Roamy here. What a bizarre name for a war. On this date in 1739, Britain officially recalled their ambassador to Spain and declared war. It was kind of hard to tell when Britain and Spain weren’t at war – they had fought on and off over access to the New World, being able to transport slaves and goods. Spain claimed the right to board and search British vessels to ensure compliance with the signed treaties.
Robert Jenkins was the captain of the British brig Rebecca, which was boarded by the Spanish coast guard La Isabela in 1731. The Spanish commander Julio León Fandiño accused Jenkins of piracy and cut off his left ear, threatening to do the same to the British king. It was not until 1738 that Jenkins was called to testify to Parliament about the incident, and he brought his severed ear as evidence.
Sir Robert Walpole, who is considered the first Prime Minister of Britain, was trying to avoid military conflict but still hold on to power at that time. He had lost his biggest ally, Queen Caroline when she died in 1737. He finally gave in to the political pressure and sent troops to the West Indies and Gibraltar. That led to King Philip V of Spain ordering all British ships in Spanish harbors be confiscated. The British attacked the city of Porto Bello in Panama, seizing silver and destroying the port. James Oglethorpe, the Governor of Georgia, led an attack on St. Augustine, Florida, which was unsuccessful.
The British under Admiral Edward Vernon incurred huge losses trying to capture Cartagena in March 1741, with 50 ships and 18,000 men lost. (XBrad should delve into this naval battle with a post of its own.) This spelled the end of Walpole’s power, and he was replaced with the Earl of Wilmington and Lord Carteret (later Earl Granville). Admiral Vernon continued his less-than-winning ways, attacking the Spanish at Guantánamo Bay and Santiago de Cuba with soldiers weak with fatigue and yellow fever. The Spanish in St. Augustine tried a counterattack on Fort Frederica and Fort St. Simons in Georgia and fought the Battles of Bloody Marsh and Gully Hole Creek.
The War of Jenkins’ Ear was folded into the War of the Austrian Succession
in mid-1742. This war stayed mostly in Europe and ended in 1748 with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, though the issue of British trade in slaves was settled with the Treaty of Madrid two years later.