Between 1779 and 1782, Spanish rangers from the region around San Antonio herded more than 10,000 cows over 500 miles to Louisiana to help feed Spanish soldiers fighting the British in the American Revolutionary War. Spain had joined the war on the patriots’ side in 1779 and would spend the next four years contributing a deluge of soldiers, sailors, ships, and cows to the war effort.
University of Maryland historian Richard Bell explores the hidden history of Spain’s participation in the American Revolution. Bell argues that King Carlos III and his ministers in Madrid saw the conflict as an unprecedented opportunity to regain territory Spain had ceded to the British during the French and Indian War.
For that reason, Spanish merchants in Bilbao and the Caribbean began secretly supplying the patriots with hundreds of thousands of flints, shot, and blankets in 1774. Their government’s declaration of war five years later turned that trickle of support into a flood. It marked the starting pistol for a 50-month Spanish campaign to recapture Minorca in the Mediterranean and to lay siege to Gibraltar, the rocky promontory on Spain’s southern tip that the British had held since the start of the century. The Spanish Navy partnered with France to harass British merchant shipping and sent an enormous armada to invade Britain itself. Spanish soldiers also dominated much of the fighting in the Southern colonies, launching campaigns to dislodge the redcoats from strategic forts at Pensacola and Mobile. Bell concludes by assessing the connections between the American Revolution and the waves of independence movements that rippled across Spain’s Latin American colonies in the decades afterward.