PAST AND PRESENT
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Introduction to ESQUEMELN'S Buccaneers of America
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1492. Columbus discovers the New World.
1493. Papal Donation of Terra Incognita to Spain.
1502. Columbus on last voyage reaches 'Honduras'.
1506. Pinton discovers coast of British Honduras.
1524. Cortis skirts interior of British Honduras.
1527. First recorded British seamen in West Indies.
1530. William Hawkins in Caribbean.
1567. John Hawkins and Drake in West Indies.
1583. Our first colony in New World, Newfoundland.
15 87. Queen Elizabeth's Declaration of Policy.
1617. Raleigh's expedition to El Dorado (with Wallace).
1629. Warwick's settlement on Providence Island.
1634. British settlements on Coxcomb Coast.
1635. Spanish assault on Providence Island.
1638. Shipwrecked sailors on Belize River.
1640. Captain Wallace founds Belize Settlement.
1641. Spanish destroy Providence Island Colony.
1642. Spanish drive British out of Rattan Island.
1642. Buccaneer Jackson lands in Jamaica.
1655. Cromwell annexes Jamaica.
1666. Buccaneer Mansfield recaptures Providence Island.
1667. Pepys bemoans buccaneer exploits.
1667. SANDWICH TREATY prohibits buccaneering.
1668. Esquemelin joins buccaneers.
1669. Harry Morgan takes Porto Bello.
1670. GODOLPHIN TREATY.
1670. Morgan sacks Panama. Morgan and Modyford arrested.
1672. Lynch claims British logwood rights.
1672. Modyford supports British rights in Campeachy, etc.
1672. Godolphin advises 'underhand' cutting.
1674. Dampier in Campeachy.
1675. Sir Harry Morgan back in Jamaica.
1675. Vaughan proposes annexation of settlements by Jamaica.
1677. Buccaneer Sharpe on S. George's Cay.
1680. Spanish attack Campeachy settlements.
1682. Lynch forbids logwood-cutting.
1697. Buccaneers' last exploit: sack of Cartagena.
1702-13. War of Spanish Succession.
1704. Whitehall proposes Colony in Campeachy.
1705. First mention of BELIZE by name.
1713. TREATY OF UTRECHT.
1717. Pirates Blackbeard, Hands, Low, etc.
1718. Spanish raid as far as Spanish Lookout.
1728. Spanish claim rights of Papal Donation.
1730. Spanish raids on Belize River.
1732. Britsh Government claim damages.
1737. Spanish raid on Bele city.
1739-49. War of Jenkins' Ear.
1742. S.P.G. Mission to Mosquitos.
1745. Spanish raids on New River.
1749. TREATY OF AIX LA CHAPELLE.
1754. Spanihr invasion of Belie by land and sea.
1755. Spanish sack and destroy Belie city.
1756. British reoccupy and fortify it.
1756-63. Seven Years' War: Belize a casus belli.
1763. TREATY OF PARIS.
1764. Spanish infractions of Treaty.
1765. Admiral Burnaby defends the settlement.
1767. More Spanish raids.
1773. Negro slave revolt.
1776. American War of Independence.
1776. Citizens appoint Rev. R. Shaw to cure of Belize.
1777. American vessels threaten Belize.
1778. Nelson in command of Port Royal.
1779- Spanish sack S. George's Cay. Nelson too late.
1780. British reprisals under Nelson, etc.
1783. PEACE OF VERSAILLES.
1786. Despard, first Superintendent of Belize.
1786. CONVENTION OF LONDON.
1786. Evacuation of Marquito Shore settlements.
1790. Superintendent Despard dismissed.
1790. Superintendent Hunter fortifies Belie.
1796. Napoleonic War begins. Superintendent Barrow.
1798. Victory of S. George's Cay.
1802. TREATY OP AMIENS.
1803. Renewal of War with Napoleon.
1803. Maquiota fight for England.
1805. Battle of Trafalgar.
1812. War with United States.
18i2. Belize Parish Church.
1814. TREATY O MADRID.
1815. Battle of Waterloo.
1819. MacGregor's Mosquito Shore swindle.
1822. Pirates around the coast.
1823. MONOE DOCTRINE. Central American Independence.
1824. Marquito King crowned in Belie.
1826. ANGLO-MEXICAN TREATY.
1831. Raial Equaliy Act in Beli~e.
1834. Aboition of Slavery Act.
1838. Emancpation of all slaves.
1839. Lord Palmerston occupier Rattan, etc.
1843. British Resident in Mosquitia.
1845. Morquito King crowned in Belie Cathedral.
1848. S. Juan renamed Gretown. British Mosquito Protectorate.
1850. CLArTON-BULWER TREATY.
18 2. British Colony of Bay Islandr' proclaimed.
18 55. The Walker Afair in Nicaragua.
1856. DALAS-CLARENDON TREATY.
1857. Indian War of Colours begins.
1859. ANGLO-GUATEMALAN TREATY.
1862. Belize made a British Colony.
1863. Abortive Anglo-Guatemalan Convention.
I866. British reverses in Indian War.
1871. British Honduras a Crown Colony.
1872. Disestablishment of Church.
End of Indian Wars.
x880. British Honduras Diocese formed.
1884. Colony made independent of Jamaica.
1905. Mosquitia annexed by Nicaragua.
Last serious epidemic ofyellow fever.
1908. Stann Creek Railway opened.
1912. Belize Town Board inaugurated.
1914-18. First World War.
Honduras troops serve in Mesopotamia.
1916. Clash between British and Guatemalan troops.
1917-43. Anglican Bishop A. E. Dunn.
1918. Great fire destroys Colonial records.
1924. British Honduras pavilion at Wembley Exhibition.
1925-32. Sir John A. Burdon, Governor.
1925. Maya ruins at Lubaantun first explored.
1926. Baron Bliss Bequest.
1929. Burdon Canal opened.
1931. Great hurricane and tidal wave in Colony.
1933. Guatemala repudiates Treaty of 1859.
1936-38. Constitution amended.
1939-45. Second World War.
1946. Guatemala demands possession of Belige.
1947. Montego Bay Conference on Federation.
1948. Guatemala threatens violence.
1949. A year of disasters.
195o. Devaluation of Honduras dollar.
THE MOST REV. EDWARD ARTHUR DUNN
Placentia, British Honduras
(Bishop 1917-43, Archbishop of the West Indies 1936-43)
whose devotion to the Colony was the
original inspiration of this book.
MY main source of information about the early history of the
Colony has been, of course, Sir John Burdon's massive three-
volume work The Archives of British Honduras, 1670-I884 (pub-
lished 1931). Sir John was Governor of British Honduras for
nearly eight years, 1925-32, and intensely interested in everything
that concerned the Colony. With the help of a like-minded group
of research workers he examined every relevant record he could
find, both in Belize and in London. His book as we have it now
is a series of the more important extracts from the original
documents printed in chronological order, and giving in every
case the most scrupulous references to them. I had the honour
of Sir John's acquaintance in Belize at the time when he was
engaged in this research, but make no claim to have consulted
the originals from which his Archives are drawn. Nor was it
necessary. The heavy spadework of intensive research has been
done once and for all by those who had the best facilities for it
under the best possible leadership: all I have attempted here is to
render Sir John's monumental treatise down, as it were, to a more
accessible handbook for the general reader, though I have
ventured to add a little from other sources too.
In one respect Sir John's researches were as disappointing as
they were arduous. Original records of the earlier and in some
ways the most interesting period of the Colony's history turned
out to be fewer and more meagre than he had hoped. This paucity
of records was, of course, natural in a buccaneer settlement more
handy with the cutlass than the pen. But even after some sort of
organized community had grown up in Belize, and it became the
practice to keep regular State Records, there were all kinds of
enemies, human, insect and climatic, to imperil their preservation.
The city of Belize became the custodian of all documents relating
to the Colony and to the outlying settlements in those parts, but
it was no safe deposit for such things. As Sir John himself
remarks,1 'The archives -of the Colony are unfortunately too
1 Burdon, i, xv.
fragmentary and defective to make the history of the early period
dear; and even in regard to the later struggle with the Spaniards,
it has been impossible to collect full documentary information.'
And again,1 'British Honduras has been particularly unfortunate
in the preservation of its archives. Besides all the ravages caused
by decay, damp, and the insect pests which abound in a tropical
climate, both fire and tempest have been particularly destructive.'
Next to Jerusalem, Belize must be one of the most often 'utterly
destroyed' cities in the world. The Spanish razed it to the ground
again and again. Great fires have ravaged it. Several times it has
been overwhelmed by hurricanes. In our own day (1931) it was
almost wiped out by one such hurricane accompanied by a tidal
wave, which very nearly destroyed the irreplaceable documents
and the manuscript of the Archives which Sir John Burdon and
his Committee had been collecting for years.
'On the day of the completion of his task (September o, 1931),'
writes Professor Newton in his Introduction to volume ii, 'Sir
John took from the file the copy intended to be sent to London
for the publishers, and placed it in a tin box. A few hours later
Belize was struck by one of the worst hurricanes in its history,
the office building was blown over, the papers which remained
in their usual drawers and cupboards were scattered broadcast
by the violence of the wind and soaked by the torrential rain
beyond the possibility of recovery. Many of the original docu-
ments themselves suffered a like fate, and had it not been for
the providential accident of their storage in the tin box, the whole
of the labours of the Committee would have been in vain, and
historians would never have had the opportunity of reading these
papers. During a lull in the storm, search was made for the
precious box among the ruins and luckily it was found intact.
But a worse danger was to come, for while the Governor was
shielding the box as best he could from the soaking of the rain,
the floods poured over the ruined town and completely sub-
merged it. By Sir John's care the box with its precious contents
was kept just above the rising waters, to yield up the manuscript
in due course to the printers. These details are worthy of recall,
perhaps, as giving some indication of the dangers to which
earlier papers must have been exposed in the course of history.'
I have tried to fill up some of the gaps in Sir John's story by
1 Burdon, ii, x. Ibid., ii, xi. .
AUTHOR'S PREFACE 13
consulting other books, as noted in the bibliography, of which
E. O. Winzerling's Beginnings of British Honduras z5o6-1765
(published by the North River Press of New York in 1946) and
C. H. Haring's The Buccaneers in the West Indies in the XVIIth
Century (Methuen, 19Io) are the most important. The latter is an
authoritative work on the subject, where every statement is
verified by a careful reference to its source. Winzerling has added
much that is quite new, especially with regard to the connection
of the Colony with Providence Company, and where this writer
has been followed, acknowledgement has been made to him by
For the twentieth-century period of the Colony's history I have
relied on various official publications, as noted in the list of books.
As to the diplomatic situation, an endeavour has been made to
present a fair statement on the controversial issue of the Colony's
international status by comparing British official publications with
J. L. Mendoza's fierce assertion of Guatemalan claims in his
Britain and her Treaties on Belize (official English translation)
published in Guatemala in 1947. No doubt if the matter is brought
up before an international court of arbitration, as has been pro-
posed, every possible avenue will be explored in the search for
information about British Honduras and her relationship to the
rest of Central America, and much new material will probably
come to light. In the meantime, the present volume may shed a
ray or two.
I should like to thank the Colonial Office Library staff for
their invaluable help, the Rev. F. Kelly for reading the proofs,
and Miss E. P. Biffen for compiling the Index.
STEPHEN L. CAIGER.
NOTE ON PRONUNCIATION
Honduras is accented on the u. Cay is pronounced Kee.
Belize is pronounced Beleeze, with the accent on the last syllable.
AUTHOR'S PREFACE II
I. A Legacy of the Buccaneers 17
II. Captain Wallace 31
III. The Buccaneers turn honest 40
IV. The British Logwood Settlements 50
V. The Baymen of Belize 60
VI. Spanish Aggression 69
VII. The Navy to the Rescue 79
VIII. The Battle of Belize 89
IX. The Mosquito Shore o01
X. Belize becomes a Colony 1zo
XI. From Heyday to Hard Times 137
XII. Between the Wars so
XIII. British Honduras To-day-and
XIV. The Controversy with Guatemala 188
XV. Devaluation and Federation 2z1
ADDITIONAL NOTES 231
CHRONOLOGICAL TABLE 233
I. The Colony of British
2. Central America at end
A LEGACY OF THE
THE story of British Honduras seems almost too romantic for the
pages of sober history. The long drawn-out, perilous, often well-
nigh desperate, but finally triumphant struggle of a few English
buccaneers to establish a foothold on the Spanish Main, and of
their descendants to win recognition of their tiny holding as a
Colony of the British Empire, makes as colourful a record of
adventure as any work of fiction, yet it is a record of historic fact.
Apart from all this, it deserves more attention from historians than
it has yet received. The circumstances by which the various parts
of the Empire have become attached to it are almost as diverse as
the parts themselves, but among them all the experience of British
Honduras has a quality of its own, and is indeed unique. Nor is it
irrelevant to the Imperial situation now. After three hundred
years, the story is still alive, the struggle is not ended, the embers
of long-smouldering controversies are liable to be fanned to
flame. By what title is this part of Honduras British?
It is not by Right of Discovery that we hold the Colony.
Admittedly it was not the British who first set eyes on the
coastline of British Honduras. Columbus came very near to it on
his fourth and last voyage in 1502, when he touched at Guanaja,
afterwards called Bonacca, one of the Bay Islands in the Gulf of
Honduras. Overtaken by one of the hurricanes for which these
eastern waters of the Caribbean Sea are still notorious, but
weathering the storm, he gave Thanks to God (Gracas a Dios) off
the cape whose name still recalls his escape from the perils of The
Deep (Las Fonduras, or Honduras). From that day to this, the Gulf
and its adjoining shore have been called Honduras. Four years
later (15o6) two Spanish navigators, Vicente Yanez Pinzon and
Juan Diaz de Solis, sailed westward from Bonacca to the Golfo
Dulce, and thence northward along the Toledo Coast of what we
now call British Honduras, leaving the lofty Sierra de Caria
(Cockscomb Range) on their port bow, and so threading their way
through the cays, or little islands, off Belize until they reached
Cozumel at the northernmost point of Yucatan. After this, the
coastline was roughly charted by the Spanish, but none of them
ever landed, so far as we know, upon the shore. None of them
certainly ever occupied or settled upon it.
The first European to set eyes on British Honduras from the
land side was also a Spaniard, in fact it was the great Hernando
Cort6s, Conqueror of Mexico, himself. In 1524 he made his
memorable march almost in a straight line from Vera Cruz to
Truxillo in order to punish the rebellious Cristobal de Olid, who,
thinking himself safe at such a distance, had proclaimed the inde-
pendence of Spanish Honduras. During this almost incredible
journey through the trackless jungle, Cortes must have seen the
sun rise over the jagged peaks of the Cockscomb Range. One of
his captains, Dernal Diaz de Castillo, seems to have crossed them.
He describes them as 'not very high, but consisting of stones
which cut like knives'. In that case, he must have come close to the
stupendous ruins of Lubaantun in the extreme south of the present
Colony. Even in those days, the mighty temples, pyramids, and
carved obelisks of the ancient Mayan city were in ruins, for the
Mayas had long ago moved northwards to Chichen Itza in upper
Yucatan and to Peten Itza near Lake Flores in Guatemala, where
the Conquistadores massacred them almost to a man. Their
descendants, still wearing the original tribal costumes and speaking
the old agglutinative Indian dialects, have re-entered British
Honduras in modern times, but in the sixteenth century the
country seems to have been virtually uninhabited. Neither the
Spanish when they crossed it, nor the British when they eventually
settled in it, met with any opposition from native tribes.
But it was not by Right of Conquest, still less by Right of
Occupation, that the Spanish claimed possession of British Hon-
duras from the beginning. It was by the Divine Right of the Papal
Donation of Pope Alexander VI, who in 1493 (the year after the
discovery of the West Indies by Columbus) had made a present of
the whole of this part of the New World, whether as yet dis-
covered or not, to their Most Catholic Majesties Ferdinand and
Isabella of Spain. From May 3, in fact, of that epoch-making year,
the whole of the western hemisphere, beyond a longitude running
300 miles to the west of the Azores, was granted by the Pope and
A LEGACY OF THE BUCCANEERS
accepted by all loyal Catholics as belonging both by sea and land
to Spain and Portugal. In many places, of course, this title was
afterwards confirmed by discovery, exploration, conquest, and
colonization. The story of the Spanish Conquest is indeed one of
amazing courage, endurance, and resolution, dazzling in those
days and dazzling now. Their achievements had also remarkably
permanent results, as Maderiaga has justly pointed out. After four
hundred years, that part of the New World which was actually
conquered and occupied by Spain remains Spanish in everything
but name to-day. Where, however, the Spanish claim to ownership
rested solely upon the naive assumption of the Papal Donation,
time has a very different story to tell, as we see in Newfoundland,
Canada, the United States, the West Indies, and, last but not
least, in British Honduras itself.
The Papal Donation had barely thirty years in which to set its
stamp on the New World before the Protestant Reformation began
to call it to account, and it was British seamen who did it. The
first recorded appearance of English freebooters in the West Indies
occurred as early as 1527. Some Spaniards were loading cassava
at the Isle of Mona, off Hispaniola, when they sighted a strange
craft, well armed with cannon, bearing down upon them. Curi-
osity rather than alarm was the natural reaction in those days, so
the Spaniards at once rowed out to discover who the stranger
might be. It was an English vessel sailing from London to dis-
cover a north-west passage round the world to the land of the
Great Khan of Asia. After many adventures, including a clash
with icebergs off Newfoundland (already discovered by Cabot in
an English ship), the captain of this strange vessel had turned
south to the warmer waters of the Spanish Indies, and completely
lost his bearings. The episode ended as sweetly as it had begun.
The Englishman, supplied with a chart and provisions, set sail at
once for London, and was heard of no more.1
But no doubt he had a tale to tell the mariners at home, and
it was not long before other adventurers launched out for West-
ward Ho with less innocent intent. In 1530 William Hawkins,
father of the more famous John, came trading with the Indians
off Brazil. In 1567 John Hawkins and Francis Drake were
smuggling slaves into the West Indian plantations. In 1569 Drake
sailed again, this time (as Haring puts it) 'with the sole unblushing
1 Haring, 34.
purpose of robbing the Don'. From that moment the War of the
Privateers was on. Henceforward for over two hundred years a
thousand lesser Drakes were 'singeing the King of Spain's beard'
wherever they found him, but most often of all in the West Indies
and on the Spanish Main. 'The highways and byways of the
Caribbean became to the Armada heroes what the playing fields
of Eton were to those of Waterloo.' 1
It was about this time that the English discovered in their turn
the coast of British Honduras. Hawkins, Drake, Oxenham, Lovell
and others all sailed on occasions through the Yucatan Channel
to the Gulf of Amatique on their way to Truxillo, Nombre de
Dios, and the rest. The Cockscomb Mountains became a familiar
landmark, the cays and creeks a useful hiding and careening resort.
Where they landed, there they sometimes lodged awhile. Where
they lodged, there in time they settled. For their voyages were
not always or solely for the purpose of 'robbing the Don'. The
ambition to occupy and colonize some of these desirable spots
had already entered their minds, ever since they had noted with
some envy the easy prosperity of the Spaniards. There was plenty
of land still unexplored, unoccupied, and (unless one acknow-
ledged the validity of the Papal Donation) belonging to no
civilized nation. Why should not England have a share of this
wonderful New World?
Queen Elizabeth, for one, could see no reason. It must have
given great joy and encouragement to her bold seafarers when she
put into words the very thoughts they had been thinking. In 15 87,
incensed by Spanish claims to the monopoly of trade and coloniza-
tion in the west, she uttered her famous Declaration of Policy:
'The Queen of England understands not why her or any prince's
subjects should be debarred from the Trade of the Indies, which she
could not persuade herself the Spaniards had any just title to by the
Donation of the Bishop of Rome, to whom she acknowledges no
prerogative much less authority in these cases. Nor yet by any other
claim than as they had here and there touched upon the coasts, built
cottages, or given a name to a river or cape, which things could not
entitle them to a propriety, and this imaginary propriety cannot
hinder other princes from trading in those countries, or from trans-
porting colonies into those parts thereof where the Spaniards do not
1 Winzerling, zz.
2 Quoted in Burdon, i, 48.
A LEGACY OF THE BUCCANEERS ZI
This Declaration of Policy was the Charter of the British
Empire, signed, sealed and delivered by our victory over the
Armada in the following year. It was a policy which had already
been pursued in Newfoundland (i 583): hereafter it would be our
justification for the planting of many settlements and colonies in
North America and in the West Indies. Some fifty years later, it
was felt to be particularly applicable to our occupation of British
Honduras. By no conceivable right could the Spanish claim
'Propriety' in that uninhabited and uninviting shore, where not
even the names of the rivers or capes were Spanish, and where
every 'cottage' was built by English hands.
After Elizabeth's forthright statement of policy, every incentive
-patriotic, religious, mercenary, and adventurous-egged her
subjects on to try their fortunes on the Spanish Main. Men sold
all they had to buy a barque, quickly filled their forecastles with
hardy seamen from the dockside taverns of London, Bideford, or
Bristol, and returned home (if they returned at all) to be greeted
as heroes, and to live the rest of their lives in affluence. The
Queen herself commended, sometimes even knighted them. It
was a cheap way of raising a navy, when her brave privateers at
their own charges fought the battles of England on the high seas,
and at the same time brought so much grist to the national mill.
So the privateers became an institution, and their looting of
Spanish vessels a legitimate Trade. They were no mere pirates,
playing a lone hand for personal gain, but a kind of volunteer
naval reserve. Without State pay, without provision of any sort
from the national purse, and often enough even without those
Royal Orders or Letters of Marque which were supposed to lie
in the Master's locker, these British sea-rovers became the pioneers
of Empire in the Far West. And they preferred the new name
'buccaneer' to any other, for it distinguished them from less
reputable adventurers. Their peak period was the first sixty or
seventy years of the seventeenth century.
The name itself was derived from the 'buccan' meat, or boucan,
which became their staple provender while away from home.
Perhaps the biggest problem for seafarers in the Tropics was that
of food. Voyages were long in those days, and one could never
be sure of a friendly reception when attempting to revictual on
an unknown shore. The only method of preserving meat was to
salt it so heavily that it became uneatable. It was the discovery
of the 'buccan' method of curing flesh which gave the buccaneers
their extended range of action and the physical sustenance
necessary for their extraordinary feats of endurance. It was like
that invention which enables a modem submarine to charge its
batteries without surfacing-epoch-making in the annals of mari-
time warfare. Having caught and killed some of the wild cattle
which roved over the islands (especially Tortuga), they cut the
meat into long strips and dried it over a slow wood fire fed with
bones and trimmings from the hides of the animals, by which
means a fine red colour and a succulent flavour was given to the
flesh. The place where it was smoked was called by the Carib
Indians, from whom they learnt the practice, a 'buccan', so the
men themselves became known as buccaneers. There were of
course many who were not of British blood. The French were
perhaps the most numerous in the early days of the 'Trade', being
recruited afterwards by many Huguenot adventurers escaping
from the long arm of Catholic persecution to the freedom and
safety of the West Indies-Gueux de la Mer (Beggars of the Sea)
they were often called. There were also many Dutch, escaping
from Spanish persecution in the Netherlands, as well as 'Portu-
guese, Danes, Swedes, Courlanders, and all other nations'
The Dutchman Esquemelin, who lived amongst them from
1668-74, towards the end of their main period, has left us a most
entertaining account of the buccaneers he knew so intimately:
'Being all come aboard they join together in council, concerning
what place they ought first to go wherein to get provisions-
especially of flesh, seeing they scarce eat anything else. Having got
provisions of flesh sufficient for their voyage, they return to the ship.
Here their allowance twice a day to everyone is as much as he can eat
without either weight or measure. Neither does the steward of the
vessel give any greater proportion of flesh or anything else to the
Captain than to the meanest mariner. They then agree upon certain
articles, which are put in writing by way of bond or obligation,
wherein they specify what sums of money each particular person
ought to have for that voyage, the law being "No prey, no pay!"'
Esquemelin goes on to specify the various amounts payable to
the Captain, the Carpenter, the Surgeon, and so forth. Also the
amount of compensation to be awarded for the loss of a right
arm (6oo pieces-of-eight), a left arm (5oo), a right leg (5oo), a
A LEGACY OF THE BUCCANEERS
left leg (400), an eye (Ioo), a finger (ioo)-a curious estimate, the
latter! He continues:
'They observe among themselves very good orders .Yea,
they take a solemn oath to each other not to abscond or conceal the
least thing they find amongst the prey. Among themselves they
are very charitable and civil to each other, insomuch that if any wants
what another has, with great liberality they give it one to another.
As soon as they have taken any prize of ship or boat the first thing
they endeavour is to set on shore the prisoners, detaining only some
few for their own help and service, to whom also they give their
liberty after the space of two or three years. From time to time they
put in at one island or another. Here they careen their vessels, and
in the meantime go to hunt, others to cruise upon the seas in canoes,
seeking their fortune.'
It may be asked how were these highwaymen of the sea in
their small and often ill-equipped vessels able to capture much
bigger and better armed ships, such as the galleons of Spain?
Esquemelin describes their method thus:
'Their first approach was made with great judgement, their tiny
craft being so steered as to avoid the direct fire of heavy artillery,
while their picked marksmen attempted to shoot down the helmsman
and the sailors at the rigging. Then they got under the stern, pro-
ceeded to wedge up the rudder, and boarded the ship from several
boats at once. The deck once reached, their personal dexterity,
activity, and courage were so marked that they rarely failed to
overpower their opponents.'
'Careening' (i.e. driving the vessel ashore and hauling it over
on its side by ropes from the mast head) often proved a dangerous
as well as a tedious occupation, but it was very necessary in those
seas where barnacles, fungus, seaweed, and all sorts of underwater
growths so fastened upon the wooden sides of the ship that the
speed of chase and manoeuvre upon which the buccaneers
depended for their lives and livelihood was seriously diminished.
In appearance the buccaneers must have been more picturesque
than aesthetic, although no doubt on a well-appointed ship with
a fastidious captain such matters were probably more punctiliously
ordered. An average buccaneer, as described in Haring's authori-
tative and well-documented work, wore 'a dress of the simplest
-coarse cloth trousers and a shirt which hung loosely over them,
both pieces so black and saturated with blood and grease of slain
animals that they looked as if they had been tarred. A belt of
undressed bull's hide bound the shirt and supported on one side
three or four large knives, on the other a pouch for powder and
shot. A cap with a short-pointed brim extending over the eyes,
rude shoes of cowhide or pigskin made all of one piece bound
over the foot, and a short large-bore musket, completed the
hunter's grotesque outfit. Often he carried wound about his waist
a sack of netting into which he crawled at night to keep off the
pestiferous mosquitoes.' Such was his normal working dress. His
holiday attire, however, when he landed after a successful voyage
on the quay of Port Royal or Plymouth (if he dared) was very
different-though possibly no less 'grotesque'. Here he would
swagger into the taverns arrayed in the silks and sables looted
from the cabins or stripped from the backs of his victims, matted
locks adorned by a feathered hat, greasy neck half-hidden in a
rumpled ruff, shirt encircled by a silken sash, bright hosen on his
legs, rings on his fingers, and golden hoops in his ears, but still
with his trusty dirk and pistol at his side. A lady-killer indeed, a
swashbuckling hero to wide-eyed youths, a brilliant advertisement
of the pleasures and profits of the noble calling of buccaneer.
There was seldom any difficulty in enlisting a crew for the next
voyage to Westward Ho I
Yet it must be granted they had their sinister side. There are
bloodcurdling stories of their cruelties, ruthlessness, and sadistic
humour, especially towards their mortal enemies, the Spaniards.
The latter, indeed, had started it. Their inhumanity to the native
Indians, despite honourable exceptions like Fra Bartolomeo de
Las Casas, had disgusted the British even in that brutal age, and
when the same inhumanity was practised against English seamen
it was bound to lead to reprisals. As early as 1604, for instance,
the Venetian ambassador in London reported that a Spanish war-
ship in the West Indies had captured two English vessels, cut off
the hands, feet, nose, and ears of the crews, smeared them with
honey, and tied them to trees to be tortured to death by the flies.1
On many occasions captured buccaneers were condemned to the
galleys, committed to the mines, or just hanged outright as
'pirates'. Such practices explain, if they do not excuse, the
cruelties perpetrated in return.
Yet incongruously enough, as it seems to us, many of the most
typical buccaneers were deeply religious, even puritanically strict
1 Haring, 54.
A LEGACY OF THE BUCCANEERS
in their outlook. The 'solemn oath' referred to by Esquemelin was
usually sworn upon the Bible which every captain carried in his
locker. They buried their dead at sea with bared heads and a
prayer. Indeed they often carried a Ship's Chaplain for this special
purpose, and for the-purpose of 'saying Mass' before going into
action, after the example of Drake. Haring gives one or two
'In March 1694 the Jesuit writer Labat took part in a Mass at
Martinique which was performed by some French Buccaneers in
pursuance of a vow made when they were taking two English vessels
near Barbadoes. The French vessel and its two prizes were anchored
near the Church and fired salutes of all their cannon at the Beginning
of the Mass, at the Elevation of the Host, at the Benediction, and
again at the end of the service.'
On another occasion Captain Daniel, a celebrated buccaneer,
once landed on an island near Dominica, and kidnapped the Cur6
on board his ship, requesting that his captive should celebrate
Mass. The priest dared not refuse, so the necessary vessels were
sent for and an altar improvised on deck, salutes of cannon taking
the place of church bells. Such was the respect of Captain Daniel
for the Sacred Mysteries that when one of the buccaneers neglected
to genuflect at the Elevation he whipped out a pistol 'nd shot
him through the head. After which the service proceeded without
incident, though the priest was detained a little longer to give
the dead man a decent burial.
A more Protestant type of buccaneer (killed 1722) was the pious
Captain Bartholomew Roberts. According to Snow, he was a
strict teetotaller who made his crew retire to their bunks every
night at nine o'clock and punished by death any buccaneer who
brought a woman on board. Betting, card-playing, and dice were
forbidden on his vessel, and the Sabbath Day most strictly
observed. Actually, many of these early buccaneers were Puritans
of the 'Pilgrim Father' type nosing about among the islands of
the Caribbean and the shores of the Spanish Main for some
uninhabited yet fertile spot where they might settle down to work
and the practice of their religion. Though frequently compelled to
fight the Spaniards in self-defence, and often enough perhaps
reduced by the attractions of the chase to make buccaneering a
career, this was not their primary purpose. Even when they did
for a while adopt the 'Trade' they still preserved many of their
old scruples. It is on record that in 1637 the British settlers on
Providence Island were severely taken to task by the Home
Government for the sin of betting and gambling then rife among
them and were ordered to send home to England all their dice,
playing cards, and other gaming apparatus, 'which they presently
did'. We shall notice later on that the very first enactment of
Burnaby's Code (1765) in Belize, based on the long-standing
customs of the buccaneer settlements in the Gulf of Honduras,
prohibited 'Profane cursing and swearing in disobedience of God's
Commands and the derogation of His Honor. Anyone guilty of
the same shall on proof on Oath by one Evidence or more before
any one of the said Justices of the Peace, forfeit and pay for every
such offence the sum of Two shillings and sixpence Jamaica
currency.' One of the first Police Magistrates appointed to enforce
this regulation was the Reverend William Stanford, the Chaplain
of the Settlement,
'Brethren of the Coast' these buccaneers often called themselves
in their more responsible moods, and the title was not without
justification. Rough, rude and wild though many of them were,
yet a strong sense of brotherly loyalty did bind them together
both afloat and ashore, ensuring the observance of a common
code of decency-without which, indeed, the continual perils and
hardships of their lot would have been insupportable. They were
noted, as we have seen, not only for fidelity to contracts made
one to another, and for common honesty in the distribution of
their profits, but also for uncovenanted kindnesses and liberality.
'When the time came for them to possess African slaves of their
own, they became no less celebrated for their humanity, indeed
their egalitarianism, as masters. It was said that the slaves of the
logwood-cutters around Belize were better off and better treated
than most free men elsewhere. Though ruthless enough on oc-
casion, nothing excited their anger more than cruelty or injustice
to their own folk. Their women were forced to none of the hard
work of hunting or wood-felling, being expected only to look
after the home. And this, whatever colour their 'wives' might be,
some of them having been shipped from home for the express
purpose of marrying the settlers, others being wooed among the
passengers of captured ships, but the majority being Negro women
from the plantationsJ
Such were the 'bold buccaneers' of history and romance, who
A LEGACY OF THE BUCCANEERS
played so large, though usually anonymous, a part in the founding
of our West Indian Empire. And such in the main were the first
settlers on the shores of British Honduras. Their blood flows in
the Colony to this day.
The colonization of the country began, indirectly, with the Earl
of Warwick's emigration scheme in i629, the so-called Providence
Company, a few years after our occupation of Barbados. There was
nothing hostile to Spain in the plan to settle British colonists in
such parts of the West Indies as were not in the occupation
of any Spanish or other Christian prince. Warwick was neither
swashbuckler nor land-grabber. His ship, the Seaflower, sailed
from England in much the same spirit and with the same
hopes as the Mayflower had set out ten years earlier, and its
passengers included many of the same type-Puritans desirous
only of building a free Protestant empire overseas. After touching
at Tortuga, then a buccaneer stronghold, they sailed on through
the straits between Hispaniola and Cuba, then, leaving the
Spanish island of Sant Iago (Jamaica) on the starboard bow,
steered for the Mosquito Gulf and the Spanish Main. Here they
found a small island called Santa Katarina, occupied only by the
famous Dutch buccaneer Captain William Blauveldt, or Bluefield,
who explained that he had no intention of staying permanently,
and suggested that the island would be an advantageous spot for
Warwick's projected settlement.
It would be necessary, however, to fortify the place, advised
Bluefield, who had few illusions about the Spanish. He foresaw
that before long the new British Settlement would have to fight
for its life, and that a change would come over the spirit of the
settlement, for even Puritan principles would notbe strong enough
to resist the lure of Spanish gold. To encourage them, he offered
the help not only of his own Dutch buccaneers, but of his friends
and allies on the mainland, namely the Mosquito Indians. This is
the first time we make contact with these Indians, who were to
prove such faithful friends to the British for the next two hundred
years. Bluefield had taken pains to conciliate them, and to con-
vince them that there was a world of difference between Spanish
Conquistadores and Dutch or English buccaneers. The Indians
were worth cultivating. Braver and more warlike than any others
on the Main, they boasted with truth that they had never been
conquered by Spain. But they had suffered for their contumacy,
and now hated the Spanish with an undying hate. Any enemy of
Spain was a friend of Mosquitia.
So the Earl of Warwick landed on the island, calling it hence-
forth Providence Island.1 So successful was the landing, and so
promising the venture, that in the following year (1630) it is on
record that 'Robert Earl of Warwick was made Governor in Chief
and Lord High Admiral of all those islands and other plantations
belonging to any of His Majesty's subjects within the bounds
and upon the coasts of America, with a Committee to be assisting
of him for the better governing of the said plantations, but chiefly
for the advancement of the true Protestant Religion.' 2
But Captain Bluefield's forebodings were soon fulfilled. In 1635
a Spanish fleet from the Main made a strong attack upon the
infant settlement. After a five days' battle it was beaten off, but
the experience left its mark. Obtaining from Charles I the liberty
to 'right themselves' by making reprisals, the settlers became a
thorn in the side of the Spanish, working hand-in-glove with the
buccaneers, and themselves often yielding to the attractions of
the 'Trade'. In 1639 the Spanish Ambassador protested hotly
against the depredations of Providence Company, but the Lords
refused to call Warwick to account. In any case, they said, 'no
agreement or armistice arranged in England or Spain was ever
much regarded by either nation in the West Indies', which was
only too true. In 1641, accordingly, Don Francisco Diaz Pimiento
swooped suddenly upon the island with a formidable armada,
razed the fortifications, burnt all buildings to the ground, and
made prisoners of all the settlers who had not perished or escaped.
This was the end of Warwick's colony on Old Providence Island.
It had lasted only twelve years.
But it was not the end of the British adventure. Unfortunately
for Spain, the Colony had already thrown off shoots, which by
this time had taken root on the mainland further up the Gulf.
Under the shadow of the Cockscomb Mountains, in what is now
the south of British Honduras, a Captain Daniel Elfrith was
already cultivating potatoes, pumpkins, silk grass, and the like,
and marketing them from the two trading stands, or stanns, of
upper and lower Stann Creek.3 On Tobacco Cay they grew the
I Not to be confused with the island of New Providence in the Bahamas.
Quoted from State Papers by Winzerling.
s An alternative derivation from S. Anne has been suggested.
A LEGACY OF THE BUCCANEERS
fragrant weed which every buccaneer smoked in his pipe. In 1634
a Captain Axe is named as in charge of the defences, armed with
cannon from England. The largest plantation was run by a Philip
Bell at Placentia Point, consisting of 6oo Puritans, zoo Indians,
and 1oo slaves. Commis Bight still preserves by its name a memory
of the commissary or agent, a Captain Camock, who looked after
the produce. A study of the place-names in these parts would be
full of interest, if we had space for it. Queen Cay, for instance,
was named after the Queen of Bohemia, James I's daughter. Grass
Cay, Silk Grass Creek, Freshwater Creek, Water Cay (where the
buccaneers filled their kegs), Snake Cay, Ambergris Cay, Tobacco
Cay, Samphire Cay are fairly obvious, but what episode of history
is enshrined in such names as Bluefield Cay, Columbus Cay, Colson
Cay, Ellin Cay, Goff's Cay, Hontin (Haunted) Cay, Jenkins' Creek,
Mullins' River, Pork and Doughboy Point, Stuart Cay, Spanish
Lookout, Swallow Cay, and scores of similar names which have
come down to us from the old buccaneering days? At any
rate the names show that this part of the Colony was very soon
stamped as British. 'The Cockscomb Coast in fact has been for
over three hundred years in unbroken British occupation',
declares Winzerling in his American-published book on the
Whatever may have been the fate of the Cockscomb Coast
settlements, the real nucleus out of which the present Colony of
British Honduras developed was by common consent the Belize
River area, among the low-lying logwood forests in the north.
Here our first record of a British landing is in 1638, some three
years before the sack of Providence Island, when a party of
English seamen in search of logwood was shipwrecked near the
mouth of the Old River, or Belize River, as it is now called.
While awaiting rescue or reinforcements 'they started to cut and
pile the precious timber, which they found there in abundance',
and to build themselves rude huts. They unconsciously founded,
in fact, the first embryo settlement in Belize. The authority for
this statement is the Honduras Almanack of I829,2 a periodical
official survey of the Colony based on original records no longer
extant.3 This is the earliest mention of a British landing in the
1 To the present writer, this seems a somewhat extravagant statement, but
Winzerling, on whose authority the whole of the foregoing paragraph depends,
seems to have evidence unknown to Burdon or other historians of the Colony.
a Quoted in Burdon, i, z. 8 See Preface.
30 BRITISH HONDURAS
Belize area. No more information is given, but it would seem
likely that these shipwrecked sailors were either exploring from
a base on Providence Island, or else were seeking their fellow-
countrymen on that island from one of the British settlements
in Campeachy, of which more hereafter. The latter hypothesis
would explain better, perhaps, how they knew logwood and its
value when they saw it.
Such are the earliest records of British occupation in the Colony.
There is no mention of conflict or encounter with any Spanish
settlers ashore, no suggestion that any effort had been made to
develop the logwood or other resources of the country before
the arrival of the British. The Spanish authorities resented this
trespassing, as they regarded it, upon Spanish territory, but their
protests were so obviously of the dog-in-the-manger variety that
even the early Stuarts, despite their desire to live at peace with
Spain, rejected them in the spirit of the Elizabethan Declaration,
and Cromwell followed suit. Nevertheless the nettle was never
really grasped, and the diplomatic story of the next two hundred
years is of a continual clash between the theoretical title to terri-
torial possession of the country awarded by the Papal Donation
to Spain, and the practical title claimed by England in virtue of
actual occupation and use. In early editions of the Encyclopedia
Britannica, when the question was being hotly discussed between
England and Guatemala, Squier neatly sums up the situation thus:
However Great Britain's rights in Honduras might be questioned,
it cannot be doubted that the enterprise of her subjects rescued a
desolate coast from the savage dominion of nature, and carried
industry and civilization where none existed before, and where, if
left to the control of the Spanish race, none would exist to-day.'
As to the city of Belize, the founder was a certain Captain Wallace,
after whom it was named. It appears in the archives of British
Honduras as Valys, Bullys, Bellise, Belice, and finally Belize (pro-
nounced Beleeze).1 The alternatively suggested derivation from
the Spanish balisa, a buoy or beacon, seems unlikely, for the city
was exclusively of British origin and would most naturally have
received an English name from its inception.
Little is known about this Captain Wallace, despite consider-
able research. This is probably to his credit, for the fame (or
notoriety) of a buccaneer was usually in proportion to his crimes
and cruelties rather than to his virtues. We may assume, accord-
ingly, that Wallace never rivalled L'Ollonois, Blackbeard, or
Harry Morgan in villainy. The Honduras Almanac for 1839 informs
us that his Christian name was Peter, that he was a Scotsman,
born at Falkland, in Kinross, and that he settled in Belize in 1640,
when he founded the city and had it called after his name. It is
at any rate a fact that a Scottish strain has always traditionally
characterized the Colony. At one time the Scottish Presbyterian
Church was established and endowed by law in Belize simul-
taneously with the Church of England: Scottish words have sur-
vived in the local vocabulary side by side-after all these years 1
-with words of West African origin: and Scottish names are
not uncommon among the people and places round about.
Various historians add further information about Wallace.
Thus, the Mexican writer Justo Sierra asserts that he was 'a
daring and enterprising Scotch buccaneer, who was moved by
the reputation for riches in this region [i.e. the Gulf of Honduras,
with its rich prize of Spanish galleons to be chased and looted].
In association with the most resolute of his comrades he deter-
mined to search for a site where he could establish his lair. So
1 Up to 1840 the name Belize was applied both to the capital city and to the
Colony as a whole-a usage which still obtains in Spanish-American circles.
32 BRITISH HONDURAS
he made a thorough survey of those reefs and shoals, and then
found a river entirely protected by cays [i.e. small islands] and
shallows. At the mouth of this river he landed with some eighty
buccaneers, and started to build some houses, surrounding them
with a palisade or breastwork-in short, a rude fortress. The place
was called Wallace (Belize) after him'. This statement would not
be inconsistent with the assertion of another historian, that Wal-
lace first explored Turneffe Island, and then landed at the mouth
of the Belize river for the purpose of cutting logwood. Wallace
might easily have combined the 'Trade' of buccaneering with
that of logwood-cutting as a side line. The date of his landing at
Belize is given as 1640, that is to say two years after the first
recorded landing of the shipwrecked British sailors mentioned in
our last chapter. These men had spent their time ashore in cutting
logwood, as we have seen, and may well have remained ashore
and initiated Wallace into the secrets of this profitable industry.
A French record, for what it is worth, describes him as a
capable and resolute man, 'un homme de tte et resolution'.
Esquemelin, writing thirty years later, does not seem to have
heard of him. Haring makes no mention of the name Wallace, but
speaks of the exploits of 'an English adventurer sometime after
1638', dearly to be identified with our hero.1 Winzerling has
accumulated a good deal of information about his early life, which
we shall give below. Finally, Asturias, the Guatemalan historian,
states that he was Sir Walter Raleigh's First Lieutenant on the
ill-starred expedition of 1617 in search of Eldorado on the Rio
Orinoco in Guiana. He adds that after the failure of that enter-
prise, Wallace with his great captain tried to recoup the situation
by chasing Spanish treasure ships in the Gulf of Honduras and
the Yucatan channel, which brought them within sight of the
mouth of the Belize River. If that is so, Wallace must have been
about middle age when he returned to Belize some twenty years
later, in 1640.
It is worth pausing at the mention of Raleigh to reflect on
the last exploit of that enterprising but unfortunate pioneer of
our Caribbean Empire, for it throws much light on the diplo-
matic situation of the early privateering period, and explains some
of the factors in British foreign policy which for many generations
impeded our efforts to build an empire on the Main.
1 Haring, 63.
Raleigh had spent the best years of his life as an incorrigible
Elizabethan in outlook. Of strong Protestant sympathies-he had
been present in Paris at the Massacre of S. Bartholomew in I 572
-he looked upon the Catholic Spaniards as Demonios whom it
was a Christian man's duty to despoil. With the accession of
James I to the throne, however, the political atmosphere became
somewhat too rarefied for men like Raleigh to breathe easily. At
first King James-the first King, by the way, of 'Great Britain'
-followed boldly on the line of foreign policy laid down by the
Tudor Queen. In I60o, for example, he repudiated the King of
Spain's claim to call himself Lord of all the Indies.1 But later,
especially after Cecil's death in 1612, James's craving for peace at
any price, and for power even at the price of Protestantism, led
him to adopt a policy of appeasement with regard to Spain, which
was little to Raleigh's taste. Raleigh was thrown into the Tower
for lUse majestic, but thirteen years of confinement failed to break
his spirit or change his views.
Ultimately it was the King's sore need of money, and more
money, which obtained Raleigh's conditional release. He had
succeeded in convincing the worried monarch that he knew a
land where gold abounded thick as leaves in Vallombrosa, a land
he called El Dorado, which was on the upper reaches of the Rio
Orinoco in Guiana. He knew how to get hold of this fabulous
treasure-trove, too, and assured the King that if he were given
his freedom and a fleet of British privateers he could fill the royal
coffers to the brim. So Raleigh was set free, and got his fleet.
But there was a catch in it. What must have been his bewilderment
when he opened his Sealed Orders! For James, torn between
cupidity for the gold of Eldorado and an earnest desire to avoid
trouble with Spain, had given Raleigh an impossible task. First,
he was to ascend the Orinoco, find the mines, and bring home
the gold. But secondly, he was on no account to trespass on
Spanish territory, nor be drawn into conflict with its Spanish
custodians. This was not the Tudor way of doing things, and
Raleigh, though he promised to obey, could have had no intention
of doing so, nor any hope of avoiding trespass on Spanish territory.
Doubtless he argued that, in the canny King's eyes, success would
be its own best justification. Unfortunately, he did not succeed.
He could neither find the gold, nor avoid the clash with Spain.
1 Haring, 56.
In desperation, he seems to have indulged in a little buccaneer-
ing up and down the Caribbean Sea outside his contract. This
may have been the occasion of his visit to the coast of British
Honduras, with Lieutenant Wallace on board, of which Asturias
speaks. Incidentally, Raleigh would have been interested to know
that the wool dyers of England would one day look to Belize
for their logwood, for he himself had been engaged in the wool
trade in his earlier years. However, his buccaneering enterprise
was no more successful than the former. He had to return to
James at last with empty hands, and was executed in the following
After this, the King was more than ever confirmed in his policy
of appeasement. Raleigh's execution, indeed, was intended as an
offering on that altar. Unfortunately for the buccaneers of the
seventeenth century, as well as for their successors in later years,
this policy of tenderness to Spanish susceptibilities continued to
blur the outlines of British foreign policy in the West Indies long
after James had gone. Again and again we shall find it throwing
its shadow over British Honduras, and the Mosquito Shore, to
say nothing of the British settlements in Campeachy. Nothing
must be done to offend the Spaniards. The territorial claims of
the Spanish king must be recognized, if he could show the slightest
title to ownership. Any British settlement in such places, whether
for logwood-cutting, mahogany, plantations, or any other in-
dustry, must be regarded, if Spain so desired, as a concession
worked only by Spanish permission. In any clash with Spanish
authority the British were to be subject to Spanish laws. The
settlements were to have no independent government of their
own. On the high seas Spanish ships must have the right of way
and the monopoly of trade, except in so far as they granted special
licences to other Powers. Any resistance to search by a Spanish
commander, still more, any attempt to interfere with a Spanish
ship, would be punished as an act of piracy.
On the other hand it was expected, as of Raleigh, so of the
buccaneers at sea and the settlers on land, that they would continue
to bring profit to the British Exchequer. They were to exploit
every opportunity by land and sea, yet to avoid a casus belli with
Spain I If they succeeded, well and good: the offence would
probably be overlooked. The Governor of Jamaica at all events
could be relied upon to pigeonhole complaints by the Spanish
Ambassador, if the defendant buccaneer could call sufficient pieces-
of-eight as witnesses in his defence. On one occasion, at least, the
logwood-cutters were ordered publicly to cease cutting as Spain
demanded, yet secretly to continue cutting on the quiet. The most
striking example of this kind of thing was Harry Morgan's raid
on Panama in 1670. Peace had just been declared between England
and Spain, and it had been agreed that all buccaneering should
forthwith cease, yet such was Morgan's success that he not only
escaped punishment, but was actually knighted by King Charles II.
Such were the inconsistencies and ambiguities which continually
affected the official British attitude towards the pioneers of empire
in the Caribbean. No man knew, when he returned home, whether
he would be garlanded as a patriot or hanged as a pirate. Yet the
To return to Lieutenant Wallace. Undeterred by Raleigh's mis-
fortunes, Wallace seems to have continued his seafaring career.
He reappears in history some twenty years after Raleigh's execu-
tion as captain of a small fleet of buccaneers in the West Indies.
Somehow or other he had got together a band of three hundred
Scottish and English adventurers of his own kidney who had
recently been expelled from the island of Nevis, near S. Kitts, by
the Spaniards. Included in his band were some of the Providence
settlers, who had found that island too remote and dangerous for
their liking, and had decided to get away from it while the going
was good. With this company he sailed to the island of Tortuga,
then occupied by about forty French settlers. After living amicably
side by side with them for about four months, Wallace suddenly
turned upon them, marooned them on the coast of Hispaniola,
and hoisted the English flag.
Some of his victims, however, made their escape to S. Kitts,
where they reported their injuries to a Huguenot merchant named
Levasseur. Obtaining a commission from the Governor of
S. Kitts, de Poincy, to subdue Wallace by force of arms-for
most West Indian merchants were quite capable of meeting force
by force in those days-Levasseur sailed a barque with fifty men
to the northern shores of Hispaniola, whence in August I640 he
made a sudden descent upon Wallace's settlement in Tortuga,
capturing the Governor of the Island himself. The English rallied
and besieged Levasseur in his rocky fortress for ten days, till,
ending they made little impression on the doughty Huguenot,
they manned their boats and sailed away en masse to the Island of
On arrival, Captain Wallace found but a cool reception. The
island, not particularly fertile at the best of times, was already
overcrowded, and over the heads of the settlers the political sky
was continuously thundering with menaces of Spanish com-
manders from the mainland burning to expel this hornets' nest
once and for all from the Honduranian Gulf. Wallace, it seems,
quickly made up his mind to move on. He already knew the shores
of British Honduras, as we have seen, and perhaps had heard
something of the shipwrecked sailors and their logwood camp.
So one day in the autumn of 1640, just in time to escape the
annihilation of the Providence Island settlement in the following
year, Captain Wallace got together eighty of his best men, sailed
off to Turneffe, and thence landed on the beach at the mouth of
the Belize River. After which we hear no more of him for good
Wallace must have known that according to Stuart policy his
exploit might be regarded at Court as 'trespassing on Spanish
territory', despite the fact that no Spaniards had ever landed there,
and that there were no visible signs of Spanish possession. But
no doubt he had inherited, through Raleigh, the Elizabethan out-
look. Since not even the building of an odd cottage or the naming
of an isolated river or cape could entitle the Spaniard to propriety
in lands which they had not actually occupied (see Elizabeth's
Declaration of 1587), how much less could Spain claim propriety
in a desolate uninhabited spot like the Belize River estuary, where
the only human beings were a few shipwrecked Englishmen
As Captain Wallace stepped on to the low-lying mangrove-
covered beach, hacked his way through the spiny bush, waded
up to the waist in endless swampy savannahs, or drove his canoe
up the rapids of the Belize river, tormented by flies, menaced by
snakes and alligators, and with no human being in sight, he must
have felt that here indeed was No Man's Land, a land which only
the toughest of the tough could stomach, a land which was his
for the taking, by every natural right.
If put to it, however, he could plead a more formal title to
possession, namely, that the country was within the scope of the
Providence Company's Charter of I629, and could be held for
the Crown by the same right as Providence Island. 'It must be
CAPTAIN WALLACE 37
remembered', writes Winzerling, 'that Wallace was no low
adventurer. He was one of Warwick's Puritans, possibly a relative
of Wallace, the first Governor of Connecticut, or the son of that
Captain James Wallace who was ransomed by Sir Anthony Shirley
from the Spanish near Truxillo in 1597.' Who can say? Yet a
third possible title to the coast is said to have been given him
by the King of the Mosquitos, who claimed the whole of the
Honduranian shore as his own. Indeed Winterling affirms that
Wallace actually bought the land around Belize on contract from
that sovereign, and that many Mosquito Indians assisted the
settlers in cutting the logwood.
Thus in the year 1640 the British Settlement of Belize, although
as yet only a tiny logwood-cutting encampment on the banks of
the Old River, became a fait accompli. His Britannic Majesty
King Charles I had all unwittingly been presented with a new
jewel in the crown he was so soon to lose.
Logwood has been so often mentioned that it is time we
explained what it was.
The uses of logwood, or Campeachy wood as it was called,
after the place of its first working by Europeans, had been dis-
covered by the Spaniards on the Mexican Gulf about the middle
of the sixteenth century. A leguminous tree, Hamotoxylon Cam-
pechianum, with scented yellow flowers and reddish timber, it yields
a glucose sap which in fermentation provides (or provided, for it
is now obsolete) the most effective dyes then known, especially
for woollen goods. At the beginning of the seventeenth century
it had become a major article of export from Campeachy, selling
at the almost incredible price (for those days) of ioo per ton. It
was not long before the French corsairs and British buccaneers,
accustomed to chasing the flotas of Spanish galleons laden with
gold and silver, found it almost equally profitable to pursue the
logwood convoys, cut out a laggard or two on the high seas, and
compel their crews to make for an English port.
Another way of getting hold of logwood, at more trouble but
less risk, was to cut it for oneself ashore in the places where it
was to be found. Early in the seventeenth century British adven-
turers discovered the prolific logwood forests of Campeachy. By
the middle of the century, apparently with the full consent of the
Spaniards, many firmly established British logwood-cutting settle-
ments had grown up, especially at Laguna de Terminos and the
)3 BRITISH HONDURAS
Island of Trist, together with the near-by villages of San Paulo,
Post Real, Champetone, and others.
We have an interesting contemporary description of the
logwood-cutters in Dampier's Two Voyages to Campeachy. Dampier
as a young man in search of profit and adventure sailed from
Jamaica in 1675 to Trist Island, in the Bay of Campeachy, anchor-
ing at One Bush Cay, so called for 'having only a little crooked
tree growing on it'. 'The logwood-cutters', he writes, 'were then
about 2zo men, most English, that had settled themselves in
several places hereabouts. Our cargo to purchase the logwood
was rum and sugar: we took no money for it, nor expected any.
The rate was 5 per ton to be paid at the place where they cut
it, and we went with our long boat to fetch small quantities. I
made two or three trips to their huts, where we were always very
kindly entertained by them with pork and pease, or beef and
doughboys.' 1 Dampier afterwards voyaged to Campeachy a
second time, evidently attracted by the life and its rewards, and
on this occasion better furnished with the requisite equipment,
e.g. 'hatchets, axes, macheats,2 saws, wedges, a pavilion to sleep
in, a gun, with powder and shot, etc.' 'The logwood trade', he
observes, 'was grown very common before I came hither.
Dampier continues with a description of the actual method of
log-cutting and its transhipment. He enlisted in a group of cutters
whom he had met on his first voyage.
'There were six in company, who had a hundred tons ready cut,
logged, and chipped, but not brought to the creek's side, and they
expected a ship from New England in a month or two to fetch it
away. When I came thither they were beginning to bring it to the
creek, and because the carriage is the hardest work, they hired me
to help them at the rate of a ton of wood per month, promising me
that after this carriage was over I should strike in to work with them,
for they were all obliged in bonds to procure this ioo tons jointly
together, but for no more. This wood lay all in the circumference of
500 or 600 yards, and about 300 from the creek side, in the middle
of a thick wood impassable with burthens. The first thing we did
was to bring it all to one place in the middle and from thence we cut
a very large path to carry it to the creek's side. We laboured hard at
this work five days in the week, and on Saturdays went into the
savannahs and killed beaver. When my month's service was up, in
1 For years afterwards the British cutters all over the Caribbean were known as
the' Pork and Dough Boys'.
Machete, or long sword-like knives.
which time we brought down all the wood to the creek's side, I was
presently paid my ton of logwood.'
Logwood-cutting in Campeachy, however, was by no means
all work and no play.
'Many of the cutters being good marksmen thought it a dry_
business to toil at cutting wood and so took more delight in hunting.
But neither of these employment affected them so much as priva-
teering. Therefore they often made sallies out in small parties
among the nearest Indian towns, where they plundered and brought
away the Indian women to serve them at their huts, and sent their
husbands to be sold at Jamaica. Besides they had not their old
drinking bouts forgot, and would still spend 30 or 40 at a sitting
aboard the ships that came hither from Jamaica, carousing and firing
off guns three or four days together. And though afterwards many
sober men came into the Bay to cut wood, yet by degrees the old
standers so debauched them, that they could never settle themselves
under any civil government.'
To be fair to the logwood-cutters of Captain Wallace's early
settlement in Belize, we should remember that Dampier's descrip-
tion applies to a date some thirty years later, when the morals
and manners of the camps had been contaminated by the advent
of the demobilized buccaneers of whom we shall speak in our
next chapter. Yet by and large it is probable that Dampier's
picture of the Campeachy settlements would apply to most of the
logwood camps set up in British Honduras during the seventeenth
century-a kind of tropical Wild West, including the saloon bars,
gambling hells, music, loose women, and shootings-up with which
most of us are familiar on the screen. But the torment of the heat,
the fevers, the flies, the tarantulas and scorpions, the occasional
hurricanes, the top-gallant floods and sluicing rains of the wet
season were something the cowboys never had to contend with.
Such, one may suppose, were the living conditions of those
early settlers under Captain Wallace, and their descendants, for
another century in the adolescent colony of Belize.
WALLACE and his eighty buccaneers had scarcely settled in Belize,
when news came to them that the original colony on Providence
Island had been annihilated by the Spanish (1641), as already
related. Captain Bluefield's settlements on the Mosquito Shore,
however, remained intact, defended as well by the Indians as by
such colonists as escaped thither from the Island. A party of
refugees sailing north-west towards the Gulf of Amatique estab-
lished themselves also in the island of Rattan, or Roatan, off the
coast of Spanish Honduras. We shall hear of Rattan again, but
on this occasion the British occupation was short-lived. In 1642
the Spanish under Don Francisco de Villalba y Toledo quickly
drove out the intruders. Rather surprisingly, Villalba refrained
from attacking the recently founded settlement in Belize, so that
the wood-cutters were allowed to consolidate their position in
that district undisturbed. The coast near the Belize river estuary
is not easy of approach by vessels of any great size. Apart from
the numerous sudden small cays and coral reefs which stand on
guard, the waters inshore are tideless and shallow, while the beach
affords poor landing for small boats owing to the tangle of inter-
lacing mangrove roots descending to the water's edge. Even if
they land, the jungle presents an almost impassable barrier to
those who would penetrate further. These natural advantages,
added no doubt to the vigilance of the buccaneers themselves,
deterred the Spanish from any resolute attack upon the Colony
until it was too late to extirpate it easily.
Nor was Belize without protection from her buccaneer friends
at sea. In 1642 Captain William Jackson set sail, armed to the
teeth, on an expedition of revenge for the destruction of Provi-
dence Isle, having been commissioned by the Earl of Warwick,
now Admiral of the Fleet, to try to retrieve it. Although Jackson
failed to recover Providence Island, he made his presence felt
THE BUCCANEERS TURN HONEST
among the Spanish shipping off the mainland of the Honduranian
Gulf, even to the extent of harrying their chief port of Truxillo.
In the following year (1643) he had the audacity to drop anchor
in Port Royal, Jamaica (then in Spanish possession), and extort a
ransom for the city of Santiago de la Vega to the amount of
7000 pieces-of-eight and a cargo of provisions. This exploit had
an unexpected sequel. Jackson's privateers were so delighted with
the lovely island that twenty-three of the crew refused to leave
it, and the others determined to secure it for England at the first
opportunity-which came in no more than twelve years' time
(165 ). Jamaica was thus in effect a payment of compensation to
the British for the loss of Providence Island, and everyone will
agree we got the better of the bargain.
At the same time a determined attempt was made to consolidate
our settlements on the Mosquito Shore. A large number of run-
away Negro slaves, revolting against the cruelty of their Spanish
masters in the West Indies, had been making the Mosquito Coast
their chief sanctuary for some years. These Cimarrones, as they
were called, had heard of the anti-Spanish feeling as well amongst
the Mosquito Indians as among the British and Dutch buccaneers,
so that the Shore seemed a natural place of refuge, from which
they would be neither repulsed nor extradited. Intermingling with
the natives, these hybrid Afric-Indians became known to the
buccaneers as Sambos, congregating chiefly on the northern part
of the Mosquito Coast between Cape Gracias a Dios and Castillo
Point. A glance at the map will show the strange un-Spanish
names which still commemorate the alliance of those invaders
with the seventeenth-century buccaneers-the River Wanka,
Black River, Brewer's Lagoon, Cape Cameron, Turtle Bight, Salt
River, and the rest. Sambo-land remained, of course, a province
of the Mosquito Monarchy, which thus stretched from just east
of Truxillo, including the Bay Islands of Rattan, Bonacca, Utila,
Barbareta, Mosat, etc., in the Honduras Gulf, down to Bluefields,
Monkey Point, and San Juan del Norte (Greytown) in Nicaragua,
with the islands (circumstances permitting) of Old Providence,
Henrietta, S. Andrew, and Roncador. The claim of the
Mosquito King may have resembled in its grandiose unrealism
that of our own kings to the sovereignty of' Great Britain, France,
and Ireland', but it was based on the historic fact that the Mos-
quitos were the aboriginal inhabitants of these places, and still
cung ideally to their ancient patrimony. That they came very near
to realizing this ideal with the help of British arms, and only
failed to do so through the non-cooperation or negligence of the
Home Government, will be seen as our story progresses.
It is worth giving passing notice to one of the best-known
characters and writers of this period in the history of the Spanish
Main. It was about 1641, the year of the fall of Old Providence,
that the Dutch buccaneer Captain Lucifer, shipmate and friend of
the Captain Jackson mentioned above, captured in the Bay of
Honduras an Englishman named Thomas Gage. Gage had been
brought up as a boy in the British logwood settlements of Cam-
peachy, but had gone over to the Spaniards, and become a Do-
minican friar. Returning now to England he soon announced his
conversion to Protestantism, joined the Roundheads, and became
a Minister of Religion. In 1648 he published a lively narration of
his experiences among the Spaniards in Central America, de-
nouncing the enormities of the Papists, and painting a seductive
picture of the wealth of the Spanish possessions in the Caribbean,
which might be seized with profit by his own countrymen.
In 1654 Gage laid before Cromwell personally a scheme for
the expansion of the British Empire in the West Indies. The
Spanish colonies, he said, were but sparsely populated by whites,
and weakly held. The plum was ripe for the picking.
'To my countrymen I offer a New World, to be the subject of
their future Pains, Valour, and Piety, desiring their acceptance of
this plain but faithful Relation of mine, wherein the English Nation
may see what wealth and honour they have lost by the oversight of
King Henry VII, who living in peace and abounding in riches did
notwithstanding unfortunately reject the offer of being the first Dis-
coverer of America. I know no title the King of Spain hath to these
parts but force, which by the same title, and by a greater force may
There was a fine Elizabethan ring about this-none of your
pedantic Stuart diplomacy with its nonsense about 'trespassing
on Spanish territory'. Cromwell was deeply moved. Where kings
had failed, a commoner should succeed. He thereupon declared
war on Spain, and in the following year (1655) made himself
master of the rich and extensive island of Sant Jago (Saint James),
henceforth to be known to all ages as Jamaica.
With the British occupation of Jamaica, a new era begins in
THE BUCCANEERS TURN HONEST
the history of the British West Indies. Here at last was a possession
big and wealthy enough for the Home Government to take a
lively interest in. Jamaica thus became the Headquarters of our
West Indian Empire, with full status as a British Colony, a regular
armed guard by sea and land, and an almost plenipotentiary Gover-
nor of its own. No need was there any longer for the other
Caribbean colonies to wait many weary months for instructions
to come from Whitehall, no longer was it necessary to send every
major criminal all the way to England for trial, no longer would
the buccaneers and settlers in the West Indies feel infinitely remote
from their Base. Ideally placed between the Spanish Main and the
British islands of the Bahamas and Antilles, Jamaica stood like a
hen among her brood, spreading over them protective wings.
From the Spanish point of view, Jamaica more resembled a
spider in the heart of its web, ready to dart out at the slightest
quiver on the circumference. Port Royal indeed became a veritable
nest of privateers, or licensed buccaneers armed with Letters of
Marque commissioning them to rove the seas in the King's name,
and challenge the King's enemies wherever they might be found.
Often enough the Governor of Jamaica was sufficiently broad-
minded to overlook the absence of such papers in return for a
percentage of the spoils which some enterprising buccaneer might
bring into port. Sometimes he would even conveniently forget
that peace had been declared in far-away Europe, and that techni-
cally the victims were no longer enemies at all. So from Jamaica
sailed a constant stream of well-armed, bravely manned barques,
brigantines, schooners, or even pinks, flying the Jolly Roger or
the English flag as the mood took them, chasing Spanish ships
at sight, as a dog chases cats, and captained by such noted seamen
as Colonel Morgan, Harry Morgan, Jackman, Morris, Mansfield,
Dampier, Sharp, Coxon, Sawkins, Harris, and the rest.
Nor were their exploits confined to the high seas, for the
buccaneers were amphibious fighters, expert at landing on unlikely
beaches, hacking their way through jungles, even storming ap-
parently impregnable fortresses defended by every known instru-
ment of war. Thus in 1665 the celebrated Harry Morgan, Morris,
and Jackman with 107 men, in two barques, attacked the town
of Campeachy, coasted along the shores of Belize, and sacked the
Honduranian port of Truxillo. Joining forces with the Mosquito
Indians in Monkey Bay, they ascended the San Juan River as far
44 BRITISH HONDURAS
inland as Lake Nicaragua, and took by assault the great city of
Granada. The Indians had to be forcibly restrained from slaying
the hated Spanish prisoners out of hand.' In the spring of 1666
Sir Thomas Modyford, Governor of Jamaica, got Captain Mans-
field, one of the most notorious buccaneers of the day, to assemble
a fleet of his own kidney at Bluefield Harbour on the Mosquito
Coast, with Harry Morgan as his second-in-command. With this
force Mansfield recaptured Old Providence Island, which had
been in Spanish hands since the destruction of Providence Com-
pany in 1641, and established it as a self-governing buccaneer
colony, with James Modyford (brother of Sir Thomas) as Gover-
nor. On returning to Port Royal, Mansfield was received with
open arms, although England and Spain at the time were striving
to negotiate peace.2
The new colony was soon extinguished, however. Towards the
end of the same year the President of Panama, Don Juan Perez
de Guzman, forced the settlers to capitulate after a three days'
siege. They were thereupon subjected to the most inhuman tor-
tures, being maltreated until 'their corpses were noisome to one
another', and cast chained into the oven-like dungeons of
Panama.8 Modyford and his buccaneer friends were furious. No
reprisals could be too merciless for the perpetrators of such
atrocities, and plans were laid to make the Spaniard pay dearly
for his crimes. The Home Government, however, was in no mood
to continue the war. The English Navy was in a poor state, and
Pepys allows us to see how little appreciation was felt at the
Admiralty for the naval enterprise of the privateers. 'Lord Bel-
lassis', he writes on February 20, 1667, 'tells us as a grand secret
that he do believe the peace offensive and defensive between us
and Spain is quite finished. We have done the Spanish
abundance of mischief in the West Indys by our privateers from
Jamaica, which they lament mightily, and I am sorry for them
to have done it at this time.'
Despite these forebodings, however, peace was made at last in
the Sandwich Treaty of Madrid (May 23, 1667). One of the first
stipulations made by Spain was the prohibition of all buccaneering
whether by sea or land. Article II of the Treaty provides that
'Neither of the said Kings of Great Britain or Spain shall
do or procure to be done, anything against the other in any place
1 Hating, I37. 2 Ibid., 135. 3 Ibid., 140.
THE BUCCANEERS TURN HONEST
by sea or land'. Article III, that 'They shall take, care that their
respective People and Subjects from henceforward do abstain
from all force, violence or wrong'. Article IV, that 'There shall
be free Trade and Commerce in such a way and manner that
without Safe Conduct and without general or particular Licences,
the Peoples and Subjects of each other may go freely as well by
land as by sea, navigate, and go into their said countries'. This
mutual non-aggression pact, therefore, was the death knell of all
buccaneering, at any rate in theory, and from 1667 onwards it
became the duty of every Government official to see that the
'Trade' was duly outlawed and suppressed.
Modyford understood this perfectly well, of course, but felt it
was one of those occasions when a blind eye should be put to
the telescope. The buccaneers with his connivance ignored the
Treaty, and continued with their preparations for revenge upon
the Spaniards. Early in the following year Harry Morgan took
and looted Porto Bello, and in 1669 did the same to Maracaibo,
sailing from Port Royal with the full knowledge of the Governor.
In 1670 a second Treaty with Spain was signed by Lord Godol-
phin at Madrid, a Treaty of great importance to British Honduras,
as we shall see hereafter. But neither did this second agreement
put the most famous of all buccaneers out of business. In fact it
was in the very year of the Godolphin Treaty that Harry Morgan
perpetrated that most amazing and profitable feat in the history
of buccaneering, the sack of Panama, of which Esquemelin has
left so circumstantial an account. On Morgan's return to Port
Royal, the Governor and Council of Jamaica accorded him a
hearty vote of thanks! Spain naturally protested in the strongest
terms, and Charles II found himself obliged to placate her by
disowning Morgan and discharging Modyford. Despite a huge
petition in their favour, they were clapped into irons, brought
home to London, and imprisoned in the Tower.
The new Governor of Jamaica, Sir Thomas Lynch, was deter-
mined to enforce the recent treaties. A general amnesty was
proclaimed to all freebooters who, though late in the day, should
surrender themselves and their vessels at Port Royal, and by 1672
Lynch felt able to report home that 'this cursed Trade, which
has been so long followed, is now ended'. The age of the buc-
caneers, in the true sense of the word, had passed. The age of the
pirates begins-pirates who chased, fought, and looted friend and
enemy alike, with no pretence at legality, no longer patriots but
criminals, the lawless highwaymen of the sea. Most relentless of
all in ferreting out and 'liquidating' the ex-buccaneers was now,
ironically enough, that old lag Harry Morgan himself. Brought
for trial before Charles II, his glamorous personality had made
such an impression upon the Merry Monarch that, instead of
hanging, he found himself actually knighted for his exploits. In
1675 he was back again in Jamaica as Deputy Governor, where
he remained till his death in 1682.
It now became a problem for the ex-buccaneers-such of them
as did not become pirates-to turn their somewhat unusual gifts
and experience to honest uses. Neither by training nor tempera-
ment were they adapted to the arts or restrictions of peace.
Many returned home to England, bringing with them as much
of their booty as had not been squandered or lost. Others settled
down as best they could on plantations of the various West Indian
islands, or signed on before the mast on merchant ships. Some
of them, more successful or more thrifty than the rest, had ac-
cumulated considerable fortunes through the 'Trade', and before
surrendering themselves to the authorities took the precaution of
burying their treasure chests full of gold, silver, costly ornaments,
and precious stones on some uninhabited island of the Caribbean
or lonely spot on the shores of New England to which, in more
settled times, they intended to return with their rough map, a
spade, and a boat in which to carry the treasure home. Stevenson's
Treasure Island is certainly founded on fact. Some of the treasure
seekers were successful and lived in affluence happily ever after.
Some returned to find that other spades had been at work before
them, and nothing but an odd piece-of-eight or two remained.
Some mislaid their maps or lost their lives before the treasure
could be recovered, and left a legacy to three hundred years of
treasure hunters in the search for 'Pirate Gold'.
Several such buried treasures have actually been found-proba-
bly more than have ever been published by their fortunate
discoverers. To give but one example. One day in the year 1900
young George Benner of Boston happened to see a very old
unopened seaman's locker in his aunt's lumber-room. On forcing
it open he found among an assortment of sailors' trinkets a
folded vellum chart showing the estuary of the Kennebec River
in Maine, with a star drawn over a small bay. Underneath the
THE BUCCANEERS TURN HONEST
star was a faded note, 'Stand abrest gurtsbolder bring top in line
with hill N I m it lise I2 fathom N E near big trees under stone.'
Benner and a friend excitedly followed up the clue, found the
spot indicated, with a boulder and the remains of a big tree
marking the site, and eventually located a large flat stone buried
about a foot beneath the ground. Under the stone lay a rotted
wooden chest filled to the brim with golden coins, pearls, and
diamonds. Carrying their treasure away in canvas bags to a bank
in Boston, the fortunate youths had it valued at over 20,000 dollars.
Edward Rowe Snow, who tells the story,1 adds that 'George
Benner still is alive and active on the streets of Boston to-day.'
But perhaps the chief single avenue of employment for the '
discharged buccaneers was the trade of logwood-cutting. By this
time logwood was more than ever welcomed in English markets,
where it continued for nearly two centuries to be a valuable article
of commerce. The occupation was ideally suited to the buccaneers.
They were used to hard physical toil, long experience had inured
them to the discomforts of life in the tropics, there was an
exhilarating spice of danger in the defence of the settlements
against prowling enemies, their skill with weapons could still be
of use in hunting for their food on the savannah or in the bush,
good fishing in sea and river abounded, and the life was pleasantly
free from those restrictions and conventions which put such a
damper on high spirits in the streets of civilized towns. Moreover
very little financial capital or special technique was needed for
the craft of logwood-cutting. The precious timber was easy
enough to recognize. All that was needed was an axe, a sword
or machete, saws, wedges, and ropes for hauling the timber down
to the waterside. The strong current of the stream would do the
rest, floating the logs down to the haulover near the estuary,
where they could be assembled on the barcadero, and so shipped
for home. The rough discipline and customs which had been
observed aboard ship could very conveniently be transported to
the settlements ashore, where the method of allotting shares in
the profits of the business under the superintendence of an elected
ganger would follow the model of distribution aboard ship. Thus
the buccaneers very naturally and cheerfully abandoned, if they
were law-abiding, their freebooting on the high seas, landing here
and there among the logwood settlements of the Caribbean coast
1 Pirates and Buccaneers, I944.
48 BRITISH HONDURAS
which had been planted, as we have seen, some thirty or forty
years earlier, especially on the Mosquito Shore and in British
Honduras. As buccaneers on the high seas they had played their
part in the discovery and conquest of Empire: as honest hard-
working logwood-cutters ashore they continued to play an equally
important part in consolidating that Empire.
It is probable that the Treaty of 1667 added indirectly to the
importance and prestige of Belize. No stretch of coast in all the
Caribbean was so suitable a hiding-place for such buccaneers as
chose to ignore the Treaty. The coastline was fretted with
innumerable tree-grown estuaries invisible except to a direct view,
the beaches on the cays were admirably adapted for careening
barnacled vessels, there was plenty of good fresh water and
natural food everywhere and, to cap it all, the residents ashore
were by tradition favourably inclined towards their old Brethren
of the Coast. For obvious reasons most of these ex-buccaneers,
or pirates as we must now call them, have remained anonymous
and their misdeeds unrecorded, but from time to time a brief
shaft of light illuminates the scene. Thus in 1677 we hear for the
first time of the little island of S. George's Cay, then known as
Isla de Casinas. It was on this Cay that Fr. Jos6 Delgado made
the acquaintance of the celebrated buccaneer Captain Bartholomew
Sharpe. Delgado and his missionary companions had been cap-
tured and ill-used by some English buccaneers on the mainland.
One night the buccaneers, sated with their sport, fell into a
drunken stupor and could easily have been killed, but Delgado
persuaded his companions to spare their lives. He was shortly
afterwards rescued by Captain Sharpe, who was a very religious
man-his ship was called the Most Blessed Trinity-and would
not stand by to see a minister of religion, even though he were
but a Spanish friar, maltreated. Sharpe took Delgado aboard his
vessel to S. George's Cay, and there, after a brief examination,
sent him on his way rejoicing. This happened in the year before
Sharpe and Coxon, from their headquarters among the Hondu-
ranian cays, made their famous raid upon Porto Bello, and in
company with Dampier marched across the Isthmus to the Pacific
after the example of their hero, Harry Morgan.
A few years later, 1682, S. George's Cay is again in the picture.
Coxon by this time had given up buccaneering, to take up the
trade of logwood-carrying from Campeachy and Belize to Jamaica.
THE BUCCANEERS TURN HONEST
While watering on the cay, his men, or some of them, mutinied,
intending to steal the ship and make off on their own account as
pirates. Coxon, however, got the better of them, arresting the
three ringleaders, and bringing them back in irons to Port Royal,
where they were tried and hanged by Sir Harry Morgan. In the
following year (1683) the Dutch privateer Nicolas van Horn
assembled a fleet of ex-buccaneers at Ruatan and among the cays
off Belize, with which he made a successful raid on Vera Cruz,
the chief port of Mexico. He was afterwards killed by another
pirate, Graff, and buried on Loggerhead Cay, near Cape Contoy.
Other pirates associated with these parts were Banister and Chris-
topher Goffe, who have bequeathed their names to two cays off
Belize. Banister, after having been sentenced to death for piracy
at Port Royal, escaped and took refuge in Belize. A fine seamen,
he eluded for years, and on one occasion actually defeated in
action the naval vessels sent to capture him under the command
of Captain Spragg, R.N., but he was brought to the yard-arm at
last, in 1687.
As an appendix to the story of the buccaneers we may note
that their last great exploit was the capture of Cartagena in 1697.
On that occasion the Sieur de Pointis with a force of 4000 men,
many of them ex-buccaneers under Ducasse, laid siege to Car-
tagena, reduced it to an honourable capitulation, and sailed away
for France. The buccaneers, however, secretly dropped behind
the rest of the fleet, and returning to the city put it to a merciless
sack, squeezing several millions more out of the citizens in gold
and silver. Most of these pirates were captured eventually by a
British fleet under Admiral Nevill, losing the bulk of their
treacherously gotten treasure; and it was driven home upon the
sea-rovers that the forces of law and order were too strong for
any further 'Trade' of that description. 'With the capture of
Cartagena in 1697 the history of the buccaneers may be said to
end. More and more during the previous years they had de-
generated into mere pirates, or had left their libertine life for
more civilized pursuits.' 1
Among these civilized pursuits was the logwood industry in
Belize, where the settlements from now onwards grew apace.
1 Haring, 266.
THE BRITISH LOGWOOD
WITH the signing by England and Spain of the Treaty of 1667,
outlawing all buccaneering, those who cared about England's
glory or had an eye to her future in the West Indies must have
realized the enormously increased importance of the British log-
wood settlements. To put it at its lowest, it was obvious that
unless the buccaneers could find employment in some honest
occupation sheer necessity would drive them back to their old
manner of life.
Sir Thomas Modyford, Governor of Jamaica, enterprising, far-
sighted, Elizabethan-minded as ever, pleaded hard with the Home
Government to devote a little more attention to this embryo
empire in the new world--' these new sucking colonies',' as he
called them. The superannuated buccaneers, he said, were a fine
'soldierly' lot of men of whom England might stand in need in
'any new rupture', when they could be depended on to be
'always ready to serve His Majesty'. In addition to the military
advantage which might accrue through having these expert
mariners and doughty fighters settled in the West Indies, they
were also bringing considerable grist to the Imperial mills through
commerce. Already there were about a dozen logwood vessels,
formerly privateers, selling the wood at 25 to o5 a ton, and
making a good profit. Nor were they doing anyone any harm.
'They go to places uninhabited or inhabited only by Indians',
said Modyford, doubtless having in mind Belize among other
places, 'in no way trespassing on the Spaniard.' He adds that,
with a little encouragement from Home, the 'whole logwood
trade will be English and be very considerable, paying 5 per
It was probably with some such consideration in mind that
the Godolphin Treaty already mentioned was agreed with Spain,
x Burdon, i, 49.
THE BRITISH LOGWOOD SETTLEMENTS 51
S670-an important landmark in Imperial history. It was the first
attempt of Stuart diplomacy to clarify our territorial position in
the New World and to obtain from Spain a black-and-white
admission that her monopoly of empire in those regions was at
an end. The Godolphin Treaty, in fact, was England's somewhat
tardy follow-up of Elizabeth's defiant Declaration made a hundred
years earlier. By Article VII of the Treaty it was agreed that
England should henceforth hold and possess without question
'all those lands, regions, islands, colonies, and places whatsoever,
being situated in the West Indies or in any part of America, which
the said King of Great Britain and his subjects do at present
[i.e. in 1670] hold and possess'. So far so good. Having made
this unusually virile gesture, however, King Charles and his
advisers found themselves too exhausted to compile that detailed
schedule of British Possessions up-to-date without which Article
VII would always be open to misunderstandings. One could be
quite certain that well-established places like Barbados, S. Kitts,
Jamaica, and the North American colonies were included, but
what about less explicitly held possessions? Of Godolphin's re-
fusal to grasp this nettle firmly, Burdon remarks: 'The result was
over a century of ineffectual diplomatic effort on the part of
England, a European War, and a century of desperate strife and
misery for the unfortunate settlers in Belize.' 1
Candour, however, compels the historian of British Honduras
to admit that, while the 'unfortunate settlers in Belize' were
probably in the mind of the negotiators of the Godolphin Treaty,
they are not in fact named. It was too early, apparently, for the
name Belize to have impinged upon officialdom, and the bounda-
ries of the region called 'Honduras' were still ambiguous. The
Wallace settlement at this time must have been comparatively
small, for the only colonies to be actually named are those around
Campeachy, although allusion is made vaguely to similar com-
munities in the phrase 'Honduras, the Mosquitos, etc.' 2 Possibly
we are to understand 'etc.' as including Belize, but the most
prominent logwood settlements at this time were those to the
north of British Honduras, in upper Yucatan-that is to say,
Campeachy, Cape Cattock, Cozumel, Port Real, San Paulo, and
1 Burdon, i, 9. Had Sir John Burdon lived to see this Treaty disinterred with
all the old ghosts resuscitated by Guatemala in 1948, he might have written not one
century, but nearly three 1
2 Burdon, i, 51.
Champetone, as named by Modyford in a letter to Lord Arlington
in 167z.1 As these Campeachy logwood-cutters were the fore-
runners, and perhaps the original inspiration, of the camps in
Belize they are of great importance in our story, and must be
dealt with in this chapter, especially as many of the arguments
used on behalf of the Campeachy settlements apply by the same
token to those on the Belize river.
We have seen how Modyford pleaded with the Home Govern-
ment for recognition of the ex-buccaneers who had taken up the
honest trade of logwood-cutting. His successor as Governor of
Jamaica, Lord Lynch, fortunately adopted the same line, at any
rate to begin with. Lynch was troubled by the fear that the
Godolphin Treaty of 1670 might be interpreted to the disad-
vantage of the British in Campeachy, especially at Cape Catoche
(Cattock). The question was, whether the settlement here could
count as one that was already in British possession at the time of
the signing of the Treaty. If so, by the terms of Article VII, it
would remain British. But already the ambiguity of that indolently
framed Article was creating confusion. The Spaniards were claim-
ing that the logwood in those parts had never been possessed, but
only exploited by the British. In which case, the camps were still
on Spanish territory, and worked by Spanish permission. This
ambiguity was to poison the Anglo-Spanish atmosphere in Belize
a few years later, and even to the present day, so it is worth while
pausing to examine it.
With regard to Cape Catoche, Lynch claimed that it was a
British possession under the terms of the Treaty, for the following
reasons: I. The British have been cutting there for many years.
2. It is a desolate and uninhabited place. 3. The practice of cutting
seems to argue possessory rights under the Treaty. 4. If the British
claim is established, the Dutch and French can be excluded. 5. The
Spaniards have never made any complaint hitherto. 6. The en-
couragement of wood-cutting makes it easier to reduce privateer-
ing. 7. 'It would employ ioo ships a year, and bring more into
His Majesty's customs and the Nation's trade than any colony
the King hath.' 8. 'I know there's so many places, islands, and
cays where Strangers hunt fish and cut wood, and where the
Spaniards seem to have no right, especially since the Treaty,
having no mark of dominion or sovereignty there.' a
1 Burdon, i, 53. Ibid., i, 51.
THE BRITISH LOGWOOD SETTLEMENTS
We may conjecture that among the 'many places, islands, and
cays' mentioned by Lynch, the Belize river and its coastline were
included. At any rate, there is little in Lynch's argument about
Cape Catoche which would not apply equally to the Belize settle-
ment. The Spanish, however, contested his claim, and the Council
of Plantations in Whitehall dithered in a way only too familiar at
some periods of British foreign policy, so that Lynch was moved
to appeal again 'for God's sake give your commands about log-
wood', lest the uncertainty and Spanish insolence should set a
'new war' ablaze.1
A little while later Lynch reported that the Spanish Governor
of Campeachy had gone so far as to hire a Dutch privateer named
Yallahs (Yellows) to attack the British logwood ships in the
Yucatan passage, and to raid the settlement in Trist. The Queen
Regent of Spain issued a Royal Cedula that any British traders
sailing from ports in the West Indies without a licence from Spain
should be proceeded against as pirates,2 and from this. time it
became part of Spanish policy to confiscate all logwood cargoes.
In the year 1672 over a dozen such cargoes, with their ships, were
seized off Campeachy alone. The Spanish evidently considered the
Godolphin Treaty as more honoured in the breach than the ob-
servance, and Lynch's 'new war' seemed not far round the
The men on the spot did all they could. The logwood-cutters
themselves showed such a bold front on land that the Spanish
did not dare to attack their settlements. But at sea off Yucatan
they were hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned by Spanish
men-of-war from the Mexican Bay, and, though they organized a
system of protected convoys with help from Port Royal, their
losses were considerable. Lynch continued to try his best to
interest the Home Government, begging them at least to settle
one way or the other the question of the 'propriety', British or
Spanish, of the Yucatan settlements.3 Modyford, now under a
shadow in London, but still loyal to the West Indies he had
served so well, continued his advocacy of the 'new sucking
colonies', begging the Government to recognize them as British.
'This possession in the West Indies is held by the strongest that /
can be, namely, falling of wood, building of houses, and clearing
and planting of ground.' 4 Lord Vaughan, Governor of Jamaica
1 Burdon, i, 52. Ibid., i, 52, 53. 8 Ibid., i, 55. 4 Ibid., i, 53.
54 BRITISH HONDURAS
from 1675, urged that the settlements should be annexed to
Jamaica.1 Lord Carlisle, who succeeded Vaughan, added his voice
to the same effect. Instances of Spanish injury and insults were
reported at frequent intervals to Whitehall. But it was all to very
little effect. The Home Government expressed sympathy, but was
clearly either powerless or disinclined to risk a rupture with Spain.
In particular, there was no real attempt to settle the fundamental
question as to the ownership of the territory where the logwood
camps were working.
In 1674 Lord Arlington, Secretary of State, went so far as to
urge upon Godolphin, the Spanish Ambassador at Madrid, that
the complaints of the settlers should be dealt with. 'His Majesty
is so sensible of the sufferings of His Subjects in those parts that
you must endeavour to procure some liberty for the cutters of
logwood in those remote parts where the Spaniards have none,
and His Majesty's subjects have had long abode and residence.'
At first sight this looked as though Whitehall meant to take the
matter up at last. But it was worse than nothing. It contained the
implied admission that the territory was to be recognized after
all as Spanish, and that the settlers would have to sue for Spanish
permission to continue their trade. It was, in effect, a renunciation
of our territorial rights in Yucatan, and by implication those on
the Spanish Main, including Belize itself-a repudiation by a
Government official of the Treaty of Godolphin solemnly agreed
four years earlier by his own Government. It made nonsense of
Article VII in that Treaty, and threw away the fruits of victory
won in the late war. For the sake of an uneasy spell of personal
peace and quiet, the diplomats of Whitehall had rejected the
protests of the men in the front line, humiliated their overseas
representatives, thrown away a flourishing source of trade, and
betrayed their fellow-countrymen to the tender mercies of the
most notoriously arrogant and inhuman power in the West Indies.
The repercussions of this careless note of Lord Arlington's were
to last for centuries.
Its effect on the Yucatan settlements was eventually to wipe
them out altogether, although it took longer than might have
been expected, owing to the courage and tenacity of the settlers.
