Originally a 5 part series, we are republishing this piece on one post as a July 4th special.
Juan de Miralles, the first Spanish minister to the newly declared United States of America, is virtually unknown in United States today, despite his numerous and considerable contributions, his personal sacrifices and his close relationship with its founding fathers, including George Washington. His involvement with the founding fathers led to a high point in Spanish-American affairs that quickly evaporated following his death and that was never achieved again. It is possible that he is nearly unheard of because his nationality, mostly unwelcomed in the English world, have kept his name from the pantheon of other foreign heroes of the American Revolution, like Lafayette, Kosciusko, and Von Steuben. Another reason he may be forgotten is that he met with an abrupt and unfortunate death before his work came to fruition.
Had Miralles lived, his close relationships with the founding fathers of the United States may very well have changed the course of history between the two nations. For this reason, Miralles, a man whom Washington considered a close friend, deserves to be listed among those heroes, as well as for his diplomatic work in bringing together two polar cultures like Spain and America in a mutually beneficial way for nearly the only time in their long and troubled history.
Juan de Miralles was born in Petrel (or Petrer), a municipality of Valencia in the province of Alicante in the southeast of Spain, on July 23, 1713. His father, also Juan de Miralles (or Mirailles) was a native of the village of Monein, located in the southwest of France, near the Spanish border. He was an infantry captain in the army of Felipe V of Spain during the War of the Spanish Succession. His wife, Gracia Trailhon (or Trayllon), was a native of Arbus, also in the southwest of France. The son of French parents living in Spain, Miralles would have command of both languages.
Little is known of the early life of Miralles. It is fairly certain that he entered into merchant society, though his name is not found among the merchants or settlers of Alicante or Cádiz or in the French municipalities. However, by 1732, at the age of 19, it is certain that he was in Spain. What exactly occurred in his life over the next eight years, though, is largely unknown. Miralles worked at the business firm of Aguirre, Aristegui and Company of Cadiz, which traded with the British and Spanish colonies in the Americas, and which allowed Miralles to learn the English language. It is likely that Miralles traveled the Atlantic Ocean for the company during this time. Using the knowledge he acquired while working with the firm, Miralles established his own business in Havana, Cuba, in 1740. Here, Miralles dedicated himself to legitimate operations, as well as smuggling. Despite trade prohibitions between Spanish, French and British possessions in the New and Old Worlds, the illicit trade was a lucrative business. Far from the negativity associated with smuggling in today’s world, in the time of Miralles there was little shame or scandal brought upon those involved in this illegal trade. In fact, smuggling during this period was seen as a form of protest, liberty and independence. During these early years of Miralles’s enterprise, he trafficked in a variety of commercial items, including slaves.
In 1740, when Miralles arrived in Cuba, he had 8500 pesos to his name. The sum, of unknown origin, was extraordinary for the time, and some historians have claimed that it must have come from the slave trade, as Miralles’s name did not appear amongst the successful merchants of Spain, and his family’s landholdings would not have produced such a sum. Regardless of where his wealth originated, it allowed him to connect with the elite of Cuban society, and in 1744, he married into the influential Eligio de la Puente family. He married Doña Maria Josefa Eligio de la Puente y González-Cabello in La Iglesia del Espiritu Santo in Havana, Cuba, and moved into a house on Aguiar Street, near the port. The couple would go on to have eight children. The prominence and connections of his wife’s family, as well as the small amount of riches she brought to the marriage, allowed Miralles to grow his trade and prosper significantly.
By many accounts, Miralles played a substantial role in the illegal slave trade between Havana and the Thirteen British Colonies of North America. In the 1740s and 1750s, Miralles was involved in trading with Florida, Charleston, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. The beginning of the Seven Years’ War in 1756 did not immediately affect Miralles’s commercial success, though it would do so before its conclusion. The conflict, truly a world war, ensnared Miralles and ended his peaceful existence. Miralles, who had been working double duty as a businessman and spy (using the former as cover), prepared to move his operations to the island of Jamaica. In 1762, en route to uncover British plans, Miralles met with the British fleet, which was on an expedition to Cuba. He was captured at sea by the British advanced ships, and proceeded to watch from the rear as the British wrested control of the island from the Spanish.
