Spanish Soldiers

Spanish Involvement in the American Revolution

Spain declared war on England 21 June 1779 and continued operations against England until peace was declared 3 September 1783.  King Carlos III urged his soldiers and sailors to attack the English wherever they appeared.

King Juan Carlos I joined the Society on the basis of the service of his ancestor on 23 February 2000.

History Lessons Learned During the Search for Spanish Soldiers and Sailors

(The following is the address given by Dr. Granville Hough at the Galvez Gala on 12 October 2003 in the city of Long Beach, California. He discusses the process of having the Hispanic contributions recognized by the SAR and what those contributions were.)

In 1996 I learned that the National Society, Sons of the American Revolution, had turned down a California applicant who had no receipt to prove his soldier ancestor had donated one or two pesos to defray the costs of the war with Britain from 1779 into 1783. This seemed a strange denial as the applicant’s ancestor had risked his life as a soldier, so why worry about a donativo? I told my SAR chapter I could develop a rationale for accepting Spanish soldiers as patriots, and it said go ahead.

I knew Louisiana soldiers serving under Governor Bernardo de Gálvez had been accepted as Patriots since 1925, and that French soldiers and sailors who served under General Rochambeau and Admiral de Grasse had been accepted since 1903.

So I developed the rationale and looked for applicants to test it. We found two descendants of California soldiers, with clear lineages, and got our first California descendants admitted in 1998.

I had no intent of publishing anything, but concluded it might be useful publish the rationale, then to list names of California soldiers, visiting sailors, and other men who were of the right age to make the donativo.

My daughter joined me in the research, and we did the first book on California, mostly rationale, then the second book giving the names of nearly everyone in California under Spanish jurisdiction during the war period, and most of their descendants until American occupation in 1848, about 5000 persons.

It was interesting research, and no one had ever done such a listing of Spanish soldiers and sailors. We then did Arizona and Northern Sonora, then New Mexico. We were able to get our first descendant of a New Mexico soldier accepted in 1999. We moved on to Texas where a couple of people had already been accepted, but there was no complete listing. We did one, including all the territory now under Texas jurisdiction.

Up to this time we had worked on more than 20 Presidios, more than 10 flying companies of mounted infantry units, and militia units of the larger towns. When we worked on Louisiana, we encountered our first organized Spanish Regiment, the Regimento de Infanterie de Luisiana. (Here is a representation of the flag of that regiment when Colonel Bernardo de Gálvez personally led it at Manchak, Baton Rouge, Mobile, and Pensacola.)

Then we went on through the West Indies in our seventh volume with numerous Spanish and colonial regiments, then finally back to Northern Mexico for our eighth volume on backup regiments and other units for the Presidios. We have four more volumes in progress.

Along the way, we were questioned on the work we were doing, mainly based on the way people were taught American History. The question was: “How can we accept descendants of Spanish soldiers? Spain has always been our enemy.” And that is exactly the way many influential American historians have depicted it. But that is not the way Spanish soldiers and sailors saw it at the time. They, just like Americans, fought the British where they were or wherever they were sent. They celebrated all victories over the British, no matter who won them.

But there is one quote from a highly regarded American historian at the time of WW I which is still quoted: He made a statement that John Adams and John Jay in negotiating for peace with Britain had no reason to consider Spanish interests as Spain had been of no help to the American colonies and had wished them ill.

He apparently ignored Spanish aid and the de Grasse/Saavedra Accord which governed French and Spanish operations in the Western Hemisphere from July 1781 until the end of the war. He was not aware that a Chesapeake Bay Campaign (Yorktown) was the first item of that accord and that its success was due to five elements, two of them Spanish: Washington’s Army, Rochambeau’s French Army, de Grasse’s French Fleet, Spanish financing, and Spanish covering for the French fleet in the West Indies.

