King George's War and the War of Jenkin's Ear

Causes, Events, and Results of King George's War in American Colonial History

William Shirley, British Colonial Administrator During the War of Jenkin's Ear
William Shirley, British Colonial Administrator During the War of Jenkin's Ear. Public Domain/National Portrait Gallery/PD-US

King George's War was the American name of the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748). The War of Jenkin's Ear that lasted from 1739 until 1743 is also included by many as part of the larger conflict.

King George's War was a conflict over the Treaty of Utrecht that ended Queen Anne's War where Britain gained trading access to Spanish colonies in America. Spain was granted the right to stop British ships and make sure they were following the terms of the treaty.

Over time, these boardings and cargo seizures caused increased tension. In 1731, Captain Robert Jenkins on the ship Rebecca lost his ear when the Spanish were searching his ship for illegal goods. Many years later, he was asked to testify before the House of Commons about the Spanish tactics. He displayed his ear during his testimony. This along with much sentiment for action against the Spanish led to a declaration of war by the British in 1739.

The War of Jenkin's Ear

This war was largely fought at sea. The British sent six ships commanded by Vice Admiral Edward Vernon against the Spanish city of Porto Bello, Panama on November 20, 1739. They met little resistance, ending with only few casualties. After the battle Vernon as made a national British hero. In 1740, Lawrence Washington, half-brother to George Washington, was assigned to serve under Vernon. Vernon launched an unsuccessful attempts to take Cartagena and other Caribbean posts.

Despite these losses, Washington chose to honor his commanding officer by naming his manor Mount Vernon after him.

British Commodore George Anson was sent to the Pacific to fight against the Spanish. His forces were reduced to one ship, but he still managed to capture and send back to England a Spanish treasure convoy filled with gold in 1743.

The War of Jenkin's Ear was also fought in Georgia where Governor James Oglethorpe led a failed attempt against St. Augustine. successfully defended St. Simon's Island against St. Augustine's governor, Manuel Monteano.

War of Austrian Succession Begins

The War of Austrian Succession broke out in 1740 because the British, Dutch, Sardinians, and Saxons supported Maria Theresa in her bid to the throne in Austria against France, Prussia, and the Bavarians. The War of Jenkin's Ear became part of the larger War of Austrian Succession.

In America, the war was known as King George's War. Fighting began in earnest when the French entered the war in 1744 and attacked Nova Scotia, destroying the fort. Massachusetts Governor William Shirley launched an attack on the French position in Canada at Louisbourg which they took in 1745. In New England, this attack led some to call the war Governor Shirley's War. In addition, native american allies of the British and French fought against each other.

Treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle

The War of Austrian Succession ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle (Aachen) in 1748. Many borders changed in Europe. While Britain had won Louisbourg in the war, it traded this for the city of Madras that the French had taken in India.

This seriously upset the individuals who fought in the Louisbourg campaign. The British government reimbursed Massachusetts. However, the war did not settle French and British border disputes. These would arise again with the French and Indian War.

The Spanish and English signed a treaty in Madrid on October 5, 1750 that officially ended the conflict allowing trade to resume between the two nations.