Once back on land, however, Miralles was given the freedom to resume his normal activities. There were some who, afterwards, questioned his loyalty, but it appears that these accusations were most likely furnished by envious competitors. His detractors pointed to the detail that he did not act against the English, and in fact continued to prosper under their rule. In reality, however, it would not have benefited Miralles’s work as a commissioned Spanish spy (or businessman) to draw the ire of the British. As further proof of his innocence of the traitorous charges, the Spanish government, once restored in Cuba, never initiated proceedings against Miralles, as it did with other suspected collaborators. Still, the rumors persisted about him for some time.
After the war ended, in 1763, the Treaty of Paris returned Cuba to Spain, but the Floridas fell under British control. Under the circumstances, it was probable that the two nations would soon be at war again, for control not only of the Gulf or Caribbean islands, but also of the Mississippi River. Thus, the beginning of the American Revolutionary War provided a pretext by which Spain could regain the Floridas from the British, and protect her colonies; and Juan de Miralles became a key player in making that happen.
When the American Revolutionary War broke out, the Thirteen British North American colonies were seeking concessions from King George III and the British Parliament. Very quickly, though, the Continental Congress sought to acquire new land – in Canada and in the Floridas – and also to gain free navigation of the Mississippi River. The Congress declared independence from Great Britain and sought alliances with Britain’s former antagonists. Miralles eventually became the principal Spanish agent to the newly declared United States of America, and acted in a way that one historian described as far beyond what might be expected from his mission, becoming a passionate defender of the independence of the United States of America to the extent that he risked his finances to assist the new nation. His enthusiasm and skillful diplomacy created an atmosphere of beneficial cooperation.
Initially, Spain was not able to make a positive connection with the new American government. A royal order issued on February 28, 1776 to the governor of Cuba called for collecting data on the war in North America. To this end, the governor was ordered to send spies into British territories where there would be little fear of their discovery. Nothing resulted from this order, however, and the following year, The Captain General of Cuba, Diego José Navarro, received confidential orders to send secret agents not only to the still-unrecognized United States, but also to Jamaica, Haiti and Florida. These agents were directed to establish contacts with the enemies of the British and to inform the Spanish government of British intentions and movements. In response, D. Luciano de Herrera was sent to Jamaica, Colonel Antonio Raffelin to Haiti, Josef Eligio de la Puente (Miralles’s brother-in-law) went clandestinely to Florida, and Miralles was chosen for the service of the mission to the United States. Though Miralles received his appointment in the autumn of 1777, his commission was not approved by the King of Spain until many months later. Miralles sailed without waiting for the official word, however.
Once on land, the plan was for Miralles to apply to the provincial governor for permission to remain until spring, due to poor health. The Spanish government granted Miralles 39,000 pesos for his mission, partially as cover for his supposed position as a rich merchant. The strategy was for Miralles to establish relations with friendly governors, the Continental Congress, General George Washington, and other influential individuals who would be helpful to his cause. During these meetings Miralles was to attempt to generate alliances and contributions for a cooperative joint attack against the British in the Floridas, as well as to strengthen the border at Louisiana. Once Spain entered the war, Miralles was to open up trade between the United States and the Spanish possessions in the Americas.
Miralles departed Havana on December 31, 1777 in the schooner Nuestra Señora del Carmen, accompanied by his secretary, Francisco Rendón. After being at sea for nine days, the schooner, commanded by the captain Anastasio de Urtetegui, landed in Charleston, South Carolina, “due to trouble with his ship.” Due in part to the previous connections with prominent citizens of Charleston and because of his personality, the Spaniard was well-received in Charleston. Using his old commercial contacts in the state, Miralles obtained a meeting with the governor, John Rutledge. With Rutledge, Miralles discussed politics and probable support from Spain to the United States, but also of the possibility of joint military action against the Floridas.
