The Spanish Period

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The Spanish Period –

Ignacio de Balderes (c. 1790) José Salazar, one of the first painters to practice his art in Louisiana, executed this austere portrait. Louisiana State Museum


he King of France, Louis XV, and the King of Spain, Charles III, were cousins and allies against England. However, the transfer of Louisiana to Spain did not become public until April 21, 1764, when King Louis XV sent a letter to the Governor of Louisiana, Jean-Jacques Blaise D'Abbadie. On July 10, 1765, Charles III of Spain appointed Don Antonio de Ulloa, a naval officer and scientist, as Governor of Louisiana. He arrived in New Orleans on March 5, 1766, but was never liked by the colonists and left two years later after a revolt.

To replace him, Charles III named Don Alejandro O'Reilly, a soldier of Irish origin, who arrived in the city on July 20, 1769. He put the colony in order with an iron fist and became known as "Bloody O'Reilly." Implementing Spanish laws, he installed a cabildo (city government), abolished Indian slavery, helped farmers to acquire land titles, established a system of homesteading land, and oversaw the building of roads and levees.

O'Reilly left in 1770 and was replaced by Don Luis de Unzaga y Amezaga, a fair and pragmatic man for whom the main priority was the prosperity of the colony, which continued for the next three decades. Unzaga made the first attempts to establish public schools. But contrary to Spanish regulations, he allowed trade with the English. At the same time, he helped the North American colonists in their War of Independence against England. Don Andrés Almonester y Roxas, an Andalusian, served as Royal Notary to Governor Unzaga. Almonester was one of Louisiana's great benefactors and the father of Baronesa Pontalba, whose apartments bearing her monogram in the cast iron railings still grace Jackson Square.

The most well known figure of the Spanish period is Don Bernardo de Gálvez, who, at 21 years of age, became the Governor of Louisiana. He carried out Spain's declaration of war against England on May 8, 1779. He defeated the English at Baton Rouge, Natchez, Mobile, and Pensacola, reacquiring Florida for Spain after England capitulated on May 9, 1781. His statue stands at the foot of Canal Street and his memory has been honored by the city of Galveston, which bears his name.

After the signing of the Treaty of Peace in Paris in January 1783, the independence of the United States was recognized. Spain was now its official neighbor, with a boundary that went from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Gálvez went to Mexico as Viceroy in 1785. Don Esteban Rodríguez Miró succeeded him. Under his administration, the first of two disastrous fires took place, destroying half of New Orleans. Miró passed ordinances regulating the construction of new buildings. The Spanish style made its entrance openly in the architecture of the city with arcades, patios and fountains, heavy iron bolts and gratings, and magnificent wrought iron lacework on the balconies, many of which remain today. Governor Francisco Luis Héctor, Baron de Carondelet, was appointed in 1791. He was one of the most outstanding administrators and urban developers of the city. During his tenure, new canals were built to facilitate trade. New forts and batteries were constructed to protect the city against attacks. A public lighting system was created, a night police force was established, and the first newspaper of Louisiana was published (Moniteur de la Louisiana). Ironically, the only Spanish governor buried in New Orleans was Brigadier General Manuel Luis Gayoso de Lemos, who served in 1797-99. By then, the Bourbon kings were long gone from the throne of France, the French Revolution had taken place, and Napoleon was developing his own plan to conquer Europe. The Marqués de Casa Calvo (1799-1801) succeeded Governor Gayoso. The last Spanish governor of Louisiana was Don Juan Manuel Salcedo, who served between 1801 and 1803, after the Treaty of San Ildelfonso was signed in 1800, transferring Louisiana to France. During the Spanish rule, Louisiana became a prosperous colony. By the time it was returned to France, the population of Louisiana had increased to 50,000 people.