Spain's Contribution to the American War for Independence
Spain's Contribution
to the
American War for Independence
The above is the basic pattern of flags flown at most of the military posts in Spain's American colonies in the eighteenth century. The design is Burgundian inspired symbolism described as the 'red raguly saltire version of Saint Andrew' Cross on a white background. Red and white are dynastic colors of the Bourbons. Burgundian symbolism was introduced with Charles [Carlos] I of Spain [Charles V of the Habsburgs and an elected 'Holy Roman Emperor'], whose father was Philip I, duke of Burgundy and grandfather was Maximilian of the Austrian Habsburg House.
There are several webpages and print published works that address Spain's participation and address the support provided by Spain and its possessions to the American revolt. Most of the material promoting Spain's role in the war appropriately criticize how Spain's participation and contribution to the thirteen British colonies in North America winning their independence is often ignored in the many written accounts of the war.
Since the mid twentieth-century, such views receive more attention as American popular media has increasingly introduced and promoted recognition of the variety of ethnic participation in the American Revolution. Much of this media attention has been understandably emotional, and presented without disciplined examination which frequently presents events out of correct historical context. Fortunately, there have been an increasing number of scholarly studies that have been equally critical of the serious omission of Spain and its possessions in the American War for Independence. It should be appreciated that the Spanish [or ‘Hispanic'] contribution to the winning of American independence is best served in the long run by putting aside exaggerated assertions and distorted perceptions of what Spain did contribute, and by taking some time to examine a rather complex issue.

This topic is dealt with briefly here in order to place in context Spain's participation in the War for American Independence (1776-1783) in respect to the participation of France in that conflict.

France was linked to Spain in that both monarchies were related to the ancient French Bourbon dynasty. In 1761, the two nations made a ‘Family Compact' which called for each monarch to provide military and naval forces to the other, should either of their respective nations be attacked. At the beginning of armed conflict between the American colonies and Great Britain, the French and Spanish 'Bourbon monarchs' were related thus: Louis XVI's great-grandfather was the brother of Charles III's father. Spain and France both had shared in suffering serious losses of overseas possessions to England in previous conflicts: the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) that was concluded by the Treaty of Utrecht (April 1713), and the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) that was concluded by the Treaty of Paris (1763).

While both Spain and France sought to reduce England's substantial power, the two countries had different priorities as to particular geographical objectives. Spain was most interested in regaining Gibraltar and the island of Minorca (lost at the Treaty of Utrecht). Spain had significant holdings in the Western Hemisphere (South and Central America, Mexico, Caribbean area, and Louisiana territory that France had transferred to Spain just before the relinquishing Canada [but not fishing rights off Newfoundland] in the 1763 Treaty of Paris.
As the American rebellion began to erupt in 1776, Spain's interest in the Western Hemisphere was largely defensive and leery of encroachment by the British American colonists as much as by European powers. France had a much higher priority in protecting the few, but most valuable, fishing areas off of Newfoundland as well as some very lucrative West Indian islands, both of which French leaders feared were vulnerable to renewed aggression by British colonists in North America supported with the mighty British navy. In other words, Spain's strategic focus was more European centered, and France perceived a vested interest in separating Great Britain from its main north American colonies.
Much of the material in this webpage references archival sources identified in Jonathan R. Dull's, The French Navy and American Independence: A Study of Arms and Diplomacy, 1774-1787 (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1975). Unless otherwise stated, page references are from this work.
This webpage will address Spain's Contribution to the American War for Independence in three major parts [categories of assistance]: Diplomatic, Financial and Matériel, and Military and Naval Operations – and make comparative reference to the French contributions in like categories.
FIRST PART: Diplomatic
SECOND PART: Financial and Matériel
THIRD PART: Military and Naval Operations


Links to related websites and webpages are at the bottom of this page

 


FIRST PART: Diplomatic

Foremost, it must be recognized that France dragged Spain – its Bourbon affiliate – into the conflict. This explains, in part, why Spain's diplomatic participation contrasts significantly from that of France's support -- which was total in recognizing US independence from the very beginning, and in fully recognizing the US representatives in Paris. Spain, on the other hand, was ambivalent about independence in the colonies, and delayed accepting Jay as a representative from the rebellious American British colonies to the court in Madrid. Floridablanca, the Spanish foreign Minister, flirted for some time with trying to get England to return Gibraltar in exchange for Spain's neutrality. Spain did, to some degree, allow American privateers to use her ports. Also Spain did allow initiatives to be taken by its governor in Louisiana, Bernardo de Gálvez to operate against British posts in the Western Hemisphere, which served Spain's goals of regaining territories lost in previous conflicts against England. However, it appears that Gálvez proceeded with an enthusiasm beyond that initially dictated by the court at Madrid. This will be addressed further in the section on Military and Naval Operations. At the bottom of this webpage are links to other webpages that report Gálvez's achievements in more detail.

