to Victor and Jim Guidry talk
about the Hotel Galvez
I spoke to the Texas Chapter of the Sons of the American
Revolution. I was initially taken aback when I was told they wanted me to
talk about Bernardo de Galvez.
I and so many other Galvestonians think of Galvez as the
Spanish official for whom our island was named and that is
pretty much the long and the short of it.
turns out that Bernardo de Galvez (1748-1786) did a great deal
more in his life than serve as a Spanish Viceroy who had an
island named for him. Galvez
had a very exciting and productive life---it ended at
thirty-eight years of age while he was living in Mexico.
People did not live as long in the era of Galvez as they
do now and I suppose they figured they had to get cracking early
if they wanted to leave their marks on the pages of history.
look first at the naming of our island for Galvez.
It is very reassuring to me as a retired Congressional
staffer and lobbyist in the private sector that some things
worked approximately the same way in the time of Galvez as they
did when I was in Washington, D.C.
People who work on the staffs of elected and appointed
officials frequently spend a great deal of time thinking up ways
to “blow smoke on the boss.”
Some staffers are notably better at this than others and
some officials are notably more appreciative of those efforts
than others. (Believe
me, I know first hand about this.)
delightful part of the Galvez story is that his staff really did
respect the man (we shall see why that was) and wanted to do
something nice for him. The
decision was made to name our island Ciudad de Galvez or
Galvez’s Town. This
eventually elided in English into “Galveston.”
Where the story starts to amuse me so much is that while
Galvez was duly appreciative of the efforts of his staff to
honor him, he never did get around to setting foot even one time
on our island. We
hang enough pictures of Galvez around the place (not always
life-like ones) to convince the unenlightened that Galvez lived
here at least part of the year during his life.
my part, whether Galvez ever got here or not I am glad we got
named for him. This old island has had a variety of names in history and for
the most part they were substantially less flattering than
Ciudad de Galvez. The
explorer, Cabeza de Vaca, was shipwrecked here and he took to
referring to the place as “Isla Malhaldo” which translates
to “Island of Misfortune” and, I suppose, it was just that
to him. He did have
his nerve in one way since his name in English means “head of
a cow.” Another
name hung on our island was “Isla de Culebras” and I hasten
to assure you that is not the name of a Cuban rum drink. “Culebras” means snakes and we were, for a while, called
“Snake Island.” Someone
no doubt will decide to remind me this is not entirely accurate
historically and my response will be I don’t care as this is
how I enjoyed telling the story when I lived in Washington.
and upward with Count Bernardo de Galvez.
We have things for which to thank Galvez other than our
Spain entered the American Revolutionary War, Galvez did much to
aid American patriots. He
was Governor of Louisiana at the time and corresponded with
Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. Governor de Galvez received emissaries from Henry and
Jefferson who pled for help against the Brits.
Galvez was sympathetic to them and secured the port of
New Orleans so that only American, Spanish and French ships
could move up and down the Mississippi River.
Over that river a life-line flowed---great amounts of
arms, ammunition, military supplies and money were delivered to
the embattled American forces under George Washington and George
formally declared war against Great Britain in 1779 and King
Carlos II of Spain commissioned Galvez to raise a force of men
and conduct a campaign against the British along the Mississippi
and the Gulf Coast. In order to feed his troops, Galvez requested the Spanish
Governor of Texas to send Texas cattle to Spanish forces in
Louisiana. This was
done. Fueled in part by Texas beef, Galvez, with 1,400 men, took to
the field in the fall of 1779 and defeated the British in
battles at Manchac, Baton Rouge and Natchez.
In 1780, after a month-long siege with land and sea
forces, Galvez captured the British stronghold of Fort Charlotte
at Mobile. The
climax of Galvez’ campaign on the Gulf Coast took place when
he led more than 7,000 men in a two month siege of Fort George
in Pensacola and captured it.
This was the British capital of West Florida.
In 1782 Galvez and his Spanish forces captured the
British naval base at New Providence in the Bahamas.
Galvez was busy preparing to mount a grand campaign
against British Jamaica when peace negotiations ended the
Revolutionary War. Galvez
even got involved in helping to draft the terms of the peace
treaty and was cited by the American Congress for his aid during
I lived in Washington, D. C., someone took me to see a statue in
what is called Foggy Bottom---that is near where our Department
of State is located in Washington.
The monument I saw is at Virginia Avenue and 22nd
Streets. The statue
is of a soldier mounted on horseback.
The inscription on the plinth states “Bernardo de
Galvez, the great Spanish soldier, carried out a courageous
campaign in lands bordering the lower Mississippi. This masterpiece of military strategy lightened the pressure
of the English in the war against American settlers who were
fighting for their independence.
May this statue of Bernardo de Galvez serve as a reminder
that Spain offered the blood of her soldiers in the cause of
American independence.” I don’t know that the
site of this statue is one of the greater tourist stops in
Washington but perhaps it should receive more attention---and
thought---than it does. I
always encourage friends of mine traveling to Washington to take
the time and go and visit our friend, Bernardo de Galvez.
should have such allies as Galvez today!
(We do have some fine allies and I have the feeling that
some who strayed from the reservation in the past couple of
years will be returning to the fold.
This will drive some people in this country and abroad
nuts and I will enjoy watching it happen.)
me not fail to make it clear in this essay (as I did when
speaking to the Sons of the American Revolution) that I have
cribbed shamelessly and extensively from the Handbook of Texas
Online. If you have
not had the good fortune to discover this site on the internet,
here is the citation to it:
hope your Thanksgiving was as peaceful and enfattening as mine
turned out to be. See
you again soon in Ciudad de Galvez AKA Galveston.