Texas Originals

Bernardo de Gálvez

July 23, 1746–November 30, 1786

Galveston takes its name from the Spanish official Bernardo de Gálvez. Gálvez never set foot on the island, but his actions along the Gulf Coast shaped the history of not only Texas but the entire United States.

Born in Spain in 1746, Gálvez came from a modest background, but his political fortunes rose upon following an ambitious uncle to Mexico. In 1770, during the Spanish conquest of the region, he led an offensive against the Apache in West Texas, drawing the attention of royal officials.

Gálvez was named governor of Spanish Louisiana in 1776, just as England’s colonies erupted in revolt, and Gálvez began secretly sending supplies up the Mississippi to the Continental Army. When Spain officially entered the war on the American side in 1779, Gálvez’s military victories along the Gulf Coast at Baton Rouge, Mobile, and Pensacola were critical in preventing Britain from focusing all of its power on the rebellious colonies. George Washington himself considered Gálvez’s efforts a deciding factor in the Revolution.

Later, as governor of Cuba, Gálvez commissioned a new map of his coastal conquests, leading a surveyor to name Galveston Bay in his honor.

In 2014, the United States declared Gálvez an honorary citizen, a distinction the nation has granted only eight times—and a fitting tribute to a Spanish hero of the American Revolution.

For More about Bernardo de Gálvez

Honorary citizenship is the highest honor that the U. S. government can bestow on a foreign national. Two of these honorary citizens are figures from colonial history (William and Hannah Penn), three are from the American Revolution (the Marquis de Lafayette and Casimir Pulaski alongside Gálvez), two are from WWII (Winston Churchill and Raoul Wallenberg), and the final is Mother Theresa. In 2014, President Obama signed a joint congressional resolution on Gálvez sponsored by Florida Representative Jeff Miller, and the congressional website maintains the text of the resolution for the only Spaniard so honored.

Though Gálvez’s relationship to Galveston is nominal, his actions in the Gulf of Mexico opened new chapters in the island’s rich history. After Gálvez’s death, Galveston served as a staging ground for both revolutionaries and pirates and would become Texas’s premier port during the republic and early statehood. The Bryan Museum located there is a repository for one of the world’s largest collections of Western Americana. The institution also pays special attention to the island’s, and the state’s, Spanish past. If Gálvez himself is not front and center in the exhibits, the Gulf Coast’s contentious, cosmopolitan history that he represents most assuredly is.

Celebrating its forty-fifth anniversary in 2018, the Galveston County Museum complements the Bryan Museum well with a particular focus on the island’s history, from Cabeza de Vaca’s shipwreck to the catastrophic hurricane of 1900 and beyond. If you are hoping to get a peek at the island’s namesake, however, the best bet is to hunt down the supposedly haunted portrait of Bernardo de Gálvez that hangs in the historic Grand Gálvez Hotel.

Selected Bibliography

Cartwright, Gary. Galveston: A History of the Island. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1998.

Caughey, John Walton. Bernardo de Gálvez in Louisiana, 1776–1783. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1934.

McCarty, Kieran. "Bernardo de Gálvez on the Apache Frontier: The Education of a Future Viceroy." Journal of the Southwest 36, no. 2 (Summer 1994): 103–130.

Quintero Saravia, Gonzalo M. Bernardo de Gálvez: Spanish Hero of the American Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018.

Starr, J. Barton. Tories, Dons, and Rebels: The American Revolution in British West Florida. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1976.

Thomson, Buchanan Parker. Spain, Forgotten Ally of the American Revolution. Boston: Christopher Publishing House, 1976.

Thonhoff, Robert H. "Gálvez, Bernardo de." Handbook of Texas Online.

Watson, Thomas D. "A Scheme Gone Awry: Bernardo de Gálvez, Gilberto de Maxent, and the Southern Indian Trade." Louisiana History 17, no. 1 (Winter 1976): 5–17. 

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Spanish Translation

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Portrait of Bernardo de Gálvez by Mariano Salvador Maella.
Bronze statue of Bernardo de Gálvez by Juan de Ávalos outside the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC.