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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. After a short period of peace between 1742 and1743, fighting renewed as a result of the outbreak in Europe of the War of Austrian Succession. The conflict became known as King George’s War in America as France and Spain joined forces in battle with Britain. For the next four years, British forces engaged the Spanish and French in North America and the Caribbean until the Peace of Aix-la-Chappelle in 1748.
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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. In April 1741, two Spanish vessels appeared off of the Outer Banks. By May their crews had captured six vessels and blockaded Ocracoke Inlet in 1741, terrorizing the inhabitants of Ocracoke Island, and stealing foodstuffs and property worth £10,000 sterling. In August, North Carolina merchants outfitted their own privateer sloop William, and a smaller schooner to attack the Spanish. Upon their arrival off Ocracoke, the Spanish fled.
In the summer of 1747 several Spanish vessels from St. Augustine “full of armed men, mostly mulattos and negroes” landed at Ocracoke, Core Sound, Bear Inlet, and Cape Fear where they “killed several of his Majesty’s subjects, burned some ships and small vessels, carried off some negroes, and slaughtered a vast number of black cattle.” In June the same vessels entered Beaufort harbor and absconded with several smaller ships. The Spanish returned on August 26 with the intention of taking the town. Major Enoch Ward and fifty-eight militiamen responded but were driven from the village.
Three days later, Col. Thomas Lovick and Maj. Ward collected more men and counterattacked, driving the Spanish out. Whether the majority of the Spaniards had already left by the time Lovick and Ward attacked is unknown. They may simply have been refitting their vessels, and not intent on capturing the town for strategic purposes. Several “Spanish negroes” were captured, as evidenced by William Moore’s petition on September 6 for payment for their upkeep. The alarm remained in effect until September 10, when officials decided that the Spanish would not return. The next fall, a Spanish expedition, possibly the same vessels, took part in a similar attack on Brunswick.
Other than the ten prisoners, no other casualty figures exist for the skirmish at Beaufort. Local custom suggests that several Spaniards died and were buried in Beaufort in the Old Burying Ground, also known as Queen Anne’s Cemetery.
Walter Clark, ed., State Records of North Carolina, XXII, iii-iv, 261-286
Robert Cain, ed., Colonial Records of North Carolina (Series 2), Vol. 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, Encyclopedia of North Carolina History (2006)—sketch by David Stick and Robert Cain