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About Alexander O'Reilly
Marshal Alejandro, Conde de O'Reilly (1722, Dublin, Ireland - March 23, 1794, Bonete, Spain ) (English: Alexander, Count de O'Reilly), was an Irish-born military reformer and Inspector-General of Infantry for the Spanish Empire in the second half of the 18th century. O'Reilly served as the second Spanish governor of colonial Louisiana, being the first Spanish official to actually exercise power in the Louisiana territory after France ceded it to Spain. For his much appreciated services to the Crown of Spain, he was ennobled as a conde (count), and granted a coat of arms.
Origins and military career
Alexander O'Reilly was born in Dublin in the Kingdom of Ireland in 1722. Like many so-called "Wild Geese" of his generation, he left Ireland to serve in foreign, Catholic armies. He joined Spanish forces fighting in Italy against the Austrians. After campaigning in the Spanish invasion of Portugal, he swore allegiance to Spain and rose to become a brigadier general.
O´Reilly stayed acting for the Conde de Ricla, twice a Grandee of Spain, in Havana, Cuba, as his adjutant and second-in-command. While in Havana, Ricla and O'Reilly received the city back from the British forces that had besieged and occupied it at the end of the Seven Years' War.
O'Reilly analyzed what had gone wrong with the defences of Havana during the successful British siege in 1762, and recommended sweeping reforms to improve the fortifications, training, practices, and troop organizations, which were quickly approved by the Spanish Crown. With the help of military engineer of the Royal Army, Silvestre de la Abarca, the works of the strategic fortress of La Cabaña was undertaken.
In 1765, King Carlos III sent O'Reilly to Puerto Rico to assess the state of the defenses of that colony. O'Reilly, known today as the "father of the Puerto Rican militia," took a very complete census of the island and recommended numerous reforms, including the instilling of strict military discipline in the local troops. He insisted that the men serving the defence of the realm receive their pay regularly and directly, rather than indirectly from their commanding officers, a long-standing practice that had led to abuses. Some of O'Reilly's recommendations resulted in a massive 20-year programme of building up the Castle of Old San Juan, now a World Heritage Site.
Returning to Cuba, O'Reilly married into a prominent Cuban family. His wife, Doña Rosa de Las Casas, was the sister of Luis de Las Casas, who served as Governor of Cuba.
O'Reilly was a cousin of Juan MacKenna, a hero of the Chilean War of Independence.
O'Reilly was appointed governor and captain-general of colonial Louisiana while in Spain in April 1769, with orders to immediately proceed to Havana, embark 3,000 troops there, put down the revolt in Louisiana, and re-establish order.
Arriving in New Orleans in August 1769, O'Reilly took formal possession of Louisiana. O'Reilly then held trials and severely punished those French Creoles responsible for the expulsion of Spain's first Governor Antonio de Ulloa from the colony.
He is still remembered in New Orleans as "'Bloody' O'Reilly" because he had six prominent rebel Frenchmen executed in October 1769. Other French rebels were exiled, and some sent for life imprisonment in the Morro Castle in Havana, also a World Heritage Site.
Having crushed the ringleaders who had led the Rebellion of 1768, the French uprising against Governor Antonio de Ulloa, (January 12, 1716 – July 3, 1795) and Spanish rule, O'Reilly sent most of his troops back to Cuba, and focused his attention on administratively getting Louisiana back on its feet, and stabilizing the food supply.
O'Reilly reformed many French bureaucratic practices in place before Spanish rule. Again, as in his 1765 mission to Puerto Rico, O'Reilly's proclamations and rulings affected many aspects of life in Spanish Louisiana, including the ability of slaves to buy their freedom, and the ability for masters to more easily manumit slaves. He also banned the trade of Native American slaves.
He regularized the weights and measurements used in marketplaces, regulated doctors and surgeons, and improved public safety by funding bridge and levee maintenance.
The insult to the dignity of the Spanish Crown having been swiftly dealt with, and good public order restored, O'Reilly assigned the post of governor of Louisiana to the colonel of the Havana Regiment in December 1769, retaining the post of captain-general for himself. Louisiana was firmly placed as a dependency of the military and political establishment in Cuba.
Return to Spain
Back in Spain after October 1770, O'Reilly was charged to organize six new regiments to be trained near Cádiz, ready for transportation to the Caribbean should a new war between Spain and Great Britain break out.
In 1775, O'Reilly was given command of a major Spanish expedition attacking Algiers. Although this North African campaign failed, the high reputation of O'Reilly was not destroyed, and he continued to serve as captain-general in southern Spain.
He died in the city of Cádiz in 1794, aged 72, while on his way to take command of an army in the Eastern Pyrenees that had been ordered to oppose invading French revolutionary forces, just after the beheading of Louis XVI during the French Revolutionary Wars.
O'Reilly is buried in the parish church in Bonete in Castile-La Mancha, Spain. A street in Cádiz still bears his name, as does one in Old Havana, Cuba, marking the location where this officer came ashore while the English were embarking to leave.
Marshal Alejandro, Conde de O'Reilly's Timeline
Baltrasna, Meath, County Meath, Ireland
March 23, 1794
Cuenca, Cuenca, Castille La Mancha, Spain