There is a large portrait of him hanging in the State Capitol meeting room that was the old Supreme Court chamber, and his portrait is in the Cabildo, but probably few know of the story of Bernardo de Galvez y Madrid. Now, his merits will get more attention as the staunch ally of the American republic’s earliest days is being recognized officially by the United States Congress.
Amid the flurry of last-minute bills of the 113th Congress signed into law by President Barack Obama, there was a resolution granting honorary citizenship to Galvez.
It is only the eighth time that a foreign statesman or philanthropist has been so honored.
When France and Spain backed the fledgling American republic, more out of hostility to England than anything else, the role of such French heroes as the Marquis de Lafayette was critical on the Atlantic coast.
On the Gulf Coast, it was the Spanish governor of Louisiana whose energy and enthusiasm for aiding his allies won victories in the most significant battles of American independence fought outside the English colonies.
A historical marker near Galvez Plaza in downtown Baton Rouge marks where the Spanish drove the British out. He led troops against Pensacola with particular bravery. He had taken Mobile earlier, so the British were left with no bases on the Gulf Coast to attack the rebellious colonies.
The pivotal role of the port of New Orleans in supplying the American revolutionaries was a consequence of his industry in our support. Given the British control of the sea at the time, that was no small advantage to America.
Galvez was an enthusiastic colonizer as well. Galveston in Texas was named in his honor, as, of course, is St. Bernard Parish, named after the governor’s patron saint but honoring the governor as well as the parish’s heritage of Spanish settlement. And the resolution in Congress noted the Spaniard’s role in brokering the Treaty of Paris that recognized U.S. independence in 1783. With Iberville, Bienville and LaSalle — the famous French explorers — the name of Galvez is recognized by a state office building in Baton Rouge.
Beyond Louisiana, he is recognized for his friendship with a portrait in the U.S. Capitol and a statue near the State Department, but the former honor was late in coming; only this year, after noting that the Continental Congress had intended to put up Galvez’s portrait but apparently forgot to do it, did fans of the Spanish general get the picture in the meeting room of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Still, this latest honor, pushed by U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, of Pensacola, Florida, is a remarkable addition to earlier accolades.
Names like Lafayette, Sir Winston Churchill and Mother Teresa are in the small and elite company of honorary citizens of the United States.
“He played an integral role in securing our nation’s independence,” Miller said in a statement about the Galvez resolution. That he did.
We commend Miller for pushing the cause. It is a richly deserved tribute to one of America’s good friends and effective allies.