The War of Jenkins’ Ear 1739-1748
The War for Jenkins’ Ear was a conflict as absurd as it sounds.
To sum it up – this entire war (between England and Spain), which cost the lives of almost 25,000, was sparked due to an incident involving the loss of an ear that belonged to Captain Robert Jenkins.
Yup, that’s right, his ear.
Of all the petty excuses to engage in a large-scale bout of fisticuffs, that has got to be the single dumbest one I have ever heard, and that’s saying something seeing as I’m kind of an expert on historically noteworthy dumb-asses. (for reference see: any random article on this site)
It all started following the War of the Spanish Succession after the terms were agreed to in 1731 with the Treaty of Utrecht. England and Spain made a 30 year trade agreement that allowed British ships to trade 500 tons of goods in the Spanish colonies. Britain granted the Spanish navy the right to stop and search their ships. Like paranoid highway patrol officers searching for contraband drugs, some of the Spaniards were kinda dicks about it.
Turns out the Spanish were right to be suspicious, seeing as they were in fact hiring pirates to smuggle goods across the sea.
But one particular search went a little too far…
On the 9th of April, 1731, a merchant vessel, the Rebecca, under the command of Cap’n Jenkins was stopped by the Spanish coast guard off the coast of Cuba on their way from Jamaica. The Havana Captain of La Isabela, Julio León Fandiño, was apparently having a really bad day and decided to take it out on poor ole’ Jenkins… and his ear. The Spaniards raided the British brig in search of illegal goods, looted their treasure, plundered their provisions, tortured the crew, and threatened to set the ship on fire.
If that’s not enough, they then tied poor Captain Jenkins to the mast and left them with a ‘warning’.
According to Jenkins report, the Spanish Captain: “took hold of his left Ear and with his Cutlass slit it down, and then another of the Spaniards took hold of it and tore it off, but gave him the Piece of his Ear again.“
Jenkins was then supposedly told the same would happen to King George if he were caught smuggling again, but for all we know he may have heard him wrong, seeing as he’d just had his ear lobbed off and all.
8 years later, Robert Jenkins was still bitching about his ear to anyone who would listen. The obsessive grudge-holding sailor somehow managed to preserve his severed ear in a bottle of whine and carried it around wherever he went. Meanwhile, as tensions increased between England and Spain, the war doves convinced Bob to bring his pickled ear before Parliament and gross them all out while he theatrically reenacted his tale of woe.
The British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, was reluctant to engage in yet another conflict, but officially declared war on October 23, 1739. The Spanish King, Phillip the Fifth, suspended the treaty and began confiscating British ships in Spanish ports. British troops were sent into Gibraltar, a fleet was dispatched to the West Indies, and on November 20, 1739, six ships of the line under the command of Vice Admiral Edward Vernon attacked Porto Bello, Panama and were met with little resistance.
Vice Admiral Vernon’s success at Panama was followed up by his greatest failure at the battle of Cartagena de Indias in 1741, where Vernon’s 186 ships were embarrassingly decimated by Don Blas de Lezo, a Spanish Admiral armed with only six ships, not to mention one-eye, one-arm, and one-leg.
The war was also waged along the Florida-Georgia border (pre-Gators/Bulldogs rivalry)
Florida was a Spanish territory first established by Ponce De Leon in 1513 (while allegedly seeking the Fountain of Youth). Georgia was a newly established British penal colony, just north of Florida, where they often shipped debtors and convicts alike. During the War for Jenkins’ Ear, Georgian Governor James Oglethorpe led a failed attempt to take the heavily fortified Spanish city of Saint Augustine, Florida. In response, St. Augustine’s governor, Manuel Monteano led an attack against St. Simon’s Island in 1742, also unsuccessfully. The resulting Battle of Bloody Marsh was over in a matter of hours.
A few skirmishes later and the war was over in 1748.
Considering this war is barely a footnote in most history text books, it did have profound effects on the world at large. Most notably, this was the pivotal moment where the British Empire became the most powerful nation in the world, surpassing the might of the Spanish fleet that had dominated the world’s oceans since the discovery of the Americas.
Ultimately the petty squabble that became the War for Jenkins’ Ear devolved into a European-wide conflict known as the War for the Austrian Succession in 1742 when Spain and England both took opposing sides of the conflict, which directly led to the Seven Years War (1756-1763) and its North American spin-off: the French/Indian War. The aftermath of the French and Indian War caused Great Britain to raise taxes on the Yankee Colonists… and we all know how that went down. The rest is American history… (click here for The War of 1812)
So if you were (hypothetically) desperately writing an essay on the factors that led to colonial independence, you could argue that the entire American Revolution was the result of one man’s lost ear. In fact there’s probably an alternate universe in which Jenkins never lost his ear, the United States was never formed, Napoleon conquered Mexico, somehow leading to the eventual takeover of the Soviet Union, right before intelligent apes waged war against mankind, and my goatee-sporting, eye-patch-wearing, mirror-universe twin is the last sane skeptic alive, cursed to wander the scorched nuclear wastelands of an endless desert, Mad-Max-style and blog about how things went so very wrong…
So in closing: the entire space-time-continuum rests on the fate of one man’s ear, probably.
Thank you Captain Jenkins… and sorry bout the ear bro.
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