Local History

Spanish attacks on the North Carolina Coast in the early 1700’s

The Spanish invasions of North Carolina coast in the early 1700s were as a result of a sequence of clashes between Spain and England starting with the War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-42). The conflicts began in late April 1741, when two Spanish privateers, with about 98 men aboard. About a month after, they had captured six vessels, including one in Pasquotank and two more in Edenton. Later in 1747, more small sloops appeared off the coast of St. Augustine, boarded by fully armed men, mostly Negroes and mulattoes. The North Carolina coastline was almost defenseless and the Spanish took advantage of this, constantly harassing the coastline between 1741 and 1744. Spanish Privateers landed at Core Sound, where they burned several vessels, ships and killed several people. They also carried off some Negroes and slaughtered a large number of hogs and cattle. These continued for the best part of 1747 and led to the construction of several fort along the coast of North Carolina.

Buoyed by some of the victories enjoyed, the Spaniards established a base of operations in the coast. This allowed them to attack vessels sailing along the coast and monitor the movement of ships through Ocracoke Inlet. The coast provided a means of shelter for the privateers. They had easy access to wood, water and other provisions provided by the sheep, cattle, and hogs that used it as an open range. A great number of houses were burned and a large number of cattle were killed. Eventually, Ship-owners and some North Carolina merchants joined forces to engage the Spaniards. However, as Williams and his troops approached the Ocracoke Inlet, the Spaniards left their tent and fled. However, this did not end the Spanish foray into North Carolina.

On August 26 1747, Spanish Privateers entered Beaufort Harbor and plundered the town. This attack was the latest in a period of constant assaults by the Spanish on the largely defenseless coast of North Carolina. It demonstrated the constant threat posed by the Spanish on the small British colony. This attack on Beaufort was strategic. Historian Charles L. Paul, pointed out that the population of taxable in Carteret County a year after the invasion, was about 320, while in Beaufort, the taxable was only about 32 (one-tenth). Beaufort was deemed a point of weakness in the colony and the Spanish marauders launched attacks on the less populous areas. According to reports, several people were killed in the attack, the attackers also burned small vessels and some ships, slaughtered a large number of cattle and hogs and then carried off some Negroes. Different reports pointed out that the aim of the attackers was to generally cause mayhem or take slaves in an attempt to weaken the city. North Carolina was especially vulnerable because it had no great ports like Charleston.As a result, the ports available were important to its survival. By attacking the different ports along the coast, the Spaniards were showing their loyalty to the King of Spain. This could also be a sort of indirect revenge on the English colony especially the North Carolinas where their ancestors had been enslaved.After three days under siege, troops were immediately organized to repel the attack. Major Enoch Ward and his troops held off the Spanish opposition until August 26th when the town was eventually captured. When the militia eventually arrived, the tide of the battle turned. Before long, the enemy were repulsed and they fled. However, the troops remained on constant duty; and were divided into different groups. According to records, some Spanish were taken as prisoners in the skirmish. The “alarm” continued until around September 10 when it was cleared that the Spanish will not be returning. The inhabitants fought bravely to fight off the Spanish marauders to restore peace and serenity to the usually quiet seaport town.

In the following year, on the 4th of September 1748, two Spanish ships appeared on the coast and attacked Brunswick. William Dry immediately assembled his troops and attacked the looters. In the ensuing battle, the stunned sailors attempted to make a run for their ships. Many were captured and a lot more killed. While the fighting was going on, Fortuna (one of the Spaniards vessels) burst into flames and sank. The generals were slain, while the sailors were taken captive. The second one disengaged and left. Dry’s troops ransacked the vessel and went away with whatever valuables they could find. The valuables and slaves were sold and the funds was used in financing the construction of St James Church in Wilmington and St Philip’s Church in Brunswick. The battle eventually ended in 1748 and a treaty was signed.

Ken Morgan

Ken is from Norfolk, Va, loves to work with his hands, building things from metal and wood. He also loves to write about Eastern Carolina history where he currently lives and has family roots. Ken is an artist that loves to paint when he has the time, and does graphic and website work for the Albemarle Tradewinds Magazine. In his younger days participated in NASCAR racing and had a shop building cars and engines. Spent most of his life making a living repairing and programming computer systems from PC's to mainframes.

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