ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mention the Revolutionary War and most of us blink to George Washington and the 13 colonies as quickly as a film frame.
New Mexico has long been absent from those history books, although soldiers from Santa Fe’s Presidio helped fund the American Revolution. “Pesos and Patriots,” a new community exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum, aims to correct that omission.
“Most people I talk to have no idea that Spain helped with the American Revolution,” said Nancy Adams Bennett, regent of the Charles Dibrell Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
As citizens loyal to the Spanish crown, New Mexico residents donated supplies, arms and aid to the rebels fighting the British. The exhibit includes arms, uniforms, coins, images and maps woven with the stories of the men and women who responded to an edict from King Carlos III of Spain.
“Spain sent cannons, muskets, tents, grenades, bayonets, uniforms, musket balls and gunpowder,” Bennett said. “The colonies had no gunpowder plants at all.”
Before Spain formally declared war on Britain in 1779, it funneled arms and equipment to the American colonists through their French allies.
King Carlos III of Spain sought the opportunity to regain land Spain lost to England in 1773. Spain agreed to join France as an ally and covertly shipped arms, munitions, cattle, uniforms, medicine, blankets and money to the American colonies, using France as the go-between. Visitor-General José de Gálvez, Spanish secretary of the Indies, and his nephew, Count Bernardo de Gálvez, provided secret aid to the American cause by allowing guns, ammunition and tons of supplies to be shipped up the Mississippi to patriot forces in the north.
In New Mexico, Presidio soldiers, mayors and citizens donated pesos to help fund the American cause. The Presidio was a combined fort and mission on what is now Santa Fe’s Plaza. In 1780, New Mexicans donated 3,677 pesos in what was known as a donativo, according to community curator Henrietta Martinez Christmas.
“They also helped fund the siege at Yorktown,” Bennett said.
The last major land battle of the war, the 1781 victory culminated with the surrender of British Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis, prompting the British government to negotiate an end to the bloodshed.
At the time, a peso possessed about the same silver content as a dollar coin, Christmas added. The contribution came when cash was scarce and soldiers never knew if they would be paid in full.
“Everybody in the Presidio donated money,” Bennett said. “They would have escorted them from Santa Fe to Mexico, guarding the horses and guarding them from Indian raids.”
By 1848 these donations came full circle as the soldiers’ descendants became U.S. citizens.
“A lot of people don’t have any idea that Spain helped with the American Revolution,” Bennett said. “I think it was because it was kind of underground. Our chapter of the DAR has more members of Spanish ancestry than any other chapter in the country.”