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SECOND PART: Financial and Matériel

Overview

This is a tricky subject to address, as the records remain incomplete. Secrecy of the time in providing such aid to the rebels explains part of the poor ‘record trail'. There were some accusations of individual profit taking that could explain the immense difficulty in identify what France and Spain provided – especially in the form of money passed to various individuals with the intent of aiding the American rebels, and thereby diminishing the British empire . However. the most scholarly estimates clearly show that the Spanish financial and material aid to the US was small in comparison to that of France. Frequently, scholars refer to the studies of Samuel F. Bemis. His famous work, The Diplomacy of the American Revolution (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1957), on page 93, which provides totals as follows: France gave in subsidies from 1776-1781 a total of $1,996,500 and in loans from 1777-1783 about $6,352,500. Spain gave in subsidies from 1776-1779 about $397,230 and in loans through the Irish-American Pollock and American ‘representative' to the court at Madrid, John Jay, $248,098.
Boatner's Encylopedia of the American Revolution, (1974) [p.1041] states that in 1778, Spain loaned $74,087 to Pollock and Thomas Willing . "Later" Spain loaned $174,011 to Jay, "bringing her total subsidies and loans to about $645,000, as compared with French subsidies of almost $2,000,000 and loans of over $6,000,000." Boatner also cited Bemis. Oliver Pollock was an Irishman and commercial trader in New Orleans. He worked closely with the Spanish governor and played a large role in supporting the American operations under George Rogers Clark. As an agent for the US Congress, he procured [often using his own financial resources] goods from the Spanish for the American army. He accompanied Gálvez in the 1779 capture of Manchac, Baton Rouge, and Natchez.

Roderique Hortalez and Company

An interesting part of the French and Spanish funding related to the two nations providing the initial ‘seed money' on a 50/50 percent basis to establish in 1775, Pierre Augustin de Beaumarchais' fictitious ‘company' Hortalez & Cie. This was a cover business entity headquartered in the Faubourg du Temple, Paris, and directed by offices in the West Indies. Boatner states that Spain contributed ‘a million livres' [he equals to $200,000] and another $197,000 worth of war matérial.
Dull [p.48] has Louis XVI deciding to provide 1,000,000 livres on 2 May 1776 to support the fictitious commercial house named Roderique Hortalez and Company, to be directed by Beaumarcahis. The date of 2 May 1776 is usually given as ‘the date' the French king decided to supply arms to the American insurgents. Spain followed with an equal amount in supporting Beaumarchais' ‘company'. Spain was not so much interested in the American cause as in prolonging the war that England had to wage, and thereby diverted England from assisting it ally Portugal in a dispute with Spain. Prior to this monetary provision that established Beaumarchais' enterprise, there were secretive shipments of military items shipped directly by the French government to the American colonies. Dull [p.56] states that "unsanctioned private shipments had been going on since the beginning of the revolution" Dull [p.65] says that Beaumarchais' first attempted shipment was the Amphritite, which "carried 62 pieces of artillery, 6,100 rifles [sic? - surely muskets!] and 49 French officer volunteers." The ship was delayed due to weather. It was in December 1776, the same month of Franklin's arrival in France.
It is difficult to get hard data on the amounts of military items (muskets, cannon, gunpowder, uniforms, tents, etc.) provided not only by France and Spain, but by the Dutch and some other countries in Europe. Some of the matériel supplied the American rebels was not the initiative of the governments but of commercial tradesmen, turned smugglers, particularly in the West Indian islands – some of whom were even British. The US Congress and some of the colonies, even arranged for purchases from Europe. However, US funds quickly proved inadequate, and the Americans had to rely on war provisions from European nations hostile to Great Britain. Often not included in the figures of ‘matériel' aid from Europe are the ships and seamen ‘loaned' to American privateers who operated out of mostly French and some Spanish and Dutch ports. The privateers' booty was expected to off set the expenses.
As to the real value – versus mere quantity tabulations -- of the matériel that arrived in North America from European arsenals and depots, one can only look at the repeated times the American Continental army could take the field against the British up to and counting the Battle of Saratoga (September 1777), and the accomplishments of George Rogers Clark in the west (summer 1778). The American rebels were not being sustained by an 'American industrial base' – though the casual twenty-first century American perception of history seems to hold such a view. The American Army and militias had long exhausted colonial stores seized from the British in 1775.

