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The War of Jenkin's Ear

During the colonial period, Spanish law forbade any Spanish colonial
citizen from trading with merchant ships from any country except Spain. Since St. Augustine was such a remote outpost, Spanish supply ship rarely visited. The practicality of survival meant that the townspeople ignored the law and traded with anyone who would come to town with goods to trade.

In 1731, a British merchant ship, the Rebecca, captained by Robert Jenkins, is said to have pulled into the port
of St. Augustine and began trading with the citizens. A Spanish officer boarded the ship and challenged the English captain, saying that he had no business here. The Spaniard then drew his sword and cut off Captain Jenkin's ear, picked up the ear, held it close to Captain Jenkin's face and told him that if his King were here, this would have been the king's ear that was cut off.

It took seven years for this story to reach England, but when this story was reported in Parliament in 1738, it so incensed the English that they declared war on Spain. However, there is more to the story.
Some accounts say that none of this is true, that Captain Jenkins never came to St. Augustine. Instead, low on money, he and his ship turned to piracy to replenish their purses. In one attack on a prize, Captain Jenkins' ear was cut off by one of the sailors from the attacked ship. Jenkins could not tell this story to his superiors because piracy was a crime punished by death. So, rather than tell the truth, he made up the story about the incident in St. Augustine.

The Necessity of a Fort
The Siege of 1740

In 1733 General James Oglethorpe founded the English colony of Georgia on land claimed by Spain. Hostilities were inevitable, and the War of Jenkin's Ear gave Oglethorpe an excuse to attack St. Augustine. In May 1740 he began to move troops into Florida. After capturing the outpost forts of San Diego and Mose, he occupied the land across the bay from the Castillo de San Marcos and began to fire upon the fortress. When the bombardment caused no damage to the fort's coquina walls, he knew he would have to try a different plan--a simple plan of starving the

Spanish Galleons

Spanish into surrender by block-ading the harbor, thus preventing the Spanish from leaving to bring in more food or supplies. He not only stationed ships to guard the St. Augustine Inlet, but he also sent a ship to blockade the Inlet at Matanzas.

Anticipating Oglethorpe's plan, the Spanish governor, Manuel de Montiano, had sent a boat through the Matanzas Inlet south to Havana requesting additional supplies. Hopefully aid would arrive soon, for they had only enough food for three weeks. To stretch the supply, he ordered that everyone be cut down to half rations.

Six weeks later, the courier returned to St. Augustine with the message that six supply ships were at Mosquito Inlet, 68 miles (110 kilometers) further down the coast. He also told the governor that the British had withdrawn the vessel blocking the Matanzas Inlet, and the way appeared clear to bring the provisions into
the city. However, a British deserter reported to the Spanish that Oglethorpe planned a night attack during the next six days of unusually high tides, for the high water was needed to cross the bar and attack the Castillo.

Six days passed, and no attack came, so Montiano sent five small, shallow-draft vessels down to Mosquito Inlet to fetch the supplies. Just as they cleared the Matanzas Inlet late that afternoon, they met two British

James Oglethorpe

English General James Oglethorpe attacked St. Augustine in 1740.

sloops that were taking soundings. The sloops opened fire and took up the chase. The fighting continued until twilight when the British vessels returned to their squadron. Their withdrawal gave the Spanish the opening they needed. With the English patrol boat gone, they easily sailed the supplies through the "back door" to St. Augustine that very night, to the joyous relief of the inhabitants.

When Oglethorpe learned that the Spanish had received supplies, he yielded to the up-coming hurricane season and lifted the siege on July 20.

With another British attack likely, Governor Montiano ordered engineer Pedro Ruiz de Olano to start work on a strong, stone fort near the mouth of the Matanzas Inlet to keep it open as a supply route, usable as a possible escape route, and guarded to prevent the English from bringing boats through this back door to attack St. Augustine from the rear.

Attacks on Fort Matanzas

Fort Matanzas was built on a very small island in the Matanzas River just inside the inlet. Any ship wanting to sail to St. Augustine through this back way had to enter the inlet, sail in a westerly direction immediately in front of the fort, and then turn north towards the city. This made an attack on the fort very dangerous indeed. No vessel small enough to navigate the shallow inlet could mount a large cannon. All that the invaders could bring were muskets that had a range of about fifty yards and small cannons with a range about four times that. The cannons mounted on the fort had an effective range of one mile or more. Given these conditions, it was easy to see that an attack on Fort Matanzas would be futile.

Nevertheless, the persistent English tried on several occasions, but none was successful.

On July 21, 1741 two English ships, the St. Philip and a schooner (a sailing vessel with two masts), noticed a Spanish sloop in the mouth of the Matanzas Inlet and sailed to attack. A second Spanish ship, a galley or galliot (a two-masted shallow-draft vessel propelled mainly by oars) which had gone unnoticed by the English, opened fire on the English ships but scored no hit. The English escaped into the darkness of night. The next morning, the St. Philip tried again, attacking the Spanish sloop. In an attempt to get away, the Spanish sloop ran aground on a sand bar. The St. Philip began firing on the sloop, hitting it, killing two Spanish sailors and wounding two more.

Fort Matanzas Plan

This early map, showing the inlet where the fort was constructed demonstrates the geographical importance of its position. There are also two cross-sectional views of the fort shown.

The Spanish galley, making its presence felt, began firing on the St. Philip. The English ships broke off the engagement, retreating to the safety of the open seas.

On September 1, and again on December 27, 1741, two English ships were observed offshore in the vicinity of the inlet, but, for some reason, no attack was made.

In September 1742 two English long boats entered the inlet. By this time, the fort was almost complete--only the tower remained to be finished. A Spanish ship rested at anchor near the fort. The Spanish fired a cannon round at the English long boats, missing them. The English, assuming that the fort was not yet equipped to fire its cannons, were startled by the cannon fire directed at them. When they determined that the cannon that fired on them was, in fact, mounted on the fort's gun deck, and not the ship's, both long boats hastily retreated.

The next April General Oglethorpe returned with several small ships and the plan to try to land cannon and soldiers on Anastasia Island. However, "the seas ran mountain high", and landing was impossible. The little fort had done its job. The English never again attempted to attack St. Augustine.

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