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Biography of Bernardo de Gálvez

Biography of Bernardo de Gálvez y Gallardo Madrid, Count of Gálvez.

Bernardo de Gálvez was born on July 23rd, 1746, in the small town of Macharaviaya in the southern province of Malaga, Spain. When he grew up he decided to join the Spanish military, believing that this was his only way of achieving honor and glory in a time consumed by European warfare. Thanks to his wits and bravery in battle, Gálvez soon caught the attention of his commanding officers and rapidly ascended the military's ranks. The King of Spain eventually promoted Gálvez to the title of captain and awarded him with his own ship and crew. His first task was to patrol and protect the Spanish territories of North America. This was no easy task, of course. Let's not forget that over two thirds of the continent was ruled by Spain, an area that was evidently under constant attack. In fact, for the vast majority of time most of the European settlers living in southern North America were under the domain of Spain and it's sworn protectors, the Dragons of Cuera. These infamous soldiers rode on horseback, wore large sombreros, and protected themselves with leather armor in order to shield themselves against the onslaught of enemy arrows. The Dragons of Cuera patrolled the entire southern United States, from Florida all the way to California. Along the route they built garrisons, which served as both pit stops and bases in case of enemy attacks.

After years of flawlessly obeying orders and getting the job done, Gálvez was finally promoted to general, the highest rank in the military. He was named Governor of Louisiana and given control of New Orleans, the then capital of New Spain. It was during his role as Governor that he learned of general George Washington and his efforts against the British during the Revolutionary War. He immediately took sides against the British and began helping general Washington in any way possible. When the war came to an end and the American Patriots finally declared victory, George Washington made sure that Gálvez and all of his wartime contributions were recognized. On the day of Washington's first presidential inauguration, Bernardo's legendary ship, the Galveztown, was given the task of shooting the thirteen salutes of honor into the air, to commemorate the thirteen colonies and their victories over the British. The canon blasts resonated all throughout New York City, where the ship was anchored for the ceremony. If you listen hard enough you can sometimes still hear the echoes of those blasts: "boom, boom, boom!"

Coat of Arms

Bernardo de Gálvez's coat of arms

Professor Manuel Olmedo Checa, Vice-president of the Association of Bernardo de Galvez, explaining what a coat of arms is.

The idea of a coat of arms was developed during the medieval ages and was used in many ways as a resume or business card would be used today. The only difference, however, is that only noblemen, men of a certain lineage and/or distinguished war heroes would have the privilege and honor of having one.

In order to receive a new coat of arms, something that came with a lot of dignity and respect, an expert called king of arms would have to start an investigation. The king of arms would delve into the recipient's family history, search for clues about their lineage in library archives, speak with family members to determine their character, and would even go as far as travel long distances to far away towns and cities to try and unearth as much information about the recipient as possible.

To begin designing a coat of arms, the first thing that the king of arms would look for is the origin of the family name.

At first people didn't have last names. In fact, for the majority of human history people were only called by their first names. To distinguish people with similar names, however, people started describing themselves with a little background information as a way of differentiating one another. It began with something as simple as "Andrew son of the baker" and over time evolved into the common last name of "Andrew Baker". As populations grew, last names became more common out of necessity. In Spain, the first last names to appear came from people adding the letters EZ to either the name of their hometowns or the name of their fathers. Therefore, someone whose fathers name was Gonzalo suddenly became Gonzalez. In the case of Galvez, they created his last name by adding an EZ to the end of his family's hometown, Galva, a small village in the Spanish province of Vizcaya.

Knowing how his last name came to be is essential to understanding Galvez's coat of arms. If you take a closer look at it you will find a depiction of the small town of Galva in the center. We can admire its famous tree, an oak that was already one thousand years old, and two wolfes, which were very common to the surrounding areas of Galva.

After the family's place of origin is determined and drawn onto the coat of arms, other notable images are also added such as those that best describe the family's character.

On the bottom of the shield you will notice a few different symbols. These suggest that Gálvez was awarded the title of nobleman for his military merit. Here we can see a helm (soldiers helmet), canons, flags, trumpets, drums, a bow and arrow, and even a tomahawk (war axe used by native Americans).

Around the shield you can see a white and blue ribbon, which represents the Royal and Distinguished Order of King Carlos III. To this day this remains the highest military award in Spain.