Havana's contribution to Yorktown Campaign 1781

Though no Spanish military or naval forces took part in the victorious Yorktown Campaign of 1781, there is a ‘Spanish connection' to that event. The Spanish inhabitants of Havana, Cuba, loaned money to Admiral de Grasse that had been requested by Rochambeau to meet the a serious financial shortfall in the available funds of the allied commanders (Washington and Rochambeau) near term needs. For the most part, the money was needed to pay their troops that were marching to Virginia to take part in what would become the ‘Yorktown Campaign' of 1781.
Before the march began, Washington had requested funds from Rochambeau to pay the American troops. Rochambeau was able to provide money to meet Washington's immediate needs, but the French commander foresaw that his own war chest was running too low to meet the needs of the French expeditionary army for the duration of the anticipated southern campaign. As a result, Rochambeau had requested in his 28 May dated letter to de Grasse that the French admiral obtain and bring at least 1,200,000 livres. Rochambeau's letter was received by the French admiral in early July 1781 at Cape François, St. Domingue.
A general description of how this money was obtained is covered in Jonathan R. Dull's, The French Navy and American Independence: A Study of Arms and Diplomacy, 1774-1787 (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1975), p.245:
"De Grasse sailed [from Cape François, St. Domingue (Haiti)] on 5 August. He stopped for a day at Matanzas, Cuba, on his way to North America. The Concorde had also brought in July a request of Rochambeau for 1,200,000 livres to pay his troops. De Grasse sent the frigate Aigrette to Havana whose citizens contributed for this purpose 1,000,000 piastres (5,000,000 livres) in a single day.[*] De Grasse picked up this loan at Matanzas and anchored off the entrance to Chesapeake Bay on 30 August."
[* Dull's footnote references French archival documents: "unpaged, sheets for August 1781; Spain 605: 48; Vergennes to Montmorin, 3 October 1781. Dull further states: "Not all this amount was needed. The people of Havana were grateful for shipments of American wheat. Spain 603: 139, La Luzerne to Montomrin, 1 May 1781."]
A journal written many years later by the Spanish agent, Francisco Saavedra, with whom de Grasse arranged for the loan fails to describe how the money was specifically raised, but expressed surprise that the citizens of Havana made such a contribution when it was found that the money was not available in the local official funds of the Spanish government money agents at the time. [Saavedra was sent to the West Indies as a personal representative of the Spanish King Charles III. Saavedra's journal, covering the years 1780-1783, was edited by Francisco Morales Padrón and published by the University of Florida Press in 1988. Saavedra constructed his journal well after the events. It is obvious that Saavedra attempted to associate his role in the Yorktown 1781 victory. However, it is evident that his major commitment was toward planning the French and Spanish assault of Jamaica.]
Loliannette Emmanuelli's "Spanish Diplomatic Policy and Contribution to the United States Independence 1775-1783" (Doctorate Thesis, University of Michigan, September 1990) is one of the few scholarly examinations of how the money was obtained. This thesis, pp.190-192, states the following:
"Admiral de Grasse was a very wealthy person, owner of a rich plantation in Haiti. In addition, his credit on the French island was very good, making it easy for him to obtain a loan in order to cover the costs involved in what was to be the final battle. De Grasse had the naval force necessary to fulfill the offensive plans, but he did not have the amount of money that was requested of him. He tried however to obtain the sum:"
[Emmeanuelli quotes from Charles Lee Lewis, Admiral De Grasse and the American Independence (Annapolis:United states Naval Academy, 1945). pp.138-139:]
"The raising of the money which was requested by Rochambeau, proved very difficult for de Grasse, who offered to pledge his own plantation on Saint Dominique and his estate in France as security. Much to De Grasses's dissatisfaction the offers were not accepted for a loan to the King."
At this point de Grasse sought and successfully obtain the money through Spanish authorities in Havana, Cuba. However, there are two different accounts of how the money was raised in Havana. The ‘traditional account' [as put forth in Charles Lee Lewis'1945 book on de Grasse] is that a significant portion of the money was raised by the women in Havana offering to put up their jewelry as collateral, in addition to de Grasse placing his own assets as collateral. This version is being confronted by a more recent version that dismiss some particulars of the earlier account as ‘legend'. The more recent, ‘second account' is presented by some modern authors of studies that focus on the participation of Spain in the American Revolution. The two versions are reviewed below.

