Virtue in Corruption: Privateers, Smugglers, and the Shape of Empire in the Eighteenth-Century Caribbean
- Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 13, Number 1, Winter 2015
- pp. 80-110
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Violent encounters between Spanish American guarda costas and British vessels during the early decades of the eighteenth century sparked the War of Jenkins’ Ear in 1739, a war that started in the Caribbean over issues of inter-imperial contraband trade. Despite the causes of the war, Spanish American guarda costas out of port cities such as Cartagena de Indias outfitted their ships through illicit British supply chains. Moreover, the maritime violence leading up to the declaration of war helped the Spanish official José Patiño push for British acquiescence to Spain’s territorial designs on the Italian peninsula. Sent to the Caribbean to seek revenge for Spanish depredations against their shipping, the British Royal Navy also engaged in contraband trade so they could fully equip their vessels in the competitive environment of the eighteenth-century maritime world. Contraband trade in the circum-Caribbean served as a tool in Britain’s and Spain’s political economy while simultaneously producing the need for more smuggling and eventual conflict. For Spanish America, moreover, British contraband supplies in places such as Cartagena de Indias proved invaluable for its defense against invasion by British forces during the war itself.