The American Revolution On The Gulf Side
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Now, at length, the Creole and the Anglo-American were to come into active relation which, from that day to the present, has qualified every public question in Louisiana.
At a happy moment the governorship of Unzaga, a man advanced in life, of impaired vision and failing health, who was begging to be put on the retired list, gave place to the virile administration of one of the most brilliant characters to be seen in the history of the Southwestern United States. Galvez was the son of the Viceroy of Mexico and nephew of the Spanish secretary of state, who was also president of the council of the Indies. He was barely grown to manhood, but he was ardent, engaging, brave, fond of achievement and display, and, withal, talented and sagacious. Says one who fought under him, “He was distinguished for the affability of his manners, the sweetness of his temper, the frankness of his character, the kindness of his heart, and his love of justice.”
A change now took place, following the drift of affairs in Europe. The French, instead of the English merchants, commanded the trade of the Mississippi. The British traders found themselves suddenly treated with great rigor. Eleven of their ships, richly laden, were seized by the new governor, while he exceeded the letter of the Franco-Spanish treaty in bestowing privileges upon the French. New liberties gave fresh value to the trade with French and Spanish-American ports. Slaves were not allowed to be brought thence, owing to their insurrectionary spirit; but their importation direct from Guinea was now specially encouraged, and presently the prohibition against those of the Nest Indies was removed.
Galvez was, as vet, only governor ad interim; yet, by his own proclamation, he gave the colonists the right to trade with France, and, a few days later, included the ports of the thirteen British colonies then waging that war in which the future of the Creoles was so profoundly, though obscurely, involved. New liberties were also given to traders with Spain ; the government became the buyer of the tobacco crop, and a French and French-West Indian immigration was encouraged.
But these privileges were darkly overshadowed by the clouds of war. The English issued letters of marque against Spanish commerce, and the French took open part in the American revolution. The young governor was looking to his defenses, building gunboats, and awaiting from his king the word, which would enable him to test his military talents.
Out of these very conditions, so disappointing in one direction, sprang a new trade, of the greatest possible significance in the history of the people. Some eight years before, at the moment when the arrival of two thousand six hundred Spanish troops and the non-appearance of their supply-ships had • driven the price of provisions in New Orleans almost to famine rates, a brig entered port, from Baltimore, loaded with flour. The owner of the cargo was one Oliver Pollock. He offered to sell it to O’Reilly on the captain-general’s own terms, and finally disposed of it to him at fifteen dollars a barrel, two-thirds the current price. O’Reilly rewarded his liberality with a grant of free, trade to Louisiana for his life-time. Such was the germ of the commerce of New Orleans with the great ports of the Atlantic. In 1776, Pollock, with a number of other merchants froth New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, who had established themselves in New Orleans, had begun, with the countenance of Galvez, to supply, by fleets of large canoes, arms and ammunition to the American agents at Fort Pitt (Pittsburg). This was repeated in 1777, and, in 1778, Pollock became the avowed agent of the American Government.
Here, then, was a great turning-point. Immigration became Anglo-Saxon, a valuable increase of population taking place by an inflow from the Floridas and the United States, that settled in the town itself and took the oath of allegiance to Spain. The commercial acquaintance made a few years before with the Atlantic ports was now extended to the growing West, and to be cut off from European sources of supply was no longer a calamity, but a lesson of that frugality and self-help in the domestic life which are the secret of public wealth. Between St. Louis and New Orleans, Natchitoches and Natchez (Fort Panmure), there was sufficient diversity of products and industries to complete the circuit of an internal commerce; the Attakapas and Opelousas prairies had been settled by Acadian herdsmen; in 1778, immigrants front the Canary Islands had founded the settlement of Venezuela on La Fourche, Galveztown on the Amite, and that of Terre aux Boeufs just below New Orleans. A paper currency supplied the sometimes urgent call for a circulating medium, and the colonial treasury warrants, or liberanzas, were redeemed by receipts of specie from Vera Cruz often enough to keep them afloat at a moderately fair market value.