TRADITIONAL ACCOUNT

A recent description that supports the traditional account can be found by returning to Emmeanuelli's text [pp. 190-191]:
"After trying various alternatives without obtaining positive results, De Grasse contacted the General Director of Customs of Spanish Santo Domingo, the Marquis de Salavedra [sic], who offered to put him in contact with some persons in Havana who could help him get the necessary money. The Admiral told this to General Rochambeau. Fortunately for De Grasse, and for the Americans, the island of Cuba was governed by Juan Manuel de Cajigal, who served with Bernardo de Gálvez in the Spanish campaign against the British ports of Pensacola, Mobile and the Mississippi area. His assistant was Francisco de Miranda, who favoured the revolution and who would be, in future, a forerunner of the independence movement in Latin America. They both responded favorably to De Grasse's petition, and Miranda was the one who organized the collection. The 1,200,000 livres came from different sources, especially from a group of ladies from Havana who donated their jewellery for the cause, as well as from the merchants of Havana and other private entities. Regarding this, Charles Lee Lewis says:"
[Emmeanuelli quotes from Charles Lee Lewis' Admiral De Grasse ... p.138]
"The public treasury was assisted by individuals, ladies even offering their diamonds. Five hours after the arrival of the frigate Aigutte, sent by De Grasse, the sum of 1,200,000 livres was delivered on board."
[Emmeanuelli's text continues:]
"Finally, help would be given to the Americans, and thanks to it, the decisive battle of the war could take place, as well as the defeat of Cornwallis' army. Without De Grasse' s help it would have been almost impossible for Rochambeau and Washington to get that amount of money and eventually defeat the British."
"This immediate financial aid from sources in Cuba should be considered as coming directly from the creole inhabitants of Havana. The creole ladies forming a patriotic type association, and the creole merchants, who were opposed to Spain' s commercial monopoly were involved in the transaction. Cuban merchants hoped that American independence would bring them future economic prosperity, a liberalization of commerce enabling them to maintain exchange relations with the United States[*] Here we have only a good example of how important and significant the contributions made by Spain were for the final outcome of the American Revolution."
[* Emmeanuelli supports this observation with reference to: Eduardo J. Tejera, La ayudla cublana a la luchla Dor la independencia nortelamericana ( Ediciones Universal, Miami, 1972), p.58]

