Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Britain 0, Spain 0, Anopheles 4,000


Spain's loss of Gibraltar in 1704 eventually proved permanent, but the Spanish Crown initially had no intention of acquiescing in the cession. The rocky promontory beckoned to glory-seeking Spanish officers and revanchist monarchs, who made multiple attempts to recover the Rock in the eighteenth century. One of these helped trigger one of the more obscure conflicts of the era, the Anglo-Spanish War of 1727-1729. 


Despite its chronological subtitle, the fighting in this war lasted only a few months. A Spanish army of 18,000 mounted a desultory siege of Gibraltar, pausing its bombardment daily for siesta, a practice their British counterparts eagerly adopted. (They were as likely to spend the time drinking and copulating as sleeping.) Royal Navy ships provided effective covering fire for the defenders until Spain lifted its siege. Across the Atlantic, Britain's navy used the war to justify an offensive of its own, against the city of Portobello on the Isthmus of Panama. This had less amusing consequences. Admiral Francis Hosier's attacks on the port ran afoul of the Caribbean's deadliest resident, the mosquito Aedes aegypti, and 4,000 sailors (and the admiral) succumbed to yellow fever. To the north, one of Britain's North American colonies conducted a more successful raid against the Spanish province of Florida. Militia from South Carolina, assisted by Chickasaw warriors, attacked and dispersed the Yamasee Indians who had taken refuge near Saint Augustine after the Yamasee War (1715-16). White Carolinians didn't quite settle their scores with the Yamasees, but the raid doubtless pleased colonial governor Arthur Middleton.

The war of 1727-29 thus spread to three continents, and cost several thousand men (and a few women) their lives. It ended with a treaty that made no concessions of rights or territory, and both the war and its participants faded almost immediately into obscurity. Kings and princes usually promise those who fight for them honor and immortal glory. They lie.

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Sources: James Falkner, Fire over the Rock (Pen & Sword, 2009), 8-10; John McNeill, Mosquito Empires (Cambridge UP, 2010), 1-2; Edward Cashin, Guardians of the Valley (University of South Carolina, 2009), 15.

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