The note of the Ladies of Havana (Cuba)
After 7 years of war, the 13 colonies were impoverished and Washington’s army was crumbling, its soldiers poorly dressed and fed, not even receiving their salaries. The miracle came from the nearby place that had already helped before and its protagonists The Ladies of Cuba.
George’s Army bankruptcy
The state of the finances of the 13 colonies was disastrous. Poorly dressed and fed troops lived in permanent discontent. Although some of the troops had been like this, for years. Most enlisted men did not renew their service when it ended. The payments were so late that most did not receive the payment, which was due.
Riots in the army
Not long ago there had been a mutiny of hundreds of patriots against the army and the continental congress. George Washington solved it by arresting its leaders and a party of the rebels. These were forced to shoot their leaders. Something that multiplied the discontent among the troops and increased the number of rebels, although they were silent about it out of fear. The last words of one of the leaders of the rebellion, at the time of being shot by his own supporters, in order to save his own life, resounded among the soldiers of Washington.
´ “I just said what we all thought”
The uprising was controlled, but only temporarily. The poor conditions of the camps and the permanent arrears of payroll payments were chronic.
About 10 years after George Washington as president, he had to face another great mutiny, but this one led by many of his main and highest officials, fed up with the enormous delays in the payment of payrolls.
This made it extremely difficult to renew and incorporate new soldiers into the army. Although there continued to be renewals and additions, the morale of the army was lousy. Most of the soldiers did not have the proper footwear and clothing. Although Spain sent George Washington 30,000 complete uniforms to match his men, the seven years into the war, most were already in poor condition or had disappeared.
As for food, something equivalent happened. The bad and incomplete foods in their diet raged. In the years before 1780, the Spanish Juan de Miralles managed to bring cargoes of fruits such as lemon or lime from Cuba, camouflaged among his merchandise, to avoid scurvy for a time. Estimates made consider that 8 times more died than fighting against the English. Perhaps the climax was the hell of Valley Forge, with the harshest winter of the time. But the bad conditions of the troops continued.
A new army mutiny, could take place at any moment, since the conditions of the troops were terrible. Even 2 years later in the year 1783, in Newburg, an important group of army officers led by Horatio Gate wanted to go to Philadelphia, to collect by force the year of salary that was owed to them.
This situation was in great contrast to the excellent feeding conditions of the Spanish troops who expelled the British from the Gulf of Mexico as well as the Bahamas Islands and were preparing from Santo Domingo for the final assault on British power in the Caribbean, the Island of Jamaica.
General Bernardo de Gálvez organized the first mass transfer of cattle in North America. More than 10,000 head of cattle were moved by cowboys, from the Hispanic ranches of Texas to New Orleans to feed the army of Spanish, Mexican, Cuban, American, French, Venezuelan, etc.
However, George Washington’s army did not have a constant strong supply and the economic resources were lacking.
Washington’s army crumbles
July 1780. When the French Rochambeau arrived, he saw a continental army led by Washington in difficult conditions and with little military effectiveness for all the above. A weakened population and an army with many casualties, which also had just experienced a smallpox epidemic.
April 1781. Washington himself wrote, afraid of missing the opportunity:
“We are at the end of our ties, and … now or never our liberation must come”
We were before a general discouraged and anguished. The British blockade for 7 years had destroyed the economy. Supplies of all kinds were in short supply. Only the Spanish aid that arrived from New Orleans and by means of ships navigating the Mississippi River, could alleviate the lack of arms, gunpowder and other military supplies. Very low troop morale. And the continental congress had no money to pay the troops.
May 1781. To remedy the lack of money, the Continental Congress dedicated itself to printing paper money. The result is hyperinflation. Paper money lost all its value, with exchange rates up to 500 to 1 being published. The joke and anger at the ridiculous value of paper money was colossal. The procession in Philadelphia would go down in history in front of which they put a dog smeared with tar and stuck to his skin, the money in paper, without any real monetary value. He was followed by citizens adorned with bills, especially on their hats.
This inflation and mistrust in the economic management of the Continental Congress would have repercussions in the future. It would take a long time for confidence in American money to be regained. Subsequent governments had to back their currency pap the in the Spanish Dollar. The paper money could be exchanged for Spanish silver money. For 70 years the Spanish Dollar was the guarantee and backing of the US currency, until 1857. From that year on, the official and only currency was the US Dollar. As a souvenir of that time, the Spanish sign would remain on the country’s currency.
Washington together with Rochambeau, organized the encerrona in Yorktown. But the lack of funds was distressing. She had no money to pay her army.
She feared the worst, a mutiny bigger than the previous one, could cause her army to crumble.In a desperate attempt she wrote a letter to Robert Morris, in charge of finances:
“I must beg you, if possible, to obtain a month’s pay in cash for the detachment under my command. A part of the troops has not received anything for a long time and on several occasions they have shown signs of great discontent “
Rochambeau’s money runs out
Summer of 1781, the French army runs out of money. Reservations are running out and the money that had to arrive, did not arrive. Without that money, he couldn’t stay in Yorktown.