SECOND ACCOUNT

Challenging the traditional version is a position presented in Thomas E. Chavez' Spain and the Independence of the United States, An Intrinsic Gift (University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, 2002).
"An interesting legend grew out of this episode, that the women of Havana had contributed their jewelry to raise the money. In truth, the citizens of Havana, most of them merchants, expected to be repaid, either from American wheat or from the money expected from Mexico. At the very least, they had more confidence in their government than the French in Guarico had in theirs. A good description of the event that dispels the myth and gives a good, detailed account is James H. Lewis, "Las Damas de la Havana, El Precursor, and Francisco de Saavedra: A Note on the Spanish Participation in the Battle of Yorktown," The Americas 37 (July 1980): 83-99."
The foregoing quote is an endnote, number 19, itself located on p.263, that goes with text on p.202 of Chavez' work. The endnote refers to Appendix 4 [p.225] in Chavez' book that lists, by name and amount, 28 individual ‘Havana Residents Who Loaned Money for Admiral de Grasse's Expedition to Yorktown, August 16, 1781'. Chavez states that the list was derived from James H. Lewis' article cited above.
The Appendix has some interesting notations which appear to be made by Lewis. These identify the source for the list as: AGI [Archivo General de Indias, in Seville], SD [Santo Domingo?], 1849, exp. 191. Caja Cucenta de 1781. Ignacio Peñalver y Cárdenas, Havana, 30 June, 1782. The notes identify four of the ‘residents' as paymasters of military regiments, their interest free contribution was 1/5 of the total 4,520,000 reales collected. The notes state that 4,000,000 reales (500,000 pesos) were turned over to the French. Doña Bárbara Santa Cruz, Marquesa de Cárdenas, is listed as the only woman among the 28 contributing residents, and her funds were also interest free. It is noted that four of the listed contributors may not have been Spanish citizens.
The main text of Chavez' work supports part of the traditional view that the money was raised in a matter of roughly 6 hours on 16 August, and was then passed to the French frigate Aigrette, on its way to rejoin de Grasse's fleet en route to the Chesapeake, Virginia. A second amount of money amounting to 1,000,000 pesos [= silver pounds] was given to the French frigate Amazone in Havana on 24-27 September. This latter amount had been obtained from the Royal Treasury in Mexico under Gálvez' orders. Interestingly, Saavedra's journal suggests that this money was not related with operations in Continental North America, but was in preparation for a combined Spanish and French effort to the capture of Jamaica for Spain -- an objective unrelated to American Independence.
The specific identification of 28 contributors in Chavez' work is an impressive argument to refute the traditional account. Chavez' main source is James H. Lewis, whose work has not been seen by this webpage author. In general Chavez' book reflects a careful rendering of events. However, Chavez does make some errors as to dates. One error pertains to de Grasse's arrival at the Chesapeake – it was 30 August, not the 26th –. Another error is the implied early presence of Cornwallis at Yorktown. The latter error is reflected in Chavez' suggestions [on p.203 for one] that "Yorktown was, in part, a Spanish strategy delineated by Saavedra, approved by Bernardo de Gálvez ..." The location and final geographical focus of September - October 1781 campaign could not have been known by any individuals in Cuba until late August at the best. Cornwallis did not occupy the town of York, on the York River in Virginia, until 1 August, and even nearby La Fayette was not certain that the British general intended to remain at the small port town, which had not previously been an occupied military position. As late as 17 August, Washington was aware that Cornwallis could move either north or south, and anticipated that the campaign might have to be conducted closer to Charleston. Certainly Gálvez release of the entire French fleet under de Grasse to go to the north American coast was certainly critical to the success of the campaign, but no one in Cuba was formulating a specific operational plan. Also the statement that the Yorktown ‘battle' [sic] was funded by Spain..." is a stretch. The money de Grasse brought, no doubt, contributed to stability of the allied forces after their victory. Some of the funds might even have facilitated the local purchase of supplies that were assembled in Virginia during September and early October. However, the essential forces -- professional army regiments, artillery siege train, and naval fleet -- were in motion and were assembling in Virginia tidewater with too much momentum for any lack of funds to have stopped the prosecution of a dynamically directed and skillfully conducted siege.

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THIRD PART: Military and Naval Operations

This sub topic has two aspects: 'global operations' and 'operations in North America'.

Global:

