Born on July 23, 1746, in Macharaviaya—a town and municipio in Málaga within the autonomous community of Andalusia, which is situated in the south of Spain—Bernardo de Gálvez was quite an accomplished man. In 1776, at age 29, he was appointed governor of then Spanish Louisiana. According to a National Park Service article on Gálvez, “[h]is mission as a top military and civilian authority of this land which stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rockies, from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, was to deal fairly with the French Creole population, promote commerce, fight smuggling, cultivate friendship with the Indians, build up population, and in case of war against Great Britain, he was expected to attack and take British West Florida, all with only 500 soldiers.” [Emphasis mine]
In 2014, in honor of all the good Gálvez did for our country, the “Embassy of Spain to the United States as part of its Hispanic Policy” programmed “a set of actions to highlight the historic ties between the two countries through the knowledge of the figure of Bernardo de Gálvez.” One such action was to have his portrait hang on the walls of the Capitol. According to a Spanish article, “The Odyssey of the Portrait of Bernardo de Gálvez: from Málaga to the [U.S.] Capitol,” 231 years ago (now 235) in a document issued in 1783, the U.S. promised don Bernardo de Gálvez that a protrait of his would be displayed in the Capitol. And that finally happened, in 2014.
In addition, Congress passed legislation awarding him honorary citizenship. On December 16, 2014, Public Law 113-229 “Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Viscount of Galveston and Count of Gálvez, is proclaimed posthumously to be an honorary citizen of the United States.” The law contains some of the feats of this historical figure. Some of the highlights, according to the law, are that he was a “hero of the Revolutionary War” who
- Risked his life for the freedom of the people of the United States;
- Seized the Port of New Orleans and defeated the British in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Natchez, Mississippi; and Mobile, Alabama;
- Led the two-month Siege of Pensacola, Florida, capturing the capital of British West Florida and leaving them without naval bases in the Gulf of Mexico;
- Recognized by George Washington for his victories against the British, as a deciding factor in the outcome of the Revolutionary War;
- Recognized by the United States Continental Congress, on October 31, 1778, for his “spirited and disinterested conduct” towards the United States and was assured that Congress would take “every opportunity of evincing the favorable and friendly sentiments they entertain[ed] of Governor Galvez, and all the faithful subjects of his Catholic Majesty [Charles III, King of Spain] inhabiting the country under his government.”
It is worth mentioning that Bernardo de Gálvez’s honorary citizenship is only the eighth ever granted by the United States. Other figures who have been granted this exceptional honor include Winston Churchill, Raoul Wallenberg, William Penn and Hannah Callowhill Penn, Mother Teresa, Marquis de Lafayette Gilbert du Motier, and Casimir Pulaski.
Explore more about don Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid in these Library of Congress collection items:
- “Archivo Nacional de Cuba collection pertaining to Spanish colonial rule in Lousiana and the Floridas.” Havana: Archivo Nacional de Cuba, 1770 -1911.
- Gálvez, Bernardo de. Instrucción formada en virtude de real orden de S.M., que se dirige al señor comandante general de provincias internas don Jacobo Ugarte y Loyola para gobierno y puntual observancia de este superior gefe [sic] y de sus inmediatos subalternos. Mexico City: 1786.
- —. “The Spanish Seizure of Pensacola, Florida: Diario de las operaciones de la expedición contra la Plaza de Panzacola [sic].” Exploring the Early Americas: Competition for Empire. Dated and signed Bernardo de Galvez, Panzacola, May 12, 1781. Jay I. Kislak Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress. Havana, 1781.
- “George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence: Bernardo de Galvez to François Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse, September 1781.”
- “The Hispanic and Portuguese World, Encounters in America: Plano de la bahía de Pansacola [sic].” Library of Congress, An Illustrated Guide: Hispanic and Portuguese Collections. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress.
- “Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789.” A Century of Lawmaking, 1774-1873. Vol. 22, 8 MAR 1782. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress.
- Macías, Francisco. “The Pyramid of Niches in an 18th Century Legal Gazette.” In Custodia Legis: Law Librarians of Congress. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 2018.
- “Chronicle of the Revolution: Bernardo de Gálvez and Spain.” PBS Online. Last accessed 23 JUL 2018.
- Hedbor, Lars D. H. “The Perfect Storm: Bernardo de Gálvez and the Gulf Coast Campaign.” Journal of the American Revolution Online. 18 MAR 2013. Last accessed 23 JUL 2018.
- Kane, Robert B. “Bernardo de Gálvez.” Encyclopedia of Alabama Online. 2 AUG 2016. Last accessed 23 JUL 2018.
- Thonhoff, Robert H. “Gálvez, Bernardo de.” Handbook of Texas Online. Last accessed 23 JUL 2018.
- Trickey, Eric. “The Little-Remembered Ally Who Helped America Win the Revolution.” Smithsonian Magazine Online. 17 JAN 2017. Last accessed 23 JUL 2018.
For Young Readers
- “Bernardo de Gálvez.” Britannica Kids Online. Last accessed: 23 JUL 2018
- “Bernardo de Gálvez 1746 – 1786: Spanish Leader During the American Revolution.” Houghton Mifflin Social Studies Online. Last accessed: 23 JUL 2018.
I would like to thank Giulia Adelfio, visitor services officer, who liaised some of the initial contacts with the Capitol, as well as Nik Apostolides, deputy CEO, U.S. Capitol Visitor Center; Melinda Smith, curator of the United States Senate; and Amy Burton, Senate curatorial assistant.