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The War of Jenkins’ Ear

Graboyes, Evan M.; Hullar, Timothy E.

doi: 10.1097/MAO.0b013e31827c9f7a
History of Otology

Objective In 1731, Spanish sailors boarded the British brig Rebecca off the coast of Cuba and sliced off the left ear of its captain, Robert Jenkins. This traumatic auriculectomy was used as a pretext by the British to declare war on Spain in 1739, a conflict that is now known as the War of Jenkins’ Ear. Here, we examine the techniques available for auricular repair at the time of Jenkins’ injury and relate them to the historical events surrounding the incident.

Methods Review of relevant original published manuscripts and monographs.

Results Surgeons in the mid-18th century did not have experience with repair of traumatic total auriculectomies. Some contemporary surgeons favored auricular prostheses over surgical treatment. Methods for the reconstruction of partial defects were available, and most authors advocated a local post-auricular flap instead of a free tissue transfer. Techniques for repair of defects of the auricle lagged behind those for repair of the nose.

Conclusion Limitations in care of traumatic auricular defects may have intensified the significance of Jenkins’ injury and helped lead to the War of Jenkins’ Ear, but conflict between Britain and Spain was probably unavoidable because of their conflicting commercial interests in the Caribbean.

Department of Otolaryngology, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Timothy E. Hullar, M.D., Department of Otolaryngology, Washington University in St. Louis, 660 South Euclid Avenue, Campus Box 8115 St. Louis, MO 63110; E-mail:

This study was supported by NIH K08 DC006869 (to T. E. H.).

The authors disclose no conflicts of interest.

© 2013 Otology & Neurotology, Inc.