While in South Carolina, where he remained until the spring, Miralles purchased a schooner, which served a dual purpose: trade was to be initiated between the United States and Havana, and a more secure method of communication with Navarro was established. Besides his commercial dealings, Miralles also met with leading citizens. On one occasion, he occupied the seat of honor together with the French consul at an official banquet celebrating the American victory at Saratoga and the treaty in which France recognized the independence of the United States and entered the war against the British.
Miralles and Rendón departed Charleston in the spring making stops in North Carolina and Virginia on his way to Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress was meeting. Though Miralles was issued his commission by a Royal Proclamation of January 21, 1778, he had yet to receive it, due to the slow communication of the era. In his contacts with the Americans during this time, then, Miralles skirted diplomatic rules in meeting with the heads of the American states. Besides meeting with Governor Rutledge in South Carolina, Miralles also met with Abner Nash of North Carolina and Patrick Henry of Virginia before arriving in Philadelphia in May of 1778. With the former he discussed plans for attacking the British in the Floridas and in the Mississippi Valley and with the latter possible attacks on Mobile, Pensacola, and St. Augustine.
Though his conversations did not produce immediate results, Miralles apparently got along well with the prominent men that he met. Miralles did not disappoint many of those who he hoped to impress. He traveled with countless gifts and lavished those upon his associates, partly as an attempt to ingratiate himself and partly due to his courteous nature.
After departing Williamsburg, Miralles traveled north by sea, across the Chesapeake Bay, to Baltimore, where he resumed travel on land to Philadelphia. Upon arriving in that city, Miralles and Rendón took up living quarters at 242 South Third Street. The first French minister to the United States, Conrad Alexander Gèrard, did not arrive in Philadelphia until about one month later. Because of his dynamic personality, Miralles quickly gained the attention of the Philadelphia elite. He could not, however, officially meet with government officials. Upon Gèrard’s arrival, he and Miralles quickly became good friends, though the latter was technically inferior. Gèrard acted, officially and unofficially, to communicate for Miralles with the Congress.
Miralles also developed a close friendship with the financier Robert Morris, who he may have known through business interests before his arrival. The two men immediately became partners. Their vessels made the first direct commercial voyages between Philadelphia and Havana. His influential contacts and brilliant personality soon gained him the trust and respect of the businessmen as well as military and government officials of Philadelphia. It did not take long for the Americans to overlook the not-so-minor detail that Spain had not recognized American independence or declared war on Great Britain.
Miralles faced a difficult task. Without official recognition, he had to convince his Spanish superiors that the Americans were stable and could win a war against the British while, at the same time, assist Spain in gaining control of Florida and the Mississippi Valley. Concurrently, Miralles had to assure the American government that Spain would give more active support against Great Britain once the concessions of Florida and the Mississippi Valley were agreed to by the two nations. Miralles guaranteed some money and supplies from his personal fortune. It was unclear, and somewhat still is today, how much Miralles acted on his own accord and how much under the auspices of the Spanish government. The Chevalier de la Luzerne, who later replaced Gèrard as French minister to the United States, wrote to Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes in France that Miralles had confessed to him that the Spanish government had issued no instructions to him, though he expected to be appointed Minister to the United States when the King was ready to make such an appointment. Miralles, therefore, relied heavily on his personal connections and the support of the French in the management of his affairs with the American government. Though Miralles was accepted and well-liked among the elite of Philadelphia, his mission of securing a joint attack against Great Britain in the Floridas and the Mississippi Valley had stalled.
HIS FRIENDSHIP WITH GEORGE WASHINGTON
On December 23, 1778, General Washington arrived in Philadelphia where he was honored at a number of banquets. Miralles and Washington met at one of these proceedings on New Years’ Eve. By all accounts the two men became quick friends. Washington found time to go to see Miralles on numerous occasions while the former was in Philadelphia. When Washington did visit, Miralles showered him with gifts, as he did to the other leaders of the Revolution. His boats trading with Havana returned to Philadelphia with wines, liquors, sweets, tortoise shells, rum and cigars, which he shared as gifts with influential Americans. The vessels also brought back limes, lemons and quinine for the American Army.
