Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

When, on July 2, 1776, the Congress at Philadelphia voted for independence, Spain adopted toward the British Colonies an attitude that could be described today as “recognition of billigerency,” until the Spanish Crown declared war on Great Britain in June, 1779.

Although at the beginning of the Revolution there were no formal relations between the two countries, Spain not only provided the colonists with military and financial assistance, but hurried to send to the Continental Congress diplomatic representatives as what we now call “observers.”

In 1777, following a recommendation from the Captain General of Cuba, Diego José Navarro, the Council of Indies appointed Juan de Miralles y Troyllón as “the first Spanish Diplomatic Representative to the United States of America.”

Juan de Miralles, a native of Petrel (Alicante, Spain), was a prominent landowner from Havana. He left Cuba en route to the rebel colonies on December 31, 1777, arriving at Charleston, South Carolina on January 9, 1778. In the spring of that year he moved to Philadelphia, where he was able to maintain, through official communications, a close contact with the Minister of Indies in Madrid, Jose de Gálvez.

During his stay in Philadelphia, the Spanish diplomat re­sided in a house, no longer standing, located at 242 South 3rd Street, next to the Powel House. The house that was built in its place exhibits a plaque, put there by the Spanish government in 1967, that says:

On this site stood the home, 1778-1780, of Juan de Miralles (1715-1780) the first Spanish Diplomatic Representative to the United States of America. He died April 28, 1780, while visiting General Washington at his Morristown Headquarters. The same home became the residence of his successor, Francisco Rondón (Rendón], who lent it to General Washington for the winter of 1781-1782. Through these officials Spanish military and financial assis­tance was channelled to the American Patriots. Tribute from the Government of Spain. 1967.

In spite of the fact that, since Spain had not officially recognized the American independence, Juan de Miralles did not have the rank of an official envoy, he enjoyed such prestige with the President and members of the Continental Congress that he always received the same courtesy and treatment as the French Minister. And on July 4, 1779, when the first public religious commemoration of the Declaration of Independence was held at Saint Mary’s Church (located at 244 South 4th Street), Miralles attended the Holy Mass as “the Spanish Minister” along with senior American officials and representatives of what might be called the diplomatic corps of the time. At the front of the church there is a plaque that says:

In this Church on the 4th of July 1779 was held the first public religious commemoration of the Declaration of Independence. In atten­dance at the Holy Mass, then sung, were the Continental Congress, the President and Official Heads of the new government, the Officers of the Army and Navy, and the French and Spanish Ministers …

General Washington also gave Miralles many signs of esteem and consideration; and when the Spanish diplomat died after a brief illness, on April 28, 1780 while visiting the General at his Morristown headquarters, along with the French Minister La Luzerne, Washington himself presided over the funeral.

Miralles was succeeded by his assistant, Francisco Rend6n, who continued to maintain close relations with the U.S. Congress in Philadelphia and, through the Ministry of Indies, with the Spanish Court of Charles III. Rendón, born in Jerez de la Frontera (Spain), belonged to an illustrious family of the nobility.

The Spanish envoy lived at first at the same house as his predecessor; and at the end of 1781, when General Washington arrived in Philadelphia with his Army, with the purpose of spending the winter, Rendón had the honor of lodging him in his home on 3rd Street.

Since the city did not have enough houses available to lodge the whole Army and its officers, the Spanish diplo­mat, emulating the President of Congress and the most distinguished citizens of Philadelphia, had offered his home, and Washington willingly accepted his invitation.

There is no doubt that a distinct friendship between Washington and the Spanish diplomat was established, because after his stay in Rendón’s house the latter indicated, in a dispatch sent to the Minister of Indies on July 30, 1782, how well he was being treated by General Washington. “to convince him of his sincere love for the Spanish nation and of his fervent desire to see the time in which our beloved King would declare himself powerful pro­tector and defender of the freedom of these United States.”

Later, Francisco Rendón moved to a house owned by the Shippen family, located at the corner of 4th and Locust streets, which is today one of the oldest and best preserved houses in Philadelphia.

Rendón was replaced, in May, 1785, by a Bilboa banker, Diego María de Gardoqui. As head of the powerful corpora­tion, “Gardoqui e Hijos,” he was very reluctant to abandon his firm; nevertheless, he accepted the commission that the government of Charles III had offered him.

“The relations with the rebel colonies,” writes Carlos Fernández Shaw in Presencía espanola en los Estados Unidos, “was not something new for Gardoqui; … he was well acquainted with England and her possessions. That is why he had chosen to deal with Arthur Lee when this American emissary was sent, from Paris, by Franklin with the purpose of acting in Spain as an official envoy from Congress. Interpreter, first, of the conversations held in Burgos (Spain) between Lee and Grimaldi, he later received the appointment of intermediary to distribute the Spanish help to the revolutionaries …. He acted as such in a fashion similar to Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais in France.”

Gardoqui was the first Spanish diplomat to the Contin­ental Congress to arrive in Philadelphia with credentials from His Majesty Charles III, addressed to “our great and beloved friends of the United States of North America.” These were dated September 27, 1784. During the four and a half years between his arrival in Philadelphia and his departure for Spain on October 12, 1789, Gardoqui per­formed an intense and tactful diplomatic task. He was the one who had to deal with the U.S. Congress in the dif­ficult post-revolutionary times, when the interests of the United States did not always coincide with those: of the Spanish Crown. Gardoqui, nevertheless, showed a sincere affection for the United States, and started a close friend­ship with George Washington – friendship that has been forever recorded in the correspondence they maintained.

When Gardoqui left the United States, his assistants José de Jáudenes and José de Viar became the Spanish representatives with the title of “Commissioners,” until Carlos Martínez de Irujo [or Yrujo] was appointed in 1795 Plenipotentiary Minister of the Spanish government.

Jáudenes, a native of Valencia, married a young lady from New York named Matilda Stoughton, and in 1795 bought the house located at 427 Spruce Street which had been occupied by the French Consul General, La Forest. The brick rowhouse has been recently restored, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art – Rogers Fund, 1907 – keeps two portraits of José de Jáudenes and his wife Matilda, painted by Gilbert Stuart, the American painter partic­ularly noted for his portraits of George Washington.

Martínez de Irujo (1767-1824), who was born in Carta­gena and received in 1803 the title of “Marqués de Casa Irujo,” married Sarah McKean, a distinguished young lady from Philadelphia. He acted as a plenipotentiary minister for twelve years; and in one instance, thanks to his effective diplomatic intervention, a conspiracy to snatch Louisiana and Florida away from Spain failed.

Stuart also painted two famous portraits of the Marquis and Marchioness de Casa Irujo, now in the private collec­tion of the Duke of Sotomayor in Spain.

Martínez de Irujo resided in Philadelphia at 315 High Street until the seat of government was moved to Wash­ington, D. C. in 1800.


Dr. Enrique Fernandez y Fernandez is Associate Professor of Spanish at Eastern College, St. Davids, Pennsylvania.