April 8, 1740 Jenkin’s Ear

For the future Georgia colony, the War of Jenkins Ear was an existential threat.

A series of escalating trade disputes had already taken place between British and Spanish forces, when the Spanish patrol boat La Isabela drew alongside the British brig Rebecca in 1731. After boarding, Commander Juan de León Fandiño accused the British commander of smuggling.  The discussion became heated, when Fandiño drew his sword and cut off the left ear of Captain Robert Jenkins.  “Go, and tell your King that I will do the same”, he snarled, “if he dares to do the same.”jenkins-ear-1

Seven years later, Captain Jenkins was summoned to testify before Parliament where, according to some accounts, he produced his own severed ear in a pickling jar, as part of his presentation.

This and other incidents of “Spanish Depredations upon the British Subjects” were considered insults to the honor of the British nation and a provocation to war.

A squadron of three 70-gun British third-rates was patrolling off the coast of Cornwall on April 8, 1740, when a mast was sighted to the north.  What at first appeared to be a French vessel was revealed to be the 70 gun ship-of-the-line Princesa, when she struck her French colors and hoist the Spanish flag.  Outnumbered 3-to-1, Princesa put up a good fight, but the issue was never in doubt.  She was brought into Portsmouth for repairs, entering British service as HMS Princess in 1742.  What had once been described as “the finest ship in the Spanish Navy”, would serve Her Britannic Majesty for another 42 years.Princesa

For the future Georgia colony, the War of Jenkins Ear was an existential threat.  Spain had laid claim to Florida, when Ponce de Leon first mapped the territory in 1513.  The territory which later became North & South Carolina joined the British Colonies to the north in 1663, leaving the areas in-between in dispute.  James Oglethorpe founded the 13th colony of Georgia as a buffer to Spanish incursion, two years after Mr. Jenkins lost his ear. Battle of Bloody Marsh (Model)

By 1736, Oglethorpe established Fort Frederica on the barrier island of St. Simon, off the Savannah coast.  The Spanish landing force of 4,500 to 5,000 men arrived on St. Simon’s Island in July of 1742, opposed by only 950 British Rangers, Colonial Militia and Indian Allies.

Oglethorpe’s forces attacked a Spanish reconnaissance in force at the Battle of Gully Hole Creek in the early morning hours of July 7, followed by the ambush of a much larger force that afternoon, in what would be known as the Battle of Bloody Marsh.  In the smoke and confusion, the Spanish never did figure out how puny the forces were who opposed them.  These two victories were as big a boost to British morale as they were a blow to that of their adversary.  The last major Spanish offensive into Georgia ended with a complete withdrawal, a week later.

GullyHoleCreekSign

The conflict which began in 1739 ended in 1748, though major operations ceased in 1742 when the War of Jenkins Ear was subsumed by the greater War of Austrian Succession, involving most of the major powers of Europe at that time. Peace arrived with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.

Advertisements

July 5, 1742 The Last American Colony

Governor Montiano bought the ruse, hook, line and sinker.  The Spanish invaders left St. Simons island for good on July 25, never to return. One of the most brilliant head fakes in colonial history had ended the invasion, leaving the 13th colony in the undisputed hands of the British Crown.

colonial-georgia-3The territory which would come to be occupied by the colony of Georgia was a subject for dispute between Great Britain and Spain, since long before the state became a colony.

Spain had taken Florida for its own, dating the claim back to explorer Ponce de Leon’s first mapping the territory in 1513 and claiming Georgia to be part of it. James Oglethorpe founded the 13th colony as a buffer colony for the British in 1733, serving as a protective zone against Spanish invasion, for her twelve sister colonies to the north.

The Convention of Pardo concluded in early 1739 attempted to settle issues relating to smuggling and to the slave trade, but Spain suspected “cheating” and continued to board foreign vessels at will. The War of Jenkins’ Ear broke out later that year, when Commander Juan de León Fandiño hacked "Sword in hand, the Spanish coastguard captain lunged at Captain Jenkins."off the ear of Commander Robert Jenkins, informing the unfortunate ship’s master that he could   “Go, and tell your King that I will do the same”, to him.

Spain immediately began to draw up plans to invade the Georgia colony.

One day, St. Simons Island would be made notable for having provided the 2,000 southern Live Oak trees, forming the hull of the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”.  On July 5, 1742, that day was far in the future.  On this day, a Spanish invasion force of somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000 men landed on the island, in 36 ships.

A much smaller force of approximately 950 British Regulars, Colonial Militia and Indian Allies was under the command of James Oglethorpe, founder of the Georgia Colony. Oglethorpe withdrew his forces in in the face of the much larger invasion, and later attacked a Spanish reconnaissance in Force at a place called Gully Hole Creek. The Spanish were routed, with almost a third of their number either killed or captured. Falling back in the face of superior numbers of Spanish reinforcements, the British attacked the Spaniards a second time as they stacked arms and pulled out their pots and pans preparing for dinner. The “Battle of Bloody Marsh” was another victory for the British, and would prove to be decisive.

Bloody Marsh, 2008
“Bloody Marsh” in 2008

A few days later, Oglethorpe launched what can only be described a a psychological warfare operation.  A Spanish prisoner was released to the other side, with information that a massive British force was on the way.  Fearing that Montiano might learn the true size of his puny force, Oglethorpe spread drummers out until their sound seemed to come from all directions.

Governor Montiano bought the ruse, hook, line and sinker.  The Spanish invaders left St. Simons island for good on July 25, never to return. One of the most brilliant head fakes in colonial history had ended the invasion, leaving the 13th colony in the undisputed hands of the British Crown.

GeorgiaBoundaries1764
Georgia colony, 1764
If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.