Nor did this eminent American historian make any suggestions as to what SECURED Yorktown, or why the four British staging areas at New York, Charleston, Penobscot Bay, and Detroit were never used by the British to reinvade. Few Americans know that the British were straining mightily in 1782 and 1783 just to hold on in the West Indies. Bernardo de Gálvez was waiting to invade Jamaica during that time with 10,000 troops at Guarico in Haiti. He was joined in Venezuela in Feb 1783 by nearly all of Rochambeau’s American Expeditionary Force which had fought at Yorktown, 10,000 French troops. French General d’Estaing was lining up 20,000 more French and Spanish troops at Cadiz in Spain awaiting orders to sail. And Bernardo de Gálvez was already designated as the overall commander of the invading forces. The British had to negotiate or lose everything in the West Indies. That IMMINENT THREAT IN THE WEST INDIES is what SECURED Yorktown and made it into the victory we celebrate.

I will point out two other false beliefs which have harmed our relationships with our neighbors:

One is that the War with Mexico began when Mexican troops attacked American troops on Texas soil near the Rio Grande. I defy any historian to show evidence that Texas ever extended south of the Medina River. The Mexican War started when pro-slavery President James K. Polk in May 1848 sent American troops into Mexican territory south of the Medina and Mexicans defended their land. It is clear we started the Mexican War under false pretenses.

Another false belief is that the Spanish American War was started when saboteurs blew up the battleship Maine on 17 Feb 1898. I defy any historian to show that there were any saboteurs near the Maine that night, whether Spanish, Cuban, or some other. Most likely, the Maine blew up from instantaneous combustion of overheated coal in confined ship storage. The evidence is insufficient for that or any other conclusion. It seems quite clear to most historians that we entered the Spanish-American War under false pretenses.

These three fallacies have biased American history and textbooks for generations. They constantly come up in one form or another, in editorials, from talking heads, and even from reviewers of SAR applications.

But the study of service records of Spanish soldiers shows interesting and remote places where they served, each with some relation to the war with Britain. The National Society, Sons of the American Revolution, has recognized the global aspects of the Revolutionary War. In March of this year, the Society removed all geographic restrictions on patriotic service so that male descendants of Spanish soldiers or sailors, in service 1779-1783, can now join our organization, no matter where the ancestor served.

We are also beginning to recognize that Spanish soldiers who fought for freedom for the United States did not forget what they helped create. Within a generation, nearly all the countries we know in the Western Hemisphere had become free nations. The little American Revolution of 13 English colonies had become the Great American Revolution of the Western Hemisphere.

The War at Sea and the Battle for Trade

The following is Granville Hough’s talk to the South Coast Chapter meeting on 21 April 2009 about Revolutionary War Mariners.

I want to thank all of you for this opportunity to bring you up to date on my on-going research on Revolutionary War mariners. The period covered is from 1774 until 1783. A little background may be helpful for members who have joined since 1997.

In 1997 I learned the CASSAR had turned down a California descendant of a Spanish soldier because he could not produce a receipt for a donation to pay the costs of Spain’s war with England. I asked the question: Why worry about a donation when the soldier risked his life every day in his normal duties? I asked the chapter if it would support me in an effort to change SAR admission rules and get descendants of Spanish soldiers accepted into membership. So the project started in 1997, 12 years ago, with chapter approval.

I had not considered how to go about changing the mindset of people who had given little thought that Spain was even in the war against England. I decided to make a book of fact-finding, dates, names, and precedents from Louisiana, where descendants of Spanish soldiers had been accepted since 1925. So the first book on CA was in 1998, and it was mostly rationale and argument. Then I got my daughter to help and we published seven more books by 2001, CA, AZ, NM, TX, LA, West Indies, and Northern Mexico, wherein we named the soldiers and sailors we could identify. {These books are the source of the rosters on this website.}

When we got into the West Indies, we found the British lined up against Americans, French, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, and Swedish. We then could see we should also cover all these groups. By 2002, we were well into these groups, and we wondered why every nation was so deeply involved in the West Indies. Then we began to get different insights into how the Revolutionary War was fought and won. What had started as a colonial squabble became a World War.

