José de Gálvez

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This article is about an 18th century official of New Spain. For the football club named for him, see José Gálvez FBC. For the district in Peru, see José Gálvez District. For the photojournalist, see José Galvez (photojournalist).
José de Gálvez, marqués de Sonora, Visitador in New Spain.

José de Gálvez y Gallardo, marqués de Sonora (1720, Macharavialla, Spain – 1787, Aranjuez, Spain) was a Spanish lawyer, a colonial official in New Spain (1764-1772) and ultimately Minister of the Indies (1775-1787). He was one of the prime figures behind the Bourbon Reforms. He belonged to an important political family that included his brother Matías de Gálvez and nephew Bernardo de Gálvez.

Early career[edit]

As a young man in Spain, Gálvez made his living as a shepherd, then studied at the Catholic seminary in Málaga. After he realized he was not cut out for a priestly vocation, the local bishop sent him to study law at Salamanca. He received his law degree at the University of Alcalá.

Practicing law in Madrid, Gálvez married María Magdalena de Grimaldo, who died a year later. He then married Lucía Romet y Pichelín, a woman of French origin. Lucía's connections enabled Gálvez to work as legal adviser at the French embassy in Madrid. Climbing the social and political ladder, he secured a job as personal secretary to Jerónimo Grimaldi, minister to the newly ascended king Carlos III. In 1762, Gálvez got a job as attorney to prince Carlos, the future king Carlos IV.

Visitador (inspector general) in New Spain[edit]

Gálvez arrived in New Spain (Mexico) in 1761 as minister of the Council of the Indies. In 1765, at the age of 45, Gálvez was appointed visitador del virreinato de Nueva España (inspector general for the viceroyalty of New Spain), becoming the most powerful man in Spanish North America. The visitador served as the king's special deputy, with special powers overlapping and sometimes exceeding those of the viceroy. Gálvez set himself the task of reforming the finances of New Spain to increase its revenues — part of the energetic attempts to reorganize king Carlos III's government after the costly Seven Years' War, which had resulted in Spain ceding Florida to Britain.[1]

As visitador, Gálvez created a state monopoly of tobacco and imposed new taxes on pulque and flour. He also took measures to combat contraband and reformed the system of customs collection in Veracruz and Acapulco. (He ended the farming of customs.) He also established general accounting offices in the municipal governments. Government revenues rose from 6 million pesos in 1763 to 8 million in 1767 and 12 million in 1773. In 1765 Gálvez assisted in reorganizing the army, a project of viceroy Joaquín de Montserrat under the direction of general Juan de Villalva. The viceroy, however, was not pleased with Gálvez's intervention in the project. Montserrat was soon replaced by a new viceroy, Carlos Francisco de Croix.

In 1767, Spain's king Carlos III decreed expulsion for the Jesuits throughout his empire. In Mexico, this decree led to riots and other disturbances. Gálvez suppressed these by summary trials and sentences of life imprisonment, mainly in San Luis Potosí, Guanajuato and parts of Michoacán.

Management of Baja California missions[edit]

With the expulsion of the Jesuits from Baja California, Gálvez engaged the Franciscan Order to take over the spiritual affairs of the missions there. Even after the arrival of Junípero Serra and his fellow Franciscan friars on the Baja peninsula, the Spanish military — having evicted the Jesuits from their missions — continued running the missions' practical business. In 1768, Gálvez toured the southern part of the Baja chain of missions. Angered over the sloppy administration he found there, he reprimanded the soldier commissioners stationed at the missions. In August, he signed a decree turning the missions over fully to the Franciscan friars.[2]

Continuing to manage Baja California affairs into 1769, Gálvez sought to balance scarce natural and human resources in the fragile chain of missions: Some missions lacked enough land and water to sustain all their Indian converts; other missions, endowed with ample land and water, lacked enough workers to cultivate their fields. Gálvez ordered Indians moved from one mission to another to correct such imbalances. He also had some young Indian orphans sent to Loreto for training in handling coastal boats and ships. Gálvez worked cordially with the Franciscan president of the Baja missions, Junípero Serra, in his projects to improve the lives of Baja's natives, whom he called "the poor Israelites."[3]

Scheme to expand into Alta California[edit]

Ambitious to reinvigorate the imperial fortunes of New Spain, Gálvez proposed consolidating and developing the far northwest under a huge governmental unit to embrace the regions of Sinaloa, Sonora, Chihuahua, and the Californias — including Alta (upper) California. Playing on long-standing fears in Spain's ruling circles that rival powers would muscle in on territories Spain claimed along the Pacific coast, Gálvez spread rumors of schemes by the British and Dutch rulers to add California to their own empires.[4] Then, when a report arrived from the Spanish ambassador in Russia that Catherine the Great planned to establish settlements down the California coast towards Monterey, Gálvez trumpeted the Russian threat. King Carlos gave the go-ahead, and Gálvez prepared a series of expeditions of soldiers, sailors, artisans, Christian Indians and missionaries to push north into Alta California. In 1768, Gálvez sailed from San Blas to Baja California to finish planning the coming year's expeditions.

