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Reviewed by:
  • Bernardo de Gálvez: Spanish Hero of the American Revolution by Gonzalo M. Quintero Saravia
  • Greg O'Brien
Bernardo de Gálvez: Spanish Hero of the American Revolution. By Gonzalo M. Quintero Saravia. ( Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018. Pp. xiv, 602. $38.00, ISBN 978-1-4696-4079-2.)

This biography is a welcome addition to the scholarship on an understudied aspect of southern history. The role of Spain in the American Revolution and in the history of the U.S. South from the 1760s to the 1790s has yet to be fully appreciated by southern historians, despite the pioneering work of scholars such as Herbert Eugene Bolton, Arthur Preston Whitaker, Lawrence Kinnaird, John Walton Caughey, John Preston Moore, Gilbert C. Din, David J. Weber, Thomas E. Chávez, Kathleen DuVal, and David Narrett. Historians of the Native South have long recognized and incorporated Spanish sources and subjects into their studies of Native American actions, alliances, and trade, but for most American historians, the story of the late-eighteenth-century Spanish South is more often portrayed as one in opposition to American goals and destinies.

Gonzalo M. Quintero Saravia's study of the career of Bernardo de Gálvez is a deeply researched history of Gálvez's rise from military leader, to governor of Spanish Louisiana during the American Revolution, to captain-general of Cuba, and finally to viceroy of New Spain in Mexico City. Quintero Saravia is a Spanish diplomat and a former fellow at Harvard University, and he holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Madrid. In meticulous fashion, he traces the Gálvez family's rise to prominence via patronage from the court of King Charles III of Spain. Bernardo's uncle, José de Gálvez, became a minister in the Council of the Indies after spending years in New Spain and Spanish California. Bernardo's father, Matías de Gálvez, served as viceroy of New Spain until his death in 1784, when Bernardo succeeded him. This book provides readers with a thorough analysis of the inner workings of the Spanish governmental hierarchy in the late eighteenth century and places Bernardo de Gálvez's achievements within the reform-minded Spanish emphasis on Enlightenment ideals, merit-based promotions, and a focus on empire that also produced the Bourbon reforms. [End Page 670]

Noteworthy in Quintero Saravia's biography is his attention to Spanish relations with Native peoples and to Bernardo de Gálvez's role in those relationships. From his participation as a junior officer in campaigns against the Apaches starting in 1769, to his energetic pursuit of alliances with American Indian groups throughout the South as governor of Spanish Louisiana, Gálvez learned to respect the diversity of Native cultures and experiences and to treat Native polities as diplomatic equals. His success on this score helped him gain needed allies in fighting against the British in the lower Mississippi River Valley and along the Gulf Coast during the American Revolution. In that fighting, Gálvez led a diverse group of forces composed of Spanish troops, American Indians, free black and French New Orleanians, Irish soldiers, and other colonial subjects to thoroughly defeat British forces at Baton Rouge, Mobile, and Pensacola. Spanish military success brought the entire Gulf Coast (East Florida and West Florida) back under Spanish control until the early nineteenth century. Importantly, and against much historiography of the American Revolution, Quintero Saravia reminds readers that Spain fought against Britain for long-standing reasons of imperial rivalry, and not in behalf of the United States.

Quintero Saravia engages directly with the appropriate secondary literature, both in Spanish and in English, published from the early twentieth century to the twenty-first century, and his primary source mining is outstanding. The extensive bibliography is a worthy resource by itself. This book provides historians of the U.S. South with a wonderful introduction to Spanish-language archives and published sources that are requisite to any history of the South covering the late eighteenth century.

Greg O'Brien
University of North Carolina at Greensboro


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pp. 670-671
Launched on MUSE
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