1747 Spanish Intrusions and 1960-61 Reenactments

Spanish Privateers
transcribed from Charles L. Paul's Colonial Beaufort
as sourced from Colonial and State Records 

The activities of Spanish privateers on the North Carolina coast during the War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-1744) and King George’s War (1744-1748) involved Beaufort and the surrounding area directly in England’s epic struggle for empire. The harbor at Cape Lookout provided an excellent base from which these privateers could attack passing ships, and, as Governor Arthur Dobbs later pointed out, they did not fail to use it. Here the privateers could hide in relative safety; obtain wood and water; take on fresh provisions provided by the cattle, sheep and hogs that used the Outer Banks as an open range; and “from their mast head could see every Vessel that passed along the Coast and could in an hour’s time be at sea after them…” In 1741 Spanish privateers were frequenting these waters, and on October 17 of that year a Spanish privateer with eighty men in its crew captured a schooner from Boston off Bogue Inlet about twenty-five miles west of Beaufort.

As a means of defense against such activities, the colonial government passed an act in 1743 which ordered that magazines of ammunition be provided for each county. The Carteret County Court acted promptly on this measure and levied a tax of eight pence proclamation money on each taxable to pay for this ammunition. It also made an agreement with Arthur Mabson, one of Beaufort’s merchants, to furnish this magazine with “Thirty pounds of Gun powder at Twenty shillings p. pound, & lead bullets or Swan Shott in proportion at five Shillings p. pound & two hundred flints.” Arthur Mabson was appointed keeper of this magazine. By June 1744, forty-six pound and ten shillings had been collected for this purpose.

The climax of the Spanish privateers’ activities occurred in the summer of 1747. On June 4 of that year a band of Spanish privateers sailed boldly into Beaufort harbor and captured the “Several Vessels” that were anchored there. Only thirteen of the local militia responded to this alarm, and with the Spanish in control of the harbor, they could do little. After having met with only enough resistance to encourage bolder action at a later date, the enemy sailed away, taking their prizes with them.

The bolder action was not long in coming. On August 26, 1747, Spanish privateers sailed into the harbor, landed and invaded the town itself. After the previous attack, Colonel Thomas Lovick had placed the Carteret regiment of the militia, which he commanded, on the alert; but before they could assemble at Beaufort, the enemy succeeded in taking the town. However, as the militia arrived, the tide of the battle turned. Before the day was over, fifty-three men of the Carteret militia had entered battle under the direction of Major Enoch Ward. Though details are lacking, it seems that the enemy was soon repulsed. The fifty-three militiamen remained on constant duty; three days before they were divided into groups which rotated until late in September. The enemy, however, did not return. 

The only records of these two attacks on Beaufort are the list of the militiamen who were on duty during the attacks. These lists were made for payroll purposes. These slender records make it difficult to reconstruct the events of the attacks although local legend has filled in the story with interesting if doubtful information.

The colony was shocked at the activities of this band of privateers and humiliated to think that they were possible. Governor Gabriel Johnston, addressing the Assembly which met at New Bern in October, 1747, described the condition of the colony by saying "our trade is . . . distressed, Our Ships Plundered in Our Harbours, & our Coasts Insulted by a Cruel & Vigilant Enemy. . . .

Before the Assembly adjourned it appointed a committee for drafting a bill to raise money for "building fortifications in this Province. . . ." Colonel Thomas Lovick of Beaufort was one of the three members of this committee.

This committee acted promptly, and the bill which it drafted was adopted by the Assembly in 1748. It provided that forts were to be built at Ocracoke, Beaufort, and Bear inlets, and at Cape Fear. One thousand and five hundred pounds were ultimately appropriated to cover the cost of the construction of the fort to be built at Beaufort Inlet; and a committee made up of Governor Johnston, Thomas Lovick, Arthur Mabson, John Clitherell, and Joseph Bell was appointed to supervise the erection of this fort.


 The following are soldiers in Col. Lovick's Regiment who responded to the alarms of attacks and expected attacks by the Spanish on the city of Beaufort and it's harbor. Posted online by Joel S. Russell.

Click above link or image to view other 1747 militia groups.



The War of Jenkins Ear began in 1739 after skirmishing broke out between British and Spanish forces in the Caribbean and Georgia. After a short period of peace between 1742 and1743, fighting renewed as a result of the outbreak in Europe of the War of Austrian Succession. The conflict became known as King George’s War in America as France and Spain joined forces in battle with Britain. For the next four years, British forces engaged the Spanish and French in North America and the Caribbean until the Peace of Aix-la-Chappelle in 1748.

