Alejandro O'Reilly

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Alejandro O'Reilly
Alejandro O'Reilly by Francisco José de Goya.jpg
Governor of Louisiana
In office
April 1769 – December 1769
Monarch Charles III
Preceded by Antonio de Ulloa
Succeeded by Luis de Unzaga
Personal details
Born 1732
Dublin, Ireland
Died March 23, 1794
Bonete, Spain
Military service
Nickname(s) Bloody O'Reilly
Allegiance Spain Ferdinand VI
Spain Charles III
Spain Charles IV
Service/branch Spanish Army
Rank Marshal of Spain
Battles/wars War of the Austrian Succession
Seven Years' War
French Revolutionary Wars

Marshal Alejandro, Conde de O'Reilly (1722, Dublin, Ireland – March 23, 1794, Bonete, Spain [1]) (English: Alexander, Count de O'Reilly), was an Irish-born military reformer and Inspector-General of Infantry for the Spanish Empire in the second half of the 18th century. O'Reilly served as the second Spanish governor of colonial Louisiana, being the first Spanish official to actually exercise power in the Louisiana territory after France ceded it to Spain. For his much-appreciated services to the Crown of Spain, he was ennobled as a conde (count), and granted a coat of arms.

Origins and military career[edit]

Alexander O'Reilly (Irish: Ó Raghallaigh) was born in Dublin in the Kingdom of Ireland in 1722. His grandfather John O’Reilly was a colonel in the army of James II, whose regiment—'O’Reilly’s Dragoons'—fought at the siege of Derry. The family was from Baltrasna, in County Meath but like many so-called "Wild Geese" of his generation, he left Ireland to serve in foreign, Catholic armies. He joined Spanish forces fighting in Italy against the Austrians. After campaigning in the Spanish invasion of Portugal,[2] he swore allegiance to Spain and rose to become a brigadier general.

O´ReConde de Ricla, twice a Grandee of Spain, in Havana, Cuba, as his adjutant and second-in-command. While in Havana, Ricla and O'Reilly received the city back from the British forces that had besieged and occupied it at the end of the Seven Years' War.[3]

O'Reilly analyzed what had gone wrong with the defenses of Havana during the successful British siege in 1762, and recommended sweeping reforms to improve the fortifications, training, practices, and troop organizations, which were quickly approved by the Spanish Crown. With the help of a military engineer of the Royal Army, Silvestre de la Abarca, the works of the strategic fortress of La Cabaña was undertaken.[4][5][6]

In 1765, King Carlos III sent O'Reilly to Puerto Rico to assess the state of the defenses of that colony. O'Reilly, known today as the "father of the Puerto Rican militia," took a very complete census of the island and recommended numerous reforms, including the instilling of strict military discipline in the local troops. He insisted that the men serving the defense of the realm receive their pay regularly and directly, rather than indirectly from their commanding officers, a long-standing practice that had led to abuses.[7] Some of O'Reilly's recommendations resulted in a massive 20-year programme of building up the Castle of Old San Juan, now a World Heritage Site.

Returning to Cuba, O'Reilly married into a prominent Cuban family. His wife, Doña Rosa de Las Casas, was the sister of Luis de Las Casas, who served as Governor of Cuba.[8]

O'Reilly was a cousin of Juan MacKenna, a hero of the Chilean War of Independence.

Captain General[edit]

Further information: Louisiana Rebellion of 1768

O'Reilly was appointed Governor and Captain-General of colonial Louisiana while in Spain in April 1769, with orders to immediately proceed to Havana, embark 3,000 troops there, put down the revolt in Louisiana, and re-establish order.

Arriving in New Orleans in August 1769, O'Reilly took formal possession of Louisiana. O'Reilly then held trials and severely punished those French Creoles responsible for the expulsion of Spain's first colonial Governor Antonio de Ulloa (1716 - 1795), from the colony. He is still remembered in New Orleans as "Bloody O'Reilly" because he had six prominent rebel French colonists executed, in October 1769. In December of 1769 he allowed the Acadians who had settled on the Mississippi River opposite Natchez to resettle on the Amite river near Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain.[9] Other French rebels were exiled, and some were sent for life imprisonment in the Morro Castle in Havana.

Having crushed the ringleaders who had led the Rebellion of 1768 (the uprising against Ulloa and Spanish rule), O'Reilly sent most of his troops back to Cuba, and focused his attention on administratively getting Louisiana on its feet, and on stabilizing the food supply. O'Reilly reformed many French bureaucratic practices which were in place before Spanish rule. Again, as in his 1765 mission to Puerto Rico, O'Reilly's proclamations and rulings affected many aspects of life in Spanish Louisiana, including the ability of slaves to purchase their freedom and the ability of slave owners to more easily manumit slaves. He also banned the trade of Native American slaves.[10] He regularized the weights and measurements used in marketplaces, regulated doctors and surgeons, and improved public safety by funding bridge and levee maintenance.

Having restored public order, O'Reilly assigned the post of Governor of Louisiana to the Colonel of the Havana Regiment in December 1769, retaining the post of Captain-General for himself. Louisiana was firmly placed as a dependency of the military and political establishment in Cuba.

Return to Spain[edit]

Back in Spain after October 1770, O'Reilly was charged to organize six new regiments to be trained near Cádiz, ready for transportation to the Caribbean should a new war between Spain and Great Britain break out.

In 1775, O'Reilly was given command of a major Spanish expedition attacking Algiers. Although this North African campaign failed, the high reputation of O'Reilly was not destroyed, and he continued to serve as captain-general in southern Spain.

He died in the city of Cádiz in 1794, aged 72, while on his way to take command of an army in the Eastern Pyrenees that had been ordered to oppose invading French revolutionary forces, just after the beheading of Louis XVI during the French Revolutionary Wars.

Street in Cadiz, Spain, which honours the memory of Marshal Alejandro, Conde de O'Reilly (1722, Dublin, Ireland - March 23, 1794, Bonete, Spain)

O'Reilly is buried in the parish church in Bonete in Castile-La Mancha, Spain. A street in Cádiz still bears his name, as does one, Calle O'Reilly/Sráid Ó Raghallaigh, in Old Havana, Cuba, marking the location where this officer came ashore while the English were embarking to leave.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ de Pedro, Jose Montero (2000), The Spanish in New Orleans and Louisiana, Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company Inc., ISBN 1-56554-685-7
  2. ^ "Spanish Arrive in Louisiana, The: The Transformation from a French to a Spanish Colony"
  3. ^ "La Habana". 2009-02-24. Retrieved 2012-06-12. 
  4. ^ Foster & Reynolds Co(1905), Standard Guide to Cuba: A New and Complete Guide to the Island of Cuba, : Foster & Reynolds; Diamond news Co
  5. ^ "Fortaleza San Carlos De La Cabaña (The Hut Fortress)"
  6. ^ "San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress"
  7. ^ Ortiz, Altagracia (1983), Eighteenth-century Reforms in the Caribbean: Miguel de Muesas, Governor of Puerto Rico, 1769-76, : Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, ISBN 0-8386-3008-1
  8. ^ "Historia del reinado de Carlos III en España Antonio Ferrer del Río"
  9. ^ Holmes, Jack D.L. (1970). A Guide to Spanish Louisiana, 1762-1806. New Orleans: A.F. Laborde. p.
  10. ^ Midlo Hall, Gwendolyn (1992). Africans in Colonial Louisiana. Louisiana State University Press. p. 320. 
  11. ^ "The Irish Presence in the History and Place Names of Cuba"

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Antonio de Ulloa
Spanish Governor of Louisiana
Succeeded by
Luis de Unzaga