Five years after Arlington's declaration of policy, conditions in
Campeachy had so far deteriorated that the Board of Trade was
1 Burdon, i, 54.
THE BRITISH LOGWOOD SETTLEMENTS
urging all British logwood-cutters, not only in Yucatan but
throughout the Spanish Main, including presumably those in
Belize and the Gulf of Honduras, to evacuate the settlements as
quickly as possible and 'apply themselves to the planting upon
the islands of Jamaica'.' Three years later (1682) poor frustrated
Governor Lynch had to abandon his defiant attitude. 'I have
forbidden', he writes sadly, 'our cutting of Logwood in the Bay
of Honduras and Campeachy, your Lordships having justly
declared that the country being the Spaniards', we ought not to
cut the wood.' He comforted himself by pretending that it was
of little consequence, since by that time logwood had become a
drug in the market-a statement which Burdon points out was
by no means true to fact. Nor were the British settlers in the
least disposed to obey either the Board of Trade at home or the
Governor of Jamaica. They had their own interpretation of the
Godolphin Treaty. It had given them the right to continue in
possession of what they had already possessed, and they meant
to stick by it, not only in Campeachy but elsewhere. In British
Honduras, for example, the Honduras Almanac of 1828 remarks
that the Treaty was 'very properly read as allowing their title
to the possession of Belize', and they were prepared to enforce
it against both the oppression of Spain and the defeatism of the
This somewhat truculent attitude on the part of the ex-
buccaneers naturally caused the Home Government considerable
embarrassment. Although not prepared to fight Spain on their
behalf, Godolphin could hardly expect his Government to fight
the buccaneers. His next proposal was typical of the period. While
officially accepting the Spanish claim to territorial possession of
the Central American continent, he privately urged upon the
Spanish authorities in 1,672 that they might well refrain from
asserting the letter of their rights. To the settlers themselves he
threw out the suggestion that they should continue with their
logwood-cutting, but do it as unobtrusively and secretly as pos-
sible. 'Although we have no shadow of a claim in those parts',
he said, 'let our settlers cut the wood surreptitiously, not
avowedly, whereby to give example and pretence to other nations,
but underhand and without making depredations on the country.'2
He hopes to persuade Spain to 'connive' at the practice. Burdon
1 Burdon, i, 56. Ibid., i, 53.
50 BRITISH HONDURAS
comments severely on this disingenuous suggestion. It was indeed
the nadir of Stuart diplomacy, the Munich of the West Indies.
And of course it settled nothing.
It must be admitted that the Spanish, in Campeachy at all
events, had some cause for complaint. It was to that district that
Dampier went in 1674 and 1675, so that we have a fairly dear
picture of the sort of people these early British logwood-cutters
really were. Dampier, as we have seen, has a sad tale to tell of
the corruption of manners and morals caused among the older
settlers by the incoming buccaneers-of their potations, slave-
raiding, kidnapping, quarrelling, and violence. In short, they were
looked upon as undesirables of whom the Spanish Government
wished to be rid as soon as possible, or whom at least they must
keep within the strictest control. The Archives of this period are
full of records of clashes between the logwood-cutters and the
Spanish, especially when it became clear that the former had no
intention of evacuating their camps either for Godolphin or any-
one else. In i680, for example, the settlement at Trist was ex-
terminated by a strong Spanish force, which imprisoned the
survivors in dungeons at Campeachy and Vera Cruz. There were
also many incidents at sea, as when a British ship was captured
off the cays of Yucatan (probably meaning British Honduras),
and the captain with eight hands were marooned on Turneffe.1
Constantly attacked by land and sea, and with no hope of
succour from England or even from Jamaica, it might be sup-
posed that the Yucatan settlements had at last heard their death
knell. If they did hear it, they refused to lie down and die. They
may on the contrary have rejoiced at the excuse for brushing up
their buccaneering, and have re-entered the arena with relish. The
celebrated buccaneer Laurence Graff, whose blushing bride had
gone to the altar with a brace of pistols bulging under her wedding
veil, signalized his return to active service by attacking, looting,
and burning the Spanish capital of Campeche itself. The exploits
of his celebrated brig The Big Trompoose (La Grande Trompeuse)
were the theme of seamen's yarns from Charleston to the Rio
Grande. The waters of the Mexican and Honduranian Gulf in
particular became about as safe for Spanish shipping as a pond
full of goldfish with a pike let loose in it. Among the famous,
or notorious, buccaneers who 'infested' the Gulf at this time were
1 Burdon, i, 56.
THE BRITISH LOGWOOD SETTLEMENTS
Sharp and Coxon, returning to Port Royal with Dampier on
board, together with huge quantities of indigo, cocoa, cochineal,
tortoiseshell, money and plate looted from Spanish bottoms. This
was in the year before they forgathered with Harris and Sawkins
at the Golden Isle for the raid on Darien so vividly related by
Basil Ringnose in Dampier's Voyages.
Somehow or other the British held on through it all, with that
grim tenacity which earned them the name of 'Bulldog'. From
beginning to end, they retained their footing in the enemy-
encircled peninsula of Yucatan for all but a hundred years. Look-
ing ahead, we shall find that in 1704, when Spain and England
were once more at open loggerheads in the War of the Spanish
Succession, the settlers are still in possession. Plans were being
made to protect them against assault by the erection of stockades
made out of the cut logwood awaiting shipment, and by 'building
a galley or two' to defend the coast. Even Whitehall woke up,
to the extent of recommending the establishment of a formal
constitution in the Colony. But-how typical of our vacillating
policy !-a month later the officials were informing the Governor
of Jamaica that 'there seemed very little chance of establishing
any Governor at Campeachy at this time', and the idea was
abandoned. That the settlement was able to hold out during the
whole of that long war (1702-13) was surely a remarkable
achievement, cut off as it was from any assistance by land
It seems strange that the Treaty of Utrecht (December 9, 1713),
which brought the war to an end, did not deign to mention the
logwood-cutters or logwood-cutting rights after all this. Yet
although restoring to Spain all territorial conquests made by
England during the war, the Treaty of 1713 did add the salient
proviso that this clause should be interpreted 'without prejudice
to any liberty or power which British Subjects enjoyed before
the outbreak of War, either through right, sufference, or indul-
gence'. This the Government doubtless considered sufficiently
explicit, seeing that by common knowledge British logwood-
cutting in Campeachy, Belize, and elsewhere on the Main had
been permitted long before the outbreak of War. Logwood-
cutting, long established by precedent and tradition, was not to
be prohibited: that was dear. The Treaty therefore could be wel-
comed by the settlements as a further confirmation of their right
to the unmolested practice of their trade, even if it left ambiguous
their right to territorial possession.
Four years later (717)--the nonchalant Stuart regime having
been displaced by that of George I-we find British Foreign
Policy a little more definite. The Board of Trade and Plantations
now openly expressed the view that the Campeachy settlements
were not included among those British conquests which were to
be returned to Spain. 'The English settlements at Cape Cattock,
Laguna de Terminos, and Trist were effectively occupied by
British subjects before the War, so are not to be restored by the
Treaty of Utrecht.' 1 By implication it was assumed at once that
this decision obtained also in the case of the settlements around
the Mosquito Coast and the Belize river. They too had been
'effectively occupied' before the war. It was a pity they had not
been actually named in the Pact.
Actually it was the latter settlements which most interested the
logwood-cutters in the early eighteenth century. Though the
Home Government seems not to have realized it, Campeachy was
no longer in the foreground of the picture. 'The centre of gravity
of logwood-cutting was shifting at this time from Campeachy to
the Belize district', observes Burdon.2 As late as 1732 the Spanish
were, it is true, protesting fiercely against the continuance of
British pretensions in Northern Yucatan, claiming that the
logwood-cutters were trespassing on Spanish soil, and Whitehall,
grown stiff rather too late in the day, was countering that in this
matter the onus of proof lay upon Spain. But by that time the
Campeachy settlements were almost deserted. The cutters, apart
from being weary of interference, had already gathered in all the
most accessible timber. As they penetrated deeper into the forests,
the labour of hauling the logs down to the seashore had grown
intolerable. In short, the logwood of Campeachy was 'worked
out'. The cutters had heard great stories of the comparatively
virgin forests further south beyond the Rio Hondo, in the Belize
river district, where swift streams and creeks lay at the edge of
the clearings ready to carry the timber down to the sea. There
were also rumours of another kind of tree, even more valuable
than logwood, growing down to the water's edge, a hard, smooth
wood called mahogany, which made a fine timber for shipbuilding
1 Burdon, i, 64. Ibid., i, 67.
THE BRITISH LOGWOOD SETTLEMENTS 59
On the whole the logwood-cutters were glad to see the last of
We have dealt with the Campeachy settlements at some length,
because their experience both of Spanish aggression and of British
diplomacy was repeated almost pari pass, except for their final
abandonment, in the case of British Honduras. In Belize, as in
Campeachy, the Spanish claimed territorial possession, the settlers
contested the claim, and the British Government vacillated. In
Belize, as in Campeachy, the local cutters were left almost unaided
to fight their own battles, and to settle by force of arms an
argument which was making no progress one way or another in
the wordy council chambers of Europe. And when Campeachy
had fallen, it was in Belize that the struggle was continued, and
brought to a successful end.
THE BAYMEN OF BELIZE
THE ex-buccaneers were not the only source from which Wal-
lace's settlement on the Belize river was recruited. In its early
years it was regarded as a more or less experimental offshoot of
the extensive logwood-cutting British communities previously
established, as we have seen, by pioneers from Providence Island
along the Mosquito Shore of the Bay of Honduras. After the
capture of the island by the Spaniards, in 1641, we may safely
assume that many of the dispossessed colonists found their way
to the comparative security of the Indian Shore, and to the still
more promising logwood settlements in far-away Belize.
The territory of the Mosquito (Mesquito, Mesekito) Indians,
or Mosquitia as it was often called, stretched from the outskirts
of Truxillo on the coast of what is now called Spanish Honduras
to almost as far south as Bocas de Toro in Panama. Since the
Indians were completely independent of Spain, and firmly attached
to England by every tie of sentiment and mutual advantage, the
British logwood-cutters in their midst looked upon the whole of
the coast from the Rio Hondo in Yucatan to San Juan de Norte
(afterwards called Greytown) as a kind of informal extension of
the Empire. True, there was an unfortunate break in the British
continuity between Truxillo and the Golfo Dulce-but here no
worthwhile deposits of logwood were to be found, so it made
no matter. Thus they looked upon the Gulf of Honduras as a
British sea, and called it familiarly 'The Bay'. The islands in it,
from the fair-sized Rattan and Bonacca to the innumerable little
cays that stretched along the shore to the northwards, were called
the 'Bay Islands', and the British settlers known generically as
The story of British Honduras, therefore, is interlocked with
that of the Bay and of the Mosquito Shore, and so remained
until the latter half of the nineteenth century. One of the earliest
references in our diplomatic records of the Mosquito Shore con-
THE BAYMEN OF BELIZE
nection appears in a letter from Governor Lynch to the Council
of Plantations in Whitehall in 1671, when he argues that the Peace
of Godolphin (1670) should not be deemed to prohibit our trade
with the Mosquito Indians.' He points out that there is no mark
of Spanish sovereignty in these parts, and adds 'it will not do
any harm to conciliate the Mesikitos by a little trading'. Ten
years later Lynch was forced, as we have seen, to change his tone
and even to forbid any further log-cutting in 'the Bay of Cam-
peachy and Honduras'. But he could hardly have expected to be
obeyed. Ultimately he had to admit that, on sending a certain
Captain Coxon with vessels to the Bay of Honduras to enforce
the evacuation of the logwood-cutters, the crew had mutinied,
while Coxon himself had joined the cutters 1 At this very time
Dampier was on the Mosquito Shore. His account of the logwood
settlements and their friends the Mosquito Indians helps one to
realize how deeply embedded were the British in this part of the
Dampier's description of the Indians, so long our allies on the
Spanish Main, is worth quoting:
'They are tall, well made, raw-boned, lusty, strong, and nimble
of foot, long visaged with lank black hair, look stern, hard favoured,
and of a dark coffee-coloured complexion. inhabiting on the
Main between Cape Honduras and Nicaragua.
After describing their skill in fighting, hunting, and fishing, and
their extremely keen vision, he continues:
'For this they are esteemed and coveted by all privateers, for one
or two of them on a ship will maintain ioo men .. it is very rare
to find privateers destitute of one or more of them when the com-
mander or most of the men are English; but they do not love the
French, and the Spaniards they hate mortally. When they come
among privateers they get the use of guns, and prove very good
marksmen. They behave themselves very boldly in fight, and never
seem to flinch or hang back they will never yield nor give back
while any of their party stand. I never could perceive any religion
nor any ceremonies or superstitious observations among them, being
ready to imitate us in whatsoever they saw us do at any time.'
(Perhaps this last remark explains why they very soon adopted
the Christian religion en masse.) 'They marry but one wife with
1 Burdon, i, 51.
2 Ibid., i, 57.
whom they live till death separates them.' The wife is left to
manage their small plot of land after the man has once cleared it
of jungle, while the husband goes hunting or fishing. Their chief
delight is in carousing over potations of spirituous 'pine-drink'
made out of pineapples. 'While among the English they wear
good clothes, and take delight to go neat and tight. But when
they return again to their own country they put by all their clothes
and go after their own country fashion, wearing only a small piece
of linen tied about their waists hanging down to their knees.'
The buccaneers found these Indians very useful as guides in their
incursions inland against the Spaniards. Everywhere the Mosquito
villages en route gave food and shelter to the British invaders when
they knew they were marching against the common enemy.
Dampier has much more to say about them in the celebrated
account he wrote of his passage from Cape Gracias a Dios to
Bluefields and Bocas de Toro, whence he sailed to the Straits of
Magellan and so round the world.
Not many years later (1698) Dampier was followed by a
'privateer' or pioneer of a very different type. William Paterson,
one of the founders of the Bank of England, was fired by the
idea of planting a British colony on the Spanish Main in Darien,
with the ultimate purpose of cutting a canal to the Pacific. The
possibility of using the San Juan river and Lake Nicaragua as a
waterway across the isthmus had been mooted as early as the
sixteenth century, and its commercial possibilities were obvious.
Organized by Paterson, a band of over 2000ooo adventurous Scots-
men sailed to a place still called Punto Escoces (Scotch Point) to
found the colony of 'New Caledonia'. Maderiaga remarks:
'The commercial acumen of this enterprising intruder seems to
have been less keen than might have been expected of the founder
of the Bank of England, for the cargo which he sought to sell to
Popish Spaniards and tropical Indians was mostly composed of cloth,
shoes, stockings, hats, wigs, and 15oo copies of King James
Authorized Version of the Bible I' 1
The expedition was a complete and piteous failure. The Spanish,
the climate, disease, and hunger took such toll that barely 300
were able to get back to Scotland.2
British enterprise further north, however, had better fortune.
1 S. de Maderiaga, Rise of the Spanish American Empire, p. 12z.
2 For Admiral Benbow's part in this affair, see p. 232.
THE BAYMEN OF BELIZE 63
The earliest recorded mention of Belize by that name appears in
an 'Account of the Sea Ports belonging to the Spaniards in
America' presented by one John Fingas to the Council of Trade
in September 170o5. In this he describes the coast of Yucatan as
'a great part drowned'-meaning swampy and low-lying-and
adds: 'Sixty leagues from Porto Caballo [now Puerto Cortez, in
Spanish Honduras] lyeth the River of Bullys, where the English
for the most part now load their logwood.' The settlement, as we
have seen, was then over fifty years old, but there were many
obvious reasons why the logwood-cutters had been backward in
advertising its existence. The experience of Spanish aggression
and of diplomatic exchanges with a not too reliable British Govern-
ment at home had warned them of the dangers of publicity.
The advice of Lord Godolphin to get on with their work
'surreptitiously' and 'underhand' had been well laid to heart,
while the coral barriers and shoals of the approaches to Belize
had formed a natural 'iron curtain' shutting them off from the
world. That this policy of self-effacement had been successful is
shown by the fact that while in all the diplomatic exchanges of
this period Campeachy, northern Yucatan, and the Mosquito
Coast were frequently named, the thriving logwood settlements
around Belize were still able to blush unseen and unheard of by
the Powers-that-be. Like Robinson Crusoe (Alexander Selkirk),
who was cast on his desert island (Juan Fernandez) this very
year (1705), the Baymen of Belize were 'monarchs of all they
surveyed'. And they were making good use of their freedom.
By 1717 we learn that they were exporting as much as 4000 v
tons of logwood per annum at an average of 40 per ton,
and were wealthy enough to buy African slaves on the open
The Treaty of Utrecht (1713) has already been mentioned.3 It
will be remembered that although logwood-cutting is not ex-
plicitly authorized by the terms of this Treaty, nor are the British
settlements named, yet the Spanish agreed not to deprive British
subjects in Spanish America of any privileges 'through right,
sufferance, or indulgence' which they had enjoyed before the war
of 1702-13. This applied as much to Belize as to Campeachy or
the Mosquito Shore, and the claim which the Council of Trade
made for Campeachy that it had been effectively occupied before
1 Burdon, i, 60. Ibid., i, 7. See page 57.
64 BRITISH HONDURAS
the war, and therefore was not to be restored to Spain, applied
with no less force to the region round Belize. The Baymen at all
events took this for granted. Nor did the Spanish authorities
These were exciting days for the young settlement. In 1717
the notorious pirate 'Blackbeard' (Edward Teach), having joined
forces with 'Gentleman' Stede Bonnet, and defeated His Majesty's
man-of-war Scarborough off Barbados, sought sanctuary in the
labyrinthian waters off Belize. Making a course for Turneffe
Island, he spent a week provisioning and filling his kegs at Water
Cay. Then he sailed to Sapodilla Cay, preying upon the Spanish
and other foreign ships that hove in sight. Though a fearless
fighter and a skilful seaman, Blackbeard was not a pleasant charac-
ter, with his fourteen wives, and his practical joke of shooting
with two pistols under the cabin table when losing at cards. He
was killed in the end by Naval Lieutenant Maynard after a terrific
struggle in which the pirate received twenty sabre thrusts and
five pistol wounds before collapsing on the deck of his ship.
There was rejoicing in Charlestown when Maynard sailed home
with Teach's blackbearded head dangling from the yard-arm. His
bo'sun was named Israel Hands (the original of the Israel Hands
in Treasure Island), who is said to have buried an enormous chest
full of treasure on one of the cays off Belize. At least one search-
party has tried to locate it. In 1867 two Americans with an old
map found, or thought they had found, the hiding-place on
Turneffe. It is unknown what success they had, but the deep hole
they dug is still to be seen. Similar search-parties were scouring
the cays as late as I906.1
A few years later (1722) we hear again of Israel Hands as mate
aboard a pirate barque captained by the infamous Edward Low.
Low's career as a pirate began one day when loading logwood in
the Bay of Honduras. Resenting what he considered an unreason-
able order from his captain, he discharged a musket at him and
decamped with twelve other seamen in the ship's long boat. To
seize a slightly larger boat was no great trouble, and with that a
larger vessel still, until he was strong enough to join forces with
another pirate, Captain Lowther, and so to hoist the Skull and
Crossbones at the mast of the brig Ranger, with no less than
eighteen cannon as her armament. Despite his courage and
1 Burdon, iii, 291.
THE BAYMEN OF BELIZE
resource, it is difficult to see anything romantic in Low's sadistic
humour. It was Low who, on learning that the captain of a rich
Portuguese prize had dropped most of the treasure overboard,
cut off his lips, ears, and nose, broiled them, and forced him to
eat them piping hot. After which he slaughtered in cold blood
every officer and man on board. In the end his own men sickened
of him, turning him adrift on the tropical high seas in a small
open boat. By a chance in a million he was picked up by a French
warship, only to be hanged for his crimes in the harbour of
Martinique. Truly there was a difference between the old
buccaneers and the new pirates 1
It was Low's custom in his more genial moods to maroon
those who offended him upon some deserted beach or island.
One of those so treated was the American, Philip Ashton, captured
by Low while fishing in Nova Scotia. On Ashton obstinately
refusing to join the pirates, he was tortured and threatened with
death, but managed to escape to a small desert island near Rattan.
This was in 1723. For two years this Honduranian Robinson
Crusoe lived alone on the island, subsisting on coconuts, mammy
apples, wild hogs, turtles, fish and other provender fortunately
plentiful. His chief trouble was with alligators, snakes, and flies
-as anyone who knows those parts can readily believe-and the
lack of shoes on his feet. One day Ashton found a canoe washed
up on the beach, in which he paddled to the island of Bonacca,
not far away. But on a boatful of Spaniards approaching he hid
in the bush, escaping back to his desert island under cover of
night. Seven months later, however, two large canoes approached
the beach filled with rough-looking men, who shouted to him
to stay. 'They told me they were Baymen from the Bay,' runs
Ashton's narrative. 'This was comfortable news to me, so I bid
them pull ashoar, there was no danger.' The Baymen, horrified
by his 'poor, ragged, lean, wan, forlorn, wild, miserable' appear-
ance, brought him in their arms to the boat, and after a while
to Bonacca, where he was picked up by an English man-of-war,
the Diamond, and so returned to his home after an absence of
nearly three years.
The Spaniards were now becoming alarmed by the increasing
number of British logwood-cutters on their shores, and both by
land and sea were watching every opportunity to expel the
intruders. The Honduras Almanac of 82z8 speaks of a raid from
Peten as early as 1718, which penetrated some miles into the
settlement, to a spot on the Old River still called Spanish Look-
out.x It is stated that the Mosquito King sent assistance to the
Baymen on this occasion. The Spanish also cruised up and down
the Bay with hostile intent. War or no war in Europe, the hatchet
was seldom long buried in the Gulf of Honduras. The records
mention many instances of British logwood ships attacked and
burnt 'under frivolous pretences' since the signing of peace. 'In
time of War', complained the settlers, 'if taken we were treated
as lawful enemies, but now as pyrates and thieves.' 2 In 1722 the
Spanish were threatening to send all Englishmen apprehended in
Yucatan or the Bay of Honduras to the silver mines in Mexico.
In 1724 they made a determined effort to expel the Sambos or
Cimmarones from the mouth of the Rio Colorado, with the
assistance of Guatemalan troops, but had little success, complain-
ing that 'the Sambos had advantages over the Spaniards in a
strong navy, good arms, and free trade with the world'-the
navy referred to being the British. In 1728 Spain imagined herself
strong enough to put forward the ancient Donation of Pope
Alexander VI (1493) as her tide-deeds to the country:
'With all the islands and seas adjacent from the time of the dis-
covery, conquest, and aggregation of them, which comprehend all
the islands and continents found out, discovered, or that shall be
discovered, between the Arctic and Antarctic Poles, ioo leagues
westward of the Islands of Azores.' 3
The claim was too fantastic to be taken seriously or to be soon
repeated, but in all the long controversy between Spain and
England (smouldering even to this day) the dead hand of this
Papal Charter is apt to make itself suddenly felt.
