north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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      The War of Jenkins Ear began in 1739 after skirmishing broke out between British and Spanish forces in the Caribbean and Georgia. The French joined the Spanish in 1744 when the War of Austrian Succession began in Europe. In America, the conflict became known as King George’s War. For four years, British forces engaged the Spanish and French in North America and the Caribbean until the Peace of Aix-la-Chappelle in 1748.

      From 1741 to 1744, Spanish privateers (privately owned warships with a government sponsored license to attack enemy shipping) preyed on British shipping along the North Carolina coast. A Spanish expedition blockaded Ocracoke Inlet in 1741 and, in August 1747, several Spanish vessels attacked Beaufort but were driven away by the local militia. In response the colonial assembly voted £6,000 sterling for the construction of fortifications at Cape Lookout, Ocracoke Inlet, and the mouth of the Cape Fear. The construction of Fort Johnston began that summer.

      The Boston Gazette reported on April 19, 1748, that the Spanish were mustering their forces in Florida and Cuba, and that “two privateers were soon to sail from Augustine to be on our Coast.” The two vessels, the 130-ton twenty-four gun sloop Fortuna, commanded by Vincent Lopez, and the Loretta, a smaller sloop of twenty guns under Joseph Leon Munos, appeared at the mouth of the Cape Fear on September 3, along with a prize vessel from South Carolina that they had captured. The Spaniards cruised up the river, capturing two vessels and landed at Brunswick taking the town.

      The next day local militia led by Captain William Dry attacked the Spaniards, who fled to the safety of the Fortuna. In the chaos of the battle, the Fortuna opened fire with her cannons, and then (likely as a result of a fire in the powder magazine) “took fire and blew up,” a consequence pronounced a “terrible though in our circumstances pleasing sight.” Captain Lopez, all of his officers, and most of the crew were killed instantly.

      Colonists aboard one of the captured vessels, overpowered their Spanish captors, and ran the ship aground. The captain of the Loretta maneuvered his ship and the other prize vessel out of range of the militia’s one cannon and proposed a truce. In exchange for doing no further damage, he asked to be allowed to recover his wounded men and leave with his booty. The militia refused this request, however the next day Munos set out with his prize, the Nancy. The Spanish left an estimated 140 dead, mostly from the explosion of the Fortuna, in exchange for the loss of one colonist, who may have been killed when the militia’s cannon accidentally burst. Several Spaniards were captured but what happened to them is unknown.

      In 1753, the inhabitants of Brunswick petitioned the colonial assembly for the proceeds from the sale of the booty recovered from the wreck of the Fortuna. With the money they financed the construction of St. Phillips Church in Brunswick and St. James Church in Wilmington. The painting, “Ecce Home,” a picture of Christ still hanging at St. James, came from the wreck.


References:
Walter Clark, ed., State Records of North Carolina, XXII, iii-iv, 261-286
Robert Cain, ed., Colonial Records of North Carolina, (Series 2), VIII, Records of the Executive Council of North Carolina, 1735-1754, 222, 402, 481-482
Samuel A. Ashe, History of North Carolina (1908), I, 270
Hugh T. Lefler and William S. Powell, Colonial North Carolina: A History (1973)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina History (2006)—sketch by David Stick and Robert Cain
Bill Green, “War Comes to the Cape Fear” (unpublished manuscript in Research Branch files, North Carolina Office of Archives and History)
Boston Gazette or Weekly Journal, April 19, 1748; October 18, 1748; October 20, 1748
(Charleston) South Carolina Gazette, October 31, 1748
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