By Frank Leone
George Washington isn’t the only U.S. Revolutionary War hero recognized in the Foggy Bottom area. Spanish General and Governor Bernardo Vicente de Gálvez y Madrid, 1st Count of Gálvez (1746 –1786) is also honored by two statues – one on Foggy Bottom’s “Avenue of the Americas” (Virginia Ave.) and the other in front of the Spanish embassy near Washington Circle. As the colonial governor of Spanish Louisiana, Gálvez led Spanish forces to victories along the Gulf of Mexico, which helped America win its independence.
France’s contribution to the success of the American Revolutionary War is well known, but Spain’s role is far less recognized. Spain played an important role in providing funds, supplies and intelligence to the American Army, ensuring passage of arms and other critical materials up the Mississippi River, and engaging and defeating the British along the Gulf of Mexico, preventing those troops and ships from engaging in battles further north. Gálvez was the most important Spaniard contributing to American independence.
At the time of the Revolutionary War, Gálvez was the Governor of Spanish Louisiana (obtained from France in 1763). By 1777, the British had blockaded the colonial ports – Gálvez worked to ship gunpowder, muskets, uniforms, medicine, and other essential supplies from New Orleans up the Mississippi River to the American forces. In 1779, Spain formally declared war on Great Britain. Galvez fought the British along the Gulf Coast, defeating them at Baton Rouge, thus eliminating the British threat to New Orleans. He then captured Natchez and Mobile.
Gálvez then personally led the attack that captured Pensacola after a two-month struggle. This victory eliminated the British naval presence in the Gulf of Mexico and resulted in the capture of more than 1,000 British soldiers and 150 cannon. He also helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War and included the formal return of all of Florida from Britain to Spain.
He entered military service when he was 16 and served in wars across Europe, the Americas, and North Africa. After the American Revolutionary war, he received many honors from Spain, including promotion to lieutenant general and field marshal, governor and captain general of Louisiana and Florida, the command of the Spanish expeditionary army in America, and the titles of Viscount of Galveston and Count of Gálvez. In 1783 he was appointed Viceroy of New Spain, and died of typhus in 1786. He is buried in Mexico City.
In 2014, Gálvez became only the eighth person to be awarded an honorary United States citizenship (joining the Marquis de Lafayette), and his portrait was placed in the Capitol, fulfilling a Congressional resolution from 1783. The equestrian statue on Virginia Avenue was a gift from Spain, sculpted by Juan de Ávalos of Madrid, and dedicated on June 3, 1976 in honor of the U.S. Bicentennial. In 2019, the Spanish Government placed a 32-inch-tall statue of Galvez by Madrid artist Salvador Amaya in front of the Spanish Embassy. Gálvez has lent his name to several cities, most notably Galveston, Texas.
Sources: “Recovered Memories, Spain and the Hispanic Contribution to U.S. Independence,”
https://www.unveilingmemories.com/people/bernardo-de-galvez (2018); John Kelly, “The Spaniard who helped win the Revolutionary Was has a New Statue IN DC,” Washington Post, Sept. 17, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/the-spaniard-who-helped-win-the-revolutionary-war-has-a-new-statue-in-dc/2019/07/17/5e8d7a50-a8ab-11e9-86dd-d7f0e60391e9_story.html;
US Congressional Resolution, https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-joint-resolution/105/text; Eduardo Garrigues, “I Alone:” Bernardo de Galvez’s American Revolution, Arte Publico Press: 2019; FBA History Project, https://www.foggybottomassociation.org/history-project.
For more on Foggy Bottom’s Avenue of the Americas, see https://www.foggybottomassociation.org/post/funkstown-foggy-bottom-s-avenue-of-the-americas.
Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!