We must think back to the conditions of the times. The Europeans were focused on maritime colonies, mercantile economies, national monopolies, and the opportunities of wind and sail. They were not building nations, but rather building markets and sources of raw materials. Roads ran downhill to the nearest ports, then ships and sea-going vessels loaded raw materials and sailed by the wind to Europe. Nantucket whalers first plotted the currents of the Gulf Stream, and Benjamin Franklin made them known to American mariners. The whalers also became familiar with and plotted the “trade winds.” England and it colonies developed triangular trade patterns: from the colonial ports to the Gulf Stream to England with lumber, tar, grain, indigo, tobacco, salt fish, and whale oil. In England they traded for manufactured goods: textiles, shoes, blankets, guns, gunpowder, tea, and other items which England was developing. What they could not get in England, they would go on to Holland and France to pick up. They moved south along the European coast until they reached the latitudes of Africa and picked up the “trade winds” west, which took them to the West Indies. There the British had developed with slave labor Jamaica, Barbados, and other islands into sugar and rum factories. The Dutch had enough island holdings that they could become master traders. The British and American traders could exchange part of their European goods into sugar, molasses, rum, salt, and sisal. Then they moved north to American ports, sold their goods; and began another round. This was a triangular trade with many trading companies had their home offices in London, with branches in the West Indies, and other branches and warehouses in American ports.

As each colony was separately developed as a supplier of raw materials to England, there were few roads north and south between colonies. If you were at Mount Vernon and wanted to sell some produce in Philadelphia, you loaded it into some vessel, went down the Potomac to the Chesapeake, then into the Atlantic, around to the Delaware River, then up to Philadelphia. As the threat of war developed, three products were declared contraband: guns, gunpowder, and salt. Salt was the only preservative for meat and cod, both used by heavily for Armies and trade. Of course, any time you declare something contraband or taxed it heavily, you developed smugglers such as John Hancock. They learned to hug the coast and make their way south to the West Indies with cod, lumber, or grain, there trade with the Dutch, French, or Spanish, then hit the Gulf Stream home. By 1775, the British estimated there were 1000 vessels based in American ports, with 20,000 experienced sailors.

So we have spent the last 8 years studying how American mariners and their West Indies supporters got the essential war supplies of guns, gunpowder, salt, sugar, and sisal into the American colonies, and how they had to fight to do it. I am now in the process of editing what we have developed. We have identified 12,000 vessels which would have carried American mariners, either as sailors of captured prisoners, 52,000 American mariners, 6600 French not formerly identified, and 12,800 Spanish soldiers and sailors not previously listed. The work comes out as 3000 pages, 10 megabytes. The NSSAR Library at Louisville has a draft copy.

No one could see better than George Washington that he could not win on land. Some military analysts have called him the general who lost every critical battle he fought except the last one. He had to get France and Spain involved at sea to relieve pressure. As long as the British had a waiting Royal Navy, they could mount an amphibious operation and take what they wanted. They retook Canada, New York, Savannah, Philadelphia, Penobscot, and Charleston. Only when France and Spain became involved did the British begin to worry.

British priorities were forced to change, and they became:

  1. Protect the home islands;
  2. hold the West Indies sugar islands and the Honduras timberlands;
  3. regain the 13 colonies;
  4. hold Gibraltar and the Mediterranean bases
  5. advance British interests in India, East Indies, Australia and the Pacific Ocean.

We will come back to these priorities later.

I want to cover several aspects of the Rev. War which are not generally known today. The naval war actually began 1 Dec 1774, when the 1st Continental Congress forbade importation of any British goods. Any found in any port were sold at public auction. Exports to Britain were to cease 1 Sep 1775. Then on 1 Jan 1775, the British Parliament retaliated and closed the American colonies from receiving guns and ammunition from any country. Later it added gunpowder and salt to the prohibition. Any ships from any country with such cargo were seized.

