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  • Spanish Orphans, British Prisoners, and the American Revolution: Warfare, Social Welfare, and Technical Training

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and aScotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgottenSpot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalorGrow up to be a hero and a scholar?1

These lines about an orphan open the hottest show on Broadway this year. While others would not share Alexander Hamilton’s fate as a revolutionary hero portrayed centuries later on U.S. currency and Broadway stages, orphans in European home countries and overseas territories were commonly embroiled in the economic and political developments that brought metropoles and colonies into alliances and conflicts with one another during the late eighteenth century. The American Revolution was one such conflict. This article discusses male orphans from Spain, which is less famous than France as an ally of the rebels in Britain’s North American colonies, and [End Page 33] an arena of the war relatively little known to non-specialists: the 1779–1783 siege of Gibraltar. More specifically, this study explores the capture of British ships and crewmembers off the Iberian coast, and the involvement of and implications for different groups of male orphanage wards from Seville in these events. Teens at the maritime orphanage of San Telmo participated in the August 1780 capture of an English convoy near the Strait of Gibraltar and were at the heart of a resulting dispute over the monetary portions due to them for it. In the following years, the youths at Seville’s other main male orphanage, known as “The Toribios,” figured prominently in plans to spur the local economy by tapping the textile-making savvy of British prisoners of war in Andalusia.

Besides illuminating understudied dimensions, arenas, and actors in the American Revolution, this essay examines Spanish initiatives to combine juvenile poor relief with efforts to invigorate Spain’s economic and military profile in the competitive international context of the last quarter of the eighteenth century. The setting is the reign of Charles III (1759–1788), often considered the high water mark of “enlightened” monarchy in Spain, and the Bourbon Reforms. The episodes occurring at this time show that institutionalized young people—in this case, male youths—became an important resource and conduit through which reformers tried to implement technological innovations and promote international competitiveness, both on land and sea, and both in military and commercial ventures. They highlight the importance of site-specific adaptation and continued reliance on local players as well as bureaucratic machinations and the contingency of international conditions that the Spanish Crown and other “enlightened” reformers could not fully control. This study thus reveals intriguing intersections between areas of Spain’s Bourbon Reforms which were often seen in relative isolation from one another, and the tensions that developed as they were put into practice.

Though not initially conceived as a study of the Enlightenment per se, this exploration also responds to trends in the scholarship on this topic. In a recent essay, Gabriel Paquette usefully discusses developments in scholarship on the Enlightenment that he finds especially helpful in considering the Spanish case. These include our growing recognition that not all Enlightenments (like Dorinda Outram and others, Paquette insists on the plural) were subversive, and our renewed willingness to consider the plausibility of government-sponsored “enlightened reform.”2 As Paquette notes, openness to considering programs emanating from or patronized by monarchical governments as potentially worthy and authentic components of the Enlightenment facilitates and encourages thinking about the ideas concerning political economy that were so prominent among self-styled reformers within and beyond the [End Page 34] Spanish court. These are welcome developments in the scholarship, and not only as a vehicle for championing the Spanish Enlightenment and its most prominent figures, as Ruth MacKay has shown in her trenchant critique.3 The present study benefits from and builds on such work, as the linked cases involving Spanish orphans in the wars of the American Revolution invite us to consider the usefulness, and limits, of “enlightened reform.”

The findings reported here are based primarily on manuscripts from the Spanish national archive at Simancas, with additional documentation from the archives of orphanages in Seville and the administrative bodies that oversaw them.

San Telmo Wards and the Capture of a British Convoy

Spanish involvement in the American Revolutionary War formally began in April 1779, with the signing of a Franco-Spanish alliance treaty at the royal palace of Aranjuez, which was ratified at Versailles later the same month. While the late eighteenth century is often considered well past the sixteenth-century zenith of Spain’s imperial power, the Bourbon monarchs had overseen a concerted effort to reinvigorate the Spanish navy in the eighteenth century, with considerable results.4 Consequently, Spain’s entry into the war not only opened more fronts in the battle against Britain, broadening the war’s geographic scope, but also gave the combined French and Spanish forces naval superiority over Britain. George Washington welcomed this development as “most interesting and agreeable.”5 Larrie Ferreiro notes that Spain’s entry into the war was of sufficient concern to the British for them to authorize secret negotiations between Richard Cumberland, a Briton, and Thomas Hussey, an Irish-Spanish priest, to discuss a potential truce with Spain.6

Those efforts would not bear fruit, and the Spanish and British would confront one another in a number of theaters from Central America to the Mississippi Valley in the Western Hemisphere, as well as in Europe. The Franco-Spanish siege of Gibraltar, which began in 1779 shortly after Spain joined the fight, effectively forced Britain to divert resources that otherwise might have been employed on the other side of the Atlantic throughout the remainder of the conflict. (Chávez contends that if Britain hoped to defeat the American rebels and their Spanish and French allies, Britain should have been less concerned with Gibraltar than with what was going on across the ocean.7) The secret Hussey-Cumberland negotiations quickly revealed that Gibraltar would be a sticking point between the two powers, and confrontations ensued.8 In January 1780, a British fleet under the command of Vice Admiral George Brydges Rodney captured Spanish warships and [End Page 35] merchant ships of the Royal Guipuzcoan Company of Caracas, and then defeated a Spanish squadron to deliver essential supplies to Gibraltar. Youths from Seville’s maritime orphanage of San Telmo who were working on Spanish ships involved in this encounter did not escape unscathed; eighteen-year-old Carlos Camerino y Bayzan, for example, was taken to England and did not return to Spain until 1781.9

In August 1780, the tables turned, and more than two dozen of Camerino y Bayzan’s fellow youths from the maritime orphanage were among the Spanish seamen who took part in the capture of an English convoy. They were crewmembers in a squadron led by Luis de Córdova from Cádiz.10 This episode put thousands of British prisoners, muskets, and other supplies in Spanish hands. Ferreiro calls it “the single largest loss of ships the British mercantile fleet would experience in the war,” valuing the financial loss at “£1.6 million in gold and silver, about $17 billion today [2016].”11 Given the enormous scale of this seizure, there were rewards to be had, and fought over, including in the form of portions (presas) due to participating seamen.

