Texas Contribution to the American Revolution

Bernardo de Galvez

Texas’ inclusion in the American Revolution began on June 21, 1779, when Spain declared war on Great Britain. Over 10,000 head of Texas cattle were rounded up on the vast rancheros operated by the Spanish missions that spread along the San Antonio River. Presidio La Bahía at Goliad served as the gathering point from which its soldiers escorted the vaqueros trailing the cattle and several hundred horses up through Nacogdoches in East Texas to Natchitoches and on to Opelousas in Louisiana. To help finance Spain’s involvement in the war, King Carlos III asked for donations of one peso “from all men, whether free or of other status” and two pesos from Spaniards and nobles. An accounting dated January 20, 1784, lists a total of 1,659 pesos from presidios all over Texas where the cavalry had two pesos each taken from their pay. At that time two pesos represented the price of a cow.

King Carlos III commissioned Bernardo de Gálvez, the governor of Louisiana, to raise an army and lead a campaign against the British along the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Gálvez had been in contact with Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Henry Lee who sent emissaries requesting that Gálvez secure the port of New Orleans and permit only American, Spanish, and French ships to travel the Mississippi River. The Mississippi served as the doorway through which vast amounts of arms, ammunition, and military supplies could be moved to the troops fighting in Kentucky, Illinois, and along the northwestern frontier.

The cattle grazing the mission rancheros in Texas offered the best hope for Gálvez to feed his Spanish troops and the governor of Spanish Texas eagerly answered the request. The Texas beef helped feed from 1,400 to over 7,000 as the campaigns under Gálvez moved from the defeat of the British at Manchac and Baton Rouge in Louisiana and on to a victory at Natchez, Mississippi. After a month-long siege using land and sea forces in 1780, Gálvez captured Fort Charlotte at Mobile. The final push to secure the Gulf Coast began in 1781 when Spanish troops captured Pensacola, the British capital of West Florida. The next year, a two-month siege finally overwhelmed Fort George in Pensacola, leaving the British with no bases in the Gulf of Mexico. Finally, the Spanish force under Gálvez captured the British naval base in the Bahamas. The war ended before Gálvez could initiate plans to take Jamaica. The campaigns under Gálvez kept the British from encircling the American revolutionaries from the south and kept the supply lines open from the western flank.

Gálvez helped draft the terms of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the American Revolutionary War and returned Florida to Spain from British control. George Washington honored Gálvez by placing him to his right in the July 4 parade, and the American Congress recognized Gálvez for his service during the revolution. Gálvez capped his career in 1785 when the Spanish crown appointed him viceroy of New Spain.

While Gálvez served as governor of Louisiana, he ordered a cartographer to survey the Gulf Coast. The mapmaker named the largest bay on the Texas coast “Bahía de Galvezton,” later becoming Galveston. Galveston County and St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana are among several places that bear his name. The famous Hotel Galvez, built in 1911 on Galveston Island overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, also bears the name of the Spanish hero of the American Revolution.

The Grandest House on the Texas Coast

Today Fulton Mansion would be called the empty-nest home of George W. Fulton and Harriet Gillette Smith since at the time of its construction the Fulton’s six children were already grown.

Fulton Mansion

Fulton Mansion

In 1877 when the 3 ½-story, nineteen-room Second Empire style mansion rose along the shore of Aransas Bay, it was grandest house on the Texas coast, and the Fultons, with the help of seven servants, entertained lavishly in their elegant new home.

Fulton, like his cousin Robert Fulton of steamboat fame, was a brilliant engineer and used his skills to design a house with features that were rare for that time—hot and cold running water, gas lights, a refrigeration system, central heat, and flush toilets. Despite sitting only yards from Aransas Bay, the Fulton Mansion withstood massive storms, including the 1919 hurricane and ten-foot tidal wave that destroyed most structures in the area. Fulton designed a shellcrete (a form of concrete made from the plentiful local shell) foundation. Walls, both inside and out, were made of one-by-ten-inch pine boards stacked side-by-side to form a solid ten-inch thick frame. Shellcrete filled in between every fourth or fifth board in the floors creating a structure as stable as a grain elevator.

Parlor, Fulton Mansion

Parlor, Fulton Mansion

Fulton could afford to construct the house, which cost about $l00,000, because of his wife’s inherited land and his own entrepreneurial spirit. Fulton, born in 1810, had worked in Indiana as a schoolteacher, watchmaker, and creator of mathematical instruments until he organized a company to fight in the Texas Revolution. They arrived too late for the action, but Fulton joined the Army of the Republic of Texas in 1837 and for his service received 1,280 acres. Fulton worked for the General Land Office, which introduced him to the legal maneuvering necessary to acquire land. In 1840 he married Harriet who was the daughter of Henry Smith, governor of Texas for a short time in 1835 before the war for independence from Mexico. After Smith failed to win the presidency of the new Republic of Texas, he continued to serve in several government positions, to purchase land along the coast, and to promote the development of his property.