To free the Franciscan missionaries from their posts in Baja California, Gálvez called upon friars of the Dominican Order to take charge of the Baja missions. Gálvez assigned Junípero Serra to head the missionary team in the Alta California expedition — without bothering to ask padre Serra if he agreed to his new mission.[5] As it turned out, Serra, eager to pioneer in evangelizing Indians in Alta California, readily joined in. Gálvez established a naval base at San Blas and, in 1768-9, organized sea and land expeditions up the California coast to the projected Spanish outpost of Monterey. Gaspar de Portolá, governor of Las Californias, commanded the second overland expedition.

Expeditions from Baja to Alta California[edit]

On January 9, 1769, Gálvez, padre Serra and town dwellers gathered on the shore of La Paz to bless and send off the San Carlos, the expedition's brigantine flagship captained by Vicente Vila, a native of Andalusia. The hastily built San Carlos, along with the two ships to follow — the San Antonio and San José — had arrived from San Blas leaking, requiring repairs at La Paz bay. Gálvez personally superintended the repairs and loading of the San Carlos, carrying some of the mission furniture aboard with his own hands.[6] In his speech on the shore, Gálvez proclaimed that the ship's crew, including Franciscan friar Fernando Parrón, had the mission of planting the holy cross among the Indians at Monterey. In the name of king Carlos and viceroy Carlos Francisco de Croix, Gálvez urged the explorers to keep peace among themselves and respect their chaplain, padre Parrón. When the San Carlos set sail, Gálvez followed in a launch to see the ship round Cabo San Lucas.[7]

On February 15, Gálvez dispatched the San Antonio, the second ship of the sea expedition, from Cabo San Lucas. Captain Juan Pérez, a native of Palma de Majorca, commanded the San Antonio. Franciscan friars Juan Vizcaíno and Francisco Gómez served as chaplains.[8] The third ship, the San José, disappeared at sea on the way to San Diego.[9]

While Gaspar de Portolá prepared his overland expedition to San Diego, Gálvez issued him strict instructions:

...To prevent difficulties and disaster in the outcome, the most prudent supervision must be exercised. Therefore I charge you with zeal and vigilance to maintain the most exact discipline over the soldiers of the expedition as well as over the muleteers, especially from the frontier on, so that the Indians will be well treated. The soldiers are to be punished as in the case of an irremissible crime if they offer any affront or violence to the women because, besides being offenses against God, such excesses committed by them could also bring disaster to the entire expedition.[10]

Gálvez then cautioned Portolá to travel slowly, to reduce the chances of Indian resistance. He wanted the expedition members to demonstrate to the Indians the advantages they would gain by living under the sovereign protection of the Spanish king.

The commander of the first overland expedition, Fernando Rivera y Moncada, was waiting at Velicatá, 350 miles south of San Diego. Gálvez had ordered captain Rivera to requisition horses and mules from local Baja California missions without endangering their survival, giving the missionaries receipts for the exact number of animals taken. Those missions would later get restocked with animals shipped from Mexico across the Gulf of California. Franciscan friar Juan Crespí, chosen as chaplain and diarist for the Rivera party, left his post at Mission La Purísima to join Rivera at Velicatá.[11] On March 24, 1769, Rivera, Crespí, 25 leather-jacketed soldiers, 42 Baja Christian Indians, and 3 muleteers began their journey, driving a large herd of cattle, horses and mules. They arrived in San Diego on May 14, where the San Carlos and San Antonio awaited them.

Meanwhile the second overland party, headed by Portolá, gathered in Loreto, around 900 miles south of San Diego — with instructions to follow the Rivera party to San Diego. The Portolá expedition included Franciscan missionaries headed by Junípero Serra. The expedition founded the Mission San Diego de Alcalá and the Royal Presidio of San Diego in July of 1769 at San Diego. Portolá then continued north to explore the Alta California coast and re-establish the port of Monterey visited in 1602 by Sebastián Vizcaíno.

In November 1769, the Portolá expedition discovered San Francisco Bay before returning to San Diego. A second trip in 1770 led to the establishment of the Presidio of Monterey and Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo (Mission Carmel). Although Gálvez — in arguing for his plan to expand into San Diego and Monterey — had projected that Alta California would eventually prove a great source of revenue for the Spanish crown, the region wound up running an annual deficit during most of its years under Spanish rule.[12]

Gálvez's personal imprint on history[edit]

Historians James Rawls and Walton Bean call Gálvez the most effective visitador (inspector general) in the history of New Spain. They attribute Spain's expansion into Alta California to his intense personal ambitions. "…Although he was a brilliant, forceful, and generally successful administrator," write Rawls and Bean, "he was also unusually vain, selfish, ruthless, deceitful and unstable. It was, indeed, because of Gálvez's possession of this very combination of qualities that the occupation of San Diego and Monterey, long considered and periodically given up as hopeless, actually materialized."[13]

Return to Spain[edit]

Archive of the Indies in Seville, founded by Gálvez in the reign of Charles III.