From 1741 to 1744, Spanish privateers (privately owned warships with a government sponsored license to attack enemy shipping) preyed on British shipping along the North Carolina coast. In April 1741, two Spanish vessels appeared off of the Outer Banks. By May their crews had captured six vessels and blockaded Ocracoke Inlet in 1741, terrorizing the inhabitants of Ocracoke Island, and stealing foodstuffs and property worth £10,000 sterling. In August, North Carolina merchants outfitted their own privateer sloop William, and a smaller schooner to attack the Spanish. Upon their arrival off Ocracoke, the Spanish fled. In the summer of 1747 several Spanish vessels from St. Augustine “full of armed men, mostly mulattos and negroes” landed at Ocracoke, Core Sound, Bear Inlet, and Cape Fear where they “killed several of his Majesty’s subjects, burned some ships and small vessels, carried off some negroes, and slaughtered a vast number of black cattle.” In June the same vessels entered Beaufort harbor and absconded with several smaller ships. The Spanish returned on August 26 with the intention of taking the town. Major Enoch Ward and fifty-eight militiamen responded but were driven from the village.

Three days later, Col. Thomas Lovick and Maj. Ward collected more men and counterattacked, driving the Spanish out. Whether the majority of the Spaniards had already left, by the time Lovick and Ward attacked, is unknown. They may simply have been refitting their vessels, and not intent on capturing the town for strategic purposes. Several “Spanish negroes” were captured, as evidenced by William Moore’s petition on September 6 for payment for their upkeep. The alarm remained in effect until September 10, when officials decided that the Spanish would not return. The next fall, a Spanish expedition, possibly the same vessels, took part in a similar attack on Brunswick.

Other than the ten prisoners, no other casualty figures exist for the skirmish at Beaufort.
Population of Beaufort & Wimble's 1738 Map 

     In regard to the approximate population of Beaufort during the 1747 Spanish intrusions – in Colonial Beaufort, historian Charles L. Paul wrote: 
     In 1737, John Brickell, in his Natural History of North-Carolina, described Beaufort as a town "with a pleasant prospect but small and thinly inhabited."
     By 1748, slightly more than one-tenth of the county's population lived in Beaufort, making the number of Beaufort taxables only 32 that year. (Those who were taxable were white males over sixteen years of age and Negroes and mulattoes of either sex over twelve years of age. Saunders, Colonial Records, VII, 489.)
      Below is a portion of Wimble's 1738 Map of North Carolina showing Beaufort Harbor and Core Sound:

On July 9, 1960, town firemen participated in Beaufort's first reenactment 
of the Spanish invasion--implemented from an idea by Grayden Paul.
Photographs courtesy Linda Sadler.

Those who participated in the 1960 reenactment
FIRST ROW: L to R - Norwood Gaskill, Bud Taylor, Gerald Woolard, Freddy Snooks, Bobby Hudgins, Elmond Rhue. 
SECOND ROW: L to R - Bud Smith, Jackie Chaplain (Jesse's father), Neal Willis (Linda Sadler's father), Allen Willis, Bryan Loftin, Joe Long and Frank Langdale. 
Photos taken by Roy Eubanks (courtesy Linda Willis Sadler). 
Photo IDs from Jesse Chaplain. 

In his book, Beaufort by the Sea - Memories of a Lifetime, Neal Willis wrote, 

In June 1960, there was a re-enactment of the 1700s invasion of Beaufort by Spanish sailors (who had run out of food and supplies). It was staged on Front Street near the Post Office. A fort was erected on the island across from Branch Bank.

The pirates were members of the Fire Department and were dressed as pirates were thought to have looked. We wore bandannas, nautical outfits and carried plastic cutlasses and guns. The town defenders were mostly merchants dressed in overalls and straw hats and carrying guns. 

We pirates were brought in on a large boat and were transferred to a lifeboat used as the pirate boat. The pirates rowed the boat over to the island and attacked the fort. It was set on fire. Then we rowed across to the shore and charged over the breakwater with blood curdling screams, waving cutlasses and firing guns. 

We had been practicing the landing for a week, mostly when the tide was high. When the real landing came, the tide was low. The boat ran aground about six feet from the shore. The bow was on land but the rest of the boat was over water about ten feet deep. We didn't know the water was that deep until we went over the side and went over our heads. Our pirate costumes were wet and coming apart. Our guns were wet and some didn't fire. Our cutlasses were floating away. But we still charged the defenders. We put up quite a fight. After the battle, the town defenders loaded us into horse drawn wooden carts and carried us to the jail...
Men who participated in the 1961 reenactment 

The Real History behind the Beaufort Pirate Invasion 
by Sara Whitford