Forces from Havana involved in US Independence war

Havana Bay
Havana Bay

In times of Carlos III, the British forces occupied Havana (1762-1763) and it was only a decade and a half later when the monarch Borbon decides to avenge the offence by declaring the war on England.  He turned the already strategic Cuban capital into a center to suppor the Washington forces with the participation of Havana citizens.

Carlos III (1716-1788) was king of Spain (1759-1788) and before he was the king of the Two Sicilies -Naples and Sicily (1734-1759) with the name of Charles VII.

The contacts between the northern settlers and the Cuban natives had at that time an important support, an almost forgotten passage in the bilateral history that is back to present, on the occasion of the recent restoration of the relations between the two countries.

Through informal channels, let´s say, smuggling, the Cuban honey had been taken to Rhode Island distilleries in the 60s to manufacture Antillean rum that was exported to Africa and the slave traders brought to  Cuba shipments of slaves.

Two experts in these businesses, Robert Morris (1734- 1806), English slave and arms dealer, a Captain residing in Philadelphia, and Juan Miralles, a Havana tradesman, sold on contract the parts  processing the financial support to the Thirteen Colonies.

Morris, the so-called financial brains of the United States War of Independence, from that conflict onwards, became first US trade representative to Cuba; since 1762 he was an important figure in the clandestine trade with the Cuban territory.

Miralles (1713-1780), a native from Alicante, Spain, was involved in his early youth to the legal and illegal trade, and around 1740 he set up a business in Havana, with a capital of eight thousand 500 pesos, which he incremented by way of his marriage to a young Havana lady from a wealthy family.

Moreover, he was a confidential agent at the service of Madrid, the first representative of Spain to the rebels and, since long before, he had his agents in several US cities.

While the Spanish Crown was preparing for war, weapons and ammunition were arriving to Havana from Mexico and La Coruña, bound for its colony of Louisiana and, from there, clandestinely, to the insurgents.

Spain officially declares war on England –along with its ally France– in support of the pro-independence fighters (June 1779) : Spain  sent troops, money and weapons from the Havana harbor and opened up that bay to rebel ships.

A Royal Decree signed by Carlos III authorized his American subjects to harass by sea and land possessions of Great Britain.

By the exit channel of the bay, protected by fortresses, the troops departed from Havana, made up by Spanish soldiers and Havana militias (white, brown and black people).

In a piece of the remaining walls of the old Arsenal of Havana,  Artillery Arsenal, in the Port Avenue, there is a plaque recalling: “Here there was the Arsenal of Democracy during the US war for independence (1778 -1781).

In the shipyard, they repaired, assembled and  supplied the ships of the squadron headed by the Commodore Alexander Gillon, among them The Medley and the Carolina

It is also said that when Pensacola surrendered and Florida was returned to the hands of the Spanirds, two thousand English soldiers were sent to Havana as prisoners.

The forces led by Galvez and Cajigal expelled the English troops forces from the bed of the Mississippi River providing the supply route to Washington forces; they also blocked the British commercial and military route in the Bahamas channel.

Among the so many events and legends surrounding the presence of Cuba in the US independence, there is the collection of gold, silver and jewels recollected by women in Havana to assist the US soldiers, who, for some months, had not received any pay.

It is assumed that the last delivery of Cuban aid totaled 800 thousand pesos of eight reales (old Spanish coin worth one quarter of a peseta), which served to supply the troops and finance the Yorktown campaign, that marked the British capitulation, in the October 31, 1781

 Consequences of this war

There was a shipping company route between Havana and Philadelphia, sponsored by Miralles and Morris that worked since October 1778, with several brigs and schooners.

Havana was also the crux of the clandestine trade of the Thirteen Colonies towards the Peninsula; in 1779 the of Cuba with the allies was authorized, but when the opposing countries signed the Peace of Versailles agreement (1783), the commerce ceased to exist.

Havana was the seat of the forces that reinforced Louisiana and then they were sent to recover Florida and attack Bahamas; its economy sustained tje cost of those expeditions..

Galvez forces were made up by three thousand and 833 soldiers and officers, out of them, three thousand 239 were from Havana.

In the expedition organized by General Juan Manuel Cajigal y Montserrat, to support Galvez , there were one thousand and 600 men involved, and, out of them, 640 were from the Havana militias.

Galvez y Gallardo (1746-1786) was the governor of Louisiana in 1777 and then after the governor of Florida (1782), Cuba independent captaincy; and Viceroy of Nueva España (1785).

Cajigal y Montserrat (1738-1808), born in Santiago de Cuba, was the son of the governor Francisco Cajigal y de la Vega, and held the same position in the period 1781-1782.

His assistant, Francisco de Mirada, from Venezuela, future precursor of the independence of his country, played an outstanding role in the capture of the fortified plaza of Pensacola in 1781, and in the actions against the Bahamas.

To its advantage, Spain regained the two Florida (Western and Eastern), with forces under the command of General Bernardo de Galvez, and also Menorca (1782).

The Spanish squad, with its flagship Santisima Trinidad, seized 52 British ships on August 9, 1780

But Spain failed in its desires to recover Gibraltar, on its own territory, conquered by the English and Dutch in 1704, during the Spanish War of Succession, the victory of which would had strengthened the crown the first Spanish king of the House of Bourbon, Felipe V, father of Charles III.

By Marta Denis Valle

Source Lettres de Cuba

 Translation: Mariana Rodriguez (Cubarte)

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