In 1730 the Spanish proceeded from protests and pinpricks to
offensive action on a considerable scale. Figueroa, Governor of
Yucatan, took it upon himself to send a brigantine to the Belize
river, where he captured and destroyed seven British logwood
vessels. This offensive by sea was followed almost immediately
by a raid from Bacalar, in Southern Yucatan, overland by way of
the Rio Hondo and the New River down to the settlement at
Belize itself. These two attacks are the first organized acts of
Spanish aggression against the 'sucking colony'. There is no
1 Burdon, i, 5.
2 Ibid., i, 63; i, 66.
3 Ibid., i, 67.
THE BAYMEN OF BELIZE
doubt they were made in grim earnest and with success from the
Spanish point of view. During the campaign the invaders captured
16 Englishmen, 2 women, and 20 Negro slaves. In addition to
the damage done by the attack from the sea, the land forces burnt
thirty ranchos or logwood villages up-country, and four ships on
the quayside at the Haulover, near Belize. The settlers appear to
have been caught completely unawares: they had no stockades,
forts, or weapons worth mentioning, still less armed vessels. For
the Spanish it was a glorious victory, and one that cost them
nothing at all in loss of men or ships. Shortly afterwards (1732),
a sharp diplomatic exchange is reported between the Spanish and
British Governments. England sent in a bill for compensation for
the recent damage and evictions in Belize. Spain demanded that
'the huts on the River Vallis be removed and never again in-
habited, and that no wood for dyeing be cut'.1 England quoted
her ancient rights, the Godolphin Treaty of 1670 and the Treaty
of Utrecht (1713). Spain described the cutting of logwood as 'a
notorious and detestable abuse not allowed by any of the Treaties'.
And so the battle of words went on.
The dispute became more and'more acrimonious. Spain realized
that the British logwood settlements were daily growing in
strength, and becoming more than ever inclined to demand as of
right what they had once besought as a concession, while England
at last was awakening to the commercial and perhaps to the
political importance of these far-flung outposts of Empire. Neither
side, looking up past documents relating to the points under dis-
cussion, could quote clear precedents or agreements. Too long
the diplomats had either ignored or had shied away from a head-on
collision on what seemed at first so negligible an issue. Both sides
had made shortsighted and deliberately evasive declarations, and
their policy had wavered. If Spain could quote Pope Alexander,
England could reply with Elizabeth. When Spain dragged up the
pusillanimous admissions of Godolphin, England bethought her-
self of Modyford, Lynch, and of many statements of claims made
by the settlers themselves. From the military point of view, on
the Spanish side were accessibility by sea and interior lines of
communication by land: on the English side, virtual command
of the Caribbean with the help of a stronger navy than Britain
had yet known, and the dogged tenacity of the logwood-cutters
1 Burdon, i, 67.
68 BRITISH HONDURAS
themselves. The controversy dragged on. In 1737 the Governor
of Yucatan, Salcedo, ventured another raid on Belize, and
England made a last attempt to secure an explicit agreement
with Spain about log-cutting rights. But in the end all remained
unsettled, and there was nothing for it but the arbitrament
WAR is not caused by a trifle, as Aristotle somewhere observes,
but it may be started by one. The stories of Spanish arrogance
in the Caribbean had long created an explosive atmosphere, when
a certain Captain Jenkins fresh from the West Indies appeared
before the bar of the House of Commons with a shrivelled human
ear in his hand. Lifting the flap of his wig before the eyes of the
horrified members, he explained that it was his own ear which
the Spanish, after torturing him, had cut off to the accompaniment
of curses and insults against his country and his King. This
brought matters to a head, so to speak. Walpole was forced by
public clamour to declare War against Spain and her ally, France.
Unfortunately this long war, 'The War of Jenkins' Ear', as it
was called (1739-49), entered upon without conviction and fought
without energy, brought little glory to England's arms, nor much
comfort to the English settlers on the Spanish Main. Admiral
Vernon opened with a successful attack upon Porto Bello, but
was badly beaten shortly afterwards at Cartagena, and very soon
the repercussions of the war in Europe were diverting attention
from those on whose behalf it had been originally declared.
Among the allies of England in this struggle, few historians
trouble to mention the Mosquito Indians, without whose loyal
support the Bay settlements might easily have been annihilated
and there would have been no British Honduras on the map
to-day, News of the outbreak of hostilities had scarcely reached
the New World when Edward, 'King Elect' of Mosquitia, sent
the following letter to Governor Trelawney of Jamaica. It is
worth quoting in full:
"Sir, we your lawful subjects do thank you for your care and
assistance to us in offering us commissions and assisting us in any
lawful occasion. We humbly beg you will help us with the following
things: a Commission for Edward King of the Mosquitos: a Com-
mission for William Britton, Governor: General Hobby now lying
T7 BRITISH HONDURAS
dangerously sick we desire a blank for, in case of his death, to make
his son general: a Commission for Thomas Porter and Jacob Ever-
son, being captains of His Majesty's perriaguas (shallow-draft gun-
boats): as likewise your assistance in sending us some Powder, shot,
flints, small arms and cutlasses, to defend our country and assist
our Brother Englishmen: and a good schoolmaster to learn and
instruct our Young Children, that they may be brought up in the
Christian Faith. All we beg that he may bring with him is Books
and a little salt: as for anything else we will take care to provide
for him and a sufficient salary for his pains. We likewise promise
him that he shall have no trouble to look for victuals, nor any
provisions; for we shall take care to provide for him such as our
country can afford. These necessaries we humbly beg you will assist
us with, and we shall always be ready upon a call to serve you, and
take care of any of your lawful subjects and our own country. We
humbly beg leave to title ourselves Your true subjects and loving
EDWARD KING ELEcT.
THOMAS PORTER ) Ca
JACoB EVERSON pJa .
Dated Moskito Shore May 19, 1739".
No doubt the Indians sent similar assurances to their sister
colony in Belize, which must have been extremely heartening to
the encircled and outnumbered settlers.
A year or two later Governor Trelawney forwarded the Indian
King's letter to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in
England,1 with the remark that a missionary would now be safe
among the Mosquitos as 'the Spaniards have for a long time given
over the thoughts of conquering them'. He added that 'to speak
his own thoughts of it, these Indians have a demand in justice
upon our Nation, as they have learnt most of their vices, par-
ticularly cheating and drinking, from the English, so they ought
in recompense to receive some good and learn some virtue and
religion too'. The way had already been prepared for a Christian
missionary in Mosquitia. A Mr. Robert Hodgson had previously
been sent with thirty soldiers to the Shore to organize the resist-
ance of the Indians against the Spanish foe, and this Mr. Hodgson
had combined his military duties with some elementary instruction
in the Christian religion. It is on record that the S.P.G. sent 5o
for the Mission in 1742.
Tiffs Mr. Hodgson, it may be noted, had been commissioned
1 Two Hltdred Years of S.P.G., 1901, pp. 234, f.
SPANISH AGGRESSION 71
originally along with a Mr. William Pitt to report upon and exer-
cise authority over all the British logwood settlements in Central
America. Landing in Belize they had found little need of their
presence in the growing capital of that colony, so had moved on
almost at once to the Mosquito Shore and the Bay Islands of
Rattan and Bonacca.1 They remained for many years in the district,
partly with an eye to the possibility of surveying for a canal across
the Isthmus. 'There is still to be seen upon the Honduranian
coast a little cluster of graves, with a carved stone over the last
remains of 'BILLY PITT', which mark this forgotten attempt at
In the meantime, the defeat of Vernon before Cartagena and
the disappearance of the British Navy from the Gulf had seriously
alarmed the Baymen of Belize, as well it might. What chance,
humanly speaking, could a handful of half-armed English
logwood-cutters expect to have against the encircling might of
Spain-Mexico, Yucatan, Quintaroo, Guatemala, Honduras,
Nicaragua, and shoals of Spanish gunboats out at sea? There was
serious talk of evacuating Belize and moving in a body to the
Mosquito Shore and the Bay Islands. A Mr. Gerrard of Belize
wrote strongly, however, against such a counsel of despair, par-
ticularly as 'a settlement on Rattan would be very expensive and
more vulnerable than the settlement on the Belleze River.' s So
the logwood-cutters elected to stand at bay, praying only the Privy
Council that a Governor might be appointed and some force sent
to their aid (1743). In this same year, nevertheless, some of the
children of the principal families of the Mosquito Coast were
evacuated to Jamaica. The demand from Belize for a Governor
commissioned by the King grew more insistent and the plan more
detailed. In 1744 the settlement felt strong enough to ask for the
status of a formal Colony, with a Governor and elected Council
of twelve leading citizens, who should be empowered to enact
local by-laws and adjudicate in civil and criminal cases, with
statutes based upon the laws of England. The request, now that
the war had blown the policy of Spanish appeasement sky-high,
did not seem unreasonable. It got as far as an Order in Council
recommending that Belize be made a Colony and a legislative
body be formed to draw up a Constitution (1744).4
1 Burdon, i, 69. s L. E. Elliott, Central America, 1924.
3 Burdon, i, 70. Ibid., i, 71.
72 BRITISH HONDURAS
Unfortunately the news of this defiant Order in Council came
to the ears of the Spaniards, who realized of course that it meant
the deliberate annexation by England of what they still claimed
to be Spanish territory. Their reaction was immediate and violent.
In 1745 we read of a Spanish raid up the New River with 6 boats
and 60 men burning and destroying all before them, as well as
capturing many Negro slaves.1 A threatening message was sent
that soon they would do the same to Belize itself. Again the
wood-cutters begged for help, this time from Major Caulfield
stationed on Rattan. This officer promptly reconnoitred the
military position. Three forts at least would be required, he
adjudged, which would take too long to build, but 'much might
be effected by a man-of-war with perriaguas manned by z5 men
in each perriagua, which would always be in readiness to pursue
the Spanish crafts up Rivers and into little Creeks. The Baymen,
on being consulted, had agreed with this opinion'. After this, it
is astonishing to learn that the number of men in Belize was now
no more than 5o whites and zo Negro slaves. With this small
force the settlement proposed to hold its ground against all the
might of Spain I In the end, all that Major Caulfield was able to
send to the beleaguered log-cutters, so far as we know, were
thirty muskets, with some ball and flints. Details are lacking, but
somehow or other the Baymen managed to stand their ground,
and when the war ended, in 1748, the settlement in Belize was
still on the map, and still flying the English flag. No wonder
Sir John Burdon waxes enthusiastic about his 'heroic' Baymen,
and Sir Charles Metcalfe, Governor of Jamaica, could write in
1842, 'I regard the History of British Honduras as affording one
of the most remarkable instances of British enterprise and energy.'
Yet the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which brought the 'War of
Jenkins' Ear' to an end in 1749, found no room in its clauses
for the logwood settlements on the Spanish Main. On the other
hand it said nothing about abandoning them. During the war
any lingering traces of the once extensive British settlements in
Campeachy and northern Yucatan had been blotted out, but the
settlements in Belize and on the Mosquito Shore emerged stronger
than ever. The Indians were now in a fair way to becoming
Christianized. The Rev. Nathan Price had already done useful
work along Black River before his death at Rattan in 1748-the
1 Burdon, i, 72.
Mosquito Royal Family itself had embraced the Faith. In 1749,
Robert Hodgson, now Captain, was appointed the first official
Superintendent of the British settlements on the Nicaraguan
Coast, and the Spanish, as observed by Governor Trelawney in
the letter quoted above, seemed to have given up all hope of
conquering the district. In Belize the logwood industry had even
extended its operations, no less than 8000 tons of the precious
timber being cut and sold at zo per ton in 17o0.1
But it soon appeared that the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle was not
intended by the Spanish to affect their attitude to the logwood-
cutters. The lights of peace had scarcely been turned on, before
they had to be put out. The arrogance and aggressiveness of the
neighboring Spaniards indeed took on a new lease of life, and
the weary business of negotiating with them over the rights of
the cutters had to be started all over again. The war in this respect
had settled nothing: the Treaty, as usual, had shirked the issue.
A contemporary statement of the position records renewed
Spanish attempts to dislodge the British from Belize, and urges
the Home Government to see that the settlement should be sup-
ported: 'Such a Body of seasoned Men as are at present there
may hereafter prove a very great support to the New Settlement
established by some of His Majesty's Forces at Rattan Island, the
North-West End of which is but one Hundred and Seventy Miles
from the English Town in Honduras'.1 This appeal, however,
seems to have proved ineffectual, for shortly afterwards our troops
were withdrawn from Rattan, which was thereupon fortified by
the Spaniards and made a base of operations against the wood-
cutters and their trading ships, both of British Honduras and of
the Mosquito Coast.2 At the same time orders were sent from
Madrid to the Captain-General of Nicaragua, Honduras, and
Costa Rica to eject or destroy the settlers once and for all. What-
ever might be thought of this in Europe, it meant a local declara-
tion of war against the Baymen, and by them the challenge was
fearlessly taken up.
Not content with attacking the British by land, and robbing
their cargoes at sea, the Spanish hit on the device of enticing
from them the Negro slaves without whom their industry could
scarcelybe carried on. From this time forward we hear a great deal
of this mischief, whereby the slaves were promised emancipation
1 Burdon, i, 77. 2 Ibid., i, 78.
if they could effect their escape to Spanish territory. The
wood-cutters countered it, not by attempting to terrify or in-
vigilate their slaves, but by redoubling their efforts to win their
personal affection and loyalty. The Negroes for the most part
became more like comrades than slaves, until the good relations
between them and their masters became universally known, and
the time came when it could be said that slaves in British Hon-
duras had a higher standard of life and a happier lot than any
free Negroes in the West Indies or the world. We shall have
occasion to refer to this again, and shall see how the bread thus
cast upon the waters returned after not so many days to the
Baymen of Belize.
The settlers, however, were deeply angered by this Spanish
trick, and not surprisingly (for those days) took their revenge as
and when possible. In 1753 the Governor of Jamaica felt obliged
to apologize to the Spanish for certain 'Barbarities said to be
committed by the English at Tobacco Cay and the River Valis',
declaring his readiness to punish the offenders; but he added:
'I should not wonder if the cruel treatment by many of your
Guarda Costas to the English has given rise to their Revenge-
tho' cruelty is not the characteristic of the People of my Nation.' 1
So the Battle of the Bay went on, while the rest of the world
was enjoying a few years of uneasy peace. In 1754 Billy Pitt of
the Mosquito Shore, whose name has already been mentioned,
reported a twofold invasion of Belize from Guatemala (El Peten)
and the sea. Spanish warships had seized a number of British
logwood ships in the Bay, while an army of 5 oo had cut a path
from Peten to the upper River Belize, penetrating as far as
Labouring Creek to places 'where it was thought impossible they
ever could come'. The British logwood-cutters, hastily gathered
in from the surrounding creeks to the number of 2z0, engaged
the enemy, killed many of them, and, having checked the advance,
sent to Belize for reinforcements. Then with a force of 500 whites
and their slaves they in turn took the offensive. But the Spanish
had already withdrawn to the forests of Peten.2
Both the Spanish and the British had orders from their home
governments to terminate this irregular cat-and-dog fight, but
the little war went on. In the following year (1755) the Spaniards
made a still more formidable attack in force upon Belize itself.
1 Burdon, i, 79. Ibid., i, 8o.
On this occasion they were completely successful. The Baymen
were compelled to evacuate the town, fleeing in every vessel, boat,
dorey, and canoe they could lay hands on with their wives and
children to the safety of the Mosquito Shore, where Billy Pitt
and the Indians received them with open arms. The Spanish
burnt Belize to the ground, and went off, remarking that the
place was not worth occupying, as 'it was only fit for the English'.
They hoped that the wholesale destruction they had wrought
would discourage forever any fresh attempt of the intruders' to
establish themselves in Belize. The Governor of Jamaica, how-
ever, on hearing of this set-back to the Colony, reported to
Whitehall that the logwood-cutters had been expelled from Belize
'but he had no doubt they would soon repossess themselves again
according to their usual custom'. Which leads one to suppose
that Belize had suffered at the hands of the Spanish more often
than the extant archives admit.
The Governor of Jamaica was right in his supposition. Within
a few months the 'resettlement of the Baymen had been effected
without any opposition, the Spaniards having entirely forsaken it,
after they had burnt the Houses and destroyed the Indian Pro-
visions which they found planted there'. Fortunately they had
been unable to fire the great heaps of logwood on the barcadero
'as it happened to be the Rainy Season, and most of the wood
was under water'.1 The spectacle of their burnt-up huts and ruined
gardens, far from discouraging the Baymen, only made them more
determined to dig themselves in upon the swampy fever-stricken
soil of their beloved Belize, and so to fortify the place that this
sort of thing should never occur again. Engaging an expert
military engineer, named Jones, they proceeded to build a
stockaded fortress a few miles up the river at Haulover, which
they furnished with nine six-pounder cannons and nine mounted
swivel guns provided from the Mosquito Shore arsenal. Twenty
regular soldiers from the Shore stood guard while the fortifica-
tions were in course of erection, and the settlers all signed a
Memorial asking for a permanent garrison of 40 privates under
2 officers, together with an occasional visit by a gunboat, the
soldiers to be,'appareled like Baymen in Frocks and Trousers in
order to give as little Umbrage as possible to the Spaniards'.
The request was granted, and the Invoice of Expenses charged
1 Burdon, i, 81.
to the logwood-cutters for this service is still on record. It
amounted to 470/13/5. In those days one had to pay for the
privilege of building the Empire not only with blood and toil
and tears, but in hard cash!
Spain, when she heard of it, was furious at this-the first-
attempt to fortify and defend by a regular force of arms what she
still persisted in describing as her territory. In 1760 William Pitt
(the Prime Minister-not 'Billy') observed that the Spanish were
now pressing their claims with 'uncommon vehemence and
warmth', and in the following year it became obvious that this
long-standing question of English rights in the Caribbean was
becoming a casus belli. There were many other causes of dispute,
of course, but in the end they seemed to narrow down to the tiny
problem of the Bay settlements, so that the British Minister in
Naples was moved to exclaim that of all the points in dispute,
that of Honduras was the only one of importance to the King
of Spain. 'Thus', observes Burdon, 'the little Settlement on the
Bay of Honduras was once the principal cause of a European
The Seven Years War (1756-63), between England on the one
hand and Spain in alliance with France on the other, began badly
for England in Europe, but prospered exceedingly in the western
seas. Rodney's spectacular victories at Martinique, S. Lucia,
Grenada, and the rest soon convinced the enemy that Britannia
ruled the waves, however ill her armies might fare ashore. Within
two years the signing of the Peace of Paris (1763) seemed to settle
the immediate question as to the log-cutter's rights. In Article
XVII of the Treaty, England for her part undertook to demolish
the offending fortifications in Belize, but Spain promised not to
molest or interfere in any way with the peaceful industry of
logwood-cutting, loading and carrying away, 'under any pretext
whatsoever'. For this purpose 'the log-cutters may build without
hindrance and occupy without interruption, the houses and maga-
zines (warehouses) which are necessary for them, their families,
and their effects'. The British victory had won for the long
harassed settlers the right to go about their work in peace and
safety, and to practise their ancient trade by right, no longer of
mere local custom, or unwritten law, but by the express terms of
a regularly signed Treaty between their Home Government and
1 Burdon, i, 12.
SPANISH AGGRESSION 77
Spain. Strange as it may seem, the Treaty of 1763 secured the
first plain black-and-white statement of the legitimacy of this
important British industry, although logwood-cutting had been
in operation for a hundred years In a sense, it was a victory for
So far, so good. But when the Baymen had sobered up suf-
ficiently to read Article XVII to the end, they perceived that the
Treaty was not all it had seemed -at first sight. First, although
Madrid had promised on paper to allow them the unimpeded
right of logwood-cutting, experience had shown that the Spaniards
on the spot were not always too ready to obey their own Home
Government. It seemed therefore, rather premature of the Treaty,
to order that 'His Britannic Majesty shall cause to be demolished
all the fortifications which His Subjects shall have erected in the
Bay of Honduras and other places of the Territory of Spain in
that part of the World'. These fortifications had been built and
equipped at considerable expense only a few years previously,
and the solid fact of their existence had been very comforting to
the settlers as they went about their business. Henceforward, it
seemed, they would have to rely on the more flimsy protection
of a scrap of paper.
Secondly, the Treaty still left unsettled the vexed question of
ownership of the logwood territory, or rather it had settled it in
favour of doctrinaire Spanish claims, and very much to the chagrin
of those settlers who for over a hundred years had worked, argued,
pleaded, and shed their blood to establish their territorial right.
The statesmen at home had basely betrayed them in speaking of
the logwood camps as being in the 'Territory of Spain', and
talking of 'His Catholic Majesty's permission'.
Thirdly, the Treaty had shirked the problem of deciding upon
the limits of the areas where logwood-cutting was to be permitted.
No actual place-names had been mentioned beyond the vague
'Bay of Honduras and other places in that part of the World'.
The clause, in fact, could be read in two ways. The cutters
could claim the right to cut logwood wherever they found it,
while Spain could interpret the Treaty as permitting only those
boundaries which had already been in existence before the
Finally, the Treaty was very explicit about the rights of cutting
logwood, and logwood only. According to the exact wording of
Article XVII, the cutting of any other kind of growth for com-
mercial purposes would be outside the law. Now the fact of the
matter was that the logwood industry, though still important,
had begun to take second place to that of mahogany. Those were
the days of Chippendale, the famous furniture designer and manu-
facturer, soon to be followed by Sheraton, under whose magic
touch this beautiful timber became, and remained for 150 years,
the favourite material for household furniture. It was also largely
used in the beams and stanchions of shipbuilding and later on
of railway carriages. Mahogany, in short (Swietenia Mahogani), was
almost worth its weight in gold, and the kind of mahogany that
grew in the Belize settlement was as good as any in the world.
Moreover, while the logwood forests were becoming worked out
in the more accessible places, mahogany-trees still remained an
almost virgin crop, growing conveniently near to rivers and
creeks, to which they could be easily rolled and so floated down
to the loading stage. The settlers therefore noticed with dismay
that the Treaty of 1763 carefully made no mention of anything
but logwood. In fact it really settled very little at all, and the
cutters saw breakers ahead.
THE NAVY TO THE RESCUE
TROUBLE began almost at once. Waiting only for the destruction
of the fortifications, around Belize, and for the withdrawal of all
English troops and military stores from the settlement, the
Governor of Yucatan opened the new Spanish offensive at the
end of 1763 on the very lines which had been feared by the cutters.
He complained that they had already broken the Treaty: they
had started logwood-cutting 'without waiting to settle limits with
the necessary solemnity that should have secured the British
establishments'. He demanded that all logwood-cutters between
the Rio Hondo and the New River should retire to the Belize
river at once. If the settlers persisted in 'such irregular and excess
of logwood-cutting' he would not be responsible for the 'fatal
consequences' which might ensue.1 But the settlers, who had
recently evacuated Campeachy without demur, were not equally
ready to clear out of the Rio Hondo district. Tacitly they had
come to regard this wide river as the boundary between Yucatan
and the British concessionary area. The logwood forests from the
Rio Hondo down to the New River being particularly extensive
and easily worked were not lightly to be relinquished, and were
certainly not expropriated by the Treaty. When, therefore, the
Commander of Bacalar proceeded to march troops into the Rio
Hondo and New River districts, and to blockade the mouths of
those rivers with armed vessels, the Baymen were immediately
up in arms again.
