The story of how 13 English colonies on the East Coast became the United States of America has long been a worldwide standard for people struggling to achieve self-rule.
Whether you call it Independence Day, July 4th, or Fourth of July, the mere mention of this date elicits emotional responses wrapped around the meaning of courage, sacrifice, and patriotism.
Fittingly, most of us as elementary school students learned to sing the song “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen…” based on a eulogy penned by General Henry Lee, honoring General George Washington, First U.S. President.
Naturally, library book shelves are overflowing with ample documentation regarding the event. Even so, some important details are typically omitted in mainstream U.S. history.
For instance, after Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1821, the U.S. independence struggle served as an inspiration to Mexican national leaders. Why?
Because legislators chose the name “Estados Unidos Mexicanos” (United Mexican States) and organized their governmental framework by using the U.S. as their model. After all, it was James Madison, fourth U.S. president, who told Lt. Colonel José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara at the White House in 1811 that he envisioned (and welcomed) independent Mexico as a sister American republic.
Thus, the focus of this article discusses the roles of Spain and New Spain (Mexico) in our country’s independence journey. Albeit, conventional historians do credit France for helping the English colonists, while few recognize Spain’s bulwark of support.
In his book, “The Texas Connection with the American Revolution”, Mr. Robert H. Thonhoff writes that Spanish General Bernardo de Gálvez symbolizes the vital collaboration of Spain and Mexico in the U.S. War of Independence. His introduction’s opening paragraph says it all:
“All too often, when Americans think of the American Revolution, they think only in terms of the events that occurred in the thirteen colonies. Important as they were, they do not tell the whole story. An oft-neglected part concerns the role of Spain in the American Revolution. A generally unknown part of it is the Texas connection. Overlooked by most historians much too long, the contribution of Spain, Texas included, was vital in the winning of American independence two hundred years ago.”
Ironically, the young English colonies gained independence from English King George III. Yet, both the Spanish and French kings made it happen. Of the two, Spain’s King Carlos III figured most prominently in achieving victory for the colonists. Some brief details of his involvement are listed below:
• Offered U.S. colonial ships safe-harbor protection in Spanish ports;
• Ships flying the Spanish flag transported war resources for the colonies;
• Acted as the colonists’ banker;
• Loaned money to the independence struggle and forgave those debts after the war;
• Provided vast amounts of military help, equipment, and supplies.
Specifically, the people of Mexico conducted fundraisers (donativos) and clothing drives to send to their fellow American neighbors in New England.
As for General Gálvez’ role, he was thirty years old in 1777 when he became Governor of Spanish Louisiana. Although a loyal Spanish royalist himself, he had long supported free-rule for the thirteen U.S. colonies.
Responding to King Carlos III’s command to drive the English from Spanish territory, Governor Gálvez organized an army of more than 7,000 troops. They were deployed along a battle line stretching from the Texas-Louisiana border to Florida. Of significance is the fact that he received assistance from Provincia de Tejas ranchers who delivered over 9,000 head of cattle to feed his army.
In coordination with colonial leaders, he kept the British from using the Mississippi River to supply its army. Although outnumbered, Gálvez attacked enemy forces in West Florida and won a decisive victory. Continuing his attack, he defeated British troops in Baton Rouge and Natchez, and captured hundreds of soldiers and several armored boats. Then, he successfully defeated the English-held fort at Mobile.
Moreover, General Gálvez demonstrated his brilliant military skills during the Battle of Pensacola. Assembling a strong taskforce of Spanish ships and gunboats, Gálvez ordered his naval commanders to enter the narrow harbor and begin the offensive.
Disappointed with what he perceived as his commanders’ slow reaction, Gálvez assumed command of one of the ships. Bolstered by two gunboat escorts, he entered the dangerous harbor himself, while facing cannon fire from the British forces.
It was then that the still-apprehensive senior naval officers piloted their ships to provide firepower cover for their commander as he continued his assault. Soon, the enemy fort was in flames, and the English surrendered. Thereby, General Gálvez eliminated a major threat to the colonists.
As mentioned above, U.S. history books primarily credit French General Marquis de Lafayette’s involvement. In truth, Spanish General Gálvez did much more and General Washington understood that very well.
Objective historians (including Bob Thonhoff) have always known the true beginnings of U.S. independence. Thus, they have steadily documented Gálvez’ feats in a number of academic and historical works.
Finally, in 2014, U.S. officials could no longer deny the Spanish general the honor he earned and richly deserved. They granted him the rare tribute of honorary U.S. citizenship.
The Congressional Resolution reads in part: “Bernardo de Gálvez was a Revolutionary War hero who risked his life for the people of the United States”. By that judgment, the same can be said of the thousands of Spanish and Mexican troops who fought for U.S. independence under General Gálvez’ command.
In the final analysis, the proclamation proves Mr. Thonhoff’s view that Spanish Mexican Texas was closely linked to the U.S. long before annexation. That can only be interpreted in two ways:
(l) New Spain (Mexico) citizen soldiers and civilians contributed blood and treasure in securing U.S. independence from England;
(2) Clearly, many of today’s Mexican citizens are descendants of the soldiers and sailors who served under General Gálvez. Unfortunately, their sacrifice has been lost in the pages of history.
In summary, the ancestors of Mexican citizens in Mexico fought for U.S. independence at the same time that the ancestors of today’s English and Northern European-descent U.S. citizens were still living in Europe. Sadly, most people are unaware of that key fact.
Historian Christopher Brick cogently addresses that problem by pointing out recently that mainstream U.S. society suffers from what he calls historical illiteracy. He further observes that our nation is still awash in disinformation about the past. Equally damaging, falsehoods continue to push myths, legends, and illusions in U.S. history that most citizens have been conditioned to believe as facts.
Mr. Brick’s solution for attaining good historical literacy skills is simple. Citizens must have “the capacity to weigh evidence and evaluate arguments; to consider multiple viewpoints and sift them for accuracy; to credibly interpret current events in light of past events; and to discern the chain of linkages that connect patterns over time.”
That brings up an interesting take in today’s contentious socio-political arena. “Cancel culture” is the term intolerant politicians and some in the media use to attack minorities when they protest for social justice.
Oddly, U.S. history is written with its own form of cancel culture. How? By continuing to mandate the teaching of mainstream history without fully recognizing Spanish General Gálvez and contributions of minorities in building our nation.
Lastly, here’s the bottom line. American Exceptionalism itself was founded by a diverse group of patriots from the moment the first shots were fired during the start of U.S. independence (Boston, Mass., Mar 5, 1770). In the words of Roman Statesman Cicero, “The aim of justice is to give everyone their due”.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by historian and author José Antonio López. The column appears in the Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. López can be reached at: [email protected]
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Excellent column Jose. I minored in History in college, and have read a lot of U.S. history. I am sad to say, I never read anything about the contributions of Spain and New Spain to the U.S. Revolution. You definitely are correct in contending our students need to be able to think critically and analyze for themselves. You also are correct about the History taught in our schools is very incomplete. There is a whole “hidden history” to our nation that few people, even in their college and university courses seldom are exposed to. I always enjoy your columns, this is one of your best.