To understand the fight over portions, one must first know how the Spanish orphans came to be working on the ships of Córdova’s squadron and the terms of their compensation. By 1780, wards of the Royal School of San Telmo (Real Colegio Seminario de San Telmo) had been sailing on Spanish ships for nearly a century. Spain’s Seafarers’ Guild (Universidad de Mareantes) had erected this institution in 1681 to transform orphaned boys into specialized seamen, mainly for Spain’s trans-Atlantic commercial fleets.12 Spanish Hapsburg King Charles II supported this initiative to educate poor orphaned and abandoned boys in maritime skills “so that in this way there will be abundant seamen, gunners, and expert pilots” instead of the “tramps and thieves” he feared they might otherwise become.13 The home was fittingly named after a traditional patron saint of sailors, San Telmo (Saint Elmo).

While the original plan had been for resident boys to learn navigation from the experts at Seville’s House of Trade (Casa de Contratación), over time, the orphanage developed an advanced in-house education program, which became the forerunner of the navigation curriculum at Spain’s subsequently established Naval or Midshipman’s Academy (Academia de Guardias Marinas). The first navigation instructor at San Telmo, Manuel Cedillo, had himself been a former San Telmo ward. After becoming a pilot and returning to teach at the maritime orphanage, he was lured to the new Midshipmen’s Academy, where he served as director for more than two decades, beginning in 1728.14 By the 1770s, San Telmo wards regularly studied a multi-year mathematics-based navigational curriculum on site, reflecting the training pilots needed for the maritime technology of the day. There also was a [End Page 36] model ship for pedagogical purposes dry-docked in one of the orphanage’s courtyards.15 While San Telmo never stopped officially requiring its charity wards to be orphans, it acquired a reputation as a school and maritime academy of sorts, to which admission became increasingly restrictive and competitive. After 1721, prospective wards needed not only to be orphans but also the progeny of legally wed parents of good reputation and “blood purity” (limpieza de sangre). There was excess demand for the 150 spaces available and regular attempts to circumvent admission requirements, as well as non-orphans learning on the premises as paying students. Though their presence was regularly criticized, it was ultimately somewhat formalized in an administrative overhaul of 1786–88, which created a separate provision for paying “noble boarders” (porcionistas nobles).

After they had completed some schooling at the orphanage, the San Telmo wards began to work on Spanish ships on European and Atlantic routes. The type and amount of education they received before embarking on their first maritime voyage varied based on their aptitude for the advanced navigation classes, but the orphans were generally in their teens (and sometimes even into their early 20s) when they sailed under orphanage auspices. (They typically were admitted to San Telmo between the ages of eight and fourteen, and usually studied there for several years before going to sea, especially if they entered on the younger end of the spectrum.) They worked as junior seamen on both merchant and military vessels.

The wages and other compensation earned by these working orphans were generally split between the orphanage and each ward. San Telmo’s representative in Cádiz collected the full wages earned by San Telmo’s youths serving on Spanish ships, then rebated back to each the amount earned in excess of the base wage of a page. By the late 1770s, all San Telmo wards were occupying posts of apprentice seaman (grumete—the next rank up from page) or higher, so they were all entitled to some portion of their own shipboard earnings. San Telmo wards regularly worked on military as well as merchant ships, even during periods of hostilities, so they were regularly involved in maritime confrontations. Of course, orphans—including those from San Telmo—were not always on the winning side of maritime confrontations, and San Telmo wards regularly became prisoners of war, as in the case of Carlos Camerino y Bayzan discussed above. Since he was held in England, Camerino y Bayzan had to wait until November 1783 to collect wages for the shipboard service that landed him there, but a delay this long was uncommon.16

Twenty-seven other San Telmo wards working on ships in Córdova’s squadron participated in the capture of the English convoy in August 1780. In the aftermath, a dispute developed between the orphanage’s administrators, [End Page 37] members or appointees of the Seafarers’ Guild, and the Spanish Navy. San Telmo officials claimed that they were entitled to collect, in addition to their wards’ base pay, part of the special portions due for their service in Córdova’s squadron. The orphanage administrators made several requests and were rebuffed, ultimately on the grounds that royal orders required that the payments due to the San Telmo wards be made in person (en mano propia), as was the custom for the shipboard servants of generals, commanders and officers. Orphanage administrators protested to the Crown that this was inappropriate, since the orphans were members of the ships’ crews and not personal servants of the officers. They argued that the decision was unjust and harmful both to the orphanage and to its wards: the orphanage was being deprived of what admnistrators argued was their rightful institutional cut, and the wards were deprived because most were not in a position to present themselves in person to collect their pay in Cádiz, many having already shipped out to serve in the Americas. In the end, the Crown sided with San Telmo’s administrators. In 1782, two years after the seizure of the British ships, the monarchy ordered that the orphanage’s representative in Cádiz be allowed to collect the portions due to the orphanage and its wards for their participation in the capture of the British convoy.17

It is difficult to know definitively why the naval officials initially resisted turning the portions over to the orphanage administrators. They may have felt that insisting on giving the portions directly to the orphans in person was acting in the youths’ best interest, so that the orphanage would not be able to take a cut first. Whether this was their real motive or not, this likely claim by the Navy would explain why the orphanage administrators not only pointed out their legal entitlement to a cut but also explained that they had been supporting the San Telmo wards for years—again, drawing a distinction between the orphans and the others who were expected to collect their own portions. Alternatively, the naval officers may just have been stalling and seeking a way to wriggle out of paying portions to anyone at San Telmo, whether administrators or wards.