As the Gálvez family tree grew over time, so did the number of last names associated with the family. Through various marriages the last names Madrid, Cabrera and Marquez made it into the coat of arms. This is how we can distinguish each one:

  • Madrid: This coat of arms typically contains a red banner, a red cross, a castle and a purple lion with its tongue sticking out.
  • Marquez: A split shield with a golden castle and blue banner appearing from the crack. This served to honor Alonso Marquez, the winner of the battle of Vilchez.
  • Cabrera: Two black goats, typical of Cordoba, where the family name is originally fro
  • Galvez: Over a silver background we can see a green oak and two wolves, which are said to be the descendants of the people of Vizcaya. There are also three blue sea shells, which serve to commemorate the battle of Clavijo.

Other items displayed on the coat of arms are there to symbolize Galverz's accomplishments as Governor of Louisiana.

  • In the center: Here we can see a fleur de lis, the symbol of the royal family of Bourbon. This was added to the shield at the request of the people of Louisiana.
  • Brigantine Galveztown: Here we can see the brigantine Galveztown, in remembrance of the glorious battle of Penzacola (that's the old name of Pensacola), with Gálvez on board holding a sword in his hand, and the motto "I ALONE".

Manuel Olmedo Checa is vice president of the Bernardo de Gálvez Association
Professor Olmedo was the researcher who found the document by which the first representatives of the USA were committed to hanging the Gálvez painting in the Congress in the archives. You can contact him at

Military career

Beginings of his military career in America

Galvez arrived in New Spain in 1769 with the initial task of defending Spanish territories against attacks from the Apache Indians.

Captain of the Dragons of Cuera

Bernardo de Gálvez was the captain of the Dragons of Cuera, the regiment in charge of patrolling the borders of New Spain in North America.

They were called dragons because of how fierce they were and cuera because of the leather jackets they wore. Cuero means leather in Spanish. These jackets were made up of seven layers of deer hide to ensure they could protect themselves against incoming arrows.

The Dragons of Cuera travelled on horseback all along the Southern US border. They travelled from garrison to garrison from Florida all the way to California, protecting New Spain from Indian attacks. Each soldier travelled with six horses, in order to always have a few well rested, in case they had to go into battle.

Route of the Dragons of Cuera along the borders of Nueva España

Governor of Louisiana

General Bernardo de Gálvez was in charge of the army of Louisiana. Under his command he had both officers and regular foot soldiers.

To be an officer you needed to have been born in Spain or in one of its allied countries, such as Ireland, Belgium, France, or Italy.

  1. Officer: Born in Europe of European parents.

Regular soldiers were born in the Americas and they were subdivided into five catergories:

  1. Creoles: Born in the Americas of European parents.
  2. Natives: Born in the Americas of Native American parents.
  3. African Americans: Born in the Americas of African parents.
  4. Mestizo: Born in the Americas of mixed race, especially the offspring of a Spaniard and an American Indian.
  5. Mulatto: Born in the Americas of mixed race, especially the offspring of a European and an African American.
The Galleons

The influence of the Galleon in America

Galleons first appeared in Spain in the middle of the 16th century and were considered to be enormous for their time. They were twice as big as their predecessors (such as the ships used by Cristopher Columbus and Magellan), and could weigh anywhere between 500 and 1200 tons. They carried essential supplies needed to build cities in the Americas, and brought gold and other riches discovered back to Spain. The construction of the galleon was considered to be a national secret and so to prevent other countries from learning how to build them they forbid any shipwright (person who builds boats) from leaving the country.
These are the important terms to understand what a galleon was like:

