Spanish and Mexican California
José de Gálvez
Visitor General of New Spain, 1765-1772
By Michael R. Hardwick

José Bernardo de Gálvez Gallardo was born in Málaga, Spain, on January 2, 1720. Andalusian by birth, Gálvez came from a noble family of ancient lineage. His initial interests at the age of 11 or 12, under the influence of the bishop of Málaga, led him to the seminary. He soon gave up a priestly calling and enrolled in the University of Salamanca. After completing a degree in law, Gálvez gained recognition as a successful attorney in Madrid. He became acquainted in Madrid with the French ambassador, Marquis de Duras, who engaged him as an assistant in the prosecution of claims at the Spanish court. While at court, Gálvez became the private secretary of Charles III's prime minister, the Marquis of Grimaldi.
In 1764 Gálvez was appointed a member of the council of the Indies. From 1765-1772 José de Gálvez became visitor general to New Spain, holding more power than the viceroy there during most of his tenure. As inspector general he exercised almost unlimited powers to examine and reform administration, tribunals of justice, and collection of revenues. The primary aims of his visita were financial with a view to increasing the revenues of the crown.

After his arrival in New Spain, Gálvez commenced at once visiting the provinces, giving much attention to Sonora where an Indian revolt menaced frontier settlements. He deliberated over the larger issue of defending the northern frontier from Louisiana to the Californias. Alarmed over foreign encroachment into Spanish territory by the Russians, Gálvez began a plan that would colonize Alta California, explore to the Aleutians, and occupy Nootka. As early as 1767, Gálvez planned to establish San Blas as a base for naval operations in the Gulf of California. The port was to support expeditions for both Sonora and Alta California. It was also to support explorations in the Gulf of Alaska.

To revitalize the process of expansion of the northern frontier of New Spain, Gálvez proposed establishment of a General Command of the Interior Provinces. This command was first established in 1776 under El Caballero de Croix, who became the first Captain General of the Provincias Internas.

Gálvez was responsible for the expulsion of the Jesuits in New Spain. He instituted a royal monopoly on tobacco. Through his efforts, trade with Mexico was improved and more revenue found its way into royal coffers. Gálvez submitted the plan for the occupation of Alta California to Fray Junípero Serra, president of the Franciscan missions of Baja California.

After his return to Spain in 1772, Gálvez became the leading spirit of the Council of the Indies, becoming minister general of the Indies in 1775. His influence advanced the fortunes of his brother, Matías de Gálvez, and of his nephew, Bernardo de Gálvez, both of whom became viceroys of New Spain during the 1780s.

In 1779 he founded a colony in the valley of Sonora Mexico, which soon prospered. Gálvez was rewarded for his efforts by being created the Marqués of Sonora.

José de Gálvez died in 1787. Before his death, King Charles III paid a special tribute to him by speaking of the "understanding, experience and zeal of the present Minister of the Indies, with whom I am extremely satisfied".

Search our Site!
Search the Web Search California Military History Online
Questions and comments concerning this site should be directed to the Webmaster
Updated 8 February 2016