King George’s War
Men have seldom needed to look very hard for a reason to start a war. This one began with the loss of an ear. Following Queen Anne’s War (or, if you prefer, the War of the Spanish Succession), England concluded the “Assiento” with France’s ally, Spain. This was a contract permitting the English to trade with the Spanish colonies in goods and slaves.
English traders soon abused the privileges granted by the Assiento, however, and Spanish officials responded harshly. In one case, Spanish coast guards seized Robert Jenkins, master of the British merchant ship Rebecca, and cut off his ear during an interrogation. Word of this outrage triggered the “War of Jenkins’s Ear” in 1739 between England and Spain, resulting in an abortive invasion of Spanish Florida by Georgia’s James Oglethorpe in 1740.
During this time, the War of Jenkins’s Ear dissolved into a larger conflict, known in Europe as the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48). The death of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI in 1740 brought several challenges to the succession of daughter Maria Theresa as monarch of the Hapsburg (Austrian) lands. It looked as if the Hapsburg territories were ripe for the plucking, and King Frederick the Great of Prussia moved first to claim his slice by invading Silesia. France, Spain, Bavaria, and Saxony joined Frederick’s fold, while Britain came to the aid of Maria Theresa. Once again, the European conflict also appeared in an export version: King George’s War.
It was fought mainly by New Englanders against the French of Nova Scotia and again resulted in a wilderness in flames. Territory changed hands, but only temporarily; for the 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the War of the Austrian Succession, also ended King George’s War, restoring (as treaty language puts it) the status quo ante bellum: the way things were before the war. But treaty language can be misleading, and the status was no longer quite quo, Enmities and alliances among the French, the Indians, and the English were now not only lines drawn on a map, but scars seared into the souls of all involved. Wait a few more years. There would be a new, far bigger, far more terrible war.