Monday, January 19, 2015

Who was Jenkins? What happened to his Ear? How did the War of Jenkins’ Ear affect the migration of my ancestors?

There really was a War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739 – 1748) It was a conflict between Spain and England, part of the bigger war known as the War of Austrian Succession.   This war didn’t involve France or England until they were also drawn in as allies of Austria.   To make this more confusing, this whole war was part of King George’s War, which was the third of four French and Indian Wars.  I’ll bet you didn’t know that there were four separate French and Indian Wars, did you?

King George’s War (1744 – 1748) involved New England, New York and the French in Nova Scotia.  It all wasn’t resolved until the fourth French and Indian War (just to be more confusing, this was known as the Seven Year’s War), when Wolfe defeated Montcalm and France at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in Quebec, and France lost their claim to most of Canada.

What is important to know is that since King Phillip’s War (1675 – 1678) until the Seven Year’s War (1754 – 1763) there was almost continual fighting for the borders and territory between the French, English and Spanish which also involved the native Indian tribes and settlers trying to carve out homesteads.   In New England you can see this especially in the settlement of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.  Anyone who thinks that the first war in the colonies was the Revolutionary War is missing six or seven major international conflicts fought in North America and elsewhere.   This doesn’t include smaller wars like Father Rale’s War (1722 – 1725) fought only in New England.  See?  Another war that I bet you haven’t heard of, either, have you?

In tracing my family tree I often find someone born in 18th century  Maine has disappeared from the records.  Or someone suddenly appearing in Marblehead or Salem, Massachusetts in the early 1700s, but not born in England.  I’m always wary of making a leap in migration from one state to another, because most of my ancestors didn’t move around New England very much.  But there was a reason why some of these families fled Maine, came to Massachusetts, and then returned to Maine.

Maine was first settled by the French on St. Croix island in 1604, who called the area Acadia.  The first English settlement at Popham was in 1607, which was abandoned in less than a year. This was the beginning of constant conflict between the two nations.   In 1622 the land that is now roughly the state of Maine was divided into plantations between Sir Ferdinando Gorges and John Mason.  These plantations failed, and were abandoned.  After the four different French and Indian Wars, settlements were again abandoned, and then retried. Over and over.

During the 1692 witch trials, many of the accusing girls and women were refugees from the conflict north of Massachusetts. They had seen massacres, towns burnt, and other atrocities. There is an ongoing theory that their post-traumatic stress syndrome caused them to start the first witch accusations, which snowballed out of control.  After reading some of the first-hand accounts of these conflicts, kidnappings, scalpings, fighting and torture (by both sides, English and Indian) I can believe this theory much more than other theories I have heard (mass hypnosis, ergot poisoning, and jealousy). 

Don’t just look at the vital records for your ancestors’ names.  Read the town and regional histories.  Examine the records of conflicts to see who was involved, names of victims and aggressors.  Who fled?  Who returned? Who was kidnapped? Who was redeemed?  Who died?


So who was Jenkins? And what happened to his ear?   In 1731 the English ship Rebecca, captained by Robert Jenkins, was captured by the Spanish off the coast of Florida.  They accused Jenkins of smuggling, and cut off Jenkins’ left ear.  Jenkins testified in 1738 before Parliament about this incident, and supposedly displayed his severed ear.   The conflict over confiscated cargoes, strained relations, and anti-Spanish sentiment spilled over in the West Indies, Florida and Georgia.  

And who was the Father Rale I mentioned above?   The conflict known as Father Rales’ War (1722 -1725) was also known by at least five or six other names such as Lovewell’s War or Governor Dummer’s War (see the Wikipedia article below).  Sebastian Rale was a French Jesuit priest who lived along the Kennebec River in Maine with the Wabanaki people.  Massachusetts Governor Shute demanded he leave In 1717.  Rale remained, and so Shute sent an expedition in 1722 to capture Rale. There were ongoing retaliations and sieges of settlements as far away as Vermont, Nova Scotia and Deerfield, Massachusetts until peace was negotiated in 1726.

So you see- these conflicts affected human migration and immigration all over the 13 colonies, not just in New England and the northern states.

Keep that in mind if your ancestors seem to disappear from the records in one colony and reappear in another.  It could, and did, happen. 

For the truly curious:

Father Rale’s War from Wikipedia

War of Jenkins’ Ear from Wikipedia

"Salem Witch Trials Still cast Haunting Shadow" by Deborah McDermott, 18 January 2015,  from, Author Emerson Baker on video and an article about the ongoing war and the beginning of the Salem Witch Trials. 

New England Captives Carried to Canada Between 1677 and 1760 During the French and Indian Wars, by Emma Lewis Coleman, first published 1925, reprinted 2012 by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.

In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692, by Mary Beth Norton, Alfred A. Knopf Publishers, New York, 2002.

“Maine, Indian Land Speculation, and the Essex County Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692” by Emerson Baker and James Kences, from Maine History, Volume 40, Number 3, pages 159 – 189, available to read online at

“The Refugee’s Revenge”, by Mary Beth Norton, from Common-Place, Volume 2, Number 3, April 2002 oniline at

The image above is from Wikimedia Commons, "Conference Between the French and Indian Leaders Around a Ceremonial Fire", by Emile Louis Vernier (1829 - 1887)

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Copyright ©2015, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

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