On This Day In History: Naval Battle Of Porto Bello Begins – On Nov 20, 1739

On November 20, 1739, the Battle of Porto Bello started. It was historical naval battle between a British naval force aiming to capture the settlement of Portobello in Panama, and its Spanish defenders.

The desire of British merchants to access the markets of the Spanish Empire in Americas culminated in 1738.

Naval officer and Member of Parliament Edward Vernon was ready to take a Caribbean port – Porto Bello – with six ships only” and the British government being under the pressure of war, made Vernon a vice admiral with orders to capture the port.

On this day, Vernon appeared with seven ships but one ship he sent away because he promised to take Porto Bello with six ships, only. Local coast-guard vessels and warships offered no resistance to the Britsh squadron.

Vice Admiral Edward Vernon captured Porto Bello within twenty-four hours. The Spanish garrison was caught unprepared. When some Spaniards began to flee from several parts of the fort, several landing parties were sent inshore.

The Spaniards surrendered then at discretion. Of the 300-man Spanish garrison, only 40 soldiers led by Lieutenant Don Juan Francisco Garganta had remained in the fort.

The British occupied the town for three weeks before withdrawing, having destroyed its fortifications, port and warehouses.

The capture of Porto Bello was welcomed as an exceptionally popular triumph throughout Britain and America, and the name of Portobello came to be used in commemoration at a variety of locations, such as the Portobello Road in London, the Portobello district of Edinburgh and also in Dublin; as well as Porto Bello in Virginia and Porto Bello in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.

The victory was particularly well received in the North-American British colonies, where the Spanish had been preying on British shipping.

Admiral Vernon became a popular hero, and was himself commemorated in several places, perhaps most famously Mount Vernon, later the estate of George Washington.

The economy of the town did not recover fully until the construction of the Panama Canal nearly two centuries later.

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