  1. Length: This is the term used to describe the measurement of a ships length from tip to tip. Galleons typically reached lengths of between 130 and 200 feet.
  2. Bow: The front part of a ship. On a galleon, this is where the kitchen and dining room could be found.
  3. Stern: The back end of a ship. On a galleon, this is where the captain's quarters could be found and where all of the official meetings took place. The bathrooms were located on its sides. They were simple openings on the wood that were called "the gardens"
  4. Keel: The bottom most structure of a ship around which the hull of the ship is built. Back in those days there were only two important ports in the Americas, the port of San Juan in Puerto Rico and the port of Cartagena in Colombia. In order to get as close as possible to these ports the keels were built extremely small and shallow in proportion to the size of the ship. This meant that during long journeys on the open sea the ship was unstable and easy swayed with the waves, making sea sickness common amongst the crew. Once the ships arrived at the ports they would unload the cargo onto smaller boats that could easily approach the coast.
  5. Helm: Galleons where so large and heavy that more often than not two people were needed to turn the helm or wheel of the ship. This wheel moved the underwater rudder, which is what determines the direction the ship is moving in.
  6. Bell: A bell was normally used to determine the rhythm with which the sailors worked and operated. They were also used to signal other ships of their location during storms or in heavy fog.
  7. Lantern: Galleons carried a large lantern on the stern of the ship which they would light at night to indicate its position to the rest of the convoy. They also used the lighting of these lanterns as a secret code to communicate with one another when enemy ships were near.
  8. Anchor: These large iron structures would be dropped from the ships hull into the ocean to stop the boat from moving in the water and to keep them in place. These were used when removing or adding cargo to ships. Each galleon had three anchors, two small anchors weighing half a ton each and one larger anchor weighing one ton.
  9. Top: This was the name given to the basket found at the top of a ships mast that was used to more effectively navigate the seas. Because the helmsman, or pilot of the ship, couldn't see the horizon as the ships sails where in the way, he used someone at the "top" to help him navigate the open waters. This also helped prevent any surprise attacks from the enemy as they could be seen from farther away.
  10. Sails: Large cloths that are draped over a ship's mast that are used to navigate the seas. When the wind blows it inflates the sails and this force pushes the ship along the water. A galleons main sail weighed over 4400 pounds and due to this enormous weight at least 18 sailors were needed to raise it to the top of the mast.
  11. Cannons: Galleons were not used as ships of war but instead as transport vessels. They were usually accompanied by smaller and more agile ships (brigantines) that defended them against pirate attacks. Just in case, however, galleons carried ten cannons of their own as a last line of defense.
  12. Convoy: Galleons never sailed the seas alone. They traveled in groups known as convoys, which consisted of up 30 galleons or more, and were always escorted by war vessels. The ship at the front of the convoy was known as the captain and the ship at the back of the convoy was referred to as the admiral.
  13. Shipwreck: Unfortunately, shipwrecks were a common occurrence during the three centuries that galleons were deployed. This was especially true in the Bahamas and the Gulf of Mexico, where strong currents and powerful winds made the seas uniquely treacherous. For this reason, the majority of the galleons that passed through these regions and their precious cargo can now be found lying quietly on the ocean floor.

Cargo: The interior of a galleon

On the way to the Americas from Spain galleons would transport wheat, wine, olive oil, textiles, cloths, ceramics, weapons, tools, medicine and books. On the return journey galleons would transport treasure such as gold, silver, pearls, gems, tobacco, indigo and turtle shells.

