In 1731, a Spanish commander cut off the ear of British Captain Robert Jenkins and told him to take it to his king. This began the War of Jenkins’ Ear.
British Admiral Edward Vernon recruited 400 American colonists, including Lawrence Washington, George Washington’s half-brother. They sailed to Panama and captured the port city of Porto Bello. Porto Bello was the most prosperous Spanish city in the New World as all the gold of Central and South America flowed through it to Spain. British Admiral Edward Vernon also attacked Cartagena, Columbia, but was unable to capture it.
Lawrence Washington returned to Virginia as a 25-year-old war hero. Lawrence served in Virginia’s assembly and militia, and named his farm Mount Vernon in honor of Admiral Edward Vernon. After Lawrence died, George, at age 20, inherited Mount Vernon.
In 1742, the War of Austrian Succession began when Marie Theresa became the first woman to take Austria’s throne. This pulled Prussia and France into the war, which combined with the War of Jenkin’s Ear to become King George’s War in America.
The threat of war shook colonists out of complacency and contributed to the spread of the Great Awakening Revival.
The British took the French city of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, in 1745, which was the third-busiest seaport in America, behind Boston and Philadelphia, and was New France’s second most important commercial city after Quebec.
France wanted Louisbourg back. In 1746, French Admiral d’Anville set sail with the most powerful fleet of its day: 73 ships with 800 cannons and 13,000 troops. Admiral d’Anville intended to: “expel the British from Nova Scotia, consign Boston to flames, ravage New England, and waste the British West Indies.”
Massachusetts Governor William Shirley declared a day of prayer and fasting, Oct. 16, 1746, to pray for deliverance. Boston citizens gathered in the Old South Meeting House, where Rev. Thomas Prince prayed: “Send Thy tempest, Lord, upon the water … scatter the ships of our tormentors!”
Historian Catherine Drinker Bowen related that as he finished praying, the sky darkened, winds shrieked and church bells rang “a wild, uneven sound … though no man was in the steeple.”
A hurricane scattered the entire French fleet as far as the Caribbean. Lightning struck several ships, igniting gunpowder magazines, causing explosions and fire. With 2,000 dead, including Admiral d’Anville, and 4,000 sick with typhoid, French Vice-Admiral d’Estournelle threw himself on his sword.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in his poem, “The Ballad of the French Fleet”:
Admiral d’Anville had sworn by cross and crown,
To ravage with fire and steel our helpless Boston Town. …
There were rumors in the street, in the houses there was fear
Of the coming of the fleet, and the danger hovering near.
And while from mouth to mouth, spread the tidings of dismay,
I stood in the Old South, saying humbly: ‘Let us pray!’
‘Oh Lord! we would not advise; but if in thy Providence
A tempest should arise, to drive the French Fleet hence,
And scatter it far and wide, or sink it in the sea,
We should be satisfied, and Thine the glory be. …’
Like a potter’s vessel broke, the great ships of the line. …
Were carried away as smoke…or sank in the brine.
This great deliverance encouraged Ben Franklin to organized Pennsylvania’s first “volunteer” militia with 10,000 signing up. This began Ben Franklin’s career of public service, as he became the most popular person in the colony.
Ben Franklin also propose a general fast which was approved by Pennsylvania’s Council and published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Dec. 12, 1747: “The calamities of a bloody war … seem every year more nearly to approach us … and there is just reason to fear that unless we humble ourselves before the Lord and amend our ways, we may be chastized with yet heavier judgments. We have … thought fit … to appoint … a Day of Fasting & Prayer, exhorting all, both Ministers & People … to join with one accord in the most humble & fervent supplications that Almighty God would mercifully interpose and still the rage of war among the nations & put a stop to the effusion of Christian blood.”
The threat of war was averted, and Philadelphia was spared.
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