Without question Spain's activities in Europe and the Mediterranean contributed to dispersing the British efforts. Spain's dominant interests in Gibraltar and Minorca had negative as well as positive impacts upon the assisting the American rebellion in that it also diverted French naval and military assets (as well as those of the British) from deploying to North America or the West Indies.
There are some who hold a serious misconception of the European strategy of France in the American War for Independence, and assert, or perceive, that the planned invasion of England was conceived as a basic French policy. In fact, such an irrational plan not only stood against the basic goals stated by the French foreign minister, but obviously undercut the original basic goal to assist the American colonies to gain their independence. Only in a very indirect way was the appearance of such an invasion useful as a means to draw British assets away from North America. Though the invasion threat did have that effect, it also tied up French assets and held obvious problems associated with invading a foreign, and well structured nation.
Contrary to casual assertions of some who have not examined all sides of the strategic equation, France was compelled to devise such an invasion plan so as to encourage Spain's participation in the broader war. Some hold a false contention that because the French had developed an invasion plan before the Spanish committed to participate, that the idea was a French condition or initiative. This ignores what an authoritative scholar on the subject, Jonathan Dull, clearly contradicts as what really motivated the French to devlop an invasion plan in the first place. Unless otherwise stated, Jonathan R. Dull's, The French Navy and American Independence: A Study of Arms and Diplomacy, 1774-1787 (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1975) is the source of page references in the following text.
France wanted Spain's participation so as to balance the larger British naval force. Spain's real objectives were Gibraltar and Minorca, which she had lost to Great Britain in earlier wars. Though Spain was concerned about British incursions in to Spanish possessions in the Western Hemisphere, Europe remained its top most priority. As Dull describes, the sequence of events:
Dull [p.110] states that in January 1778 , the French Foreign Minister, Vergennes, did prescribe in the initial French strategic plans the use of encampments in Brittany, Normandy, and Picardy along with maintaining a fleet at Brest, to encourage the English to maintain naval forces in and near La Manche [The Channel]. Dull goes on to state that "France's major effort would be designed to serve her long-range objective of preserving her own possessions in the Western Hemisphere while assisting the American colonies to gain their independence."
Dull [p.128] describes how Spain had stalled in agreeing to join with France in a war against England that centered around the issue of the American colonies winning independence. Finally in August of 1778, "Floridablanca also suggested to Montmorin [the French representative to the Spanish court in Madrid] as his own personal idea that the Bourbons combine their forces to form a descent on England and then the conducting of peace negotiation from London." Dull follows with describing how the French perceived that Spain was making a planned invasion of England a prerequisite to Spain's joining France in the war. Vergennes, suggested an easier target like invading Ireland [p.129] and threw the burden upon Spain to furnish half the troops for such a venture. Spain quickly declined on contributing the troops.
Dull [pp.130-131] describes how the Spanish foreign minister, Floridablanca, attempted to negotiate with England for a return of Gibraltar and Minorca in exchange for Spain's continued neutrality and even France's withdrawing from the latter's alliance with the American colonies. However, neither British nor French leaders were interested in the respective Spanish terms.
Dull [p.132-133] relates how the Spanish minister finally was resolved to go along with France in late November 1778, but continued to restate his proposal for invading England. Floridablanca's logic was that Gibraltar – Spain's main objective – "was too strong to be attacked directly. If England or Ireland could be invaded, Gibraltar could be won at the peace table."It certainly was not an idea that originated with the French leadership in this particular case. Vergennes and the other French leaders at the time considered Spain's naval assets were essential to balance France's inferiority in numbers of ships compared to those of England. Vergennes reluctantly had to give the Spanish suggestion serious consideration.
Dull [pp.136-142] clearly describes how the Spanish foreign minister asked for France to draw up the plan for the two nations to conduct combined warfare against England, but that Floridablanca expected that an invasion of England be part of the plan. During early 1779, the French drafted a combined operations plan even though Vergennes was personally "opposed to conducting combined operations with French and Spanish navies and was not anxious to concentrate French forces in Europe" [p.139]. However, France did compromise on the issue and was able to obtain the secret Convention of Aranjuez (12 April 1779), which stated many common goals sought by the two nations. Spain's refusal to recognize the independence of the American colonies – a bedrock condition of the French – was finessed with allowing for separate peace treaties in concluding the hostilities. Spain officially declared war on England 16 June 1779 – almost a year and an half after France took such action.
For many reasons [bad weather, disease among ship crews, slow and disjointed deployments of the separate national fleets, and general poor coordination between the two naval forces when they did join in late July 1779] the planned invasion failed to even engage the British fleet in La Manche, let alone to enable a serious invasion with 40,000 troops being transported in defenseless transport ships.
Dull [p.154-155] states: "By the end of July [1779] Vergennes was completely disillusioned with the European-centered strategy his new ally had forced upon him. He began feeling out the prospects of shifting the focus of the war back to the Western Hemisphere."
After examining Dull's text, it is astounding how anyone can refute that the French planned invasion of England was a Spanish pre-condition to entering the war. Dull makes clear that this was "not the case," in fact Dull makes completely the opposite case. The only explanation for such a mis reading of Dull's clear text, is to assert, against all evidence, that the French plan to be signed on 12 April 1779 at Aranjuez was not the result of considerable exchanges of views between the two cosigning nations.
Outside of Dull's work, and separate from the grand strategy devised by the French Foreign Minister, Vergennes, there is some historical accuarcy in stating that the French had long developed plans for an invasion of England. The idea was actively promoted by an earlier French Foreign Minister, Choiseul; and prior to 1779; its implementation had been carefully designed by the influential Broglie brothers. This complex story is explained in a separate webpage 'The Broglie 'French Connection' and the Planned Invasion of England'.

