The Count of O'Reilly
|3rd Spanish Governor of Louisiana|
April 1769 – December 1769
|Preceded by||Charles Philippe Aubry Acting|
|Succeeded by||Luis de Unzaga|
October 24, 1723
Baltrasna, County Meath, Ireland
|Died||March 23, 1794 (aged 70–71)|
|Resting place||Bonete, Spain|
|Spouse(s)||Rosa de Las Casas|
|Allegiance||Kingdom of Spain|
|Rank||Marshal of Spain|
|Battles/wars||War of the Austrian Succession|
Seven Years' War
Invasion of Algiers
French Revolutionary Wars
Alejandro O'Reilly, 1st Count of O'Reilly, KOA (Spanish pronunciation: [aleˈxandro oɾejˈʎi]; October 24, 1723 in Baltrasna, Co. Meath, Ireland – March 23, 1794 in Bonete, Spain), English: Alexander, Count of O'Reilly, Irish: Alastar Ó Raghallaigh, 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, and is the first Spanish official to exercise power in the Louisiana territory after France ceded it to Spain following defeat by Great Britain in the Seven Years' War. For his much appreciated services to the Crown of Spain, O'Reilly was ennobled as a conde (count), and granted a coat of arms.
Origins and military career
Alexander O'Reilly (Irish: Ó Raghallaigh) was born in Baltrasna, Co. Meath, in the Kingdom of Ireland in 1723. His grandfather John Reyly 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. Like many so-called "Wild Geese" of his generation, O'Reilly 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, O'Reilly swore allegiance to Spain and rose to become a brigadier general.
O'Reilly stayed acting for the Conde 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 captured it during the Seven Years' War.
O'Reilly analyzed what had gone wrong with the defenses of Havana during the successful British siege. He 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.
In 1765, King Carlos III sent O'Reilly to the island of 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 complete census of the island and recommended numerous reforms, including instilling 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. Some of O'Reilly's recommendations resulted in a massive 20-year program of building up the Castle of Old San Juan, now a World Heritage Site.
O'Reilly was an uncle of Juan MacKenna, a hero of the Chilean War of Independence. So too was he a cousin of Hugo Oconór or Hugh O'Conor. He was a member of the noble O'Conor Don family, is the founding father of the city of Tucson, Arizona, and was later the 23rd Governor of the Spanish Colony of Texas and then the Governor of Yucatán.
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. Some French colonists, known as Creoles as they were born in the colony, had worked to expel the first Spanish governor after France ceded this territory.
Arriving in New Orleans in August 1769, O'Reilly took formal possession of Louisiana. O'Reilly held trials and severely punished those French Creoles who were responsible for the expulsion of Spain's first colonial Governor Antonio de Ulloa (1716 - 1795), from the colony. He is remembered in New Orleans as "Bloody O'Reilly" because he had six prominent rebel French colonists executed, in October 1769. In December 1769 he allowed the Acadians who had settled in present-day Arkansas on the Mississippi River opposite Natchez to resettle on the Amite River near Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain. 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 Louisiana Rebellion of 1768 (the uprising against Ulloa and Spanish rule), O'Reilly sent most of his troops back to Cuba. He concentrated on organizing Louisiana's administration and on stabilizing the food supply. It had historically imported grains from northern French settlements along the Mississippi, as they could not be cultivated near New Orleans.
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. He allowed slaves to purchase their freedom and enabled slave owners to more easily manumit slaves. He banned the trade of Native American slaves and abolished Indian slavery. 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
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 was a disaster, 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.
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. It marks the spot where O'Reilly came ashore in 1763 while the English were embarking to leave.
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- New International Encyclopedia. 1905. .