Spain’s Vital Role in the American Revolution

The history books are full of stories about how the French helped our Founding Fathers wage war against Great Britain. Spain played a very significant role during the American Revolution because they saw it as a way to protect their colonies in North and South America as well as recover territory lost to Britain during the Seven Years War.

Besides along the coast of North America, Britain fought the French and Spanish on land and at sea in Europe, Caribbean, South America, and India. In short, France, Britain and Spain were again emmeshed in a global war 12 years after the prior one ended.

Had Britain, the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world been able to focus on its 13 rebellious colonies, the war may have turned out differently. Instead, Britain had to protect its overseas territories as well as fight a determined group of folks who wanted independence.

Ever since Spain lost Gibraltar to the British in 1704, they wanted (and still do) it back. Another target was the Balearic Islands (the largest of which is Majorca) in the Western Mediterranean that were taken by the British during the Seven Years War.

In the treaties that ended, the Seven Years War, France transferred all of its territory west of the Mississippi to Spain which lost Florida from the east coast to the Mississippi to the British. Most important to Spain, Britain returned Havana which it had captured and Spain kept its mineral rich possessions in South and Central America.

In 1776, shortly after the rebellion broke out in the Thirteen Colonies, Spain began shipping war materiel to Charleston and New Orleans (which was in Spanish territory) through the House of Gardoqui, a New Orleans based trading company. The formal declaration didn’t come until April 1779 even though the Spanish were up to their eyeballs the fighting.

Spain provided weapons, musket balls and gunpowder for battles in American Midwest, Florida and the Battle at Yorktown. (More on Florida in another post). Spanish garrisons in the Louisiana territory repelled British attacks. Supplied by the Spanish, George Rogers Clark (the Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) captured the fort at Vincennes, IN. Another Spanish supported expedition took Fort Joseph in Michigan.

While Generals Washington and Greene pursued a retreating Cornwallis to Yorktown, the Continental Congress ran out of money. The Spanish raised some of the cash in Havana to pay for supplies for both the French and Continental Armies as well as pay their soldiers.

The American Revolution turned out well for Spain. One, they kept the Balearic Islands. Two, British strength in the Caribbean was weakened thus reducing the threat to Spanish possessions in Central and South America.

During the war, Don Diego de Gardoqui, who ran the company bearing his name, became friends with George Washington and was appointed as Spain’s first ambassador to the United States. He also marched in Washington’s first inaugural parade and provided livestock to restock the president’s herd at Mount Vernon.

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