José de Gálvez
by Kimberly Roberts
José de Gálvez was a Spanish attorney, colonial administrator, and a statesman. He
was born in Vélez, Malaga in 1729. He died in Madrid in 1786. He graduated in law at the
University of Alcala de Itenares. He gained substantial distinction by his persuasiveness in
the defense side of several lawsuits. He became familiar in Madrid with the French
ambassador, Marquis de Duras, who had him hired as an assistant in the prosecution of claims
at the Spanish court. This is where Gálvez attracted the attention of Charles III's prime
minister, the Marquis of Grimaldi, and soon became his personal secretary.
In 1764, he was selected as a member of council of the Indies, and in 1771 he was sent
on a mission to Mexico to settle the problems that had risen between the audiencia and the
proprietors of the mines concerning proceeds. José de Gálvez was interested in knowing all
about the mission operations in Mexico, so the friars, including Father Serra, sent reports.
Even before all the reports had come in, José de Gálvez decided to turn the missions over to
the Franciscans. He entrusted Father Serra and his coworkers with the difficult task of
bringing order to the mission system. He then arranged everything adequately, introduced
his ideas for improvements to the administration, which saved millions of dollars each year
to the government, and made several voyages into the interior to learn and analyze the
situation and the requirements of the country.
From 1765-1772 Gálvez became Visitor General to New Spain. He held more power
than the viceroy did during most of his term. He waged war against the northern Native
Americans, thus opening the way for expansion of the realm. By the development of his
defenses, he made New Spain more secure against foreign enemies.
It was not an easy journey from Spain to the California coast. Crews and passengers
faced an empty sea for months at a time. Inclement weather and trapped on board with short
tempers and dwindling supplies battered them. They had fouled drinking water, ship rats, and
even death occurred to some of the men.
King Charles III sent inspector José de Gálvez to Mexico for the purpose of making
an official visitation of the entire viceroyalty. He arrived in 1765 and remained in Mexico
until 1771. During this time he gained a wide knowledge of this extensive area. Throughout
his stay in Mexico, Gálvez kept in close contact with Serra. When Gálvez told Serra of his
determination to occupy Alta California, Serra immediately offered to go as the first
In 1768, Dominican Father Juan Iriate petitioned the Council of Indies for permission
to explore California, and an edict dated November 4, 1768, ratified his plan, by this time
General José de Gálvez had come so close to realizing his goal of exploration that Iriate's
request went unnoticed.
Inspector-General José de Gálvez drew up detailed plans for an expedition to Alta
California. Leadership of the project was given to Don Gaspar de Portola, a Catalonian
soldier of noble rank who had recently been appointed governor of Baja California. He
jumped at the chance to extricate himself from what had been a virtual political exile. Under
him, in charge of missionaries, was Father Junipero Serra, relieved of his presidency of the
Baja missions to supervise this more important work. Officials at San Fernando College
named Fray Francisco Palou, Serra's friend from Mallorca, as the new Presidente of the Baja
The expedition was divided into four parties with San Diego as the common
destination. Two were to go by land, two by sea. The first contingent, the packet ship San
Carlos, sailed out of La Paz on January 7, 1769. The San Antonio left a month later. Both
ships encountered perpetual headwinds, and the San Antonio actually arrived before sea. The
first land expedition, led by Captain Rivera accompanied by Father Juan Crespi, left El Rasario
on Good Friday. The fourth and final expedition with Governor Portola and Father Serra left in
mid May. At the San Borja Mission, Fray Fermín de Laseun, who would one day succeed
him as president of the Alta California missions, enthusiastically welcomed Serra. After
several days, Portola and Serra resumed their journey to San Diego. Along the way Serra
founded his first mission at San Fernando de Velicata on May 13, 1769, the feast of the
In 1774, José de Gálvez returned to Spain. To his surprise, the next year he was
appointed president of the council of the Indies, a very honorable position. Gálvez
moved his way up very quickly in the chain of command in Spain. It was the most important
position in the kingdom, after of course the Prime Minister. This position rendered great
service to the state and to the colonies. He would gain much respect with this new title. He
was responsible for two ordinances that profoundly affected the colonial policy of Spain. The
first was that of 1778, which established restricted free trade to replace the slender mercantile
policy of days before. The second one was that of 1786, which made sweeping changes in
colonial administration and set up a system of intendancies modeled after the French. He was
rewarded for his services with the title Marqués de la Señora. His influence advanced the
fortunes of his brother and nephew, both of whom become viceroys of New Spain.