The significance of this episode lies less in the presence of orphans in eighteenth-century naval service, than in the negotiations over their compensation and what it reveals about the intersection of military, maritime, educational, and relief initiatives and the players that carried them out in late eighteenth-century Spain. Orphans and foundlings had long worked in the fleets of early modern European maritime powers. From Venice to Amsterdam, juvenile relief institutions were common recruiting grounds for sailors. In eighteenth-century London, the Marine Society (established in 1756) funneled boys, including some from the foundling home, into shipboard service.18 In language resembling Charles II’s decree to establish [End Page 38] San Telmo in Seville, Jonas Hanway, one of the Marine Society’s principal founders, claimed that it would “purge the streets of London” and “relieve the miseries of the hungry and naked, and him that hath no helper but God” while also providing manpower for the fleet.19

The skirmishes over the portions due to San Telmo wards indicate that battles occurred not only at sea and with Spain’s international rivals but also within the Spanish bureaucracy. While such infighting is endemic to bureaucracies, in this instance it reveals how different players, theoretically all working together to steer male orphans into Spanish maritime service, also sparred with one another over authority and resources. This was chronic throughout San Telmo’s first century of operations under the auspices of the Seafarers’ Guild, whose representatives regularly protested the Crown’s grants of exemption from the tax on merchant shipping that was earmarked for support of the maritime orphanage. This mechanism had tied the orphanage’s financial viability to Spain’s monopolistic fleet system (based first at Seville and, after 1717, at Cádiz) through most of the eighteenth century. But by the time of the American Revolution, this system was in the process of being scrapped in favor of a so-called “free trade” (libre comercio) policy, thus greatly destabilizing the orphanage’s financial underpinnings.20

The relationship between the maritime orphanage and the Spanish Navy was also becoming increasingly fraught. In 1779, the same year that Spain entered the alliance against Britain, the House of Trade official Antonio de Arnuero had inspected San Telmo and written a critical report, which was almost certainly influenced by the dismantling of the fleet system and the fact that by then, other navigation schools existed throughout Spain, many operated directly by the Spanish Navy.21 The Navy resented and contested the royal privileges afforded to San Telmo wards, which had been granted when San Telmo was the only institution dedicated to teaching navigation to Spanish youths.22 Guilds themselves were coming under mounting scrutiny from “reformers” within the royal government and elsewhere, including the prominent royal official Pedro Rodríguez, the Count of Campomanes.23 Facing these headwinds, and after more than a century of administering the San Telmo maritime orphanage, the Seafarers’ Guild relinquished control of the orphanage to the Navy in the late 1780s and ceased to exist shortly thereafter.

Beyond illustrating the participation of Spanish orphans in a significant maritime event of the American Revolution, the debate over portions due to the San Telmo wards who participated in the 1780 seizure of the British convoy provides an illustration of the complications that ensued when military practices intersected with education and relief programs that were more typically domestic affairs. This episode also shows the challenges and [End Page 39] tensions resulting from the Crown’s attempt to implement new policies. Administrators of the maritime orphanage, which had been established a century earlier under a monarch who had delegated royal privileges and revenue streams within a Hapsburg fleet system that no longer existed, tussled with the resurgent Spanish Navy, which the Bourbon monarchs had spent considerable resources reinvigorating during the eighteenth century. Now operating their own navigation schools, the Navy increasingly saw the wards of the Seafarers’ Guild’s orphanage as competition. Or did they consider it unjust for the orphanage administrators’ middlemen to seize pay that the youths had earned in the heat of battle? Although the Crown ultimately sided with the orphanage administrators, the dismantling of the Spanish fleet system, followed by the transfer of the orphanage’s administration to the Navy’s jurisdiction in the late 1780s and the dissolution of the Seafarers’ Guild shortly thereafter, indicate that the Navy prevailed in the long run. Crown-supported maritime training became more explicitly harnessed to military needs. Yet Spain’s commercial competitiveness remained of enormous concern to civil authorities within and beyond the Spanish court, and orphans were resources in this competition, too, as seen in another episode from the American Revolution.

British Prisoners of War and the Creation of a New Andalusian Textile Factory

According to Ferreiro, the August 1780 seizure of the British convoy at Gibraltar involved the capture of more than three thousand soldiers.24 Many ended up in Seville and other cities of Andalusia in the early 1780s. When officials learned that some knew coveted English textile-making technology and skills, they sought to set up a textile factory under the direction of one of them who seemed particularly able. Officials proposed that he be contracted to direct a new textile factory and teach his “secrets” (secretos) to Spaniards, including wards at Seville’s other main charity home for boys. Agustín González Enciso has framed this episode as a “model of technological diffusion.”25 It certainly was that, and it is useful to examine it as such; but it was also more than this. Like the participation of the San Telmo wards in the capture of the British convoy, this initiative to tap British prisoners’ technical skills highlights the intersecting agendas of the Crown, royal officials, and local players, their sometimes competing interests “on the ground,” and the place of orphans in their project.