June 1781. Seeing that it will not be possible to get financial resources of any kind, he asks for help. Send a letter to the French Admiral Count De Grasse:
“I inform you that after August 20 I will not be able to support my army”
From the Continental Army comments:
“It should not hide from you, Mr. Admiral, that these people are at the limit of resources or that Washington will not have at its disposal half of the troops that it expected to have. While he is secretive on this subject, I think he currently has no more than 6,000 men in total. “
The Count of Grasse made attempts to raise money but failed. He went to present-day Haiti, to raise funds, but had no success. Although he offered interest rates of up to 25% for the loans that were granted, he received no response. The citizens mistrusted the coffers of the King of France, which they already assumed empty.
August 1781. In the Spanish newspaper Saavedra de Sangroniz the attempts of Admiral Grasse to get money are mentioned. Desperate, he requested help from Havana. From the Island of Cuba, he had previously received supplies and repairs and maintenance of his ships. He asks the Spanish authorities for a loan of 500,000 pesos.
Spain prepares to help
June 1781 (Island of Cuba). The mayor of Havana, Juan Ignacio de Urriza, communicates to Bernardo de Gálvez, commander-in-chief of the Spanish and French armies:
“Following the Royal Order of March 17, they had prepared in advance for the delivery of one million pesos to the French commanders”
He also reported that he had received news from Veracruz that warships would soon bring money from the Viceroyalty of New Spain.
Havana on the island of Cuba was not only the gateway to the Caribbean It was the main city in the area. A strategic point where the Spanish fleets of arrival and departure from America met. A city with great prosperity, which had nothing to envy to the most important European capitals. In terms of size, they had a population of 5 times the city of New York. It owned, trade, industry, naval shipyards, ships were armed, etc. Some of the warships of the time were built here, such as the Santísima Trinidad, the largest warship of the time, a ship of the line with 4 bridges and up to 140 guns. Besides being a center with a rich cultural life with its theaters, etc.
August 6), 1781. Money shipments from Mexico did not arrive. The funds sent by the Spaniards from Hispaniola Island (Santo Domingo) and Puerto Rico contributed 100,000 pesos, but it was insufficient. There was a problem of temporary lack of liquidity in Havana, but also a bureaucratic problem. Without a special authorization, such an enormous amount could not be contributed to a foreign power, even if it were an ally such as France.
The astute Saavedra solved both problems at once. He requested help from the Cubans, since time was running out.
August (16), 1781. Record in his diary:
“The announcement was promulgated among the citizens, and it was proclaimed that anyone who wanted to contribute to helping the French fleet with their money should send it immediately to the Treasury”
But Francisco de Saavedra de Sangronis, sought the solution to avoid diplomatic conflicts and involve Spain directly in the collection. He prevented the collection from being made directly by Spanish citizens. And he raised it as a popular aid.
“Two French officers went to collect the funds, and within six hours the required amount was collected.”
The French watched with amazement as many ladies approached and took off their jewels and handed them over to the cause of the patriots of the 13 colonies.
All that enormous amount of money embarked on a frigate, which was escorted by a ship of 80 gun line warfare.
Thanks to this the French fleet, the reinforcements and the money for the army of Washington and the French Rochambeau left for the Chesapeake.
The outcome of the battle and the war would be totally conditioned by this aid. French and American patriots would soon have new energy thanks to this economic aid.
September (5), 1781. King Carlos III issued an official notice. indicating the great satisfaction of the king for the help that the Spanish of Havana granted “the shortest time” to the Admiral de Grasse and the French fleet.
In Rochambeau’s words, he saw Washington:
“Waving his hat at me with gestures demonstrating the greatest joy. When I approached him, he explained that he had just received a dispatch … informing him that De Grasse had arrived. “
He reported that Havana had to go for the 1.2 million pounds, which it was bringing and that it was transporting the 3,200 reinforcements that Rochambeau had requested.
The arrival of money was lived very intensely.
“The joy was enormous when we received the money from Havana”
(French General Rochambeau)
English General Henry Clinton perfectly understood how this new injection of funds could rejuvenate exhausted rebels. and change the course of the battle. Clinton wrote in his memoirs, how the money raised in such a short time in Havana, had made a great change in the preparation of the battle.
The Battle of Yorktown could start on September 26 and ended on October 19 thanks to both Washingon and Rochambeau getting what they needed.
The Triumph of Ladies’ Money
The Ladies of Havana got 1,000,000 pesos, which they sent to General Washington through the French and changed history by financing the battle
This collection of the Ladies of Havana was fundamental to change History. Without that money. supplies and repairs that were made in its shipyards, it is very likely that history changed. This enormous amount of money was shipped on a French frigate and escorted by a French ship of the line that headed to Yorktown.
The weight was so great that they had to reinforce the structure of the Yorktown house where they kept it, since they were afraid that the first floor of the building would collapse, due to the enormous weight of money
Neither the French squadron would have left for the Chesapeake, nor would Rochembeau’s French troops have received their wages, nor would George Washington’s army have had so many soldiers.
The Ladies’ Note
All this enormous amount of money that left Cuba was accompanied by a simple note that read:
“We send this money so that the children of American mothers are not born slaves”
Bankrolling the Battle of Yorktown
Gold and silver from Havana allowed American troops to trap Lord Cornwallis and his army, shown here surrendering at Yorktown after a 21-day siege.
(John Trumbull/Architect of The Capitol)