José Solano y Bote

The Seaman Who Saved Gálvez

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José Solano was born in Zurita (Cáceres) in 1726. He joined the Royal Armada when he was barely sixteen years of age, and he spent most of his life at sea, involved in naval conflicts. At nineteen, he was already a ship captain, having served on a seven-year scientific and diplomatic expedition to mark the boundaries between the territories of Spain and Portugal in America. In recognition of his outstanding performance on this mission, he was named governor of Venezuela and Santo Domingo. After Spain declared war against England in 1779, Solano would take part in several naval operations in the Atlantic between the English Channel and the waters of the Gulf of Cádiz.

Solano’s leadership skills and his experience in America led to his being given one of the most crucial commands in the war. He would lead an enormous convoy of more than 100 ships of every type, transporting the entire Ejército de Operación that would wage war in Spanish Florida and the islands of the Caribbean. The fleet left Cádiz in April, 1780, with General Juan Manuel de Cagigal and more than 11,000 soldiers on board. In August, having outmaneuvered numerous enemy vessels patrolling the Atlantic under the command of Admiral Rodney, he arrived in Havana.

As a result of illnesses contracted during the voyage and after arriving in Cuba, only a fraction of the troops was able to join Gálvez’s forces for the assault on Pensacola in March, 1781. Nevertheless, a few weeks later, Solano left Havana with some 3,000 men on board to replenish Gálvez’s besieged and exhausted army. With Solano’s fleet was a French squadron under the command of Chevalier de Monteil, and the arrival of these combined forces effectively dispersed the British ships threatening the Spanish operations. Gálvez’s victory in Pensacola was thus made possible by these timely reinforcements.

As a reward for his actions, Solano was promoted to lieutenant general and given the title of Marqués del Real Socorro (Marquis of the Royal Succor); he was also placed in command of the squadron of the Antilles, based in Havana. From there, he began to coordinate the invasion of British Jamaica with Bernardo de Gálvez and Francisco de Saavedra, in conjunction with the French squadron under the Count de Grasse. However, the attack never took place, due to the French defeat in the Battle of the Saintes and the cessation of all hostilities in late 1782.

Having been appointed State Councilor, Solano spent some time in the Spanish Court, but he returned to America during the second war against England, winning further naval victories in Antillean waters in 1796. In 1802, he received the highest rank a Spanish naval officer could be given: General Captain of the Armada. He died in Madrid in 1806.

José Manuel Guerrero Acosta
La Habana George Washington Arthur Lee Fernando de Leyba Marblehead John Jay Bilbao Oliver Pollock El Conde de Aranda José Solano y Bote El Conde de Floridablanca México Francisco de Miranda Nueva Orleans José Antonio George Farragut Pensacola Bernardo de Gálvez Mobile Juan Miralles San Luis Bárbara de Arias Macharaviaya Diego Gardoqui Nueva York