The plan to tap the expertise of British prisoners of war was primarily promoted by Antonio de Domezain, Seville’s asistente (the royally appointed member of the city council, the counterpart of the corregidor in other Spanish [End Page 40] cities and rough equivalent of the French intendant). Domezain was and is known as a reformer eager to use his position at the juncture of municipal and royal government to implement the kinds of social and economic reforms being promoted by the Bourbon reformers at the Spanish court, including Campomanes, author of the Discuros sobre el fomento de la industria popular (Discourse on the promotion of popular industry, 1774) and Discurso sobre la educación popular de artesanos y su fomento (Discourse on the popular education of artisans and its promotion, 1775).26 Domezain explicitly linked the project of tapping the English prisoners’ technical skills and teaching them at different correctional and relief institutions to Campomanes’s treatises on popular education. Like Campomanes, and counterparts elsewhere in eighteenth-century Spain and Western Europe, Domezain had a special interest in poor relief and in the creation and/or reform of charitable homes, including juvenile homes, which he saw as inextricably related to the project of making Spaniards more industrious, and thereby Spain stronger, both morally and economically.27

Thus Domezain was delighted when he heard in May 1781 from Josef Pérez Quintana, the Spanish commissioner of war in charge of the British prisoners, that among them were a number of skilled laborers who might be enticed to teach their knowledge to Spaniards. Quintana identified 42 English prisoners who worked in Seville by day and returned to the prisoner barracks at night; he suggested that some who did excellent work (and were willing to convert to Catholicism) might be enticed to stay and work in Spain even after being permitted to leave. His list included English prisoners working in a number of trades, from tailors and shoemakers to a clockmaker and domestic servants in distinguished homes, but the plurality were textile workers of various sorts, principally, weavers, carders, and stocking-makers.28 One man quickly attracted special attention. This English prisoner, Juan Riley, produced samples and technical drawings that convinced Spanish officials that he was adept at building tools and machines for many different stages of textile production, from preparing and carding wool to weaving it, suggesting that he had the potential to establish a successful factory where he could teach Spaniards his craft “secrets.” Upon inquiry, they learned that Riley had been imprisoned for debts in London by his creditors; to get released, he enlisted for shipboard service, hoping to make money in Jamaica. Instead, he ended up in Seville.

Domezain proposed to the Crown that Riley be given a ten-year contract of financial support in exchange for using his expertise to direct a textile factory in Spain. The factory would be capitalized by a citizen of Seville and employ other prisoners chosen by Riley. Domezain also proposed requiring that in addition to the English workers, “there must always be [End Page 41] at the factory at least six Spanish apprentices dedicated to learning all the tasks and secrets that Riley possesses, and it will be his responsibility to teach them and to put all his effort into making them able.”29 Reservations stemming from Riley’s drinking sparked attempts to recruit another English prisoner, who was reportedly comparably able but more sober, in Riley’s place. (Domezain had heard that Riley “is dissolute with wine to the point of getting muddled” and reported that Riley’s “immeasurable passion for wine had me vacillating and disgusted.”30) The substitution never happened, though, since the other prisoner reported that he had obligations to return to his home country “where he feared the greatest punishment if it was learned that he had made his secrets known here.”31 Riley also promised to mend his ways and apparently did, at least for a time.

The ten-year contract with Riley, signed in November 1781, included language similar to that proposed by Domezain regarding Spanish apprentices. Even before this contract was signed, Domezain had proposed that the apprentices come specifically from the Toribios orphanage in Seville. An agreement a few months later, in February 1782, increased the number of apprentices to twenty and specified that they be Toribios wards. The factory described in the contract was established, and Toribios boys apparently did work alongside English prisoners of war under the direction of Juan Riley during the war.

Although Riley would convert to Catholicism (be baptized) in August 1783, shortly before the Treaty of Paris officially ended the American Revolution, his conversion had not been a condition of the agreements that he had signed.32 Nor were other Protestant prisoners disqualified from working under Riley’s direction and interacting with Spaniards, including presumably impressionable young apprentices. A cleric from the Inquisition even endorsed the plan for the English prisoners to be allowed to stay in Spain to “propagate their projects and abilities because the cloths of this type that come from England to these lands are infinite,” as long as certain “precautions” (precauciones) were taken. He approvingly noted that on previous occasions “heretics of special ability” in some skill had been permitted to stay in Spain, albeit on certain conditions, such as being prohibited from performing “Calvinist” religious acts or ceremonies in public, and from arguing with any Catholic about religion.33

The prisoner-directed textile factory project is best understood in multiple late-eighteenth-century contexts: developments in European textile industries and commerce, the hierarchy of orphanages in eighteenth-century Seville, and the treatment of prisoners of war. The first is perhaps the best known. Textile industries throughout Europe were changing under pressure from different sources: the growth of the cotton sector, competition from colonial [End Page 42] imports (especially from South Asia), and changes both in demand and in production methods, including proto-industrialization (burgeoning rural production) and the creation of new textile equipment and organization. Observing foreigners’ technological and thus economically competitive edge in textile production, eighteenth-century Spaniards often sought to emulate it. The development of the Catalan textile industry is perhaps the best known Spanish example of such emulation. As Marta V. Vicente and James K. J. Thomson have shown in their analyses of Barcelona’s growing cotton industry in the eighteenth century, special contracts for skilled immigrant workers capable of introducing new technologies to Spanish industrialists and workers were not unknown.34 The recruitment of British prisoners of war to teach Spanish orphans is more unusual, but the link between textile work and the labor and training associated with relief establishments, including orphanages, is well known and widespread in eighteenth-century Europe, though often associated mainly with girls’ and women’s work in such establishments.35

