These two northern Spanish cities located in the Basque Country played a significant role in the aid sent by Spain to the U.S. War of Independence. Diego de Gardoqui’s firm, Joseph Gardoqui e Hijos (Joseph Gardoqui and Sons), headquartered in Bilbao, had its own company ships and broad experience in the export and import of cod, tobacco, iron, wheat, and a wide range of goods sent into and out of ports in England and in the North American colonies. Not far from Bilbao was the city of Placencia, site of the Royal Arms factories, where the muskets and pistols solicited by the Continental Congress were being produced. The Congress made its request initially through its agents Elbridge Gerry and Jeremiah Lee, and subsequently through Arthur Lee and John Jay. Throughout the duration of the conflict, the Spanish king relied on Gardoqui for the task of sending supplies to the rebels, because of his extensive business experience. His proximity to several manufacturers of shoes, blankets, and woolen goods for uniforms proved to be highly advantageous for this mission.
In the historic quarter of Bilbao, on the land where Gardoqui’s house once stood [now occupied by the Escuela Múgica (the Múgica School)] is a commemorative plaque. Sadly, the city has yet to erect a statue in honor of this notable native son. However, beside the building that houses the City Council is a small statue of John Adams, who stopped briefly in the city on his way to Paris as a representative of the North American Congress.
In Vitoria, in the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca, on the corner of the steps of San Miguel, one can still see the family home of Gardoqui’s wife, Brigida Orueta Uriarte. Here, Gardoqui met secretly with Arthur Lee to negotiate the transfer of goods and money, which the Thirteen Colonies were soliciting from Spain.