The forgotten alliance with Spain

Special to the Gazette

As the 4th of July approaches and celebrations of our independence are in preparation, there is a part of the story I'd like to share.

As an educator I have been astounded to repeatedly read and hear about the gratitude we owe the French for their support and assistance they provided by which we defeated the English and gained independence.

Yes, French soldiers fought in the revolution, the French monarchy lent limited financial assistance and Marquis de Lafayette became the leading figure of this story.

Spain's significant financial assistance and critical contributions are never acknowledged.

The reason? Perhaps because Spain joined the hostilities six months after the French, perhaps due to the marketing efforts by the English to discredit Spain – who knows.

The importance of Spain entering the war was two-fold: First its navy, one of the most powerful of the times. When joined with the French Navy, their combined forces outnumbered the British – at first a total of 117 ships of the line to the British 95; by 1782 a total of 146 (including 19 Dutch) to the British 94.

This naval superiority afforded Spain the opportunity to design a strategy that blocked English ships and kept them from reaching the colonies with reinforcements and supplies. It also kept them close to English shores afraid of a Spanish attack.

Second, Spain's ongoing infusion of money partly from Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Mexico as well as Cuba – some loaned, some gifted – helped pay for the French and Washington's forces in America.

All monies were authorized by José de Gálvez, Minister of the Council of the Indies.

Bernardo de Gálvez, as commander of all forces in the Caribbean including the French forces, released the French fleet under his command from its West Indies obligations and gave the orders to sail north and block the port at Yorktown. In addition, the fleet transferred 5,000 French soldiers to help in the siege. The Spanish Navy protected French possessions in the Caribbean

Several requests from Rochambeau to deGrasse indicated French forces with Washington only had resources to support them until the first part of August and the American army was in a worse financial condition as the troops had not been paid in cash since they enlisted. They continued to request soldiers and money, of which the need was almost as great.

A full 100,000 pesos came from Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo, but that was hardly enough.

In Havana, Saavedra collected the needed five hundred thousand pesos and sent it on the frigate without delay

Five days later, another French ship arrived at Havana to pick up the original one million pesos that came from México. Gálvez, Saavedra, and the other Spanish officials decided not to enter into a discussion about the money already delivered to deGrasse and sent the entire million. Total one million six hundred thousand contributed to the colonists' cause.

It was Galvez's strategy, Saavedra's actions, and the money from México and Cuba provided by Spain, which funded the battle of Yorktown, making victory possible and independence assured.

deGrasse was quick to acknowledge that the victory at Yorktown was only possible thanks to the money that came from Spain.

I will close with a quote from George Washington from a letter to Gouverneur Morris, before Spain joined the war:

"If the Spaniards would but join their Fleets to those of France & commence hostilities, my doubts would all subside – without it, I fear the British Navy has it too much in its power to counteract the schemes of France."

— George Washington letter to Gouverneur Morris, October 4, 1778. The Papers of George Washington

Gutiérrez-Steinkamp, is a Smithsonian Fellow and author of "Spain: The Forgotten Alliance: Independence of the United States." She lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

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