Zeal for reinvigorating the Spanish textile industry in the eighteenth-century was commonly coupled with the prominent and zealous discouragement, even castigation, of “idleness” (ocio) in the poorhouses and other relief programs that Campomanes, Domezain, and other Bourbon officials championed as part of their plan to reform Spanish society and invigorate the economy.36 Textile workshops—especially for spinning—featured prominently in plans for new or reformed institutions, as well as in other educational initiatives. Seville’s Economic Society of Friends of the Country (Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País) established many spinning schools, and similar organizations and initiatives were occurring elsewhere in Spain at the same time.37 Domezain himself arranged for the installation of spinning equipment at the municipal orphanage for girls in Seville, though the convent-based home for orphaned noble girls in Seville had no textile equipment, only embroidery supplies. This was one reflection of the fact that orphaned and other poor girls were segregated across institutions according to their family backgrounds and presumed future prospects; the more “industrial” textile work was only expected at the lower-status orphanages.

Distinctions among male orphanages were different, but a distinct hierarchy existed there too. While initially established to take in orphaned boys fairly indiscriminately, for most of the eighteenth century the maritime orphanage of San Telmo was the more highly esteemed and more selective orphanage in town. The Toribios remained a lower status institution and even doubled as a reformatory for male juvenile delinquents.38 Such hierarchical distinctions among juvenile charity homes were not unique to Seville or [End Page 43] Spain.39 It is probably not a coincidence that the Toribios, which started as the initiative of one man working with street children (founder and namesake Toribio de Velasco), became institutionalized as a residential establishment under the auspices of ecclesiastical and municipal authorities in the early 1720s, just as San Telmo was becoming more restrictive in its admissions policies. Toribios wards did not escape military service entirely—they were commonly recruited as soldiers and sailors—but while they received some primary education at the orphanage, they did not have access to the advanced navigational education that gave the most academically adept San Telmo wards access to officer status. The stratification across Seville’s juvenile charity homes shows the persistence, even hardening, of social ranks in eighteenth-century Spain. It thus squares with Ruth MacKay’s claims about the “revival of exclusion” even as writers and reformers of the Spanish Enlightenment implemented policies and wrote copiously about, revising legal definitions of who and what should (and should not) be considered “honorable” and “vile,” in hopes of ennobling manual labor and spurring economic growth.40

The third context to consider is eighteenth-century treatment of prisoners of war. Since early modern European powers were so regularly embroiled in conflict, they had well developed procedures for both captors and captives. These included regular prisoner exchanges and the practice of “parole d’honneur,” in which officers were released on pledging that they would not actively fight during the duration of hostilities or for an otherwise specified period. In examining the experiences of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century prisoners of wars, Gavin Daly and other scholars—including Carl P. Borick and Daniel Krebs, both of whom discuss war prisoners in the context of the American Revolution, albeit in the North American context—have documented experiences that range from brutal to surprisingly humane.41 Krebs, for example, has found prisoners at multiple points along the continuum between constraint and liberty, including prisoners employed by local people, for whom they were “useful enemies.”42 The same could be said of what was occurring in Seville in another theater of the same war. (This seems to have been occurring at the end of an era; Western European military conventions for dealing with prisoners of war would begin to change at the turn of the nineteenth century.)

Then the war ended. Despite the Spaniards’ attempts to entice the skilled English workers to remain in Spain after the war, most wanted to go home and did so after hostilities ceased in 1783. Riley stayed in Spain until the early 1790s, but not continuously in Seville. The textile factory that had begun with such high hopes foundered. This disappointing result was not uncommon in eighteenth-century attempts to tap foreigners’ matching-making and other [End Page 44] technological knowledge, even when they did not involve Spanish orphans or English prisoners. Thomson’s work on the a technological transfer initiative involving French craftsmen contracted to help introduce the spinning jenny in Barcelona was similarly thwarted, with low wages, labor supply issues, and overly optimistic expectations all playing a role.43 Contemporaries noted that the fate of the venture involving Riley was not helped by the foreign textiles that began flooding Seville’s market following the peace, though Thomson and Vicente both claim that the years immediately following the conclusion of the American Revolution were robust periods of expansion, at least for the Catalan textile industry.44

The entrepreneur Hernández Tamaríz complained that he and his family had been financially ruined by the project. Among his lengthy allegations was the charge that Toribios administrators had sent boys to the factory who were too young to be responsible workers, that they created poor quality cloth, sometimes intentionally damaging it, and that as soon as they became a little skilled, they ran away. In response to Hernández Tamaríz’s contentions, Toribios administrator Zalduendo y Luquín conceded that many boys viewed the factory with “repugnance” (repugnancia) and that some had deserted, but he attributed their attitude and actions to the poor treatment that they had received. Zalduendo y Luquín claimed to have had “many arguments and words with him [Tamaríz], trying to persuade him that the rigor and surliness with which he treated them was not a good way of getting results from them. “45 While these passages hardly conjure a sunny picture of working conditions at the factory, desertion, material wastage, and insubordination among textile workers were hardly unique to the Toribios boys or the factory in Seville; other textile enterprises encountered similar problems with their own workers.46 Moreover, while both writers note harsh punishment of the Toribios boys, they do not condone it, but instead accuse one another of perpetrating it.

