NOLA 300: That time when Spanish New Orleans helped America win independence

NEW ORLEANS -- When the Second Continental Congress declared independence from Great Britain in 1776, New Orleans was under Spanish rule. But, that didn't mean New Orleans couldn't still help America win its freedom.

"Spain played a huge role in supporting the American Revolution financially," says Steven Maklansky, interim director of the Louisiana State Museum. "They even set up a shell company--set up by this gentleman Gardoqui--in order to facilitate the financing of the war."

Recovered Memories, a new exhibit at the Cabildo, highlights the Spanish role in the American Revolution, which included much more than financial support.

"There is another incredibly important and pivotal figure in the exhibition and also in the history of our country. And, that would be Bernardo de Galvez," continues Maklansky. "Galvez was a governor here in Louisiana. He assembles the first multicultural army and leads a group of Spanish soldiers, American soldiers, free men of color, and even some Native Americans. They march through the swamps to Baton Rouge where they defeat the British."

At the time of the American Revolution, Great Britain controlled Florida, which stretched over the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain (the Florida Parishes). When Spain joined forces with the Continental Army and declared war on Britain, Galvez led his troops to several victories from Baton Rouge to Pensacola. The British flag captured by Galvez at Baton Rouge is on display at the exhibit.

"If it wasn't for these military successes, the United States as we know it would not exist," points out Maklansky.

The exhibit also features other aspects of Spanish life in New Orleans.

"From the notarial archives here in New Orleans, there is an interesting, very thick book," says Maklansky. "It tells you a story about a manumission case where Governor Galvez allows for the freedom of a woman of African decent. And, the request for that freedom came from one of the soldiers he led in the battle of Baton Rouge."

Recovered Memories: Spain, New Orleans, and the Support for the American Revolution is at the Cabildo until July 9th. The Cabildo is open Tuesdays - Sundays, 10:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Visit the Louisiana State Museum website for admission prices.