A Forgotten Hero of the American Revolution (Part 4 – His Death, and Where He May Be Buried)

This is Part 4 of a 5 part series. We suggest reading Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 if you have not already done so.

Washington’s hopes for a Miralles recovery were soon crushed.  That night Miralles became weaker.  His breathing worsened.  His throat became so sore that he could not eat.  Washington remained at the side of the Spaniard, but wrote Luzerne, “Symptoms so unfavourable in the advanced stages of a disorder, afford little hope of recovery, especially in a person of Mr. de Miralles’s age.…he is now in a delirium.”  By three o’clock in the afternoon of April 26th Miralles was dead.  Washington informed the Congress of his passing and promised that “his remains will be interred tomorrow in a manner suited to his rank.”[1]

And so, on the 29th, between four and five o’clock in the afternoon, the funeral procession of Miralles began.  The remains of the deceased were on view to the public; one witness described the body as being

in a splendid full dress consisting of a scarlet suit, embroidered with rich gold-lace, a three-cornered gold-laced hat, and a genteel cued wig, white silk stockings, large diamond shoe and knee-buckles, a profusion of diamond rings decorated the fingers, and from a superb gold watch set with diamonds, several rich seals were suspended.[2]

Washington, along with general officers and some members of Congress attended the ceremony and were at the head of the procession, which proceeded for about one mile from Washington’s headquarters to the Presbyterian Church on the Morristown Green.  Guns were fired at minute intervals throughout the procession.  Timothy Johnes, minister of the congregation for forty years, was waiting to receive the coffin at the front of the church.  After prayers were said, the procession moved behind the church, to the small burying ground.  Following the internment of Miralles, whose remains had been placed in a double wooden box, reinforced with iron, Washington ordered a constant guard over the grave so that no one would rob the contents.[3]

Following the death of Miralles, General Washington and the leaders of the Revolution paid respect to Miralles, and honored him in different ways.  On April 30th, Washington wrote to Governor Navarro of Cuba: “I the more sincerely sympathize with you in the loss of so estimable a friend, as ever since his residence with us, I have been happy in ranking him among the number of mine. It must however be some-consolation to his connections, to know that in this country he has been universally esteemed and will be universally regretted.”  The New Jersey Gazette of May 3rd reported that the corpse of Miralles was “to be removed to Philadelphia, where it is to be interred with those marks of respect due to gentlemen of his dignified rank and fortune.” [4]  The paper was slightly mistaken; Miralles was not to be interred in Philadelphia, but a requiem mass, arranged by Luzerne and attended by nearly all men of distinction in the city, was scheduled for 8 May at St. Mary’s Church.[5]

Rivington’s Royal Gazette of New York of May 20, 1780 provided an account of the proceedings.

the Priest presented the Holy Water to Mons. Lucerne; who, after sprinkling himself presented it to Mr. Huntington, President of the Congress. The Calvinist paused a considerable time, near a minute; but at length his affection for the great and good ally conquered all scruples of conscience and he too besprinkled and sanctified himself with all the adroitness of a veteran Catholic, which his brethren of the Congress perceiving they all without hesitation followed the righteous example of their proselytized President. Before the company which were extremely numerous, left the Chapel, curiosity induced some persons to uncover the Bier; when, they were highly enraged at finding the whole a sham, there being no corpse under the cloth, the body of the Spanish gentleman having been several days before interred at Morristown. The Bier was surrounded with wax candles, and every member of this egregious Congress, now reconciled to the Popish Communion carried a taper in his hand.[6]

On July 6, 1780, Maria Josefa Elirio de la Puente, the widow of Miralles, wrote to Washington, thanking him for the attention he had given to her late husband.  Though Washington did not respond until October 13th, he wrote in that letter that Miralles had been “esteemed by all those who had the pleasure of his acquaintance,” and “My heart will always pay a tribute to his memory and take a warm part in the distresses, which his loss must occasion to his family.”[7]

Sadly, the final resting place of Miralles is not known with certainty.  Though he was initially interred at the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, it is likely his remains were moved soon afterwards.  In Los Otros Extranjeros en la Revolucion Norteamericana, Portell-Vilá claimed that Miralles is buried in the crypt La Iglesia del Espíritu Santo in Havana, Cuba.  Ribes wrote that in the summer of 1780 “the schooners El Page and Stephens brought to Havana the notice of the death of Miralles and his remains, respectively” and he was buried at La Iglesia del Espíritu Santo.  The author has been unable to confirm the truth of those statements.  A first call to La Iglesia del Espíritu Santo produced two men who had never heard of Miralles and did not have the time to look around.  A second call two days later only provided more frustration when I was told that he also had never heard of Juan de Miralles, and he did not know how to find if Miralles had indeed been buried at the church.

 Read Part 5


[1] “From George Washington to Anne-César, chevalier de La Luzerne, 28 April 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-01608; and “From George Washington to Anne-César, chevalier de La Luzerne, 28 April 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-01609.
[2] Thacher, Dr. James. Military Journal During the American Revolutionary War. Hartford: Silas Andrus & Son, 1854, 192.
[3] Ribes, Vicente. Presencia valenciana en los Estados Unidos (ss. XVI-XIX). Valencia, Spain: Biblioteca Valenciana, 2001, 70.
[4] “From George Washington to Diego Joseph Navarro, 30 April 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-01624.; and Griffin, Martin I.J. Catholics and the American Revolution. Vol. 1. Ridley Park, PA: Martin I.J. Griffin, 1907, 305.
[5] One invitation, sent by Luzerne to Benjamin Rush, read: “The French Minister has the honour to inform Dr. Rush that on Monday, next, there will be in the Catholic Church, a divine service for the rest of the soul of Don Juan de Miralles at 9 o’clock in the morning.”  Rush endorsed the invitation: “Received May 6th, 1780, but declined attendance as not compatible with the principles of a Protestant.”  The original is in the Library Company of Philadelphia.
[6] Griffin, 307.
[7] “From George Washington to Maria Josepha Elirio de la Puente Miralles, 13 October 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-03566.
Image credit: New York Public Library


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