In One Ear: Before the First Battle of Louisbourg

Atlas of World Osher 1709

A New & Correct Map of the Whole World 1709.

Wars that originated in Europe invariably stormed across the Atlantic to the New World. At the end of each conflict, colonists in the Americas found themselves subject to the terms of a new treaty. These agreements were hammered out by the same European politicians who started the war in the first place. These political arrangements rarely completely aligned with colonists’ needs.

Such was the case when Great Britain, Spain, and France signed the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, ending the War of Spanish Succession. Mainers gained a new sense of unity and safety when Britain successfully negotiated control of Nova Scotia to the north. Unfortunately for Mainers, the treaty also ceded Ile Royale (Cape Breton) to France, thus continuing to provide a nearby safe harbor for the French and the aligned Wabanaki Conference.

Two years later, Capt. John Giles oversaw the rapid construction of the compact Fort George just above Merrymeeting Bay at Brunswick. The fort cost £500 and took just four months to complete.

Nouvelle France Osher map 1719 ann

Carte de la Nouvelle France. 1719. Annotated by BD.

The French, however, spent the next twenty-five years and the equivalent of £7000 building and remodeling their own fortress at Louisbourg. This major gateway to Canada was located on the ice-free eastern side of Ile Royale, making it an all-seasons launching point for French and First Nations raids against British settlements. It was also home port to French privateers. Their goal was to keep British fishing boats away from the North Atlantic cod fisheries that financially sustained British colonies. Equally important, the fortress protected the French colonists’ economic center–the trading post where French and First Nation trappers sold their valuable furs for European export.

Great Britain and Spain, in the meantime, reached an agreement or asiento allowing British merchant ships to sell 4800 slaves to the Spanish colonies each year, but also gave the Spanish the right to inspect British vessels to ensure they complied with the agreement.

Over the following decades, Brunswick and surrounding towns continued to develop as families arrived from other parts of New England, Ireland, and later, Germany. Southern colonies also grew, greatly aided by the sale of enslaved workers, from Africa and the West Indies, to British and Spanish colonials.

Always, Spanish ships were on guard against British captains who smuggled unauthorized goods. To that end, in 1731, Spanish privateer Juan de León Fandiño boarded the British brig Rebecca off the coast of Florida to check for contraband, as was his right according to the terms of the earlier asiento. The story goes that the inspection became confrontational, ending when Fandiñosliced off the ear of British slave trader, Capt. Robert Jenkins.


“1738 satirical cartoon depicts Prime Minister Robert Walpole swooning when confronted with the Spanish-sliced ear, which led to the War of Jenkins’ Ear in 1739.” Wikimedia citation below.

Seven years later, in 1738, Jenkins and others appeared before Parliament to testify to “Spanish Depredations upon the British Subjects.” Jenkins was apparently as much a showman as a sailor for, we’re told, he proved his story by displaying a jar of cloudy brine containing his pickled ear.

The resulting “Battle of Jenkins’ Ear” would soon be subsumed by the War of the Austrian Succession. As with previous European conflicts, this would soon spill over to New England and Canada, as the First Battle of Louisbourg.

Next Blog: Turning a Deaf Ear: Before the First Battle of Louisbourg




About Barbara Desmarais

Writer and amateur historian
This entry was posted in Brunswick History and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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