By 1785, the factory ceased to function altogether. The following year, the priest who oversaw the Toribios requested that the now-abandoned equipment be purchased and installed at the Toribios. This seems to have occurred eventually, and Toribios wards undoubtedly continued to do textile work on it in workrooms at the orphanage. Some Toribios wards would continue to be sent out of the home by day to be trained by local tradesmen, but we have no further evidence that any were being sent to learn the “secrets” of British craftsmen who had originally come to Andalusia as prisoners of the American Revolutionary War. [End Page 45]


That English prisoners like Juan Riley, captured in the squadron manned in part by youths from an orphanage in Seville, were recruited to remain in Spain to teach the latest textile manufacturing skills to other orphans in town may not be what we expect to find when Spanish, British, and United States history intersect in the American Revolution. Yet it is a revealing point of intersection, which also resonates well with James Marten’s claim that “Children have been and are deeply engaged in every facet of war—not simply as victims.”47 The different roles of the Spanish orphans and of the institutions that housed them, and the unexpected connections to one another and the broader contexts in which they were enmeshed, make these interrelated accounts compelling and insightful.

These episodes show that contemporaries saw and lived the connections between technological progress and economic and military competitiveness; the local and the international; charity and warfare; prisoners and orphans; optimistic planning and more complicated implementation. There were opportunities for adversaries to become allies, and rivalries among compatriots who shared ostensibly similar objectives. These linked cases also illuminate both possibilities and complexities of the world in which the American Revolution occurred, including its European theater. In the cases discussed here, the Spanish Crown’s interests and intervention in efforts to promote technological innovation and international competitiveness—in both its maritime fleets and its textile industry—involved Spanish orphans, their education, and their labor. These youths’ specific roles depended chiefly on the status of the institutions in whose charge they found themselves, which in turn was largely a function of entrenched social stratification along quite traditional lines. The episodes discussed here also show that the implementation and success of the Crown’s efforts at reform ultimately relied on conditions and actors—from international diplomacy to the actions of individual orphans and prisoners—that the monarchy could not fully control or predict. It thus points to the importance of evaluating “enlightened reform” not only as discursive but also as lived experience powerfully shaped by temporary convergences of geopolitical, material, and cultural forces. [End Page 46]

Valentina Tikoff

Valentina Tikoff is associate professor of history at DePaul University. Recent publications include articles in the Journal of Early Modern History, Eighteenth-Century Studies, and the International Journal of Maritime History. Her analysis of a children’s edition of Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography will appear in the volume Who Writes for Black Children? African American Children’s Literature before 1900, Katharine Capshaw and Anna Mae Duane (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2017).


The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Hazel Gold, Eve Tavor Bannet, Lisa Sigel, the anonymous reviewers, and the helpful comments of Rebecca Haidt, Dena Goodman, David Gies, and other audience members when a shorter version of this essay was initially presented at the 2016 meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.

Translations are by the author unless otherwise stated. When quoting from manuscript documents, original spelling has been retained but diacritical marks have been standardized and upper- and lower-case conventions followed.

1. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: The Musical (2015). Atlantic Records, official page for the music of Hamilton: The Musical,, accessed 17 August 2016.

2. Gabriel Paquette, “The Reform of the Spanish Empire in the Age of Enlightenment,” in The Spanish Enlightenment Revisited, ed. Jesús Astigarraga, 149–167 (Oxford, UK: Voltaire Foundation, 2015); and Dorinda Outram, The Enlightenment, 3rd ed. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

3. Ruth MacKay, “Lazy, Improvident People:” Myth and Reality in the Writing of Spanish History (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 2006), 115–17.

4. José P. Merino, La Armada Española en el Siglo XVIII (Madrid: Fundación Universitaria Española, 1981); John Lynch, Bourbon Spain 1700–1808 (Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 126–31, 175–78, 312–17; and Paquette, “Reform,” 157.

5. George Washington, as quoted in Tomas E. Chávez, Spain and the Independence of the United States: An Intrinsic Gift (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 2002), 248, note 61.

6. Larrie D. Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Space Who Saved It (New York: Knopf, 2016), 197.

7. Chávez, Spain and the Independence of the United States, 147–49, 201.

8. Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms, 197. Ferreiro also notes that the Hussey-Cumberland negotiations eventually collapsed in the fall of 1780.

9. University of Seville Biblioteca Universitaria General, Archivo Histórico, Universidad de Mareantes, libro 279, folio 75recto-75verso.

10. Archivo General de Simancas (hereafter, AGS), Marina, Legajo 217, unnumbered documents in folder labeled “S[a]n Yldefonso a 17 de agosto de 1782 / Al S[eñ]or Marqués González de Castejón.”

11. Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms, 197. See also Chávez, Spain, 143 and “Presa de un Convoy Británico de 55 Velas por Don Luis de Córdoba” (1780), Revista de Historia Naval 12 (1994): 75–79.

12. Valentina Tikoff, “Saint Elmo’s Orphans: Navigation Education and Training at the Royal School of San Telmo in Seville during the Eighteenth Century,” International Journal of Maritime History 20, no. 1 (June 2008): 6–7. The translation of the Universidad de Mareantes as “Seafarers’ Guild” is from Carla Rahn Phillips, Six Galleons for the King of Spain: Imperial Defense in the Early Seventeenth Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1986), 31. On this organization, see also Marta García Garralón, La Universidad de Mareantes de Sevilla (1569–1793) (Seville: Diputación de Sevilla, 2007).

