Life in a refugee community, San Pedro 1850
by Peter Laws, Curator, Ambergris Museum
A particularly important document in-the Belize National Archives in Belmopan gives us a fascinating insight into the lives of the first San Pedranos 150 years ago,The village was supervised by an Alcalde, referred to by the British as a Constable. As early as June 1850 the new settlers of San Pedro were so unhappy with their Alcalde, Juan Arguelles, that they petitioned the British authorities to have him replaced. The Alcalde was accused of committing "errors obnoxious to society and not to be tolerated amongst rational persons; his ignorance is notorious and he does not possess sufficient ability to preserve social order nor to give an example that be useful to nearly fifty families who inhabit this small island. The petition then goes on to describe Arguelles' bullying tactics. "Investing himself with the filthy garb of despotism he has had the hardihood to enter houses and to inflict blows and to threaten them with arms." A very specific example is given of how the Alcalde beat Francisco -Azcorra's son when he refused to work in his watermelon patch and how passers by witnessed it all.
Novelo is proposed as a replacement with Juan Jose Reyes as his deputy. These
men are said to be of good character "notwithstanding their present impoverished
state on account of their emigration from our country which the insurgents
caused", (a reference to their status as refugees from the Caste War in the
Yucatan). The petition closes with a pledge to "remain here subject to British
jurisdiction as all the other places and settlements which have been
formed on lands belonging to Belize have done."
The signatories on the petition were: Matias Loria, Manuel Antonio Herrera, Buenaventura Cruz, Jose Mercedes Ribero, Luciano Reyes, Cristobal Novelo,, Hipolito Ribero, Jose Maria Ribero, Jose Maria Reyes, Jose Sixto Gonzalez, Pascual Bailon, Pacheco, Nasario Gomez, Juan de Dios Cetina, Anastasio Manzanillam Mateo Carillo, Juan de Dios Sansores, Jose Acevedo, Benito Betia, Laureano Carrillo.
On this occasion the British officials took notice. In September 1850 Superintendent St. John Francourt sent his Magistrate, Mr. Salmon, to Ambergris Caye to dismiss Arguelles and appoint a successor. Mr. Salmon whilst visiting the Island also investigated reports of "large quantities of spirits smuggled into the place," but was unable to make any arrests. Reporting on the new community of San Pedro he states, "Almost the whole population (residents in fifty houses) is unregistered."
A year later the excitement in San Pedro was all about the threat of a Mexican invasion. Possibly promoted by the settlement of so many of their nationals on the Island the Mexican Government proposed to send a detachment from Fort Bacalar to claim Ambergris Caye for the Yucatan. The British flag was raised over San Pedro, HMS Rosamond was put on standby, and by April 1852 the Yucatan authorities had made a full withdrawal of their claim to the Island. The Mestizo settlement of San Pedro was officially part of Belize.