Were the Creoles satisfied? This question was now to be practically tested. For in the summer of 1779 Spain declared war against Great Britain. Galvez discovered that the British were planning the surprise of New Orleans. Under cover of preparations for defense he made haste to take the offensive. Only four days before the time when lie had appointed to move, a hurricane struck the town, demolishing many houses, ruining crops and dwellings up and down the river “coast,” and sinking his gun flotilla. -Nothing dismayed, the young commander called the people to their old rallying ground on the Place d’Armes, and with a newly received commission in one hand confirming him as governor, and his drawn sword in the other, demanded of them to answer his challenge: “Should he appear before the cabildo as that commission required, and take the oath of governor? Should he swear to defend Louisiana? Would they stand by him? “The response was enthusiastic. Then, said he, “Let them that love me follow where I lead,” and the Creoles flocked around him ready for his behest. Repairing his disasters as best he could, and hastening his ostensibly defensive preparations, he marched, on the 22d of August 1779, against the British forts on the Mississippi. His force, besides the four Spanish officers who ranked in turn below him, consisted of one hundred and seventy regulars, three hundred and thirty recruits, twenty carbineers, sixty militia men, eighty free men-of-color, six hundred men from the coast (” of every condition and color”), one hundred and sixty Indians, nine American volunteers, and Oliver Pollock. This little army of 1,430 men was without tents or other military furniture, or a single engineer. The gun fleet followed in the river abreast of their line of march, carrying one twenty-four, five eighteen, and four four-pounders. On the 7th of September Fort Bute on Bayou Manchac, with its garrison of twenty men, yielded easily to the first assault of the unsupported Creole militia. The fort of Baton Rouge was found to be very strong, armed with thirteen heavy guns, and garrisoned by five hundred men. The troops begged to be led to the assault; but Galvez landed his heavy artillery, erected batteries, and on the 21st of September, after an engagement of ten hours, reduced the fort. Its capitulation included the surrender of Fort Panmure, with its garrison of eighty grenadiers, a place that by its position would have been very difficult of assault. The Spanish gun-boats captured in the Mississippi and Manchac four schooners, a brig, and two cutters. On lake Pontchartrain an American schooner fitted out at New Orleans captured an English privateer. A party of fourteen Creoles surprised an English cutter in the narrow waters of Bayou Manchac, and rushing on board after their first fire, and fastening down the hatches, captured the vessel and her crew of seventy men The Creole militia won the generous praise of their commander for discipline, fortitude and ardor; the Acadians showed an impetuous fury: while the Indians presented the remarkable spectacle of harming fugitives, and of bearing in their arms to Galvez, uninjured, children who with their mothers had hid themselves in the woods.
In the following February, reinforced from Havana, and commanding the devotion of his Creole militia, Galvez set sail down the Mississippi, with two thousand men, -regulars, Creoles, and free blacks-and issued from that mouth of the river known as the Balize or Pass a l’Outre, intending to attack Fort Charlotte, on the Mobile River. His fleet narrowly escaped total destruction, and his landing on the eastern shore of Mobile River was at tended with so much confusion and embarrassment that for a moment he contemplated a precipitate retreat in the event of a British advance from Pensacola. But the British for some reason were not prompt, and Galvez pushed forward to Fort Charlotte, erected six batteries, and engaged the fort, `which surrendered on the 14th of March, to avoid being stormed. A few days later, the English arrived from Pensacola in numbers sufficient to have raised the siege, but with no choice then but to return whence they had come. Galvez, at that time twenty-four years of age, was rewarded for this achievement with the rank of major general.
He now conceived the project of taking Pensacola. But this was an enterprise of altogether another magnitude. Failing to secure reinforcements from Havana by writing for them, he sailed to that place in October 1780, to make his application in person, intending, if successful, to move thence directly upon the enemy. Delays and disappointments could not baffle him, and early in March 1781, he appeared before Pensacola with a ship of the line, two frigates, and transports containing fourteen hundred soldiers, well furnished with artillery and ammunition. On the 16th and 17th, such troops as could be spared from Mobile, and Dun Estevan Miró from New Orleans, with the Louisiana forces, arrived at the western bank of the Perdido River; and on the afternoon of the 18th, though unsupported by the fleet until dishonor was staring its jealous commander in the face, Galvez moved under hot fire, through a passage of great peril, and took up a besieging position.
The investing lines of Galvez and Miró began at once to contract. Early in April, their batteries and those of the fleet opened fire from every side. But the return fire of the English, from a battery erected under their fort, beat off the fleet, and as week after week wore on it began to appear that the siege might be unsuccessful. However, in the early part of May, a shell from the, Spaniards having exploded a magazine in one of the English redoubts, the troops from Mobile pressed quickly forward and occupied the ruin, and Galvez was preparing to storm the main fort, when the English raised the white flag. Thus, on the 9th of May 1781, Pensacola, with a garrison of eight hundred men, and the whole of West Florida, was surrendered to Galvez. Louisiana had heretofore been included under one domination with Cuba; but now one of the several rewards bestowed upon her governor was the captain generalship of Louisiana and West Florida. He, however, sailed from St. Domingo to take part in an expedition against the Bahamas, leaving Colonel Miró to govern ad interim, and never resumed the governor’s chair in Louisiana. In 1 7 85, the captain generalship of Cuba was given him in addition, and later in the same year, he laid down these offices to succeed his father, at his death, as Viceroy of Mexico. He ruled in this office with great credit, as well as splendor, and died suddenly, in his thirty-eighth year, from the fatigues of a hunt.
Such is a brief summary too brief for fall justice of the achievements of the Creoles under a gallant Spanish soldier in aid of the war for American independence. Undoubtedly the motive of Spain was more conspicuously and exclusively selfish than the aid furnished by the French; yet a greater credit is due than is popularly accorded to the help afforded in the brilliant exploits of Galvez, discouraged at first by a timid cabildo, but supported initially, finally, and in the beginning mainly, by the Creoles of the Mississippi Delta. The fact is equally true, though much overlooked even in New Orleans, that while Andrew Jackson was yet a child the city of the Creoles had a deliverer from British conquest in Bernardo de Galvez, by whom the way was kept open for the United States to stretch to the Gulf and to the Pacific.