Spain and the American Revolutionary War

Spain's role in the independence of Britain's Thirteen Colonies was part of its dispute over colonial supremacy with the Kingdom of Great Britain. Spain declared war on Britain as an ally of France, and provided supplies and munitions to the American forces.

Beginning in 1776, it jointly funded Roderigue Hortalez and Company, a trading company that provided critical military supplies. Spain also provided financing for the final Siege of Yorktown in 1781 with a collection of gold and silver in Havana, Cuba. [1] Spain was allied with France through the Bourbon Family Compact and also viewed the Revolution as an opportunity to weaken its enemy Great Britain, which had caused Spain substantial losses during the Seven Years' War. As the newly appointed Prime Minister, José Moñino y Redondo, Count of Floridablanca, wrote in March 1777, "the fate of the colonies interests us very much, and we shall do for them everything that circumstances permit". [2]

Aid to the Colonies: 1776–1778

Spanish aid was supplied to the colonies through four main routes: from French ports with the funding of Roderigue Hortalez and Company, through the port of New Orleans and up the Mississippi River, from the warehouses in Havana, and from Bilbao, through the Gardoqui family trading company.

Smuggling from New Orleans began in 1776, when General Charles Lee sent two Continental Army (the army of the Thirteen Colonies) officers to request supplies from the New Orleans Governor, Luis de Unzaga. Unzaga, concerned about overtly antagonizing the British before the Spanish were prepared for war, agreed to assist the rebels covertly. Unzaga authorized the shipment of desperately needed gunpowder in a transaction brokered by Oliver Pollock, a Patriot (Revolutionary) and financier. [3] When Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Count of Gálvez was appointed Governor of New Orleans in January 1777, he continued and expanded the supply operations. [4]

As the American diplomat Benjamin Franklin reported from Paris to the Congressional Committee of Secret Correspondence in March 1777, the Spanish court quietly granted the rebels direct admission to the rich, previously restricted port of Havana under most favored nation status. Franklin also noted in the same report that three thousand barrels of gunpowder were waiting in New Orleans, and that the merchants in Bilbao "had orders to ship for us such necessaries as we might want." [5]

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