Nestled away in one of the Briscoe Center’s collections (the Edward Alexander Parsons Collection to be precise) is a 1779 letter by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was writing to the Spanish Governor of Louisiana, Bernardo de Gálvez, who commanded Spanish forces during the Revolutionary War.
At the time, both Spain and France were fighting with the Americans, creating a multi-front war that stretched British military resources to their breaking point. “The weight of your powerfull and wealthy Empire, has given us all the certainty of a happy Issue to the present Contest, of which human Events will admit,” wrote Jefferson.
Gálvez’s forces conquered the British forts of Mobile and Pensacola, nullifying British power in the Gulf of Mexico. George Washington’s army would serve the closely fought Revolutionary War flanked to the south by an ally rather than a foe. No wonder Jefferson thanked him!
According to documents in the center’s Bexar Archives, Gálvez was indebted to fellow Spanish governor Domingo Cabello (who governed Texas) regarding the Gulf campaign. In short, Gálvez needed every Texas longhorn Cabello could find in order to feed the Spanish forces fighting the British. At least 9,000 cattle were sent between 1779 and 1782. Texas vaqueros rounded up the cattle, drove the herds up through Nacogdoches, and protected them from Indian raiding parties along the way.
History is about connections as well as causality. Texas beef may or may not have been a cause of Spanish military success, which in turn may or may not represent a key contribution to the American victory. But the roles of Gálvez, Spain, and the vaqueros of Bexar County undoubtedly provide Texans with compelling connections to our nation’s Revolutionary history. The letters and documents mentioned above are forms of evidence that help establish these connections. Collecting, preserving, and making this evidence available is at the core of the Briscoe Center’s mission.
Next month, on April 9, everyone at the Briscoe Center will be watching in anticipation as the Forster Flag, a remarkable piece of evidence itself, is auctioned in New York City. The flag is one of less than 40 Revolutionary-era flags known to have survived and the only one not in a museum or institution. The proceeds of the auction will be donated to the Briscoe Center in order to endow a curator for the Whitney Smith Flag Research Center Collection.
It is hoped, although all parties are aware it may not happen, that the purchaser of this battle herald will donate it to the Briscoe Center, where it would serve as the centerpiece of the Smith Collection, and reside alongside the Jefferson letter, the Bexar Archives, and other historical treasures that connect our state and national narratives.
Don Carleton, Ph.D.
J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History