On February 17, 1779 Miralles wrote to Navarro in Cuba of “the general acceptance, courtesy and respect with which I am regarded by all these citizens and by persons who hold the highest offices, which they take pains to show to me and to make known to others.” In May 1779, Miralles, with Gérard, visited Washington’s camp at Middlebrook, New Jersey, at the general’s invitation. The Americans were short on arms, munitions, supplies and money. Washington provided a military review in honor of the diplomats on May 2nd and, more than once, the watchword in the camp was “Don Juan and Gérard” in honor of Miralles and the French minister. Washington called on Miralles for all of the help and aid that the Spanish could provide, and asked that Spain not only recognize American independence, but also enter the war against Great Britain to ensure American success. Miralles assured Washington that the entry of his country into the struggle was imminent, and on June 21st Carlos III of Spain declared war on Great Britain.
The first official notice of the war declaration reached Charleston in August on a boat owned by Miralles. Miralles was also promised that he would be named the first official minister from Spain to the United States. The Spanish went to work immediately. On 27 August Bernardo de Gálvez left New Orleans with about five hundred men to attack British posts in the Mississippi Valley. Within a month, the Spaniard had captured eight ships anchored in the Mississippi, taken three forts, made prisoners of twenty-eight officers and 550 English soldiers, and gained over 1,000 miles of territory. The Spanish goal of driving the English from the Gulf of Mexico and the areas around Louisiana were quickly obtained. Meanwhile, the Continental Congress finally agreed to guarantee the Floridas to Spain, provided they could be taken from the British. At the end of September, Congress voted to send John Jay as “Minister Plenipotentiary to negotiate a treaty of alliance and of amity and commerce between the United States of America and his Catholic Majesty.”
In celebration of the news, Miralles sent various gifts to Washington, including a turtle weighing one hundred pounds. Washington responded on October 16th from West Point, New York: “The intelligence, you have been pleased to intrust [sic] me with, is very agreeable. I promise myself the most happy events from the known spirit of your nation. United with the arms of France, we have every thing to hope over the arms of our common enemy, the English.”
Finally, in November 1779, the Continental Congress seriously considered the cause for which Miralles had been fighting. They appointed a committee to discuss joint military action between Spanish and American forces. On November 25th, after Miralles had met with the committee, it was decided that the French minister would communicate with the commander of the French naval squadron to transport soldiers and arms for the cause. The plan which Miralles had worked so hard for had finally come together. Unfortunately, a turn of events in the south would not allow the American Army to divert its forces for the joint attack.
The British command decided to move south at the end of 1778 after their lack of success in the northern states. After a short siege of Savannah, Georgia by the British in October 1779, the American Army was forced to retreat to Charleston. The British were planning an attack against Charleston forcing the Americans to set up defenses around the city. The Spanish under Gálvez continued with attacks against the British, even without American help. By May 1780, Charleston fell to the British.
Although the Americans had not made any gains in the south, Miralles was instructed to meet with Washington to discuss possible joint offensives. Washington and his army had spent the winter in Morristown, New Jersey. While the army was encamped in cabins outside of town, Washington was lodged at the private home of Jacob Ford. It was here that Washington planned a military parade in honor of the arrival of Miralles. The Spanish minister left Philadelphia early on the morning of 17 April 1780, accompanied by the Chevalier de la Luzerne. The men traveled most of the way in an uncomfortable carriage with poor protection against the weather. The roads were covered in snow and ice, and were barely passable. About midday on the 19th, they were met about five miles from the town by General Washington himself, along with other generals, and two hundred Continental soldiers. There, the diplomats exited the carriage and rode the remainder of the way on horseback at the front of the line, with Washington. Upon arriving in town, they were received with the salvo of thirteen cannons and the warm support of the public. Washington took the visitors to a height where they were able to take a distant view of the enemy’s positions in New York, and of the different posts of the army.
