The Weekly History Thread is All Ears

Welcome to this week’s History Thread! Have fun and discuss what you will!

Today’s picture: on October 23, 1739 Britain declared war on Spain. One of the 18th Century’s innumerable inscrutable imperial conflicts, the war stemmed in part from Robert Jenkins, a British sailor whose ship was boarded by the Spanish Navy and his ear chopped off. According to legend (although most historians consider it dubious), Jenkins testified before Parliament and presented said severed ear to Prime Minister Robert Walpole. Thus the ensuing conflict became known as the War of Jenkins’ Ear (a phrase which apparently wasn’t coined until a century later, by historian Thomas Carlyle).

The conflict last desultorily for nine years, consisting mostly of naval battles and occasional expeditions by Britain and Spain against each others’ colonial possessions in the Americas. The most famous action of this war was the disastrous expedition against Cartagena de Indies (in modern Colombia), where a large British expedition under Admiral Edward Vernon (consisting of many American colonial troops) first suffered horrendous casualties to scurvy and yellow fever, then were slaughtered in a botched assault against well-fortified Spanish positions. Ultimately 11,000 of the 27,000 Anglo-American troops participating died. Among the survivors was Virginia militia Captain Lawrence Washington, who soon quit the Army and retired to his estate, which he renamed Mount Vernon in honor of his commanding officer. Upon his death it was inherited by his half-brother, George Washington.

Anyway, the war continued with failed British attacks on Cuba and Venezuela and a botched Spanish invasion of Georgia. Fighting lasted through 1748 and eventually became ensnarled in the larger and more consequential War of the Austrian Succession in Europe. Eventually, the issues which started the war (disputes over trade, smuggling and naval rights) were nominally resolved through the Treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle, with neither side gaining any significant territorial possessions. War is always horrible and often futile, but this conflict seems particularly pointless.