St. Louis, located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, was founded by Pierre Laclède in 1764, the same year France ceded all of Louisiana to Spain. Laclède was an associate of Gilbert Antoine de St.Maxent, a powerful businessman from New Orleans, who would later become Bernardo de Gálvez’s father-in-law. Laclède and St. Maxent controlled the entire fur trade with the Spanish city of Santa Fe (in the current U.S. state of New Mexico). St. Louis would not have a Spanish governor until 1770, with the arrival of Pedro Piernas.
When Spain declared war on England in 1779, St. Louis had about 900 inhabitants and a little over 100 houses. The following year, the British launched a fierce attack on the city, using regular troops and Indian allies. Fernando de Leyba, the governor at the time, had no more than about 30 enlisted soldiers under his command and the support of some local militiamen, regular citizens, and their servants. But they managed to repel the attack, thanks to the defenses that had been built earlier, primarily Fort San Carlos.
During the U.S. War of Independence, Leyba supported the rebels with money and provisions, which he sent to Colonel George Rogers Clark. Clark also received aid from New Orleans for his campaign against the English in the upper Mississippi.
Few records remain of St. Louis’s Spanish period (the city was then called San Luis de Ilinueses), except for such place names as Carondelet Park.Interestingly, the Spanish Pavilion of the 1964 New York World’s Fair was transferred to St. Louis, through the initiative of its Hispanic mayor, Alfonso Cervantes, and today it is a Marriott hotel. On the site where Fort San Carlos used to stand is a bronze plaque in memory of the Spanish defense of the city in 1780.