Galveston (// GAL-vis-tən) is a coastal resort city on Galveston Island and Pelican Island in the U.S. state of Texas. The community of 209.3 square miles (542 km2), with an estimated population of 50,180 in 2015, is the county seat and second-largest municipality of Galveston County. It is within Houston–The Woodlands–Sugar Land metropolitan area.
Named after Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Count of Gálvez (born in Macharaviaya, Málaga, Spain), Galveston's first European settlements on the island were built around 1816 by French pirate Louis-Michel Aury to help the fledgling Republic of Mexico fight Spain. The Port of Galveston was established in 1825 by the Congress of Mexico following its independence from Spain. The city was the main port for the Texas Navy during the Texas Revolution, and later served as the capital of the Republic of Texas.
During the 19th century, Galveston became a major U.S. commercial center and one of the largest ports in the United States. It was for a time Texas' largest city, known as the "Queen City of the Gulf". It was devastated by the 1900 Galveston Hurricane, whose effects included flooding and a storm surge. The natural disaster on the exposed barrier island is still ranked as the deadliest in United States history, with an estimated death toll of 6,000 to 12,000 people. The city subsequently emerged during the Prohibition era as a leading tourist hub and a center of illegal gambling. This era ended in the 1950s.
Much of Galveston's economy is centered in the tourism, health care, shipping, and financial industries. The 84-acre (34 ha) University of Texas Medical Branch campus with an enrollment of more than 2,500 students is a major economic force of the city. Galveston is home to six historic districts containing one of the largest and historically significant collections of 19th-century buildings in the United States, with over 60 structures listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Galveston Island was originally inhabited by members of the Karankawa and Akokisa tribes who called the island Auia. The Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca and his crew were shipwrecked on the island or nearby in November 1528, calling it "Isla de Malhado" ("Isle of Bad Fate"). They began their years-long trek to a Spanish settlement in Mexico City. During his charting of the Gulf Coast in 1785, the Spanish explorer José de Evia named the island Villa Gálvez or Gálveztown in honor of Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Count of Gálvez.
The island's first permanent European settlements were constructed around 1816 by the pirate Louis-Michel Aury to support Mexico's rebellion against Spain. In 1817, Aury returned from an unsuccessful raid against Spain to find Galveston occupied by the pirate Jean Lafitte. Lafitte organized Galveston into a pirate "kingdom" he called "Campeche", anointing himself the island's "head of government." Lafitte remained in Galveston until 1821, when the United States Navy forced him and his raiders off the island.
In 1825 the Congress of Mexico established the Port of Galveston and in 1830 erected a customs house. Galveston served as the capital of the Republic of Texas when in 1836 the interim president David G. Burnet relocated his government there. In 1836, the French-Canadian Michel Branamour Menard and several associates purchased 4,605 acres (18.64 km2) of land for $50,000 to found the town that would become the modern city of Galveston. As Anglo-Americans migrated to the city, they brought along or purchased enslaved African-Americans, some of whom worked domestically or on the waterfront, including on riverboats.