13. “para que assi aya en abundancia gente de mar, Artilleros y Piolotos expertos” and “vagamundos y ladrones,” Royal decree of 17 June 1681, in Copia de las cedulas reales que su magestad el Rey Nuestro Señor Don Carlos Segundo deste nombre, mandó expedir para la fundación del colegio, y seminario, que mandó hazer para la educación de niños en la ciudad de Sevilla, para la enseñança, y erudición de ellos, en la arte marítima, y reglas de marinería, y dotación, y privilegios para este fin [no publication information]; copy at Archivo General de Indias (hereafter, AGI), Seville, Indiferente General, bundle 1635, unnumbered document.

14. Tikoff, “Saint Elmo’s Orphans,” 10–32.

15. Marta García Garralón, Taller de Mareantes: El Real Colegio Seminario San Telmo de Sevilla (1681–1847) (Seville: Fundación Cajasol, 2007); Tikoff, “Saint Elmo’s Orphans.” See these publications for additional bibliography.

16. For other cases of imprisoned wards and disputes over pay, see Valentina Tikoff, “Adolescence in the Atlantic: Charity Boys as Seamen in the Spanish Maritime World,” Journal of Early Modern History 14, nos. 1–2 (2010): 45–73.

17. AGS, Marina, Legajo 217, unnumbered documents in folder labeled “S[a]n Yldefonso a 17 de Agosto de 1782 / Al S[eñ]or Marqués González de Castejón.”

18. Brian Pullan, Rich and Poor in Renaissance Venice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1971), 263; Anne E. C. McCants, Civic Charity in a Golden Age: Orphan Care in Early Modern Amsterdam (Urbana, IL: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1997), 64–70; Ruth McClure, Coram’s Children: The London Foundling Hospital in the Eighteenth Century (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1981), 126, 250; Diane Payne, “Rhetoric, Reality and the Marine Society,” London Journal 30, no. 2 (2005), 66–84; Roland Pietsch, “Ships’ Boys and Youth Culture in Eighteenth-Century Britain: The Navy Recruits of the London Marine Society,” The Northern Mariner/Le Marin du Nord 14, no. 4 (2004), 11–24; and Donna T. Andrew, Philanthropy and Police: London Charity in the Eighteenth Century (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1989), 109–15, 127–30.

19. Jonas Hanway, An Account of the Marine Society (London: n.p., 1759), 47; quoted in Andrew, Philanthropy and Police, 112.

20. On the “free trade” policy, see David Ringrose, Spain, Europe and the ‘Spanish Miracle’ 1700–1900 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), esp. 110.

21. AGI, Arribadas, bundle 555, unnumbered document dated Cádiz, 9 November 1779.

22. Tikoff, “Saint Elmo’s Orphans,” 25–30.

23. MacKay, “Lazy, Improvident People,” 115–117. See also Marta Vicente, Clothing the Spanish Empire: Families and the Calico Trade in the Early Modern Atlantic World (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 77.

24. Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms, 197.

25. Agustín González Enciso, “Un modelo de difusión tecnológica: Prisioneros ingleses en Sevilla en el siglo XVIII,” in Actas del I Congreso de Historia de Andalucía: Siglo XVIII (1978), vol. 1: 257–68.

26. Tomás A. García y García, El asistente sevillano Domezain (Seville: Gráficas Tirvia, n.d.).

27. García y García, Domezain. The scholarship on late eighteenth-century Spanish texts and projects on labor reform and poor relief is immense. Insightful contributions published in English include MacKay, “Lazy, Improvident People”; and William J. Callahan, Honor, Commerce and Industry in Eighteenth-Century Spain (Boston: Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, 1972).

28. AGS, Marina, bundle 802–1, unnumbered documents labeled “Núm[er]o 2-o. Razón de los prisioneros yngleses a quien se permite ejercitase en los oficios y profesiones que saven en Sevilla,” 31 May 1781.

29. “Además de destos operarios ha de haver siempre en la fábrica a lo menos seis aprendizes españoles dedicados a aprender todas las faenas, y secretos que posee Riley, y será de cargo de este enseñarlos, y poner todo su conato en sacar de ellos unos discípulos hábiles . . .” AGS, Marina, bundle 802–1, unnumbered document labeled “Medios y condiciones con que se proyecta el establecimiento de una fábrica de texidos de lana propuesta p[o]r el prisionero ynglés Juan Riley” [1781].

30. “es bicioso en el vino hasta el estremo de turbarse” (the correct reading of the original may be “tumbarse”—i.e., “falling down”—but it looks more like “turbarse,” meaning “getting muddled”); “pasión desmedida por el vino…me tenía en vacilación y disgusto.” AGS, Marina, bundle 802–1, unnumbered document, Francisco Antonio Domezain to Miguel de Muzquiz, 25 July 1781.

31. “manifestando tener motivos, que le obligan restituirse a su Patria, donde se temía los maiores castigos si se supies[e] que havía publicado aquí sus secretos.” AGS, Marina, bundle 802–1, unnumbered document labeled “Al Yntend[en]te de Andalucía: Cartas de 21, y 25 de julio de 1781.” The Spanish term “secretos” is used throughout in the documents concerning this project. Although the term can refer to knowledge particular to a craft or profession that is specialized but not particularly secretive, the context within most of the documents for this case suggest that the English cognate “secret” is appropriate. The passage quoted here is a good example. I also am following the model of Marta Vicente and James Thomson, who translate “secreto(s)” as “secret(s)” in their discussions of the textile industry in eighteenth-century Barcelona. Marta V. Vicente, Clothing the Spanish Empire: Families and the Calico Trade in the Early Modern Atlantic World (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006): 49; and James K.J. Thomson, “Transferring the Spinning Jenny to Barcelona: An Apprenticeship in the Technology of the Industrial Revolution,” Textile History 34, no. 1 (2003): 25, 33.

