The Pearl of the Caribbean, or Key to the New World, as Cuba was often referred to in the 18th century, proved to be of strategic importance once more during the United States War of Independence. An enormous naval convoy originating from Cádiz, with over 11,000 men, arrived in Havana in August, 1780. It had come, on orders of the Spanish Crown, to fight the English in Spanish Florida, Louisiana, and Central America. From Cuba, Gálvez, Solano, Saavedra, and other military leaders planned the Spanish military campaigns. The successful expedition to take Pensacola was launched from the island in March, 1781, as was the campaign to control the Bahamas, in April, 1782.
The port of Havana provided regular safe harbor for the North American ships in the area, transporting provisions for the rebels or harassing enemy vessels, under what was called a “Letter of Marque”. Gálvez’s general headquarters was in the fort of La Cabaña between 1781 and 1782. Many of the residents in Old Havana opened their homes to the numerous officers and soldiers arriving to wage war against England. They turned their convents and churches into hospitals for the many sick and wounded. Individuals and institutions alike contributed to a collection in August, 1781, that raised 500,000 pesos (some 34,000,000 dollars by today’s standards) to assist the French fleet in the battle of Yorktown.