Meantime, George Fulton and Harriet left Texas and spent the next twenty years in Ohio and in Baltimore where they raised and educated their children. After Harriet’s father died and the Fulton’s cleared the titles on Smith’s coastal land, they returned to Texas. Using his knowledge of land titles, Fulton purchased acreage, and combined with the land Harriet inherited from her father, Fulton acquired 25,000 acres. After joining with partners in the Coleman-Fulton Pasture Company, the holdings peaked at 265,000 acres, creating one of the largest cattle companies in Texas. The lavish lifestyle that ensued from the business allowed the partners to live like cattle barons and the Fultons to build their grand mansion.

Much of the partners’ wealth came from the hide and tallow factories lining the shore of Aransas Bay near the Fulton’s home. Hundreds of thousands of cattle and mustangs were slaughtered and their carcasses reduced to tallow in great boilers. The hides were cured and shipped along with the tallow, bones, and horns on waiting steamers headed for the U.S. east coast.

Ever the inventor, Fulton received a U.S. patent for shipping beef using artificial cooling and for a steam engine modification. He introduced new livestock breeds that are still prevalent in Texas. Before barbed wire became available, the company used smooth wire to fence some of the ranges. A wooden plank fence enclosed one 2,000-acre pasture near present Rockport. Fulton gave land for the railroad, and towns—Sinton, Gregory, Portland, and Taft—were laid out on the company’s vast holdings.

The most elegant of Fulton’s achievements, which survives today, is the Fulton Mansion, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and operated as a house museum by the Texas Historical Commission. A project is currently underway to raise $3.4 million to strengthen and preserve the grand old mansion.

Texas in the American Revolution

Texas’ inclusion in the American Revolution began on June 21, 1779, when Spain declared war on Great Britain.  Over 10,000 head of Texas cattle were rounded up on the vast rancheros operated by the Spanish missions that spread along the San Antonio River.  Presidio La Bahía at Goliad served as the gathering point from which its soldiers escorted the vaqueros trailing the cattle and several hundred horses up through Nacogdoches in East Texas to Natchitoches and on to Opelousas in Louisiana.  To help finance Spain’s involvement in the war, King Carlos III asked for donations of one peso “from all men, whether free or of other status” and two pesos from Spaniards and nobles.  An accounting dated January 20, 1784, lists a total of 1,659 pesos from presidios all over Texas where the cavalry had two pesos each taken from their pay.  At that time two pesos represented the price of a cow.

King Carlos III commissioned Bernardo de Gálvez, the governor of Louisiana, to raise an army and lead a campaign against the British along the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.  BernardoGálvezGovernor Gálvez had been in contact with Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Henry Lee who sent emissaries requesting that Gálvez secure the port of New Orleans and permit only American, Spanish, and French ships to travel the Mississippi River.  The Mississippi served as the doorway through which vast amounts of arms, ammunition, and military supplies could be moved to the troops fighting in Kentucky, Illinois, and along the northwestern frontier.

The cattle grazing the mission rancheros in Texas offered the best hope for Gálvez to feed his Spanish troops and the governor of Spanish Texas eagerly answered the request. The Texas beef helped feed from 1,400 men to over 7,000 as the campaigns under Gálvez moved from defeat of the British at Manchac and Baton Rouge in Louisiana and on to a victory at Natchez, Mississippi.  After a month-long siege using land and sea forces in 1780, Gálvez captured Fort Charlotte at Mobile.  The final push to secure the Gulf Coast began in 1781 when Spanish troops captured Pensacola, the British capital of West Florida.  The next year, a two-month siege finally overwhelmed Fort George in Pensacola, leaving the British with no bases in the Gulf of Mexico.  Finally, the Spanish force under Gálvez captured the British naval base in the Bahamas.  The war ended before General Gálvez could initiate plans to take Jamaica.  The campaigns under Gálvez kept the British from encircling the American revolutionaries from the south and kept the supply lines open from the western flank.

Gálvez helped draft the terms of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the American Revolutionary War and returned Florida to Spain from British control.  George Washington honored Gálvez by placing him to his right in the July 4 parade and the American Congress recognized Gálvez for his service during the revolution.  Gálvez capped his career in 1785 when the Spanish crown appointed him viceroy of New Spain.

While Gálvez served as governor of Louisiana, he ordered a cartographer to survey the Gulf Coast.  The mapmaker named the largest bay on the Texas coast “Bahía de Galvezton,” later becoming Galveston.  Galveston County and St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana are among several places that bear his name.  The famous Hotel Galvez, built in 1911 on Galveston Island overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, also bears the name of the Spanish hero of the American Revolution.