Miralles fell ill almost immediately upon his arrival in Morristown. While preparations were being made for a grand military parade in honor of Miralles and Luzerne, the former was being nursed in bed on the upper floor of the Ford Mansion. Washington called on his own doctors, probably the best available at the time, to attend to Miralles. Both General and Mrs. Washington were at his bedside as much as time would allow. Miralles, who probably had pneumonia, was bled a number of times and was not permitted to leave his bed. On the 23rd, Miralles called a number of men in the headquarters, among who were Luzerne, von Steuben and Alexander Hamilton, to his room, and in their presence he dictated his will.
The following day, the military parade went on as planned. Miralles had become so gravely ill that he did not seem to notice the playing of the military band, the salvos of cannon or the fireworks which accompanied the parade. General Washington sat alongside New Jersey’s governor, William Livingston, and the Chevalier de la Luzerne at the place of honor. Next to Luzerne, a seat was left empty, reserved in honor of Miralles. General Washington and other officers, along with Luzerne, visited Miralles again after the parade.
Luzerne departed on a return trip to Philadelphia the day following the parade. Washington, who remained close to Miralles, wrote Luzerne of Miralles’s progress. On the 26th of April, Washington wrote that Miralles appeared to be slightly better. “His Fever and pulse, tho’ he had a very restless night the last, are now moderate and regular, and his hic-cough has entirely left him.” The doctors, however, were unsure of “the prospect of his recovery.” The following day, Washington’s letter to Luzerne was more positive. He wrote, “Upon the whole, the Doctors think him better, though they dare not pronounce him past danger. If he should continue well through this day, and the succeeding night, I shall entertain the pleasing hope of his recovery.”
HIS DEATH, AND WHERE HE MAY BE BURIED
Washington’s hopes for a Miralles recovery were soon crushed. That night Miralles became weaker. His breathing worsened. His throat became so sore that he could not eat. Washington remained at the side of the Spaniard, but wrote Luzerne, “Symptoms so unfavourable in the advanced stages of a disorder, afford little hope of recovery, especially in a person of Mr. de Miralles’s age.…he is now in a delirium.” By three o’clock in the afternoon of April 26th Miralles was dead. Washington informed the Congress of his passing and promised that “his remains will be interred tomorrow in a manner suited to his rank.”
And so, on the 29th, between four and five o’clock in the afternoon, the funeral procession of Miralles began. The remains of the deceased were on view to the public; one witness described the body as being
in a splendid full dress consisting of a scarlet suit, embroidered with rich gold-lace, a three-cornered gold-laced hat, and a genteel cued wig, white silk stockings, large diamond shoe and knee-buckles, a profusion of diamond rings decorated the fingers, and from a superb gold watch set with diamonds, several rich seals were suspended.
Washington, along with general officers and some members of Congress attended the ceremony and were at the head of the procession, which proceeded for about one mile from Washington’s headquarters to the Presbyterian Church on the Morristown Green. Guns were fired at minute intervals throughout the procession. Timothy Johnes, minister of the congregation for forty years, was waiting to receive the coffin at the front of the church. After prayers were said, the procession moved behind the church, to the small burying ground. Following the internment of Miralles, whose remains had been placed in a double wooden box, reinforced with iron, Washington ordered a constant guard over the grave so that no one would rob the contents.
Following the death of Miralles, General Washington and the leaders of the Revolution paid respect to Miralles, and honored him in different ways. On April 30th, Washington wrote to Governor Navarro of Cuba: “I the more sincerely sympathize with you in the loss of so estimable a friend, as ever since his residence with us, I have been happy in ranking him among the number of mine. It must however be some-consolation to his connections, to know that in this country he has been universally esteemed and will be universally regretted.” The New Jersey Gazette of May 3rd reported that the corpse of Miralles was “to be removed to Philadelphia, where it is to be interred with those marks of respect due to gentlemen of his dignified rank and fortune.” The paper was slightly mistaken; Miralles was not to be interred in Philadelphia, but a requiem mass, arranged by Luzerne and attended by nearly all men of distinction in the city, was scheduled for 8 May at St. Mary’s Church.