When the war began, Nantucket had a whaling fleet of 150 ships. All but 14 were impressed by British, put into the Royal Navy, and worked supplying the British with whale oil for the remainder of the war. More than once, the starving families left on Nantucket had to be sent food from the remainder of MA.

The Second Armada is also little known to Americans. As soon as Spain declared war on Britain in June 1779, the French and Spanish embarked on an invasion of England. The combined fleets (104 ships of the line) were to overcome the British Navy, and the French landing forces, waiting in France with 400 landing craft, were to land in Southern England. While waiting, scurvy, typhus, and smallpox broke out in the French and Spanish fleets; and thousands died. The sick sailors could barely sail their ships and never even found the Royal Navy, and the French landing forces were never used. However, the British, though thoroughly frightened, had secured their homeland, their #1 priority.

While the Second Armada was going on in British waters, the invasion of Penobscot, MA, took place. Penobscot was the main port in Maine, but then part of MA. To locate it mentally, Bangor is on Penobscot River, which flows into Penobscot Bay and a network of islands. The British was at present-day Castine, ME. 40 armed vessels were lost in July and August of 1779, the key ships of the MA Navy, the worst naval catastrophe for the United States before Pearl Harbor. The British planned to make Maine the resettlement province for displaced Tory families.

One of the reasons historians have not understood the activities of the West Indies is that they did not know that the shots were called there by the King’s Representative, Francisco Saavedra de Sangronis. His diary was not translated until 1989, so that any discussion of Spanish activity before that date is incomplete. It was he who expedited the reinforcements to Bernardo de Galvez at Pensacola, replaced ineffective naval and civil officers in Havana, negotiated the Saavedre-de Grasse Accord in August 1781, and arranged for Spanish financing of the Yorktown activity in 1781.

We think of Yorktown as the end of the war. That was hardly the case as hostilities continued for two years. The next phase of the Saavedre-de Grasse Accord was the invasion of Jamaica. What caused the British to negotiate was the preparations of Saavedre and others to invade Jamaica. De Grasse was defeated at Les Saintes by the British, but Saavedre got financing to move the French Expeditionary Force from Boston to Venezuela in Dec 1782, set up an army under General Galvez at Guarico in Haiti and another Spanish Army in Cuba, and supported Admiral d’Estaing at Cadiz, Spain, with a gathering of additional Spanish and French naval and army forces. Spain was discouraged by its failure to regain Gibraltar in 1782, but many were sure it could still drive the British out of the West Indies.

Britain was out of men for either the navy or army. It could not use its re-invasion bases at New York, Charleston, Penobscot, or Detroit. It shifted forces from New York and Charleston to the West Indies, giving Washington time to consolidate his gains. Faced with the certainty of losing the sugar islands, Britain could only negotiate its way out, which it did. So what secured Yorktown was Spanish and French pressure on the British in the West Indies.

But, in the end, the British only lost 13 colonies. It was bankrupt, but so were France, Spain, and the Netherlands. It had protected its homelands, held on to its sugar islands and timber resources, kept its Mediterranean bases and Gibraltar, and became the dominant naval power of Europe by default. What it lost in America, it replaced ten-fold in India, Australia, and the Pacific Ocean. Capt Cook explored the Pacific and broke the Spanish monopoly on its knowledge. Even though he was personally the main course in a famous Hawaiian luau, Capt Cook discovered how to use limes to prevent scurvy, creating the British limey. That was more important than great victories at sea.