José de Gálvez returned to Spain in 1772, where he was a member of the General Council on Commerce, Coinage and Mining, a governor in the Council of the Indies, and a councilor of state. Instead he was authorized to set up a Commandancy General of the Provincias Internas, which was to be independent of the viceroy of New Spain. The new political unit included the Provincias Internas of Nueva Vizcaya, Nuevo Santander, Sonora y Sinaloa, Las Californias, Coahuila y Tejas (Coahuila and Texas), and Nuevo México. Chihuahua was the capital, and Teodoro de Croix, nephew of the former viceroy, was named the first Commandant General.

Gálvez's zeal to more effectively organize the overseas administration lead him to also establish the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata (1776) from territories of the Viceroyalty of Peru, and the Captaincy General of Venezuela (1777) from parts of the Viceroyalty of New Granada. Both these new governments were intended to expand areas of settlement and stimulate the economy. He also established the Real Compañía de Filipinas and in 1778 founded the Archivo General de Indias, bringing together documents about the Indies from Simancas, Seville and Cádiz. Also in 1778 he established limited free trade among the colonies. As Minister of the Indies he was able to secure the appointment of his brother Matías as governor-captain general of Guatemala. Matías went on to serve as viceroy of New Spain.

In 1780, he sent a royal dispatch to Teodoro de Croix, Commandant General of the Internal Provinces of New Spain, asking all subjects to donate money to help the American Revolution. Millions of pesos were given. In 1784 he established a uniform excise tax on the importation of African slaves into the Indies.[14]

In 1786 he undertook another major reorganizing of the colonial administration with the introduction of the intendencia (intendancy) administered by an Intendente (Intendant) throughout most of the Americas.


  1. ^ James J. Rawls and Walton Bean. California: An Interpretive History, 8th edition. McGraw-Hill, 2003, p. 31.
  2. ^ Don DeNevi and Noel Francis Moholy. Junípero Serra: The Illustrated Story of the Franciscan Founder of California's Missions. Harper & Row, 1985, p. 67-8.
  3. ^ Don DeNevi & Noel Francis Moholy. Junípero Serra: The Illustrated Story of the Franciscan Founder of California's Missions. Harper & Row, 1985, p. 68.
  4. ^ James J. Rawls & Walton Bean. California: An Interpretive History, 8th edition. McGraw-Hill, 2003, p. 32.
  5. ^ Herbert Ingram Priestly, José de Gálvez, Visitor-General of New Spain (1765-1771), University of California Press, 1916, pp. 253-4.
  6. ^ James J. Rawls & Walton Bean. California: An Interpretive History, 8th edition. McGraw-Hill, 2003, p. 35.
  7. ^ Don DeNevi & Noel Francis Moholy. Junípero Serra: The Illustrated Story of the Franciscan Founder of California's Missions. Harper & Row, 1985, pp. 70-1.
  8. ^ Maynard Geiger. The Life and Times of Fray Junípero Serra: The Man Who Never Turned Back. Academy of American Franciscan History, 1959, vol. 1, p. 207.
  9. ^ James J. Rawls & Walton Bean. California: An Interpretive History, 8th edition. McGraw-Hill, 2003, p. 35.
  10. ^ Maynard Geiger. The Life and Times of Fray Junípero Serra: The Man Who Never Turned Back. Academy of American Franciscan History, 1959, vol. 1, p. 209.
  11. ^ Don DeNevi & Noel Francis Moholy. Junípero Serra: The Illustrated Story of the Franciscan Founder of California's Missions. Harper & Row, 1985, p. 73.
  12. ^ James J. Rawls & Walton Bean. California: An Interpretive History, 8th edition. McGraw-Hill, 2003, p. 32.
  13. ^ James J. Rawls & Walton Bean. California: An Interpretive History, 8th edition. McGraw-Hill, 2003, p. 31.
  14. ^ Andrew, N. and Cleven, N. (May 1921) "Ministerial Order of José de Gálvez Establishing a Uniform Duty on the Importation of Negro Slaves into the Indies; and Convention between Spain and the United Provinces Regulating the Return of Deserters and Fugitives in Their American Colonies", The Hispanic American Historical Review 4(2): pp. 266-276


  • (Spanish) "Gálvez, José de," Enciclopedia de México, v. 6. Mexico City, 1996. ISBN 1-56409-016-7.
  • Priestley, Herbert Ingram. José de Gálvez, Visitor-General of New Spain, 1765-1771. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1916.

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