Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Viscount of Galveston and Count of Gálvez (Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, vizconde de Gálveztown y conde de Gálvez) (July 23, 1746, Málaga, Spain—November 30, 1786, Mexico City) was a Spanish military leader and the general of Spanish forces in New Spain who served as governor of Louisiana and governor of Cuba.
Gálvez aided the Thirteen Colonies in their quest for independence and led the Spanish armies against Britain in the Revolutionary War, defeating the British at Pensacola and reconquering Florida for Spain. He spent the last two years of his life as viceroy of New Spain, succeeding his father Matías de Gálvez y Gallardo, who had been viceroy before him. Galveston, Texas and several other places are named for him.
In 1772, he returned to Spain in the company of his uncle, José de Gálvez. Later, he was sent to Pau, France with the Cantabria regiment. There, he learned to speak French, which served him well when he became governor of Louisiana. He was transferred to Seville, in 1775, and then participated in the disastrous expedition of O'Reilly to Algiers. Gálvez himself was seriously wounded. After capturing the fortress that guarded the city, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He then became a professor at the military academy of Ávila.
In 1777, he married doña Marie Felice de Saint-Maxent Estrehan, a young Criolla widow. They had three children, Miguel, Matilde and Guadalupe.
He practiced an anti-British policy as governor, taking measures against British smuggling and promoting trade with France. He also established free trade with Cuba and Yucatán. He founded Galvez Town, in 1778, and promoted colonization of Nueva Iberia.
On June 21, 1779 Spain declared war on England. On June 25, 1779 a letter from London marked secret and confidential, went to General John Campbell of Strachur at Pensacola from King George III and Lord George Germain. General John Campbell was instructed that it was the object of greatest importance to organize an attack upon New Orleans. If General John Campbell thought it was possible to reduce the Spanish fort at New Orleans, he was ordered to proceed immediately to make preparations. These preparations included: (1) secure from Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Parker as many armed vessels as could be spared from Jamaica, (2) collect all forces which could be drawn together in the province, (3) take as many faithful Indians as the Superintendent could supply, (4) draw on the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury for all expenses.
As an unfortunate twist of fate for General John Campbell, upon which his whole career was decided, this secret communication fell into the hands of Governor Galvez. After reading the communication from King George III and Germain, Gálvez, Governor of Louisiana swifty and secretly organized Louisiana and New Orleans for war.
Gálvez carried out a masterful military campaign and defeated the British colonial forces at Manchac, Baton Rouge, and Natchez in 1779. The Battle of Baton Rouge on September 21, 1779 freed the lower Mississippi Valley of British forces and relieved the threat to the capital of Louisiana, New Orleans. In 1780, he recaptured Mobile from the British at the Battle of Fort Charlotte.
His most important military victory over the British forces occurred May 9, 1781, when he attacked and took by land and by sea Pensacola, the British (and formerly, Spanish) capital of West Florida from General John Campbell of Strachur. The loss of Mobile and Pensacola left the British with no bases in the Gulf of Mexico, except for Jamaica. In 1782, he captured the British naval base at New Providence in the Bahamas.
He received many honors from Spain for his military victories against the British, including promotion to lieutenant general and field marshal, governor and captain general of Louisiana and Florida (now separated from Cuba), the command of the Spanish expeditionary army in America, and the titles of viscount of Gálveztown and count of Gálvez.
The American Revolution ended while Gálvez was preparing a new campaign to take Jamaica.
The importance of Galvez's campaign from the American perspective was that he denied the British the opportunity of encircling the American rebels from the south, and kept open a vital conduit for supplies. Galvez also assisted the American revolutionaries with supplies and soldiers, a good deal of it through intermediary and committed revolutionary, Oliver Pollock.
Gálvez, who saw it convenient for France and Spain to advance the cause of the American revolutionaries, was among those who drafted the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1783) that ended the war. By the treaty Spain officially regained East and West Florida from the British. The American Congress cited Gálvez for his aid during the Revolution.
Galveston, Texas and St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana were both named after him. The Louisiana parishes of East Feliciana and West Feliciana were named after his wife Marie Felice de Saint-Maxent Estrehan.
The Cabildo, a branch of the Louisiana State Museum located on Jackson Square, New Orleans, Louisiana in New Orleans, has a portrait of General Galvez accompanied by a display of biographical information.
In 1911 in Galveston, TX, a hotel was built and named after him.
During his administration two great calamities occurred, the freeze of August 27, 1785, which led to famine, and the plague of 1786. During the famine, he donated 12,000 pesos of his inheritance and 100,000 pesos he raised from other sources to buy maize and beans for the populace. He also took measures to increase agricultural production in the future.
He reconstructed Chapultepec Castle, which had been unoccupied. He began the installation of street lights in Mexico City, and the construction of the towers of the cathedral. He continued work on the highway to Acapulco, and he took measures to reduce the abuse of Indian labor on the project. He dedicated 16% of the income from the lottery and other games of chance to charity.
He promoted science in the colony by sponsoring the expedition of Martín Sessé y Lacasta and Vicente Cervantes. This expedition sent to Spain a comprehensive catalog of the diverse species of plants, birds and fish found in New Spain.
On one occasion, when the viceroy was going on horseback to meet with the Audiencia (according to his own report), he encountered a party of soldiers escorting three criminals to the gallows. He suspended the hanging, and later had the criminals freed.
He was simple, amiable, gallant and frank. He traveled about the city in an open, two-horse carriage, attended bullfights, pilgrimages and public fiestas, and was generally welcomed with applause. The Audiencia, however, did not have such a favorable view of the viceroy. They were suspicious of Gálvez's popularity, fearing that he would follow the American example and declare New Spain's independence. The Audiencia communicated these suspicions to Madrid, and the Crown severely rebuked Gálvez. He became melancholy and unsociable.
Then, he became ill and was confined to his bed. On November 8, 1786, he turned over all his governmental duties except the captain generalship to the Audiencia. He died November 30, 1786, in Tacubaya (now part of Mexico City). Rumor had it that he was poisoned by his enemies with the approval of the Court. His body was interred in the cemetery of San Fernando, in the city proper.
He left some writings, including Ordenanzas para el Teatro de Comedias de México and Instrución para el Buen Gobierno de las Provincias Internas de la Nueva España.