Rivington’s Royal Gazette of New York of May 20, 1780 provided an account of the proceedings.
the Priest presented the Holy Water to Mons. Lucerne; who, after sprinkling himself presented it to Mr. Huntington, President of the Congress. The Calvinist paused a considerable time, near a minute; but at length his affection for the great and good ally conquered all scruples of conscience and he too besprinkled and sanctified himself with all the adroitness of a veteran Catholic, which his brethren of the Congress perceiving they all without hesitation followed the righteous example of their proselytized President. Before the company which were extremely numerous, left the Chapel, curiosity induced some persons to uncover the Bier; when, they were highly enraged at finding the whole a sham, there being no corpse under the cloth, the body of the Spanish gentleman having been several days before interred at Morristown. The Bier was surrounded with wax candles, and every member of this egregious Congress, now reconciled to the Popish Communion carried a taper in his hand.
On July 6, 1780, Maria Josefa Elirio de la Puente, the widow of Miralles, wrote to Washington, thanking him for the attention he had given to her late husband. Though Washington did not respond until October 13th, he wrote in that letter that Miralles had been “esteemed by all those who had the pleasure of his acquaintance,” and “My heart will always pay a tribute to his memory and take a warm part in the distresses, which his loss must occasion to his family.”
Sadly, the final resting place of Miralles is not known with certainty. Though he was initially interred at the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, it is likely his remains were moved soon afterwards. In Los Otros Extranjeros en la Revolucion Norteamericana, Portell-Vilá claimed that Miralles is buried in the crypt La Iglesia del Espíritu Santo in Havana, Cuba. Ribes wrote that in the summer of 1780 “the schooners El Page and Stephens brought to Havana the notice of the death of Miralles and his remains, respectively” and he was buried at La Iglesia del Espíritu Santo. The author has been unable to confirm the truth of those statements. A first call to La Iglesia del Espíritu Santo produced two men who had never heard of Miralles and did not have the time to look around. A second call two days later only provided more frustration when another man also said he had never heard of Juan de Miralles, and he did not know how to find if Miralles had indeed been buried at the church.
HIS LEGACY, IN WHICH I ARGUE HIS DEATH CAUSED OVER A CENTURY OF TENSION BETWEEN THE U.S. AND SPAIN
Shortly before his death, Miralles had informed Washington of the Spanish successes against the British. Congressman Oliver Ellsworth wrote to Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull that Miralles had been “zealously attentive to the political interests and views of this country, as well as his own, and waited with impatience to see the ties between the two countries indissolubly formed.”
Upon the death of Miralles, Francisco Rendón, his former secretary, assumed his post. It was said that Rendón lacked the enthusiasm for America’s cause that drove Miralles, and with the fall of Charleston to the British in May 1780, plans for a joint Spanish-American offensive were dashed. The Spanish attacked the British on their own, however, capturing forts in West Florida and attacking Pensacola and other British possessions in the Caribbean and Central America. These Spanish attacks tied up British soldiers which could have been used as reinforcements against the Americans.
When the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, the Americans stayed true to their agreement with Miralles and the Floridas were returned to Spain. Through the web of treaties that made up the peace of 1783, Spain was awarded East and West Florida, and the United States was given free navigation on the Mississippi River, though the two nations did not sign a treaty together. Immediately following the peace, a dispute arose between the United States and Spain over the southern borders and the Mississippi River. Rendón, a temporary appointment as replacement for Miralles, was superseded by Diego de Gardoqui, who became the first official Spanish Ambassador to the United States. Gardoqui and the Spanish government believed that if they did not contain the United States, the latter’s territorial ambitions would threaten the Spanish empire in North America. Although Miralles had maintained a close relationship with many of the founding fathers, his efforts were quickly forgotten as the two nations contested the terms of the peace agreements.
