Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Spain & America History

Today I'm amazed by the sheer number of Hispanics in America. In my town we don't just have "spanish" food but specific restaurants that are Colombian, Mexican, Argentina, Peruvian, etc. What makes the rise of Hispanic culture in America especially ironic is that Spain was the original European nation in America. (Yes, the Danes arrived early but they didn't stay and had little impact on the continent).

Following the "discovery" of America by Columbus on behalf the the Spanish, Juan Ponce de León explored Florida in 1513. In 1528, Panfilo de Narváez sailed along the Gulf Coast of the United States and was shipwrecked near Texas. Between 1539 and 1543, Hernando de Soto traveled along the Appalachian Mountains and the lower Mississippi Valley looking for “Seven Golden Cities of Cibola.” Francisco Vasquez de Coronado traveled deep into the great plains, as far as Kansas, looking for gold between 1541 and 1543. Smaller groups from his expedition discovered the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed up the west coast and claimed the California area for Spain.

Spain founded two of the oldest cities in the United States—St. Augustine, Florida, (1565) and Santa Fe, New Mexico (1609). And yet after almost a century of Spanish exploration, Spain disappears from American history. What happened?

One explanation could be that the explorers never found a city of gold in the region of the United States. They found riches in Mexico and South America by destroying the Incas in Peru and the Aztecs in Mexico and those regions were ruled by Spain for centuries. When the English and French came to the Americas, the US & Canada were the only option since Spain was very defensive of Mexico and everything south.

Spain was an active supporter of the American Revolution providing intelligence, food and ammunition to the revolutionaries from the beginning of the war. Benjamin Franklin reported from Paris to the Congressional Committee of Secret Correspondence in March 1777, that the Spanish court had 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."

Spain's help in the War was considered to be decisive in the final outcome by denying the British the opportunity of encircling the American rebels from the south, and keeping open a vital conduit for supplies. Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Count of Gálvez, (pictured above) defeated the British colonial forces at Manchac, Baton Rouge, and Natchez in 1779, freeing the lower Mississippi Valley of British forces and relieved the threat to the capital of Louisiana, New Orleans. In 1780, he recaptured Mobile and in 1781 took by land and by sea Pensacola, leaving the British with no bases in the Gulf of Mexico, except for Jamaica. In recognition for his actions to the American cause, George Washington took him to his right in the parade of July 4 and the American Congress cited Gálvez for his aid during the Revolution.

King Charles III of Spain recognized George Washington, sending him gifts such as livestock from Spain that Washington had requested for his farm at Mount Vernon.

Interesting that our history books recognize France's help during the Revolutionary War but leave out Spain.

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