Notes from a fascinating world.
The world is like a bazaar, full of interesting odds and ends, and I've been exiled into it. This is my all-over-the-map (literally and metaphorically) attempt at capturing some of the world's many wonders.
In 1738, George Washington’s older half-brother Lawrence returned from school in England to his family estate in Virginia. The following year, the curiously named War of Jenkins’ Ear broke out between Britain and Spain, and Lawrence went off to war in the Caribbean as a member of the Royal Navy.
Lawrence served onboard the British flagship, the HMS Princess Caroline, as a captain of the marines. This put him under the direct command of the leader of the British war effort in the Caribbean, Admiral Edward Vernon.
Near the end of 1739, Vernon and his forces took the Spanish possession of Portobelo, in today’s Panama. The ruins of the Spanish fort with its old cannons are now a tourist destination. Vernon then turned his attention to the gateway to the Spanish colony of New Granada, Cartagena de Indias, “New Carthage of the Indies,” today in Colombia and more commonly simply called Cartagena. New Granada was a huge country that encompassed today’s Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador.
In 1740, Vernon ordered two separate attacks on Cartagena, mostly to probe the Spanish defenses. And finally in 1741 British forces launched their third attack and laid siege to Cartagena. Vernon had under him one of the largest fleets ever assembled, with 27,000 men and 186 ships (60 more than the Spanish Armada that attacked England in the 16th century). Of the men, 4,000 were recruits from Virginia in the future United States, and Lawrence Washington was their commander.
On the defense side, the Spanish had only somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 troops. But, unfortunately for Vernon, they were under the command of one of the best military strategists in the history of the Spanish Empire, a man named Blas de Lezo. At 52 at the time of the British invasion, and having begun his naval career at the age of 12, Lezo was camera-ready to be in the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Having fought numerous engagements since the War of Spanish Succession in 1704, Lezo had progressively lost his left leg, left eye, and the use of his right arm. Even his statue in Madrid depicts him with a peg leg.
On March 13, 1741, British forces began a large scale assault on Cartagena. When he managed to force the Spaniards to retreat into their fortress of San Felipe de Barajas, which still proudly stands over the old city of Cartagena today, Vernon thought he had won. And he sent word to London to tell of his victory, where celebrations ensued. When he tried to take San Felipe, however, Vernon discovered to his chagrin that the battle was far from finished. The British found that they were neither able to scale the fort’s ramparts nor retreat easily without exposing themselves to heavy Spanish fire. Eventually the British were forced to withdraw, leaving behind 6,000 dead to Spain’s 1,000.
But Lawrence Washington survived both the fighting and the outbreak of yellow fever. He returned to Virginia and decided to name his estate after his old commander. He named it “Mt. Vernon.”
Writer, traveler, lawyer, dilettante. Failed student of physics. Not altogether distinguished graduate of two Ivy League institutions. Immigrant twice over. "The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of getting home."