Spanish Alarm

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The Spanish Alarm was a period from 1739-1748 in which the Spanish Government sanctioned forces to raid and pillage English port towns along the Province of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The Kingdom of Great Britain without an adequate military presence in these provinces facilitated the provinces to devise local militias to combat the Spanish attacks.

At the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession the Province of North Carolina raised four companies of one hundred men each to join other colonial troops in the siege of Cartagena. In addition to the four hundred men raised for the Cartagena expedition, it was necessary for the colonies to raise forces for the defense of their coastal towns and ports. Spanish attacks the eastern seaboard were meant to disrupt shipping and raid port towns. These raids were continuous from 1741 to 1748.

The raids in the Province of North Carolina were made on the towns and ports of Beaufort Town and Brunswick Town.


The Spanish Alarm occurred from 1739-1748 because of tensions between Britain and Spain rooted in the War of Spanish Succession and the struggle for a balance of power that accompanied it. This increased tension over disagreement of Britain and Spain’s territorial boundaries of Georgia and Florida. Additionally Spain disagreed of English trafficking in the West Indies and of illegal hewing in Honduras. Britain disliked the Spanish Guarda-costas, the Spanish coastal police force, because of their harsh methods to manage and inspect shipping in Spain. “Hostilities between the rival settlements in Georgia and Florida were inevitable” (1). Ultimately, their differences resulted in the War of Jenkins Ear, which began in 1739, which was fought in Europe, the West Indies, Americas, and both sides of the Atlantic.


In 1789, word had gotten out that there was a war between the British and the Spanish and colonists were very excited. “The time had arrived, South Carolinians believed, to remove once and for all a galling Spanish influence which had incited rebellion among slaves, to establish firm provincial boundaries and secure the Indian trade by pushing back the frontier with Spanish Florida, and to realize profits from afar which had objectives as much commercial as political.”. Specifically, the mercantile community looked forward to the riddance of Spanish influence. When the conflicts had finally ended, however, South Carolinians were relieved because it had not brought any triumphs as they had originally hoped for. “No sooner had the war begun than did Charleston merchants begin to consider methods by which they could gain from it”(162). This attitude represented the mindset of eighteenth-century Englishmen. They were interested in gaining from the Spanish Alarm, but as the raids continued, the merchants realized that the raids were not as beneficial as originally thought. Many colonists started to lose their enthusiasm especially during the 1740s when the court, “during nine years of actual warfare recorded only twenty-one enemy ships which were captured by Charleston privateers and condemned as prizes of war” (163). Additionally, the book Georgia Journeys stated that “the Spanish Alarm...was of great damage to the colony in retarding cultivation”(99).

British Military Support[edit]

The southern frontier (South Carolina and Georgia) received a majority of British Military support because of petitions from South Carolina, Oglethorpe, a British General, and the Trustees for the Establishment of the Colony of Georgia in America, but the British Government’s comparative neglect and long deliberation distressed the Trustees. In February 1737, Sir Robert Walpole petitioned to Oglethorpe: “that he could form about 300 men capable of bearing arms in Georgia, that South Carolina had money but no men, that North Carolina had men but no money; that Pennsylvania had both, and Virginia only money. That New England had men but no money, and New York had money and few men.” It was in that year that real British support began. British ships were posted on the coast, and Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon was dispatched to destroy Spanish settlements in the West Indies. In October 1739, Oglethorpe was instructed to attack St. Augustine and American naval commissioners were instructed to assist.

The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 effectively halted the Spanish excursions into the English Americas.


  • The Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, Volume XXII
  • Swanson, Carl E., "American Privateering and Imperial Warfare, 1739-1748," The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 42, No. 3 (Jul., 1985), pp. 357-382
  • Stumph, Staurt O., "Implications of King George's War for the Charleston Mercantile Community," The South Carolina Historical Magazine, Vol. 77, No. 3 (Jul., 1976), pp. 161-188
  • Powell, William S., and Michael Hill. The North Carolina Gazetteer: A Dictionary of Tar Heel Places and Their History. 2nd ed. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.
  • P. M. Handover, The Second Cecil: The Rise to Power, 1563-1604 of Sir Robert Cecil, Late First Earl of Salisbury (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1959), 159,
  • "Britain's Military Support of Georgia in the War of 1739-1748," Trevor R. Reese, The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 1 (March, 1959), pp. 1-10
  • Gober, Sara and Coleman, Kenneth L., Georgia Journeys: Being an Account of the Lives of Georgia's Original