The border of the United States extended to the Mississippi River after the Revolutionary War, though the outlet to the sea, at New Orleans, lay in Spanish territory. The Spanish government, anxious over the possibility of the new nation gaining too much power and influence on the frontier, closed the lower part of the river to American shipping. The two nations continued to struggle for position, but did not reach an agreement for over a decade. It is easy to imagine Miralles and Washington discussing the issue in friendly terms, easing the tensions that were quickly building in his absence.
When the French Revolution spread into a European-wide conflict in the 1790s, the United States was also drawn into the dispute. While Americans argued whether over they should support France or Great Britain in the conflict, physical battles were being fought in Europe. With the hope of remaining neutral, President George Washington sent Chief Justice John Jay to negotiate with the British government to work out unresolved issues still lingering from the Treaty of Paris signed in 1783. Jay’s Treaty, signed in November 1794, was unpopular in the United States, and did little except maintain peace between the two nations.
The treaty was enough, however, to cause panic in the Spanish government. Without a minister in the United States who connected with the government like Miralles had, King Carlos IV panicked. Fearing an alliance between the British and Americans, which might result in the loss of Spain’s North American possessions, the king sought to settle the differences between his country and the United States. To that end, Washington sent Thomas Pinckney to Spain to discuss a treaty. Pinckney’s performance in his negotiation with the Spanish Prime Minister, Manuel de Godoy, was remarkable in that the American won all of the concessions he requested. The Treaty of San Lorenzo, also known as Pinckney’s Treaty, was signed in October 1785. The border disputes were settled in favor of the Americans, and duty-free navigation was granted along the entirety of the Mississippi River, including at New Orleans. In a final concession, Spain stopped military support for the Indian tribes fighting against the Americans.
It is unlikely that Miralles would have lived long enough to see Napoleon Bonaparte’s ascension to power in France in November 1799, which led to yet more fighting between the nations of Europe. Even if he had, it would be a stretch to assume that a man in his nineties would have much influence over events. It is not a stretch, however, to believe that had he lived long enough to build strong ties with the United States during the Washington Presidency that the two countries would have worked together against Napoleon’s designs in North America. Instead, Napoleon’s war worked in favor of the Americans.
Napoleon’s ascension led to France’s acquisition of the Louisiana Territory from Spain. Napoleon wiped away years of laborious efforts by the Spanish when he sold the territory to the United States in 1803. Seven years later, when American settlers in West Florida rebelled against Spanish rule, the American government claimed the land, arguing that it was part of the Louisiana Purchase. Luis de Onís, the Spanish minister to the United States at the time, attempted negotiations with U.S. Secretary of State James Monroe in 1815 without much success. Finally in 1819, the two nations reached an agreement, signing the Adams-Onís Treaty. As with the Pinckney Treaty, the Americans again wound up with the better end of the deal. Spain ceded East Florida to the United States and renounced all claim to West Florida.
It is worthwhile to note that earlier negotiations with the United States, begun by Miralles, led to Spain’s possession of the Mississippi Valley and Florida. His hard work and dedication, along with his personal sacrifices and close relationships with the founding fathers led to his nation’s territorial acquisitions at the end of the war. The oversights of his successors, and their lack of interest in the American cause, combined with events in Europe, led to the unraveling of the exceptional rapport Miralles had built between the Spanish and Americans. Spanish mismanagement after the death of Miralles favored the Americans, as it led to a great acquisition of territory by the United States less than four decades after the American Revolutionary War ended.
Spanish and American animosity continued on and off for over 120 years, culminating in the Spanish-American War in 1898. The result of the war was the loss of nearly all of Spain’s colonies to the United States. Quite possibly the low point of Spanish-American relations, the war was the result of a century of suspicion that arose after the death of Juan de Miralles.
The course of history would have been altered significantly if Miralles had lived to continue friendly relations between the two nations after the American Revolution. His untimely death, and the inability of his successors to connect in the same ways as he had to the leaders of the United States, led to over a century of strained relations and hostility between the two nations. Miralles deserves to be listed among the heroes of the early republic for his work in building friendly relations between the new United States and Spain, and bringing together the two nations to successfully fight against a common enemy.