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“Forging a Civilian Community”: Richard García Brings 18th Century Gibraltar to Life

Soraya Fernández | Photos: ©Fran Montes, ReachExtra

Historian and editor Richard Garcia has revealed the less-known aspects of Gibraltarian society during the first half of the 18th Century in his latest book “Forging a Civilian Community”. This will be the first of a trilogy which García has been working on for over 25 years.

Richard Garcia Forging a civilian community gibraltar history 18 century
Forging a Civilian Community – Richard Garcia | ©Fran Montes, ReachExtra

Mass exodus, slavery, Catalans… these are just a few aspects of Gibraltar history which historian Richard Garcia has brought to light into in his latest book. This first part of the trilogy is packed full of surprising insights into what 18th Century Gibraltarian society was really like.

In this book, the author focusses on Gibraltarian society from the beginning of the 1700’s up to 1749. Garcia told ReachExtra that the book begins with a description of what life was like during this period by gaining insights from various contemporary writers. He says that his purpose is to “guide the readers so that they can understand what Gibraltar was really like back then”.

To compile this trilogy, Richard Garcia has used documentary sources which had not been “thoroughly analysed previously. So, there is a lot of new information”. He added that this book is the result of a quarter of a century of painstaking research and sifting through documentation.

So, what was Gibraltar like? Garcia told us that the Rock’s population was substantially smaller: “Before Gibraltar was taken, the population was around 4,000 people”, and explained that this would change during this period.

Richard Garcia Forging a civilian community gibraltar history 18 century

Almost the entirety of the Spanish population would go on to leave Gibraltar; some 3,800, with just little over 100 people remaining. “A key finding from my investigation was that some of the Spaniards who left went on to return to Gibraltar later. They returned because they saw more opportunity and colour compared with being in the middle of a field in Spain, because there was nothing to do in the area, so instead of living in the bush, they returned here”.

The War of Spanish Succession, and its consequences for the Rock, is also a must-read chapter. “The capture of Gibraltar was done in the name of Archduke Charles of Austria, who was crowned King Charles III of Spain in Vienna. Those who remained were obliged to pledge allegiance to this pretender to the throne. The Catalans supported him and many of them set up in Gibraltar and further increased the population”.

According to Richard Garcia, the first Gibraltar judge appointed by one of the generals of the conquering army was a Catalan. His name was Alonso de la Capela. The first captain of the port, Josep Corons was also a Catalan.

“The Catalans played an important role during the years immediately after the capture in what was an attempt to fill the void left by the exodus. The mayor, the councillors, all of them left… They had to start over,” he says.

Forging a Civilian Community – Richard Garcia | ©Fran Montes, ReachExtra

Regarding the relevance of Gibraltar in the world panorama of the time, García indicates that Gibraltar was a “very quiet place, it was almost indistinguishable; it was part of the Andalusian region. It was not yet a major port. When the English and Dutch entered in 1704, the port began to have an importance that it had not had before, looking towards Morocco”.

As he explains, Morocco was an exporting country to England, but to enter Moroccan ports, small boats such as those in Gibraltar were needed. “There were no relations between Morocco and Spain. The contact between Great Britain and Morocco was created through Gibraltar, which made possible a trade that did not exist in Spanish time”, he adds.

Slavery in Gibraltar

In his book, Richard García also alights on the slave trade in Gibraltar. “The market was in Ceuta but there were slaves in Gibraltar. At the time of the exodus, the prominent families that left did so with their slaves and those that stayed, also kept them here,” he points out.

Richard Garcia Forging a civilian community gibraltar history 18 century
Forging a Civilian Community – Richard Garcia | ©Fran Montes, ReachExtra

This book is available on https://gibraltarheritagetrust.org.gi/ and you can order a clopy by phone 20042844.

This is Richard García’s 16th book in a prolific career that began investigating philately in Gibraltar, a subject on which he has published several books in England. He has also published others on different aspects of Gibraltarian history.

Richard García has already finished the second part of this trilogy, which he is preparing to go to print and which he hopes will be published in late March or early April. We should look out for it.

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