  1. Cellar: This is the part of the ship where they would store all of the cargo.
  2. Cobble stone: When galleons travelled to the Americas from Europe without much cargo they filled the hulls with cobble stones to increase the weight of the ship. This made the galleon sink a little bit deeper into the water which stabilized the ship during the voyage. These cobble stones where then replaced with treasure once they arrived at American ports. The disregarded cobble stones were then used to build the streets of cities, such as those in San Juan, Puerto Rico. English ships had the same idea and that is why many streets in New York and Boston are made of cobble stone.
  3. Vegetables: Because of a lack of refrigeration or ice on ships, no vegetables could be transported as a food source as the warm tropical temperatures and high humidity would make them go bad almost immediately. Instead, sailors brought longer lasting foods such as chick peas, rice, and dried fruits.
  4. Meat: In order to eat fresh meat during long voyages, ships carried live animals such as chickens, goats and pigs on board. They would kill the animals along the way in order to always have a source of protein. They also often carried cured bacon and cheese with them as a protein substitute.
  5. Biscuits: Biscuits were the main source of food for most crewmen on these trips. They carried biscuits because, although they were pretty bland tasting, they lasted much longer in storage than most other foods, including bread. With that being said, on very long voyages they could still go bad. In fact, there are some stories of sailors having to eat biscuits full of worms as there was nothing else to eat. Bizcocho was as hard as it gets, so they needed to dunk it on wine, soup or water to make it edible.
  6. Fish: During the voyage crewmembers fished as much as they could. Whatever they didn't eat at the time of the catch they would set out to dry in the sun and cover them in salt as a way of preserving them for later. The fish of choice on these long journeys was reported to be Atlantic cod.
  7. Drinks: Although some water was stored on ships for drinking, the most consumed beverage was wine. This is because wine takes a lot longer to go bad. In fact, stored water was known to go bad in under 20 days and was unsafe to drink after that point. Maybe this is why sailors have such a bad reputation when it comes to drinking alcohol!
  8. Treasure: In the voyages that took place between 1521 and 1600 spanish galleons brought back to Spain the astonishing stimated amount of 17,000 tons of silver and 181 tons of gold. So much silver was brought back to Spain that it comprised 95% of cargo aboard most galleons. With so many precious metals aboard this meant that galleons were under constant attack from pirate ships. Even with the onslaught of pirate attacks, however, the amount of treasure lost to pirates was minimal. Overall, during the 250 years that the Spanish empire reigned the Spanish naval fleet accomplished what is commonly known as the most successful maritime operation in history. That said, only 20 per cent of the extracted minerals arrived to Spain (the "Quinto Real" or withholding Royal Tax) The other 80 per cent of that gold and silver remained in America and it was used to build hospitals, schools, cathedrals, bridges and roads in the New World.
  9. Cannon balls: Cannons aboard galleons fired 6-pound iron balls. Sometimes, they fired two balls at a time, which were connected by a chain. The cannon balls ripped through wooden ships, completely destroying them. The wooden splinters caused by the explosions often times injured the sailors more than the cannon balls themselves and, although they usually weren't fatal injuries, they often time got infected which eventually resulted in death. It is important to remember that antibiotics were not developed until the 20th century, hundreds of years after these events took place.

Life aboard a galleon

  1. Passengers: Galleons could normally support up to 150 people on board. Half of these were sailors tending to the ship's needs while the other half were usually passengers looking to move to America in search for a better life. Passengers normally slept on the bottom floor, known as the gun deck, where the galleons cannons were stored. Only officers had access to the comfort of a bed, everyone else had to sleep on the floor. It is estimated that each passenger aboard a galleon had access to a meager 5 feet of personal living space.
  2. Children: Galleons were known for employing young boys (between the ages of 8 and 12) for tasks that required little strength but lots of agility. A common but crucial task given to boys was to climb the ships masts in order to raise or take down the sails.
  3. Fun: Reading books and chatting with friends were the only distractions permitted onboard a galleon. Playing cards, throwing darts and other fun games were strictly prohibited and strongly enforced.
  4. Knot: This is the measurement used to determine the speed at which a ship is moving. Just like a car can be going 20mph, a boat is said to be going 20 knots. To measure the knots at which a galleon was moving they would throw a long rope into the water that was attached to the end of the ship. In this method, knots were tied at uniform intervals in a length of rope and then one end of the rope, with a pie-slice-shape piece of wood (or "chip") attached to it, was tossed behind the ship. As the vessel moved forward, the line of rope was allowed to roll out freely for a specific amount of time, which was typically tabulated with an hourglass. Afterward, the number of knots that had gone over the ship's stern was counted and used in calculating the vessel's rate of speed.
  5. Binnacle: A case or stand on the deck of a ship in which navigational instruments are placed for protection and easy reference. One instrument commonly placed inside a binnacle is a compass, a device used to determine true north.
  6. Scurvy: Galleons were the perfect breeding grounds for disease. With hundreds of people living together for weeks at a time with no clean water or access to medicine, once a person got sick it was unlikely they would get better. Diseases spread especially fast considering the ships were full of livestock, fleas, lice and rats. The most dreaded disease, however, was scurvy. Scurvy is a disease that develops from a lack of Vitamin C, a deficiency easily acquired in a diet lacking fresh vegetables. When someone develops scurvy their gums become painfully inflamed, so much so that they can no longer chew on food. Without being able to eat many scurvy patients eventually died of hunger.
The spanish influence in the United States

Did you know...?