A Public Meeting of the Baymen 'in Council' (they had already
some sort of civic organization) at once sent an urgent petition
to the Governor of Jamaica, pointing out that the long-established
British settlements in the Rio Hondo district had been molested
in defiance of the recent Treaty. The settlers had withdrawn
peaceably to the New River, but even there had been pursued
by Yucatan troops, and 'ordered to evacuate every river except
1 Burdon, i, 89.
the Belize, which it is admitted them to stay a little while, but as
your Petitioners believe, not to have the privilege of logwood-
cutting even there'. After speaking of the 'miseries which your
Petitioners experience from the inhumanity of the Spaniards',
they ended with the usual appeal for speedy reinforcements.
The Governor of Jamaica, more realistic than the periwigged
politicians at home, reacted promptly and with decision. The
Hon. Sir William Burnaby, Knight, Rear-Admiral of the Red,
and Commander in Chief of Her Majesty's Squadron at Jamaica,
on being informed of the plight of his fellow-countrymen, also
reacted strongly. A tart exchange of despatches, beginning with
the Governor of Yucatan, spread to the Embassies in London
and Madrid. England spoke of the Spaniard's 'inexcusable action'.
The Spanish Ambassador in London wrung his hands, and spoke
of War; the King of Spain ordered the Governor of Yucatan
to stick to the Treaty; the Governor of Jamaica demanded
27,097/8/5 compensation for the maltreated logwood-cutters.
There followed a perfect spate of letters and language.1 But
nothing much was done till Admiral Burnaby, respectable modern
version of the old-time buccaneers who had founded the settle-
ment, took action early in 1765 with four ships of the line and
400 soldiers to make a demonstration off the threatened coast,
and 'reinstate the Logwood Cutters in the Bay of Honduras'.
Sir William Bumaby is one of the major heroes in the history
of British Honduras. The despatch which he indited on board his
flagship H.M.S. Active, anchored off Belize on March 25, 1765,
is still extant. 'The Governor of Yucatan had ordered the Com-
mandant of Bacalar to give possession to the Baymen in form.
They were now reinstated on Rowley's Bite, the New River, and
the Rio Hondo. The Governor of Yucatan who started all the
trouble was dead. His successor had expressed the highest regard
and esteem for all Englishmen, and had given assurances of better
behaviour on the part of the Spaniards in future.' Burnaby added
drily that he had nevertheless arranged for a warship to be
stationed permanently in the Bay.2
It is of interest to note that with Burnaby on this expedition
to British Honduras was the (afterwards) famous explorer James
Cook, then serving his apprenticeship in the Royal Navy, but
soon to survey New Zealand and Australia and to circumnavigate
1 Burdon, i, 93-99. Ibid., i, 99.
THE NAVY TO THE RESCUE 8I
the Globe. A few years later (1769) he published perhaps the
earliest literary work on British Honduras: Remarks on a passage
from the River Balize in the Bay of Honduras to Merida in Yucatan,
by Lieutenant J. Cook.x
It was possibly on the suggestion of Admiral Burnaby that the
Baymen about this time decided to occupy the islet of Las Casinas,
a few miles off Belize. It is recorded that, 'invited by the health-
fulness of its air and the convenience of its situation, it having a
good harbour for shipping, they cleared the ground upon the
island for plantations and erected comfortable houses there'. It
was henceforward renamed S. George's Cay, in honour of the
Patron Saint of England-possibly with some allusion to the
Spanish Dragon so recently discomfited ashore. Did Admiral
Burnaby, one wonders, foresee how useful that little island would
prove to be for the defence of the Colony, or that its name would
one day be given to the final victory which once and for all made
British Honduras our own?
The Admiral was not satisfied with merely reinstating the log-
cutters. He saw that the time had now come when they should
be banded together in some more organized establishment than
had hitherto prevailed, with a central Government and Judicature
of their own. The Baymen had frequently asked for a Constitu-
tion. Before he left them he would see that they had it. Not that
law and order were novelties in the settlement, nor some sem-
blance of local authority unknown, but it had all been spasmodic,
vague, and lacking in official sanction. It was Burnaby's intention
to gather all their old case-law and custom derived from the
buccaneering practice of former years, 'The Ancient Usages and
Customs of the Settlement', into a consolidated Code. After
considerable research and consultation with the older inhabitants,
he succeeded, and the result became known as 'Burnaby's
Burnaby seems to have sensed the democratic atmosphere of
the settlement from the beginning, and had the good sense to
realize that the methods of the naval quarter-deck were not for
such a community as this. Calling a public meeting of all the
white settlers in April 1765, he hammered out with them a Code
1 There seems to be some doubt, however, about the identity of this Lieutenant
Cook. Apparently there were, by a strange coincidence, two lieutenants in the British
Navy at this time, both of them called James Cook.
of Twelve Main Regulations to which they all (apparently)
subscribed. Briefly they were to the following effect:
(x) Against 'profane cursing and swearing in disobedience of God's
command and the derogation of His honour'-penalty 2s. 6d.
for each offence.
(2) Against theft.
(3) Against 'enveigling' or harbouring any sailor deserting his ship
in the harbour.
(4) Against hiring a servant without a written agreement.
(5) Against kidnapping anyone to act as a servant-except a steers-
man (pilot), and that only for a single trip.
(6) No taxation without representation.
(7) Justice to be administered by a Court of seven elected Magistrates
with a Jury of thirteen Housekeepers.
(8) In emergency the commander of any warship sent to the Bay
shall have authority to enforce the Code.
(9) Any disputes about its interpretation to be adjudicated by a panel
(xo) Any crime not mentioned in the Code to be punished in ac-
cordance with the Custom of the Bay.
(xx) All future legislation to receive the approval of the majority of
(x2) No distraint on property for debt, before first obtaining an order
from a Magistrate.
It was also agreed that henceforward the Judiciary should
normally meet not in Belize but on S. George's Cay, which thus
became for a time the administrative capital of the Colony.1
Such was the famous 'Burnaby's Code', on which the Admiral
was congratulated by the inhabitants, before he sailed away for
the Mosquito Coast. It was an excellent system for the time and
place, organically developed from long accepted custom, and
expressed in simple forthright terms. But it contained one serious
weakness-no arrangements were made for a standing police
force which should ensure obedience in the last resort. Burnaby
overlooked the fact that, as soon as his troops and sailors with-
drew, there would be no legal executive in the settlement. Possibly
he thought that, where every man had voted for the Code, every
man would serve as a sort of voluntary special constable to see
that the Code was kept. He was soon disillusioned. Returning to
Belize at the end of the year (1765) he found the inhabitants once
more 'in a state of anarchy and confusion'. Although they had
1 Burdon, i, too.
THE NAVY TO THE RESCUE 83
'all approved of, and all signed, and agreed to the Regulations,
they had since dwindled (so he was informed) into the same state
of confusion, complying with the Regulations so long as they
prove favourable to themselves, but on the contrary refuse to
submit their causes to tryal'. What is needed, he suggests to the
Home Government, is the appointment by the Home Government
of a Superintendent of the Settlement at 1ooo a year.1
How much trouble and confusion would have been saved, had
Whitehall agreed to this wise suggestion from the man on the
spot, will be realized by anyone who studies Burdon's Archives
of the Colony for this period. On several occasions it became
necessary to send a naval vessel to enforce the law. One naval
officer, after certain unpleasant experiences, reported hotly: 'There
ought to be a Frigate at least stationed permanently off Belize'.
And again: 'Their Government depends on the strongest arm'.
As late as 1771 we find Burnaby still complaining of a 'state of
anarchy' in the Colony, and shortly afterwards Admiral Rodney
himself was compelled to intervene in a glaring case of piracy,
where the Baymen looted a Spanish frigate driven ashore on the
Northern Triangle reef off Belize, and refused to deliver up their
loot even at His Majesty's command.2
Meanwhile the Spaniards were not showing conspicuous loyalty
to the terms of the recent Treaty. Admiral Pavey in Jamaica had
to report in 1767 that the 'Spaniards are again burning and
destroying the log-cutters' houses, decoying their Negroes, and
even imprisoning the Settlers themselves'. We hear a good deal
about Spanish molestation in this period, especially in connection
with the Negro slaves. In decoying and seducing the Negroes
from their allegiance, the Governor of Yucatan had hit on a way
of striking the Baymen in their tenderest spot, while yet keeping
within the letter of the law, for the assistance of the Negroes,
who considerably outnumbered the white settlers, was absolutely
vital to the cutting, and still more to the heavy work of dragging
to the river and loading up the heavy timber. The Baymen and
the Government protested, the Governor of Yucatan promised
amendment, or disowned the practice, but the loss of the Negroes
became a serious cause of frustration and alarm. Worse still, the
Spaniards succeeded in inciting the Negroes on at least one
occasion to active revolt against their lawful masters.
1 Burdon, i, o09. Ibid., i, 119.
In 1773 a large-scale Negro revolt took place on the upper
reaches of the Belize river. Making a sudden attack on a group
of wood-cutters, they killed six white men, and actually threatened
to advance upon the capital. Once more it was a case of the Navy
to the rescue. Captain Davey with a few sailors sailed up the river,
only to find the rebels securely hidden in the bush. Next day
fourteen of them surrendered, but a large body remained defiant.
Three parties, each of forty naval men and Baymen, were organ-
ized to round them up, while all wood-cutting and trading in
the Colony came to a standstill. Eventually Admiral Rodney sent
a Captain Judd with a stronger naval force to put the rebellion
down once and for all. But it was easy for the Negroes to cross
over into Spanish territory, and the Spaniards, who had fomented
the trouble, naturally refused to give them up. Eleven violent
Negroes wanted for murder were traced to Yucatan, but were
harboured by the Commandant of Bacalar. The great majority,
however, in the end were successfully 'mopped up', and Judd
returned to naval headquarters with the report that the rebellion
was over. It had been an alarming episode, and led the Baymen
to reiterate their demand that their title and status in the country
should be more clearly defined. The time had come, they insisted,
for the Home Government to recognize Belize openly as a British
Colony. Fortunately for their peace of mind, they little knew how
long they would have to wait for that I
The declaration of war against England by the North American
Colonies on July 4, 1776, added a new complication to the Bay-
men's problems. In 1777, for instance, while the famous American
privateer Paul Jones was harrying the British further north,
Captain Hezekiah, of the American sloop General Washington,
sailed into the harbour at S. George's Cay, threatening to bur
Belize to the ground if he was not furnished with stores. The
Baymen reported that they 'had no alternative but to meet his
demands, which were limited chiefly to rum'. The enterprising
Yankee then sailed southwards, capturing three British vessels
on the way, and when H.M.S. Cupid came up from the Mosquito
Shore, to deal with him, she had the ill luck to be wrecked on
a coral reef, though 'the Baymen gave every assistance'. In the
following year France joined with the 'United States' against
England, in 1779 Spain and Holland lent their weight to the
enemy coalition, and, with other European nations overtly hostile,
THE NAVY TO THE RESCUE
England stood alone against the world. Once more, after an
uneasy armistice of only fifteen years, Belize found herself at war
with her inveterate foe. In the struggle that ensued England and
her 'sucking colonies' -might well have seemed outmatched,
especially in the outlying parts of her far-flung maritime Empire.
But the British Navy was a host in itself. Those were great days
for the 'wooden walls of England'. With Admiral Rodney in
the Caribbean there was really not much fear from the Spanish
or French fleets, even with the United States to help. Especially,
had men realized it, with Nelson on board.
Young Horatio Nelson had been appointed by Admiral Parker
to his first command in 1778-Commander of H.M. brig Badger,
with orders to ply in the waters of the Bay of Honduras. No
doubt on this voyage he made acquaintance with the coast of the
Mosquito Shore, the Bay Islands and the difficult waters offBelize.
This turned out to be very fortunate for the Baymen, as we shall
see. In 1779, when the War with Spain broke out, he was officer
in command of Port Royal (Jamaica), where 'Nelson's quarter-
deck' still survives the earthquakes which destroyed the port.
'Here Nelson trod' is the inscription let into the brick wall. 'Ye
who walk in his footsteps, follow in his glory.' On an adjoining
wall are three memorial tablets, said to be those of his three
But even the British Navy could not be everywhere, just when
it was wanted. On September 15, 1779 (the very day, as it hap-
pened, that Paul Jones made his destructive raid on Scarborough,
forcing H.M.S. Serapis to strike her colours to the Bonhomme
Richard), the Governor of Bacalar made a surprise attack on the
Baymen of Belize before they even knew that war had been
declared. Swooping down with a fleet of nineteen perriaguas and
a schooner upon the little community on S. George's Cay, where
many of the leading citizens were now accustomed to reside on
account of its salubrity and the presence of the civic buildings,
the Spaniard had no difficulty in seizing the island. There followed
a typical example of Spanish cruelty which long rankled in the
memory of the Baymen. Over 140 Englishmen, with their wives
and children, were taken prisoner, packed into perriaguas, and
landed on the coast of Quintaroo. Thence they were marched
through 00oo miles of pestilential forest to the Yucatan capital at
Merida, whence they were transported to the dungeons of Havana.
Most of the victims succumbed to their sufferings, and there were
few alive to enjoy their liberation more than three years later at
the end of the war. The conqueror of the cay was prevented,
however, from occupying it or following up his success ashore by
the timely appearance over the skyline of H.M.S. Badger, Com-
mander Horatio Nelson. Although too late to overtake the Spanish
convoy of prisoner-laden perriaguas on its way to Quintaroo,
Nelson saved from destruction the many small craft loaded with
refugees from the Cay and from Belize on their way to the Bay
A record of this disaster is preserved in the Archives,1 signed
by one Edward Hill, who was on the cay when the Spaniards
landed, 'but escaped at ix P.M. the same night with seven more
in a dory which he had concealed in his back yard, and was so
fortunate the next morning early to get on board a Schooner Boat
belonging to Richard Hoare and Thomas Potts, lying at the Old
River's mouth, from whence they immediately proceeded to the
Mosquito Shore'. Many of the refugees fled to Rattan, where they
were furnished with arms for the defence of the island, while on
the Shore itself the British settlements were as usual under the
protection of the warlike Mosquito Indians.
As to Belize, the catastrophe of the cay robbed it of its principal
inhabitants for the time being, and the machinery of government
ran down at once. For the space of a year or two the place was
deserted, and once again the Spaniards had some reason to think
they had dealt the British settlement its death-blow. But in quiet
backwaters up the creeks, and in clearings where the Spaniards
dared not or did not penetrate, the wood-cutters were still dog-
gedly pursuing their occupation, confidently expecting one of
Belize's many phoenix-like revivals. Their confidence was justified,
for a year or two later Colonel Despard, of whom we shall hear
a great deal more, sailed over from Rattan, and rebuilt several of
the hutments in Belize. When Peace was declared, in 1783, the
settlement had already recovered much of its vigour, and was
able to benefit by the terms of the Treaty then agreed. But we
During the war with Spain, the sturdy friendship of the Mos-
quito Indians had meant a great deal to the harassed settlers in
Belize, and it was fortunate that they were strong enough to give
SBurdon, i, 128.
THE NAVY TO THE RESCUE
practical proof of it. The ties of amity had now been strengthened
by those of religion, for the Mosquitos, who had always bitterly
resisted the Catholicism of the Conquistadores, had no objection to
joining the Church of England. We have already noted the S.P.G.
Mission of 1742. A few years later a Mr. Christian Frederick
Post took up his residence on Black River as a catechist,
or lay preacher. Living among the Indians from 1768, he retired
to America in 1784 owing to ill-health. He had already, however,
been joined by another missionary, the Rev. Robert Shaw (1774),
and by a Rev. William Stanford (1776), both of whom we shall
meet later in Belize. A whole generation of Indians, therefore,
had grown up in the British tradition, religion, and alliance.
As it was from the Mosquito Shore that the defence of Belize
had been organized, so it was upon this shore that a speedy
revenge was taken for the Spanish outrage on S. George's Cay.
Nelson sailed straight from the cay to the Nicaraguan port of
San Juan de Norte, which with Indian assistance he captured,
together with the fortress of La Concepcion. Galvez, President
of Nicaragua, counter-attacked with reinforcements from Costa
Rica, but without success. The British, however, were compelled
soon afterwards to evacuate the place owing to a disastrous
epidemic of Yellow Fever among the troops.1
We now hear for the first time of a certain Colonel Edward
Marcus Despard, who was destined to play a prominent part in
the drama of British Honduras. Despard, a former shipmate and
friend of Nelson, had recently been appointed Governor of Rattan,
from which island he now sailed to the mainland with a crew
largely composed of angry refugees from S. George's Cay,
marched upon a Spanish fort up Black River, and destroyed it.
Lastly a strong naval attack was made, on September zi, by a
British fleet of four warships (Charon, Lowestoft, Pomona, and
Porcupine) upon the Spanish Honduranian port of Omoa, near
Truxillo, under Captain John Luttrell. The seamen, assisted by
250 Baymen, carried and fired the town at the first assault, but
could not take the inner fort 'as the Baymen, who were carrying
the scaling ladders, had dropped them in their eagerness to fight'.
However, the place was eventually reduced (October I9), and
booty to the extent of three million dollars carried away.2 Further
to the south an army of 14,000 Mosquito Indians was mobilized
1 Villacorta, 129. s History of Royal Navy (899), iv, 44.
at the Sambo capital of Bragman Town, and a strong force of
British troops garrisoned the British settlement at Bluefield,
whence they made frequent incursions against the neighboring
Spaniards. It will thus be seen that the Mosquito Coast was a
tower of strength to the British cause.
But the most crushing rejoinder to Spanish aggression on the
high seas was Nelson's destruction of the Spanish fleet at Cape
S. Vincent and Rodney's return to the West India station in 1780.
During the rest of the war the Bay settlements were never in real
danger, especially after Colonel Despard had been able to pay
that first personal visit to Belize of which we have spoken. On
that occasion he rebuilt Belize and S. George's Cay, secured the
safety of the former by erecting a stockaded fortress at Haulover,
and disembarked upon the quayside many of the Baymen who
had taken refuge with him on Rattan. Despard returned to his
post with a love for Belize in his heart which was soon to draw
him back to it.
Hostilities in the West Indies ceased entirely with Rodney's
decisive victory over de Grasse off Martinique in 1782, and in the
following year the Peace of Versailles brought the war to an end.
THE BATTLE OF BELIZE
IN the Peace of Versailles (1783), which left her more firmly
entrenched than ever in Gibraltar, Great Britain made little pro-
vision for the future of her far-western Rock on the Honduras
Gulf. Strangely enough, in view of her growing Imperial am-
bitions, she did not even question the Spanish claim to territorial
possession and sovereignty in Belize. All she demanded in 1783
was that the log-cutting privileges granted by the Treaty of 1763
should be reaffirmed, and that the boundaries of the concession
should be more clearly defined. It will be remembered that the
former Treaty through the absence of such definition had been
construed by the log-cutters as permitting them to cut timber
wherever it could be found, while the Spanish had construed it
as applying only to the narrow territory between the New River
and the River Belize, an area of 3oo00 square leagues. Fox now
pointed out that though 300 square leagues sounded generous,
much of it was mere swamp or savannah. He therefore insisted
on the northern boundary being fixed at the Rio Hondo.
In the end the British view prevailed. A map was drawn and
coloured showing the British concessionary area as stretching
from the Rio Hondo on the north to the Belize river on the
south, and the frontiers of Peten Itza (vaguely indicated) on the
west.1 All logwood-cutters who might have strayed beyond these
boundaries were to be immediately rounded up and gathered
within the permitted zone. It was also agreed that the British
fortifications, since they were on Spanish territory, were to be
demolished, and that no other trade than logwood was to be
permitted on a commercial scale. Furthermore the Treaty laid it
down that the cays in the Bay were not to be permanently occupied
by the settlers. So much for Article VI of the Treaty of 1783.2
In the following year the Spanish and British commissioners on
1 The map is reproduced in Burdon's Archives, i, 136.
SBurdon, i, 137.
the spot bilaterally agreed and delimited the boundaries thus
Needless to say the settlers were profoundly disappointed by
this meagre award. They were actually in a worse case than they
had been before the war. If this was victory, they asked, what
would defeat have meant! Hundreds of Englishmen with their
families and slaves had penetrated into logwood areas beyond the
Treaty limits-over the Rio Hondo, into the Peten district, and
above all over the Belize river towards the River Sibun. From
these profitable cuttings they were now roughly evicted by the
Spaniards, and bundled into the narrow preserve coloured yellow
on the map. Overcrowding and unemployment was the immediate
result, those who turned to other occupations being warned
that the Treaty permitted logwood-cutting and nothing else.
Mahogany was still not mentioned in the concession. Even
fishing as a trade and 'turtling' and market-gardening were
forbidden. The final insult had been the clause demanding the
evacuation of the cays, including the now famous S. George's Cay
Against this intolerable position, the Baymen protested in no
uncertain terms. They wrote in a memorial to Lord North of the
'diminutive extent and insufficiency' of the Spanish concession.
'All the inconveniences, difficulties, and hardships which formerly
they laboured under are unremarked and unredressed.' 'No free-
dom of navigation is permitted.' They are 'as open and liable as
ever to have their Negroes seduced and their property pilfered'.
'No security whatever is provided for them in case of rupture
between the two Crowns.' They were excluded from all the cays,
even S. George's Cay, 'which for health, convenience, and
security was to them above all other situations on the Coast',
and so on.1
Governor Campbell of Jamaica, writing to Lord North in the
following year, supported the Baymen's protests. The frontiers
laid down by the Treaty should most certainly be extended. Of the
cays, S. George's, the Southern Triangles, and Turtle Fishing Cay
should be secured to the settlers. He recommends a strengthen-
ing of the Constitution by the appointment of a Governor,
approving the choice of Colonel Despard of Rattan for that
position. Belize became the centre of almost continuous public
1 Burdon, i, 139.
THE BATTLE OF BELIZE
meetings for the combined purpose of strengthening its civic
organization and voicing its detestation of the Treaty. Among
other items, heavy damages were claimed from the Spaniards for
their depredations on S. George's Cay, 'carried out in defiance
of all the Laws of War and in contravention of Article 36 of the
Treaty of Madrid (1667) and Article 18 of the Peace of Utrecht'.'