32. AGS, Marina, bundle 802–1, unnumbered document, baptismal record from the parish of Santiago el Mayor in Seville, 6 August 1783 (copy dated 20 August 1783).

33. “Devo decir que convendría mucho al estado que semejantes yngleses se quedasen en España, y se pusiesen en execución, y propagasen sus proiectos y habilidades por que son infinitas las ropas de este genero que vienen de Ynglaterra a estos paises…En otras ocasiones en que se ha permitido el que morasen, y permaneciesen en España sugetos hereges de especial habilidad en algún genero de maniobras, ha sido con las siguientes condiciones . . .” AGS, Marina, bundle 802–1, unnumbered document, Felipe Ob[is]po Inq[uisi]dor G[eneral?] to Miguel de Muzquiz, 22 June 1781. As might be expected, he also expressed a hope that the Protestant foreigners would follow some of their predecessors in “abjuring their errors” and converting to “the true faith” (“muchos de ellos han abjurado ya sus errores, y se han convertido a la verdadera fe”).

34. Thomson, “Transferring the Spinning Jenny,” 21–46, esp. 22–25, 42–43; and Vicente, Clothing the Spanish Empire, 49.

35. See, for example, Catharina Lis, Social Change and the Laboring Poor: Antwerp, 1770–1860 (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1986), 12–16. For an earlier period, see Nicholas Terpstra, Abandoned Children of the Italian Renaissance: Orphan Care in Florence and Bologna (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2005), 103–86.

36. See, for example, MacKay, “Lazy, Improvident People”, 172–173; Matías Velázquez Martínez, Desigualdad, Indigencia y Marginacion Social en la España Ilustrada: Las Cinco Clases de Pobres de Pedro Rodríguez Campomanes (Murcia: Universidad de Murcia, 1991); and William J. Callahan, Honor, Commerce, and Industry, 56–69.

37. On Cádiz, for example, see Callahan, Honor, Commerce, and Industry, 62.

38. Valentina Tikoff, “Not all the Orphans Really Are: The Diversity of Charity Children in Old Regime Seville,” in Raising an Empire: Children in Early Modern Iberia and Colonial Latin America, eds. Ondina González and Bianca Premo (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2007), 41–74; and Valentina Tikoff, “Juvenile Internment before the Reformatory: A Correctional Orphanage in Ancien Regime Seville,” in Becoming Delinquent: European Youth, 1650–1950, ed. Pamela Cox and Heather Shore (Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate/Dartmouth Univ. Press, 2002), 59–75.

39. For examples from Amsterdam, Paris, and the Italian cities of Florence and Bologna, see, respectively, McCants, Civic Charity, 22–23; Isabelle Robin-Romero, Les orphelins de Paris: Enfants et assistance aux XVIe–XVIIIe siècles, with preface by Jean-Pierre Bardet (Paris: Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2007), 77–107; and Terpstra, Abandoned Children, 70–102.

40. MacKay, “Lazy Improvident People,” 163–97.

41. Daniel Krebs, A Generous and Merciful Enemy: Life for German Prisoners of War during the American Revolution (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 2013); Gavin Daly, “Napoleon’s Lost Legions: French Prisoners of War in Britain, 1803–1814,” History 89, no. 295 (July 2004): 361–380; Carl P. Borick, Relieve Us of This Burthen: American Prisoners of War in the Revolutionary South, 1780–82 (Columbia, SC: Univ. of South Carolina Press, 2012); Mark Gabrielson, “Enlightenment in the Darkness: The British Prisoner of War School of Navigation, Givet, France, 1804–1815,” Northern Mariner 25, no. 1 (2015): 7–41; Renaud Morieux, “French Prisoners of War, Conflicts of Honour, and Social Inversions in England, 1744–1783,” Historical Journal 56, no. 1 (2013): 55–88.

42. Daniel Krebs, “Useful Enemies: The Treatment of German Prisoners of War during the American War of Independence,” Journal of Military History 77 (January 2013): 9–39.

43. Thomson, “Transferring the Spinning Jenny,” passim, esp. 27, 29, 35, 41.

44. J.K.J. Thomson, A Distinctive Industrialization: Cotton in Barcelona, 1728–1832 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992), 200–201; Vicente, Clothing the Spanish Empire, 58.

45. “muchas desazones, y contestaciones con él, persuadiéndolo a que no era buen medio de sacar fruto de ellos el rigor, y desabrimiento con que los trataba,” Archivo Histórico de la Diputación Provincial de Sevilla, Hospicio, bundle 13b, unnumbered document labeled “Representación de D[o]n Antonio Hernández Tamaríz a la Colecturía General” [n.d.] (the response from which the passage is taken is incorporated into the document thus labeled).

46. See, for example, Thompson, “Transferring the Spinning Jenny,” 36, 39–40; and Vicente, Clothing the Spanish Empire, 61–62.

47. James Marten, “Introduction,” Children and War: A Historical Anthology, ed. James Marten (New York: New York Univ. Press, 2002), 8.

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