The Fourth of July and the ‘Ladies of Havana’

George Washington in 1772, in the earliest known portrait of him. (Washington and Lee University)

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14ymedio, Frank Calzón, Miami, July 4, 2020 – In addition to honoring the independence of its country and the founders of the nation, the United States is celebrating prominent foreigners who helped General George Washington in the feat.

Washington, in addition to being the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army that defeated England, was elected President for three terms of four years, and, like Nelson Mandela years later, ignored those who wanted him to remain permanently in power, retiring to live with his wife, Martha, on their farm in Mount Vernon in Virginia, where he died years later.

Among the foreigners who gave aid to Washington in critical moments were the young Frenchman the Marquis de Lafayette and Henry Frederick, Baron of Von Steuben, who after serving under the orders of Frederick the Great of Prussia, offered his sword to the American colonies, instructing the patriotic Americans in the military arts.

This noble Prussian died in New York in 1794, while Lafayette was returning to his country to participate in the French Revolution and to challenge, risking his head, the French extremists who created power to make the revolution by basing it on tyranny and terror (something sadly familiar to Cubans) .

Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the military engineer who fortified Saratoga and West Point, and another Frenchman, Rochambeau, whom Washington presented as a “work colleague in the struggle for liberty,” also collaborated. Washington had a lot of reasons to appreciate him, because he knew that every army needs a quartermaster as well as good strategies and great soldiers.

In 1781, the situation of the Continental Army was complicated. In the war, which was approaching Yorktown, the British Commander-in-Chief, General Cornwallis, was counting on finally defeating the Americans.

The historian Stephen Bonsal says that Rochambeau wrote in these moments: “The Continental troops are almost without clothing and footwear. They’re at the limit of their forces.” Rochambeau didn’t hesitate to send the young Admiral De Grasse to secure aid from the islands of the Caribbean, as Charles Lee Lewis, another historian, tells us in his book, Admiral De Grasse and American Independence.

“I can’t hide the fact that the Americans had almost no resources,” wrote Rochambeau. According to the author of this book, Jean-Jacques Antier, when De Grasse arrived in Havana, the Spanish flotilla had already left for Spain, and the colonial Governor of the Island didn’t have enough resources to help the Americans. However, public opinion in the city supported the North American cause, and contributions quickly began to arrive. “The ladies of Havana surrendered even their diamonds and managed to collect the amount of 1,200,000 pounds.”

De Grasse navigated to Philadelphia with sufficient money to face the war that was looming, and this time Washington, traditionally very reserved, couldn’t contain his emotion and embraced De Grasse. The battle of autumn 1781, as well as the war, ended with the defeat of Cornwallis in Yorktown, and, as Bonsal said: “The millions donated by the ladies of Havana can be considered as part of the foundation on which the American nation was erected.”

Today, the contribution of Cuban Americans in maintaining freedom is doubtless less important: electing their governors, paying taxes and respecting the laws, like any person in a democratic society who appreciates liberty.

This fourth of July, we Cuban Americans have not forgotten Cuba and the Cubans who are 90 miles away, and we know that the United States is a nation that was formed and is formed with men and women from everywhere, with their sons and grandsons, men and women who chose freedom, and who contributed to its defense with their lives, their fortune and with what George Washington called their “sacred honor.”

On the day of American Independence, millions of Cubans remember the “Ladies of Havana” who helped Washington, and the Damas de Blanco [Ladies in White], who today, like them, defend the cause of freedom.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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