J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email


Thursday, May 08, 2014

Congress’s Portrait of Bernardo de Gálvez

A couple of folks have pointed us to a Los Angeles Times article that begins:
Teresa Valcarce wants to see Congress keep a promise it made in 1783.

Back then, the year the Revolutionary War ended, Congress agreed to display a portrait of Bernardo de Galvez in the Capitol to honor the Spanish statesman’s efforts to aid the colonies in their struggle against Britain.
But in 1783, there was no “Capitol” for the Continental Congress to make any commitments about. That national legislature met in buildings it borrowed from other governments, including Pennsylvania’s state house (now called Independence Hall) for most of the war.

No one had even conceived of Washington, D.C., yet; the federal Congress agreed to create that national city only in 1790. The Capitol Building was started in 1793, opened for business in 1800, and wasn’t complete (in its first form) until 1826.

So what’s the basis of this newspaper story? On 8 May 1783, the Journals of the Continental Congress state: “A Portrait of Don Galvez was presented to Congress by Oliver Pollock.” North Carolina delegate Hugh Williamson wrote:
A letter was received from Mr. Oliver Pollock in which he informs Congress that having obtained a portrait of Don B. de Galvez, an early and zealous friend of the U. S., he begs leave to present the same to Congress.
Starting in 1777, Bernardo de Gálvez (1746-1786, shown above) was the Spanish governor of Louisiana. He supported the U.S. of A. in order to weaken Britain in North America, at first by supplying arms and loans and allowing weapons and men to cross Spanish territory. In 1779 the war widened, and Gálvez led Spanish forces in a successful defense against British attacks.

Pollock, who had settled in New Orleans as a merchant before the war, was the U.S. of A.’s agent in Louisiana. He worked closely with Gálvez, borrowing money for Continental troops and even reportedly serving as a military aide. When Pollock gave the Spanish governor’s portrait to the Congress, he was in Philadelphia angling to be appointed U.S. agent in Havana.

In response to Pollock’s gift, the Congress created a three-man committee headed by Thomas Mifflin, who drafted this resolution:
Resolved, That the Secretary inform Mr. Pollock that Congress accept his present of a portrait of Don Bernardo de Galvez late Governor of Louisiana.

Resolved, That the Secretary do cause the same to be placed in the room in which Congress meet.
The L. A. Times article says it’s unclear whether the portrait of Gálvez ever was hung. But in fact on 9 May the Congress’s chairman, Elias Boudinot, wrote back to Pollock:
I have the honor to infom you in answer to your favour of the 7th inst. [i.e., of this month] that Congress have chearfully accepted the portrait of Don Bernardo De Galvez late Govenor of Louisiania in consideration of the early & Zealous friendship of that Gentlemen frequently manifested in behalf of these States, and have directed me to cause it to be hung up in the Hall of the Presidents House.
By “the Presidents House” Boudinot meant the house where he himself was living. Thus, Gálvez’s portrait was kept for a day in the legislative chamber and then moved to the hall of a nearby rented mansion. The Congress never promised to display the portrait permanently, as the newspaper reports Teresa Valcarce interpreting the record.

TOMORROW: And what happened to that portrait?

No comments: