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The War of Jenkins' Ear

In 1731, Robert Jenkins, captain of the British merchant ship "Rebecca", was detained and boarded by the Spanish Coast Guard near Havana, Cuba. Harsh words were exchanged, and at some point Jenkins seriously insulted the Spanish captain, who responded by slicing off Jenkins' ear with his sword.

That was not the beginning of the War of Jenkins' Ear. At least not yet. Seven years later certain members of the House of Commons called on Jenkins, and his ear - now in a jar, to testify about the incident. It seems certain members of parliament, unhappy with the current trade situation with the Spanish colonies, wanted a good reason to go to war with Spain in the new world, and the incident with the ear was just the thing to stir public opinion. Thus in 1739 the British government, somewhat reluctantly, declared war on Spain.

The British forces in the Caribbean were commanded by Admiral Edward Vernon. He enjoyed a quick and decisive victory in his first battle at Porto Bello, in what is today Panama, a victory that would be much praised and celebrated back in England. From there he proceeded to Cartegena, Columbia. This was not his ultimate goal. The ultimate goal was Panama City, but Vernon needed something to do while waiting for Admiral George Anson to sail his fleet around to the Pacific, so they could mount a joint attack on Panama City. Unlike his previous experience at Porto Bello, Vernon met stiff resistance at Cartagena from the Spanish commander, the one-eyed, one-armed, one-legged Admiral Blas de Lezo, and was soundly turned back. Stinging from his defeat, Vernon called off the assault on Panama City. Admiral Anson, already in the Pacific and having nothing better to do, sailed back to England the other way, circumnavigating the globe.

The war in the Caribbean dragged on for three years, with Vernon attacking the Spanish and being repulsed at every turn. Meanwhile, British colonists in Georgia attacked Spanish colonists in Florida. They too were unsuccessful. As were the Spanish colonists when they counter-attacked the British colonists in Georgia. The war never really ended, it more or less just stopped when both sides ran out of men. Losses from combat were not the primary problem. While both sides lost hundreds of men in combat, thousands more were lost to yellow fever, dysentery, and other illnesses - the natural result of tromping around the jungles of Panama and Columbia during the rainy season. In the end, neither side accomplished much of anything. The few remaining forces were recalled to Europe to fight in the War of Austrian Succession, not so much a war as a series of wars which ultimately would involve most of Europe.

Despite Admiral Vernon's poor showing following his initial capture of Porto Bello, he was remembered fondly by many of his men, among them a young British naval officer named Lawrence Washington. So impressed was Lawrence, that he renamed Little Hunting Creek Plantation, his ancestral home in Virginia, to Mount Vernon. Having no children, the home would eventually pass to Lawrence's half-brother George.

(Mount Grog? During the War of Jenkins' Ear, Admiral Vernon acquired the nickname was "Old Grog", because of the grogram coat he wore, a severe combination of wool and mohair. This nickname is the origin of the word "grog", the unfortunate mixture of rum and water served to sailors. It was Vernon's invention. He grew tired of his men getting drunk and beating each other silly, particularly when they injured themselves to the extent that they were unable to fight the Spanish. His solution was to order that their rum rations be watered down. It wasn't long before the "grog" nickname came to refer to the beverage, as well as the man.)

WHO GOT IT RIGHT:  JP Weigt, Pete Daggett, Bob Milligan, George Waller, Iron Saul, Marc Quinlivan, Dennis Rodgers, Marika Thiessen, and Dustin F.

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