The British Invasion (Part One)

The War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-1748) was but a single episode in the prolonged series of imperial conflicts between England and Spain in the 18th century. In the summer of 1740, the conflict came to Florida.

In 1731, Spanish coast guardsmen boarded an English merchant ship captained by Robert Jenkins. The Spaniards accused the Englishmen of smuggling, and as punishment cut off Jenkins’ ear. According to some accounts, Jenkins later exhibited the severed ear in front of the British Parliament during his testimony on Spanish depredations. This incident, along with numerous petitions and lengthy testimony, convinced the British government to take action against Spain.

War erupted across the Caribbean soon after the hearings before Parliament. The most significant action in Florida resulted from an expedition led by General James Oglethorpe against the city of St. Augustine in the summer of 1740. By all accounts, Oglethorpe’s campaign constituted an epic failure. The General Assembly of South Carolina launched a full investigation into the failed siege. Ultimately, they concluded that a series of tactical mistakes doomed the English effort to weaken the Spanish outpost.

English cartographer Thomas Silver created the map below to illustrate the siege against St. Augustine. It bears a striking resemblance to a map depicting an earlier British attempt to level St. Augustine, undertaken by Sir Francis Drake in 1586. The transcription of the long key included with the map has, as much as possible, preserved spellings used in the original.

"A View of the Town and Castle of St. Augustine, and the English Camp before it June 20, 1740," by Thomas Silver

An early, hand-colored engraving of Silver’s map resides in the Florida Map Collection at the State Library of Florida.

Transcription of Silver’s Map:

“A View of the Town and Castle of St. Augustine, and the English Camp before it June 20, 1740. By Thos. Silver.

A. The English South Trench [?] 3 18 Pounders & 2 small Morters
B. A Marsh from whence we played with 20 Cohorns
C. Eustatia Island, which is chiefly Sand & Bushes
D. Sailors hawling Cannon in reach of the Castle
E. A North Trench 3 18 prs & a Mortar of 24:1:10
F. Genl. Oglethrop’s Soliders, Indians & Sailors Tents
G. A Lookout taken the 12th of June
H. Soldiers and Sailors landing June the 11th
I. A Sand Battery quited at our Approach
K. Capt. Warren Commander over the Sailors hoisting the Union Flag on board a Schooner
L. The Sailors wells to Water the Shiping

Ships 1. Flamborough 2. Hector 3. Squirrel
4. Tartar 5. Phoenix
6. Woolf 7. Spence

Employ’d in this Expedition about 200 Seamen 400 Sailors and 300 Indians

Forces of the Spaniards 1000 besides a Strong Castle and 4 Fortified Barks and a Shallow River hindring our Shippings Playing on them.

An Account of the Siege of St. Augustine in the letter on Board ye Hector. May 30 we arrived near St. Augustine, June 1st we were join’d by the Flamborough. Capt. Pearse, the Phoenix Capt. Fanshaw, the Tartar Capt. Towshend and the Squirrel Capt. Warren of 20 Guns each besides the Spense Sloop Capt Laws, and the Wolf Capt. Dandrige.

On the 2d Col Vander Dufen with 300 Carolina Soldiers appear’d on the North of the Town. On the 9th Genl. Oglethorpe came by Sea with 300 Soldiers and 300 Indians from Georgia. On the 10th they were carried a Shore in the Men of Wars boats under the cover of the small Ships Guns. They Landed on the Island Eustatia without Opposition and took the Look-out at G.

The 13th Capt. Warren in a Schooner and other Armed Sloops and Pettyaugers anchored in their Harbor just out of Cannon shot till the 26th when the Sailors were employed in landing Ordnance and other Stores within Reach of the Enemys Cannon. On which Occasion they discover’d a surprising Spirit and Intrepidity. The same night two Batteries were rais’d, but too far off.

The 27th the General Summon’d the Governor to Surrender, who sent word he should be glad to shake hands with him in his Castle. This haughty answer was occasioned by a dear bought Victory, which 500 Spaniards had obtained over 80 Highlanders 50 of whom were slain, but died like Heroes killing thrice their number.

The 29th bad Weather obliged the men of War to put to sea out of [?] but one man had be kill’d. Hereupon the Siege was raised.”

Stay tuned for “The British Invasion (Part Two),” which recounts the Spanish-African-Native American victory over Oglethorpe’s troops at the Battle of Bloody Mose.

To learn more about the British siege of St. Augustine in 1740, see Edward Kimber, A Relation, Or Journal, Of a Late Expedition &c (Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1976); John Tate Lanning, ed. The St. Augustine Expedition of 1740: A Report to the South Carolina General Assembly (Columbia: South Carolina Archives Department, 1954); Aileen Moore Topping, ed. An Impartial Account of the Late Expedition Against St. Augustine under General Oglethorpe (Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1978).

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One thought on “The British Invasion (Part One)

  1. This failed attempt by Olgethorpe and British to claim parts of Spanish Florida with this 1740 battle illustrates the complicated and active Spanish Florida border war between British and Spanish. The US Supreme Court case in 1887, Coffee v Grover 123 US 1, gives great overview.

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