Their indignation was not soothed by the gift of a shipload of
convicts which the Home Government now proposed to make
them. It was resolved that the landing of these convicts from the
Mercury now in the harbour would' damage the credit and charac-
ter of the country', and that they should be re-embarked without
delay. Two scoundrels who nevertheless got some of the convicts
ashore, for the purpose # selling them as slaves, were speedily
arrested, and the convicts rounded up. The troubles of the
harassed settlers were further augmented by a severe hurricane
(November 20, 1785) which lasted twelve hours and did much
Eventually the Baymen secured at any rate one concession
from the Government. Colonel Despard was summoned from
the Mosquito Shore, and arrived in Belize in June 1786 to take
up office as the first Superintendent of the settlement, fixing his
residence at Haulover.2 This implied the establishment in Belize
of a formal Constitutional Government, with a Magistracy, Law
Courts, Legislature, and Governor (in all but name) as in other
recognized colonies, against which the Spanish had always pro-
tested as infringing their own sovereignty. But by then the whole
question of the wood-cutting settlements was again in the melting-
pot. Spain, anxious still to negotiate the restoration of Gibraltar
by England, reopened negotiations on the Treaty of 1783, out
of which emerged the epoch-making Convention of London.
The Convention of London (1786) marked a much more con-
ciliatory approach on the part of Spanish diplomacy to the log-
cutting question in British Honduras. This Convention, rather
than the Treaty of Versailles, was the true harvest reaped by our
victory in the war, and especially by the heroic success of
Gibraltar's resistance in her three-year siege. Spain had come to
the conclusion that she had everything to gain and little to lose
by placating British feeling in the West Indies. She now agreed
accordingly to modify the harshness of the Treaty of Versailles
1 Burdon, i, 146. 2 Ibid., i, 153.
in the following important respects: (i) the boundaries of the
logwood concession were extended as far as the Sibun (Jabon)
river southwards; (2) the cutting of Mahogany was explicitly
allowed, as well as the use of all natural fruits of the earth-though
no plantations such as sugar, coffee, or cacao might be made;
(3) the occupation of S. George's Cay was conceded-but there
must be no fortifications or troops--and the other cays might be
used for careening ships and so forth; (4) fishing was to be
permitted. All this was very acceptable as far as Belize was
But the Spanish negotiators insisted on two drastic stipulations.
First, that the British settlements on the Mosquito Shore of
Nicaragua should be completely evacuated and abandoned for
ever. Secondly, that the British in Belize 'must meditate no
more extensive settlements, or the formation of any system of
government either military or civil'.
In making the former demand, namely for the surrender of
the Nicaraguan settlements, Spain made a serious diplomatic
blunder. At first they could not understand why Great Britain
agreed to it so readily. The Mosquito Shore settlements were
the oldest British communities on the Spanish Main, they were
the firmest held and the easiest to defend owing to the Anglophil
Indians in that region, they were numerically and commercially
important, readily accessible by sea, and had proved vital to the
defence of Belize. It certainly seemed surprising that England
should so lightly give them up. But it was not long before Spain
realized that in this respect our diplomacy had been, whether
by accident or desigri, extraordinarily astute. When Spain, after
making what she considered the vast concessions of the London
Convention, asked for the return of Gibraltar as a quid pro quo,
England blandly pointed out that she had already received her
quid pro quo in the shape of the evacuation by the British of the
whole of the Mosquito Shore and its Bay Islands. Thus, in effect,
the Shore was surrendered as an alternative to the surrender of
the Rock, and no one can say it was a bad bargain. But there
was more in it than that. Though England might evacuate her
own subjects from the Shore, she had neither the intention nor
the power to evacaute the Mosquito Indians, nor had she been
asked to break off her alliance with those Indians. So that, in the
upshot, the Mosquito Shore remained more firmly than ever in
THE BATTLE OF BELIZE
the British sphere of influence-a British Protectorate, in fact, in
all but name.
The second stipulation, that the Belize settlement should have
no civic organization of its own, was more troublesome, indeed
impracticable. It resulted through no fault of his own in the
ruin of the newly appointed Superintendent. Colonel Despard,
an officer and a gentleman of the rigidly conscientious type, had
strict orders from the Home Government to carry out the pro-
visions of the London Convention in the letter and the spirit,
and this he resolved to do, though it must have gone very much
against the grain of a man who had fought so resolutely against
Spanish aggression. Putting His Majesty's commands above both
his private feelings and his beloved Baymen's protests, Despard
quickly found himself in an impossible position. His worst
problem was the evacuation -of the settlers from the Mosquito
Shore. It was bad enough having to evict one's fellow-
countrymen from their ancestral homes against their will, to the
number of 225o white and black. It was worse to thrust this
enormous number of'displaced persons' upon the already some-
what overcrowded settlers in Belize, who bitterly resented the
new arrivals, outnumbering the original Belisians as they did by
two to one. Strict orders received from Whitehall to 'give
preference to the Mosquito Shore arrivals' did not help very much
to siem the rising tide of indignation and revolt. Despard had no
police force, it must be remembered, and at times was com-
pelled to ask assistance even of the Spanish Commissary and
Spanish troops to enforce the law-which naturally made him
more unpopular than ever.
According to the Treaty, the Constitution recently granted to
the Baymen with all its legal and judicial apparatus, and with
Despard as Superintendent, had been abolished by the Convention
of London. Strictly speaking, Despard had now to regard himself
not as the President of a democratic community, but as an officer
specifically commissioned by the King to carry out the terms of
the Treaty. Whitehall supported him in this interpretation of
his duty, but Whitehall had no means of persuading Belize to
take the same view. Inevitably Despard came to be looked upon
as a tyrant, a self-willed autocrat, even as a traitor to his own
countrymen. Both the general public and the Magistrates turned
against him. On occasions it came to open rebellion, as when
Despard, strictly within the law, awarded one Joshua Jones from
the Mosquito Shore a log-cutting allotment No. 69 then in the
possession of a native Belisian, and the Magistrates 'armed with
guns, pistols and cutlasses' turned the newcomer out and put
him in irons.x Despard enforced his decision in the end, but there
were countless such clashes.
At first Whitehall supported Despard up to the hilt. In Feb-
ruary 1788 Lord Sydney wrote that the settlers have 'conducted
themselves in a very unwarrantable and indecent manner, and
His Majesty was much displeased at their conduct'. Despard,
however, must excuse them: they 'misunderstood the fact that
his authority overrides their old Regulations'. A hint of a slight
cooling in the Home Government's regard for him appears,
however, in the postscript: 'I am inclined to think that by good
Management and a more conciliatory Demeanour on your part,
you might, etc. etc.' The poor man's observations upon this are
not reported.2 In the following year the position had become no
easier. Even Despard was moved to indignant protest against an
over-zealous Spanish inspector who rooted up all the food gardens
in Belize on the grounds that they were against the Convention.
But the Baymen's protests against Despard's high-handed ways
mounted in fury. The principal inhabitants wrote home about his
'visible spirit of self-importance and uncontrollable domination',
declaring that 'Englishmen can never brook the despotic Govern-
ment of an individual. We have tasted the sweets of liberty and
hitherto have never forfeited our right and title to that valuable
blessing'. His rule was 'too degrading for an Englishman to
At length the volume of these unfair accusations, which ought
to have been fired at the negotiators of the Convention, rather
than at the subordinate whose duty it was to carry it out, induced
the Home Government to order an Enquiry into Despard's
administration. Lord Granville, Secretary of State, came to the
damaging conclusion that the 'accused' had displayed a 'warmth
of temper perhaps excusable owing to the conduct of the Settlers,
but it was difficult to explain the irregularity of his proceedings
with the Spanish Commissary, especially in supporting his destruc-
tion of the Plantations'--which was exactly what Despard had
not donel--and so forth. Yet his Lordship adds that he 'dis-
1 Burdon, i, x66. s Ibid., i, 68.
THE BATTLE OF BELIZE
approves of infractions of the Treaty by the settlers, and has no
intention of encouraging anything resembling Colonial govern-
ment in Belize'. Logically Despard had been vindicated, but
diplomacy is not logical. In the spring of 1790 he was superseded,
though not at once recalled, and Colonel Peter Hunter took his
The first public action of Colonel Hunter was to arrange a
democratic poll for the election of a new body of Magistrates
(May 3, 1790). To his own and Hunter's astonishment, Despard
was returned at the top of it! 1
But the man had had enough of politics by now. Broken-
hearted and disillusioned he cast off the dust of Belize for ever
and returned to England. He seems to have been permanently
embittered. One is scarcely surprised to find him involved in a
revolutionary plot in London against the Government in 80o2.
Despite a testimonial by Lord Nelson to his distinguished service
in the Navy, he was hanged in the following year.
Perhaps it was providential for Belize that Despard left when
he did. Trouble was again brewing between England and Spain,
and Despard would have been far too punctilious in his obser-
vance of the Convention to take the necessary military precautions.
It was not long before the Governor of Yucatan was complaining
that 'things are not going half so smoothly now that Colonel
Despard is gone'.2 For his successor, Colonel Hunter, was a very
different type of man. He had scarcely entered Belize before he
began importing arms from England, and erecting illicit fortifica-
tions in preparation for the struggle he saw looming ahead.
Hunter had no use for appeasement. One of his first regulations
(June 16, 1790) was to order thirteen lashes to be repeated on
three separate days together with amputation of the right ear as a
penalty for enticing slaves to 'run to the Spaniards'. (We never
hear of Despard ordering. such punishments.) He also organized
a militia of armed volunteers, and a system of espionage against
the Spaniards. All this was a palpable infraction of the London
Convention, but Whitehall made no objection. Nor did the settlers
complain of a disciplinarian regime which, though sharp, was
short. For in the spring of 1791 Hunter departed, leaving the
settlement for over five years (1791-96) under the control of the
seven magistrates without any Superintendent at all.
1 Burdon, i, i88. 2 Ibid., i, 190.
They were six years of uneasy peace in Honduras with com-
plaints from both sides of infractions of the Convention, and
various petty acts of provocation and aggression. Faintly from
the distance came the grim tocsin of the Marseillaise. In 1793, the
year when the Petit Caporal first attracted notice in the siege of
Toulon, Revolutionary France declared war on England. In 1796
Spain joined forces with the French, and very soon England
found herself standing alone with her back to the wall against
the most powerful combination of enemies she had yet faced.
Timid councillors suggested compromise in an apparently
desperate situation, but William Pitt the Younger had no use for
appeasement. He was a great believer in the Empire, both in India
and in the Far West. His spirit infected the new Superintendent,
Colonel Thomas Barrow, who soon after the outbreak of war,
suddenly appeared on the quayside of Belize (December 31, 1796).
Barrow at once followed Hunter's example, put the settlement in
a posture for defence, concentrated most of the population in
Belize, evacuated S. George's Cay, and proclaimed Martial Law.
Ably seconding him came the gallant young Captain John Ralph
Moss in H.M.S. sloop Merlin, the only naval vessel which England
Barrow had no easy task to win the co-operation or confidence
of the Baymen, long disillusioned and bewildered by the vagaries
of British Diplomacy where Honduras was concerned. Many of
the logwood- and mahogany-cutters refused to come into Belize.
At a public meeting held on June I, 1797, it was proposed that
the whole Colony should be evacuated to the Mosquito Shore,
where the Indians still offered a safe refuge. The resolution to stay
and fight it out was carried by only a small majority-hardly
surprising, when one remembers that the settlement at this time
was scarcely bigger than Yorkshire, with a population of some
three or four thousand, encircled by the hostile millions of Spanish
America Furthermore the call-up of men for military training
prevented the cultivation of crops, so that there was a serious
shortage of food. At one time the Merlin's crew had to live on
local plantains I There were even signs of panic, until fresh troops
from England arrived in the autumn. The leading citizens were
not always as helpful as they might have been. Particularly
obstreperous seems to have been the Rev. William Stanford,1
1 See page 87.
THE BATTLE OF BELIZE 97
Chaplain to the settlement, who, on being suspended for
insubordination, chose this untimely moment to challenge the
Superintendent to a duel, and continued for some years to
make a nuisance of himself.
Fortunately the Spanish, who, had they known it, held Belize
in the hollow of their hands at this time, kept putting off their
attack, and the Colony was given time to improve its position
under the whiplash of Barrow's and Moss's energetic exhortations.
In January 1798 three companies of the 6th West India Regiment
reached Belize, together with 171 Negro slaves enlisted on a
promise of emancipation at the end of the war. A local Belisian,
Thomas Paslow, recruited a large force of slaves, and fitted up
his private scow as a gunboat. Other improvised gunboats were
named, typically, TowZer, Mermaid, TeaZer, Swinger, manned by the
Baymen. Thomas Potts, a veteran Magistrate, who was old enough
to remember Admiral Burnaby, fitted up and appointed himself
captain of the Tickler, which was to win mention in Barrow's
dispatches. His sculptured tombstone on S. George's Cay is in
good preservation to this day. Captain Osmar, an American,
offered his services and his ship. And among the 'Pork and
Doughboys' of the settlement there were many unknown heroes
ready to pull their weight in the hour of need.
Suddenly the Spanish struck. On September 3 (quoting Bar-
row's dispatch), a powerful armada of 32 vessels, 500 seamen,
and packed with zooo'land troops' under the command of Arturo
O'Neill, Governor of Yucatan, was sighted sailing from the north,
with the obvious intention of forcing a passage over Montego
Cay Shoal towards S. George's Cay, and making that island the
base of operations against Belize. This attempt was foiled by 'our
little squadron' beating them off 'with great ease', and destroying
all the buoys which the enemy had laid down to guide them
through the narrows. On the 5th the attack was renewed from
another direction, but again repulsed, though the Spaniards 'fired
off an immense quantity of ammunitition to no manner of purpose,
while our people fired comparatively little, but with a steadiness
which surpassed my most sanguine hopes'. On the following day,
Captain Moss in H.M.S. Merlin, and two armed vessels, sailed to
S. George's Cay, thwarting yet another advance of the enemy by
way of Long Cay. A landing at Belize river mouth itself was then
threatened, but Barrow in command of the land forces made
98 BRITISH HONDURAS
suitable dispositions in the channel and at the Haulover stockade,
which he planned to defend to the death if it came to the worst.
The threat on Belize was a feint, however, for the Spaniards
had not abandoned their original intention of seizing S. George's
Cay as an essential preliminary to-further operations. On Sep-
tember io they were seen advancing in order of battle upon the
island. The Baymen's little fleet of improvised boats and rafts
was immediately drawn up for action, with H.M.S. Merlin in-the
centre. The engagement opened about 2.30 P.M. 'The enemy came
down in a very handsome manner and with a good countenance
in a line abreast using both sails and oars.' (It was discovered
afterwards that they were so confident of victory, that they carried
letters addressed to several people in Belize, which they expected
to deliver before nightfall ) Captain Moss at once made the signal
to attack, and his motley crews moved forward with an eagerness
and courage 'which, to use his own expression to me on the
occasion, would have done credit to veterans', wrote Barrow in
The action lasted about two hours, during which Captain Moss
showed himself as 'an officer of very great merit'. He was ably
supported by his improvised 'fleet'. Captain Osmar lost his vessel
on a reef, but' got command of a flat [raft], and sustained at one
time an action against five of the Spanish gunboats, and at another
time against seven, in both of which he succeeded in beating them
off'. The logwood-cutters, out of their element but evidently with
some of their ancestors' buccaneering blood still running in their
veins, became 'impossible to restrain, hastening in canoes, dories,
and pitpans with impetuosity to join their companions and share
their danger'. The Negro slaves, armed only for the most part
with 'Poke-'em-mo" palm spears of fire-hardened wood, proved
themselves particularly loyal and plucky. 'You will be astonished
to hear that our Negromen who manned the fleets gave a hearty
cheer on coming into action, and in the midst of firing of grape
kept up upon them by the Spanish vessels, these Negroes in an
undaunted manner rowed their boats and made every exertion
to board the enemy.' About 3.30 P.M. the largest vessels of the
Spanish flotilla surrounded and concentrated their fire upon
H.M.S. Merlin, heart and brain of the British defence. Captain
Moss fought gamely back at them,. while seventeen small boats
sailed or paddled to his assistance, with Barrow himself in the
THE BATTLE OF BELIZE
van. Suddenly, seeing the reinforcements approaching, the Spanish
fleet broke off the action, and withdrew to the north. In the
morning they could be seen on the horizon 'shaping a course for
Baccalar'. It was all over.
The Battle of S. George's Cay had been fought and won against
enormous odds by the smallest force, surely, ever to be engaged
in one of the decisive battles of history. Captain Moss gives the
exa ctfigures. burce, besides the Merlin, as follows: 2 Sloops
with one i8-pounder and 25 men. One Sloop with one short-
9-pounder and 2z men. 2 Schooners with 6 4-pounders and 25 men
each. 7 gun-flats with one 9-pounder and 16 men each.' He adds
that 'the behaviour of the officers and crew of His Majesty's
Ship gave me great pleasure, and the spirit of the Negro slaves
that manned our small crafts was wonderful'. This tiny armament
was all that stood between us and the loss of our last footing
on the Spanish Main. In the Battle of S. George's Cay, not only
had the Spanish outrage upon the island twenty years earlier as
well as a century of Spanish oppression of the settlement been
amply avenged, but the Belize settlement had established its Right
to Live. Never again were the Spaniards to attempt the forcible
eviction of the colonists whether by land or sea.
The rejoicings and relief on shore and throughout the logwood
camps of the interior may well be imagined. As time went on the
tension wore off, and a new sense of security and self-confidence
descended upon the settlers. For the victory of S. George's Cay,
though the numbers engaged were few and its importance is
minimized by Spanish and ignored by most English historians,
turned out to be surprisingly conclusive. There were no further
Spanish assaults-at least of such weight as to cause anxiety-and
the settlers realized eventually that their own courage and resolu-
tion, combined with the loyalty of their Negro slaves, had
succeeded where the wordy warfare of the diplomats had failed.
From that moment onwards they looked upon the settlement
as British no less by the time-honoured Right of Conquest than
by the previous right of occupation and use. Thus, a month after
the victory Admiral Parker of the West India Station was speaking
of Belize as 'part of His Majesty's Dominions'.1 On October 29
of the same year a Public Meeting in Belize affirmed in so many
words that 'the tenure and possession of the country is now
1 Burdon, i, 265.
altered. His Majesty holds it by force, and it may in some degree
be considered as a Conquered Country'.l From this time forward
the Union Jack flew boldly on public buildings, and the right
of the settlement to a Constitution of its own, with Judicature,
Executive, Police, and Superintendent was taken for granted.
Despite certain murmurs to a different effect from diplomatic
quarters, the settlement was now regarded as a British Colony
in all but name.
Napoleon secured a valuable breathing space by the Treaty of
Amiens in 18oz, but renewed the war in the following year. In
I804 the French Admiral Villeneuve raced with the Spanish fleet
to the West Indies, only to turn east again without striking a
blow, until the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) set its seal for a hundred
years on British supremacy at sea. But the victory which is remem-
bered most in British Honduras is the Victory of S. George's
Cay. Each year its Anniversary is observed in the Colony to this
day. September Io is the greatest festival in its civic year. Everyone
makes holiday, processions tour the streets, the bands play, the
flags fly, banquets are spread for young and old, public orations
and church services improve the occasion, and everyone smiles
broadly at everyone else as Belize commemorates the Glorious
Victory which liberated her for ever from the thrall of Spain.
1 Burdon, i, 274:
THE MOSQUITO SHORE
THE settlement's feelings of exultation and relief over the libera-
tion of Belize were naturally shared by its old friends and allies
the Indians of the Mosquito Shore,. to whom we will now turn.
We have seen how the long-standing British logwood settle-
ments on the Shore had been evacuated in 1786 under the terms
of the Convention of London. The Shore could now no longer
be regarded as British territory, nor as held in British occupation.
It remained British notwithstanding both in sympathy and to a
large extent in practice. The Indians refused to acknowledge them-
selves subjects of Spain, continued to assert their invincibility and
independence, and still looked to the British as in an almost
mystical sense their brethren by all the ties of tradition, gratitude,
comradeship in arms, and unity of Faith. Although the British
settlements had ended, there was nothing in- the Treaty to ter-
minate this ancient entente cordiale. The Mosquito Shore with its
bay islands--especially Rattan-continued to afford strength and
comfort to the Belize settlers, both by its markets and by the
sanctuary it provided in the hour of need. Just before the Battle
of the Cay, for example, some of the weaker sort in Belize had
counselled flight to Rattan so persistently that Captain Moss had
even to threaten that he would drop a shot across the bows of
any boat attempting it.1
There is something rather touching in the Mosquitos' hero-
worship of England. They tried so hard to become British sub-
jects 1 For a long period their sovereign on his accession to the
throne made a special journey to Port Royal, there to receive his
crown at the hands of the Governor of Jamaica and to pay homage
to the Great White King.2 Afterwards they went to Belize for
the same purpose. Their royal princes were educated in British
schools. Over their public buildings flew the British flag. They
liked to think of Mosquitia as a province of the British Empire.
1 Burdon, i, 249. 2 Ibid., ii, 250.
It is all forgotten now, and few historians of the period trouble to
recall it, but it is at least of interest to remember that there was
once a time when the British Empire very nearly established a
foothold on the bulge of the Central American mainland, and
when the colony of British Honduras came within an ace of
embracing both sides of the Honduranian Gulf from Yucatan to
The Mosquito Shore, in effect, played such an important and
co-operative part in the development of Belize that it is impossible
to tell the story of the one without bringing in that of the other.
When England stood alone with her back to the wall against
the armed might of Napoleon and his many satellites, when her
Army and Navy had their hands too full of trouble in Europe to
spare much thought for the West Indies, when Belize in particular
found herself in deadly peril from encircling enemies both by
land and sea, the Mosquito Indians never faltered in their al-
legiance. On the very eve of the Battle of the Cay, King George
of Mosquitia showed his confidence in the outcome by sending
his son and heir to Jamaica for education, and by asking the
British Government for a supply of arms so that he could more
worthily fight the common enemy. Immediately after the victory,
although a Spanish counter-attack was expected at any moment,
two Mosquito chieftains with their retinues voyaged to Belize to
offer their congratulations, being followed a few months later by
His Majesty of Mosquitia in person. The Archives record the
gratification of the Public Meeting and its vote of o50 for his
entertainment. It was not the last of many such royal visits to
On the renewal of Spanish hostilities in 1803, the Mosquito
King again asked for a consignment of up-to-date muskets from
England. He also begged for a Union Jack, 'as we mean', he
said, 'to fight under English colours'.2 On inquiry by Superin-
tendent Barrow if all this were in order, the Commander-in-
Chief of Jamaica replied that 'the importance of cultivating the
friendship of the Mosquito Indians' had never been greater. He
added that the young King John had been sent to school in
Jamaica at the Government's expense in order to 'impress upon
him the advantages of our alliance'.3 In the following year the
Indians were supplied with arms from England, and with these
1 Burdon, i, 279. Ibid., ii, 72. Ibid., ii, 79.