 
North America:

It is clear that the Spanish did not join in French and American combined military operations in the Western Hemisphere. During the war, Spain resisted in agreeing to any treaty that recognized the American rebellious colonies as a political entity. The Spanish did not even participate in purely French operations world-wide; whereas, the French often participated in Spanish designed operations. Nevertheless, independent of French and American combined operations, Spain did play a highly significant role in the North American warfare in Spanish and French-Spanish combined operations.This can be attributed mostly to the very robust offensive Spanish operations conducted by Bernardo de Gálvez in the Gulf of Mexico area that involved military and naval operations against British posts in North American and in the West Indies.
Don Bernardo Gálvez arrived in Louisiana in 1776, and was made a colonel of the regiment of Louisiana and appointed second in command of the provincial forces. On 1 February 1777, Gálvez [age 29] assumed duty as governor of Louisiana, succeeding Unzaga. Don Bernardo's mission in Louisiana, which was to promote commerce, fight smuggling, cultivate friendship with the Indians and, watch the English in West Florida. To strengthen his position, Gálvez promoted immigration and re-organized the military.
Painting of Bernardo de Gálvez by Algustin Berlingero in Museo Naval, Madrid.
On 17 April 1777, Gálvez issued a proclamation permitting the inhabitants of the colony to trade with the United States, and three days later another proclamation permitted the export of products to any port of France. He reduced the duty about one-half, and during his administration trade in the province, which has been previously controlled by the English, was largely diverted into French and American sea ports.
At the time of the American Revolution, almost all of the modern-day United States, west of the Mississippi River, was a territory of Spain, including Louisiana and what is now called Mexico. In the early years of the Revolution, Louisiana's governor, Gálvez aided the American Revolutionaries by allowing French and Spanish supplies to be shipped up the Mississippi to be delivered to the American forces. Upon Spain's official entry into the war, 21 June 1779, Gálvez was placed in command of all Spanish Colonial forces in North America. He raised an army of Creoles, Native-Americans, free African-Americans and Spanish regulars, with which he quickly seized British held Mobile. In 1780, with the assistance of French naval and army forces, Gálvez seized Britsh held Pensacola, in western Florida. These offensives diluted British strength in North America just as the critical British campaign was being launched to conquer the southern colonies. And, of course, the conquests played a very important role in the peace negotiations of 1782-1783 – acquiring for Spain some of its few profitable outcomes from the war.
Still it must be noted, Spanish operations in Florida could have been more carefully related to the American operations – especially the problem of Spain releasing British captured troops without any restrictions of these paroled British troops relocating immediately to join other British forces in North American colonies -- where many went to reinforce Clinton at New York against Washington and Rochambeau.

 
While Spain's participation in the American Revolution proved important on a global basis, and even vital in the southern and western theaters of operation in North America. Exaggerated claims putting Spain's involvement out of context do not serve either history or, ultimately, the accurate recognition of that nation's significant contribution to the winning of American Independence. It must be acknowledged that the support of the Spanish court for the American rebellion was initially ambivalent, and was aprehensive as to the influence the rebellion against a king might have on adjecent Spanish colonies. Whereas, the French -- who certainly shared some of the same aprehensions, were eagerly seeking to support the separation of the English colonies from Britain. Of course, France's basic motive for such an objective was to enhance security for its own possessions in the West Indies and fishing rights off Newfoundland, as well as to hopefully diminish England's very dominant economic trade status.

On the other hand, the Spanish subjects in the Caribbean and in the ‘Louisiana' territory often held closer ties to the thirteen American colonies than did Spainish authorities in Europe. Spanish subjects in the West Indies, in particular, the local merchants and others with commercial interests, were eager to be free of British trade restrictions with the thirteen American colonies. In effect, the Spanish court had to be prodded by the French to participate, whereas most of the Spanish in the Western Hemisphere involved themselves with the American cause as soon as the rebellion began.

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Return to Expédition Particulère website pages:
'World War Context of the American Revolution'
'Yorktown Campaign (1781)'.
'Second Battle of the Virginia Capes (1781)'.
'The Broglie French Connection and the Planned Invasion of England'.
'Perspective on the French-American Alliance'.
'After Yorktown, 1781: the War Beyond the Horizon'
'West Indies Score Card During the American War for Independence'.
'Strategic Assessment of the Battle of the Saintes (12 April 1782)'.
'Expédition Particulère' Main Page.



Page posted 31 January 2004; updated 13 September 2009.