 1981), pp. 29-53.

      Jiménez Jiménez, Rosa María. “El Conde de Aranda, director general de los Cuerpos de Artillería y Ingenieros.” Revista de Historia Militar, 25 (#50, 1981), pp. 41-50.

      Lopez Anglada, Luis. “Vida de Don Alvaro de Navia-Osorio, Marqués de Santa Cruz de Marcenado y Vizconde de Puerto.” Revista de Historia Militar, 29 (Special Number, 1985), pp. 15-20.

      Martínez de Campos y Serrano, Carlos. España belica en el siglo XVIII. Madrid: Aguilar, 1965.

      Marzal Martínez, Amparo. “Los cuarteles andaluces del siglo XVIII.” Revista de Historia Militar, 24 (#49, 1980), pp. 33-57.

      Morales Padrón, Francisco. Participación de España en la independencia política de los Estados Unidos. Madrid: Publicaciónes Españolas, 1952.

      Murillo Rubiera, Fernando. “Santa Cruz de Marcenado un militar ilustrado.” Revista de Historia Militar, 29 (Special Number, 1985), pp. 105-266.

      Navarro García, Luis. Don José de Gálvez y la Comandancia general de las provincias internas del norte de Nueva España. Savilla: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1964.

      Palacio Atard, Vicente. “El entorno histórico de las ‘Reflexiones Militares.'” Revista de Historia Militar, 29 (Special Number, 1985), pp. 65-73.

      Pérez Hervas, José. España y los Estados Unidos, nuestra participación en la independencia de aquel país. Barcelona: La Publicidad,1918.

      Rodriguez de la Flor, Fernando. “El Fuerte de la Concepción: Una obra ejemplar de la ingeniería Militar del siglo XVIII.” Revista de Historia Militar, 27 (#54, 1983), pp. 51-62.

      Sabater Galindo, Javier. “La Expedición Militar de Argel de 1775.” Revista de Historia Militar, 28 (#56, 1984), pp. 75-90.

      Sotto y Montes, Joaquín de. “Organización militar española de la Casa Borbón (siglo XVIII).” Revista de Historia Militar, 11 (#22,1967), pp. 113-177.

      Torres Ramirez, Bibiano. Alejandro O’Reilly en las Indias. Sevilla: Escuela de Estudios Hispano Americanos, 1969.

      Vaca de Osma, José Antonio. Intervención de España en la guerra de la independencia de los Estados Unidos. Madrid: Aldus, S. A.,1952.

      Velázquez Chávez, María del Carmen. El estado de guerra en Nueva España 1760-1808. México: El Colegio de México, 1950.

      Viñes Millet, Cristina. “El Cuerpo de Inválidos y su Organización en el contexto de la Reforma del Ejército del siglo XVIII.” Revista de Historia Militar, 26 (#52, 1982), pp. 79-116.

      Related posts