  • In 1529, Spanish cartographer Esteban Gomez drew the first map of the Eastern coast of North America. He named the river that empties into New York City the San Antonio River, a name that the river retained for about 80 years. It wasn't until the Englishman Henry Hudson explored the river in 1609 that it was renamed the Hudson River.
  • In 1540, Pedro de Tovar became the first European to step foot on the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. The Colorado River received its name because Tovar and his explorers described the river as red due to the clay particles that can be found in the water. Colorado means red in Spanish.
  • In 1541, Hernando De Soto became the first European to reach the shores of the Mississippi river. He discovered the river near the current city of Memphis, Tennessee, an event that is portrayed in a painting on display in the US Capitol building in Washington D.C.
  • In 1542, Alvaro Cabeza de Vaca published the first book on the history of the United States. His book recounts the tails of his on-foot trip to California all the way from Florida.
  • In 1566, Pedro de Aviles founded the oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine. It is located on the eastern coast of Florida.
  • In 1613 Juan Rodriguez, a native from the Dominican Republic, became the first ever immigrant to reach the shores of Manhattan. He arrived on the island 12 years before the Dutch first established the colony of New Amsterdam and 52 years before the British would rename the settlement New York.
  • In 1654, a Jewish Spaniard by the name of Luis Gomez established the first ever synagogue in Manhattan. The synagogue, Shearith Israel, is now the oldest synagogue in the United States.
  • The banana comes from Southeast Asia. The Portuguese took it to the Canary Islands and the Spaniards embarked it from there to America.
  • In 1718, Father Antonio de San Buenaventura founded the mission of San Antonio de Valero in modern day Texas. Today this mission famously known as The Alamo.
  • In 1738, Francisco Menendez, a slave from a plantation farm in South Carolina escaped to the Spanish territory of Florida to regain his freedom. As a free man, he established fort Mose, the first settlement for freed African Americans in the United States.
  • In 1750 a Spanish galleon became lost at sea and sank off the coast of Virginia. Some of the horses onboard managed to survive by swimming from the shipwreck to the shores of the Island of Assateague. Their descendants are now known as the wild ponies of Virginia Beach.
  • Florida oranges are fruits originating in China. From there the Arabs took them to Spain and, years later, the Spaniards introduced them to America.
  • Halloween is a very old celebration that the Celts celebrated in Ireland and Galicia, Spain but the pumpkins are original from America and it is in America where they joined the tradition of Halloween thanks to the stories of the writer Washington Irving.
  • In 1762, the Spanish governor of Louisiana ordered the construction of a new and monumental district in New Orleans. It became known as the French quarter because the Spanish governor decided to respect and maintain the names of the streets, which the French had named when they ruled over the city.
  • To this day the citizens of New Orleans celebrate the arrival of the three kings in Jerusalem, a Spanish holiday, by eating the festive three king's cake on January 6th. It is a round pastry with a miniature statue of baby Jesus hidden inside of it. Tradition states that whoever gets the piece of cake with the baby Jesus inside of it has to pay for the cake.
  • In 1775, the Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia, decided to adopt the Spanish dollar as the official currency of the United States. This was done at the request of Thomas Jefferson. The symbol for the US dollar ($) comes from the emblem on the Spanish flag, which contains two columns draped with an s-shaped banner.
  • The first rodeos in Texas were organized by the Spanish cowboys in the first half of the 18th century. Rodeo means going around in Spanish.
  • The tomatoes are original from Central America. The Europeans used them as ornamental plants and it took them a long time to dare to eat them like the Aztecs and Mayans did.
  • The King of Spain Carlos the III gave a donkey to Washington called "Royal Gift". Washington crossed the donkey with his mares and raised mules that became very popular animals in America.
  • In 2014, President Barack Obama granted Bernardo de Gálvez honorary citizenship.
  • In the clashes between the Dragons of Cuera and the Indians (Comanches, Sioux, Apaches ...), the weapons of the Spaniards could only fire once. Every time the Spaniards fired a shot, they had to reload the gunpowder and the bullet. Meanwhile, the Comanches had time to shoot five arrows.
  • The first Christian marriage celebrated in the USA took place in San Agustín, Florida, in 1565. It was an interracial wedding between the Spaniards Miguel Rodríguez, white soldier and blacksmith born in Segovia, and Luisa de Abrego, a woman of black race from Seville.