In 1779, Gálvez founded a colony in Mexico in the beautiful valley
of the Sonora. This colony soon prospered and Gálvez created a marquis. His brother, Matías
Gálvez, entered the administration through the influence of his brother, José de Gálvez. He
obtained very fast promotions and worked his way right up the ladder. In 1781, he was
appointed the captain general of Guatemala. In Guatemala, he laid the foundation of a new
cathedral because the earthquakes of 1773 had ruined the old capital, and they had to remove
the capital from Guatemala.
In the same year that José's brother, Matías, became captain general, war broke out
with England, and the British forces occupied several places on the Athmtie coast, but Gálvez
in 1782 successively drove them from Omoa, Roatan, San Juan, Río Tinto, and Bluefields.
Because of his success with winning, the next year José de Gálvez was appointed the new
viceroy of Mexico. He was not viceroy of Mexico for very long, but during his short
administration he accomplished quite some wonderful things. He had the streets of the capital
cleaned and paved, and looking nice again. He had a passion for art. He patronized the
Academy of fine arts and ordered Italian plaster models of the principal art treasures from
Italy. He also proposed to the home government the establishment of bank loans, for which
he had a rich amount of subscriptions. Although the idea was not executed in his time, he
may be considered as the originator of the banking system in Spanish America.
In 1784, smallpox ravaged Mexico killing many people. José de Gálvez was active
in mitigating the sufferings of the poorer class. His son, Bernardo, was born in Malaga in
1755, was called to the court at the age of sixteen by his uncle, the minister, and entered as
a cadet in the regiment of Walloon guards. Bernardo wanted to learn more about military
science, so he obtained a leave of absence in 1772 and went to France. He served three years
there in the regiment of Cantabria and was promoted to lieutenant.
In 1775, when Charles III declared war against the Algiers, Gálvez returned back to
Spain and served as captain in the expedition of General O'Reilly. He also renowned himself
in several encounters with the Moors. He rose to the rank of colonel, and on his return in the
same year was given the rank of brigadier. Early in 1776, he was appointed second in
command to the governor of Louisiana, Luis de Unzaga, and after the promotion of the latter
to be captain general of Caracas, he took charge of the government towards the end of the
year. He made brilliant improvements in several branches of the administration, and gathered
and settled several nomadic tribes of Indians, whom he succeeded in civilizing.
In June of 1778, the Continental congress sent Captain Willing as agent to New
Orleans, and José de Gálvez assisted him secretly with arms and ammunition and $70,000 in
cold cash. Spain offered her mediation between the colonies and Great Britain, and her offer
being revolted by the latter, declared war on June 16 of 1779.
In June of 1779, Great Britain declared war on Spain. José de Gálvez immediately
formed a preparation of campaign. He had only a minute military force under his command,
but he did not wait around for reinforcements. He began organizing volunteer regiments and
they all marched northward on the eastern riverbank. He attacked Fort Manchaca on August
27, and later captured Baton Rouge, Fort Panmure, and Fort Natchez. In October, he
received reinforcements from Havana, and was made a major general. With his combined
forces, he then went on the capture Mobile, and Fort Charlotte, forcing the cities to surrender.
His army was very organized, and soon rose to over 14,000 men. He invaded the
northwestern part of Florida, defeating the British in several encounters.
In 1785, a famine desolated the province, and an epidemic broke out in the following
year. Gálvez did everything in his power to alleviate the public sufferings. He gave very large
sums of money from his personal pocket to help the poor deal with their sufferings. He also
constructed on the site of the ancient summer palace of the Montezumas, Chapultepec, a
palace for himself and his successors at the expense of over $300,000. It was built like a very
strong fortress with bastions and heavy artillery. His enemies calumniated him at the court,
insinuating that he intended to declare himself independent of Spain. Gálvez died due to
overexertion. He died in the archiepiscopal palace of Tacubaya.
Gálvez was a very respected and intellectual man during this time period. He was a
great explorer and many people learned from him during those times. He was a leader and
a teacher for his people. He was always organized and quick to come up with good decisions,
always in the best interest of the people and of course the king of Spain, Charles III. He
conquered many forts and towns during his voyage around the south of the United States,
around what is now today Louisiana and Florida. He defeated the British in several different
ways and this shows his brilliance in being a leader and a fighter. He succeeded in everything
he put his mind to.