The Galvez Project

The web site for the Galvez Project is:

The following has been excerpted from that web site. 
Few Americans are aware that Bernardo de Galvez was the Spanish governor of the Louisiana territory that encompassed thirteen of our present states. They are also unaware that long before any formal declaration of war, General Galvez sent gunpowder, rifles, bullets, blankets, medicine and other supplies to the armies of General George Washington and General George Rogers Clark. Once Spain entered the war against Great Britain in 1779, this dashing young officer raised an army in New Orleans and drove the British out of the Gulf of Mexico. General Galvez captured five British forts in the Lower Mississippi Valley. They repelled a British and Indian attack in St. Louis, Missouri, captured the British fort of St. Joseph in present-day Niles, Michigan. With reinforcements from Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, General Galvez captured Mobile and Pensacola, the capital of the British colony of West Florida.

At Pensacola, Galvez commanded a multinational army of over seven thousand soldiers. Most of these men were already serving in the areas known as Nueva España. This included all the land east of the Mississippi, including present day Southwest and southern states, Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Hispanola, and other Spanish colonies such as Venezuela. The Spanish forces in the Americas were also joined by soldiers from Spain, other European nations, American colonists, indigenous, and blacks. It was this multi-ethnic force fighting together to achieve the goals of the American Revolution under the leadership of a remarkable general commander.

Pensacola was defended by a British and Indian army of twenty-five hundred soldiers and British warships. An American historian called the siege of Pensacola “a decisive factor in the outcome of the Revolution and one of the most brilliantly executed battles of the war.” Another historian stated that General Galvez’ campaign broke the British will to fight. This battle ended in May 1781, just five months before the final battle of the war at Yorktown.

Spanish Borderland Studies

The first entry under this main heading points to the Spanish Borderland Studies. This is an eight volume compilation detailing the history of the Spanish activities during the Revolution. Some of these have rosters of the soldiers involved, other are pure historial narrative of the events and places. You are free to peruse the tables of contents and to download the volumes. These are in the Adobe Acrobat “.pdf” format. The size of each volume is indicated so you can judge how long it will take to download.

Rosters by Presidio

In the following list are links  to the names of the presidios which were active during the Revolutionary era.  Under each presidio you will find the roster of known soldiers.  The same format is used for the sailors.  Once you are at the individual unit use the “Find on this page” feature of your browser to search for specific names.


El Paso





Naval Sailors

San Diego

San Francisco

Santa Barbara

Santa Fe


References for Spanish Soldiers and Sailors of 1779-1783

Descendants of Spanish soldiers who served in CA while Spain was at war with England during the American Revolution have available excellent references for documenting service of their ancestors. We know families of 220 of 500 plus soldiers or sailors who served during those years.

