Washington’s brother Lawrence and Cartagena

Years ago, Arlene and I visited the beautiful Colombian walled city of Cartagena, on the westerly side of the Caribbean. We had an unusual conversation with a resident who held a grudge against the United States. “Don’t you know your history,” he said. “George Washington’s brother Lawrence helped lead a naval invasion against our beautiful city, bombarded us with 180 ships and then invaded us with some 27,000 soldiers, but, we beat you with only 4,000 military personnel. Look it up,” he said. I did and he was right, however, it took place 35 years before our Revolutionary War, when George was age 9. In the 18th century, Cartagena was a rich city, with significant fortifications and fine harbor through which the commercial fleet conveyed to Spain the immense revenues of gold and silver from Peru. Control of Cartagena would help the British acquire Spain’s American empire.

Having lost his father when he was 11, the greatest influence on George Washington was his half- brother Lawrence, 14 years his senior. At age 16, George moved in with Lawrence at his estate, which he called Mount Vernon, named after Admiral Edward Vernon, Commander of British forces in the West Indies, while Captain Lawrence Washington had served under Vernon with the American regiment. The British attack on Cartagena started on March 4, 1741 and included some 3,600 American colonial troops, commanded by the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. Believing the British forces would be victorious, Vernon dispatched a messenger to inform King George of their victory. Eleven different medals were minted in London to celebrate the victory. The battle, however, lasted for 67 days and ended with the British fleet withdrawing in defeat, with 18,000 dead or incapacitated, mainly by disease. Of the 3,600 American colonists, only 300 returned home, including Lawrence Washington. The British medals were all destroyed. Admiral Vernon sent a letter to the Spanish admiral threatening to return. The Spanish admiral replied, “In order to return to Cartagena, the English King must build a better and larger fleet, because yours now are only suitable to transport coal from Ireland to London.”

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