  1. Granville Hough, Ph.D., and N. C. Hough, Spain’s California Patriots in its 1779-1783 War with England During the American Revolution, 1998 (eight volumes) published by the Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research
  2. Granville Hough, Ph.D., “California During the American Revolution, ” California Compatriot, Winter 1998
  3. Granville Hough, Ph.D., “California in the Revolutionary War,” SAR Magazine, Winter 1999
  4. Descendants who already know their soldier ancestor’s name can start with Marie Northrop’s two volumes, Spanish-Mexican Families of Early California, 1769-1850, Vol. 1 (revised 1987), and Vol. 2 (1984). Statements of military service in these volumes were taken from Bancroft’s Pioneer Index.
  5. In addition to Marie Northrop’s volumes, descendants may also start with Dorothy G. Mutnick’s five volumes, Some Alta California Pioneers and Descendants, Divisions One and Two. In Division One she covered descendants of the Anza Expeditions, and in Division Two she covered the 1781 Expeditions to settle Los Angeles and establish Santa Barbara Presidio. Her work was based on mission records and is a thorough compilation of families.
  6. Presidio lists for 1782 for San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Francisco are in the Eldridge Papers of the Bancroft Library. Those for San Diego and Monterey were copied by Marie Northrop and are in LDS film #1421704, item 12. San Diego lists for both 1780 and 1782 were published by Bill Mason in The Journal of San Diego History, Fall, 1978. The Santa Barbara list is in at least three local histories of Santa Barbara: Hawley’s The Early Days of Santa Barbara, Englehardt’s Santa Barbara Mission, and O’Neill and Meier’s History of Santa Barbara County. All the lists can be viewed and downloaded from this web site.
  7. The service records for CA soldiers are stored in the Archives of the Indies in Seville, Spain. Mr. Raymond F. Wood abstracted 900 service records for the Spanish soldiers he could identify in CA between 1769 until after Mexican Independence and placed these abstracts in the Research library of the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, 4700 Western Heritage Way (in Griffith Park adjacent to the Los Angeles Zoo. These records sometimes show dates of enlistment, promotion, discharge, death, and retirement. They can be studied by appointment: call (213) 667-2000. The Research Library will send copies of the cards at no charge for no more than three ancestors if the ancestor can be identified well enough by the descendant.
  8. Hubert Howe Bancroft’s California Pioneer Register and Index Including Inhabitants of California, 1769-1800 extracted military service or other activity as recorded in Bancroft’s earlier 7 volume History of California.
  9. Hubert Howe Bancroft’s 7 volume History of California noted military service or other activity when it was found in Spanish records. These records seldom give more than the places or times where the soldier was listed or the activity in which he was engaged. Volumes I and II cover the Spanish period, Ill and IV the Mexican period, and the others later periods to the 1880 decade, when the volumes were published. These volumes are also in the “complete works” as volumes 18 through 24. Some of the sources Bancroft used burned in the San Francisco fire of 1906, but the majority are stored in the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA.
  10. 1790 Padron (census) lists the soldiers and their families. The ages of those listed as, soldiers and their children frequently indicate how long the soldiers had been in service. Some of these lists were published by Marie Northrop in the Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly as follows: Los Angeles (June 1959); San Francisco (Dec 1959); Santa Barbara (Mar 1960); Monterey (June 1960); San Jose (Sep 1960); and San Diego (Mar 1961).
  11. Thomas Workman Temple, II, work includes his abstracts of mission records, available through Family History Centers of the LDS. His “Soldiers and Settlers of the Expedition of 1781,” Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly, (1931 ) is very helpful, as are his other published works.
  12. Adam C. Derkum’s 38 notebooks, “Spanish Families of Southern California,” are available on 5 LDS microfilm rolls 1597975 through 1597979. There is no index, but the families are arranged alphabetically. N. C. Hough has prepared a list of surnames for which there are significant entries available. This is published in Granville and N. C. Hough, Spanish California Patriots in its 1779-1783 War with England during the American Revolution, 1998, Part 1, “Using Derkum,” pages 122-153 and including all his sources on pp 151-153.
  13. Early mission records have been studied and abstracted by numerous scholars. Most of the original records have been microfilmed by the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS). These can be ordered from the LDS in local Family History Centers. Two records partly in English are #0944242, and Item 12 of #1421704.

Part of the above was kindly published as an article by the Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research in its Somos Primos Vol. 9 #2 (Summer 1998).

Spanish Louisiana Flag of 1781

Flag drawing by António Martins

Michael Bunn, of the Old Capitol Museum of Mississippi History, asked about the flags used by Spanish military forces in America, specifically De Soto ca. 1540 and Gálvez ca. 1780. I received the following information from Spanish vexillologist Eduardo Panizo:

An image of this flag exists in the Spanish Archivo General de Indias, in the city of Seville. It is a battalion flag of the Regimiento de Infanteria de Luisiana 1779-1781. This was the flag used by this regiment, commanded by Bernardo de Gálvez, at the battle of Pensacola on May 8th 1781, where the Spanish Army defeated the British one.

This white square flag features the traditional red Burgundy cross used by the Spanish army, cornered by four identical coats-of-arms, and over all the latin writing Honor et Fidélitas, meaning Honour and Loyalty.

José Carlos Alegría, 6 September 2000

From The Flags of The World web site, with permission^1701.html#1779