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#126844 - 08/30/06 12:56 PM Once Upon a Time, SEPTEMBER 10th 1798
Marty Offline
Once Upon a Time

by Emory King

SEPTEMBER 10th 1798 (I)

Captain John Ralph Moss stood on the quarterdeck of the Royal Navy Sloop Merlin at noon on the 10th of September 1798 and waited for the Spanish to attack.

On his starboard side and ahead of him the Belize Ships Mermaid and Tickler were anchored close to the reef.

On his port side and ahead of him the Teaser, the Towser and the Swinger were anchored in shallow water. The seven Belize gun flats, (logwood rafts that had been converted to carry one 9-pound cannon with a crew of 16 Belize men, slave and free) were in various positions, port and starboard of the Merlin.

Since 9 o'clock that morning 14 of the Spanish ships had been moving from behind Caye Chapel. By noon it appeared that they would risk 9 ships and barges loaded with soldiers. So far nothing had happened.

Captain Moss thought about the three engagements the Belize fleet had fought. On the 3rd, the 4th, and on the 5th of September the Spanish commanders had sent five ships to attempt to reach St. George's Caye. The first attempt on the 3rd failed because the Teazer and the Swinger fought them off. The second attempt on the 4th the two Belize ships were joined by the Tickler, the Mermaid and the Towser. Between them they forced the five Spanish ships to retreat again.

On the 5th the Spaniards had found a new channel through the mangrove swamps and tried with seven ships to reach St. George's Caye. Our fleet was victorious again.

On the 6th the Spanish commanders decided to try the windward passage between the reef and the swamps. When they saw the Merlin racing to the scene the Spanish Admiral ordered a retreat.

Now it was the 10th of September.

Nine Spanish ships moved to within a mile of the Merlin and began to load cannons and powder and ball into the barges carrying soldiers. They appeared to be getting ready to try to board the Mermaid and the Tickler.

Captain Moss did not wait any longer. He cried, "Hard aport. Out sweeps. Run out the guns. Give them a broadside. Mr. Perry, signal the fleet to fire at will."

#126845 - 08/30/06 01:24 PM Re: Once Upon a Time, SEPTEMBER 10th 1798
Ernie B Offline
Gun Control is Hitting Your Target.

#126846 - 09/04/06 02:26 PM Re: Once Upon a Time, SEPTEMBER 10th 1798
Marty Offline
10th of September, 1798, (II)

Once the Spanish ships committed Captain Moss went below to write an urgent message to Colonel Barrow who was now at the Haulover Forts with the soldiers and the Belize Militia.

When the message was on its way by pitpan he returned to the bridge to command the battle.

It took the pitpan crew an hour-and-a-half to reach the Haulover Forts, a distance of 11 miles from the Merlin's position. Colonel Barrow had ordered 50 Belize marksmen to take up positions along the Haulover Creek in the event the Spaniards overran the forts and proceeded to Belize Town. He was overseeing these men when the pitpan arrived.

Colonel Barrow was disturbed by the message: Send all possible troops to St. George's Caye immediately to forestall a Spanish attack.

"I can't leave the forts unmanned," he told the messenger. But, before he could say more he realized that at least 200 Belize militiamen were rushing to the boats and leaving for the caye, without orders. The Colonel decided to go along when he saw 17 boats leave, loaded with Belize men.

They would not get there in time to take part in the battle, however.

The Spanish ships were at a distinct disadvantage in this fight. There was only a narrow slot of deep water between the reef and the shallow water next to the mangrove swamps. In attempting to sail through this slot the Spanish ships were caught in a cross fire from our ships and gunboats and also from the guns of the Merlin directly in front of them.

In short order four of the Spanish ships went aground, creating a traffic jam in the slot. There was much confusion among them and after two hours all the Spanish ships retreated to their anchorage behind Caye Chapel.

In part of his official report to London Colonel Thomas Barrow said. "We have every reason to believe that the enemy suffered much in the action of the 10th, as well in killed and wounded, as in the hulls and rigging of the vessels engaged; and I am happy to inform your Lordship that we had not a single man hurt, and there was no injury done to any of our vessels, deserving of any notice."

A portion of Captain Moss's official report to the Royal Navy said: "The behaviour of the Officers and crew of His Majesty's ship gave me great pleasure, and had we had deep water to follow them in, I think many of them would have fallen into our hands. The spirit of the Negro Slaves that manned our small craft was wonderful, and the good management of the different Commanders does them great credit."

The Spanish fleet consisted of 32 ships, 500 sailors and 2,000 soldiers. Our fleet consisted of the H.M.S. Merlin and our 5 ships and 7 gunboats and four pitpans (for carrying messages).

The Battle of St. George's Caye was over, but one naval operation was to come and it concerned only Belizeans against a Spanish ship.

#126847 - 09/27/06 01:14 AM Re: Once Upon a Time, SEPTEMBER 10th 1798
Marty Offline
September 10th, 1798 (IV)

After two weeks it was pretty certain the Spaniards would not be coming back, at least until after the first of the year, so Tom Potts called a Public Meeting for the 24th of September.

Forty-six men attended, (a list of their names can be found in the Archives in Belmopan). The first item on the agenda was a list of 12 resolutions. The first three resolutions dealt with the financial affairs of the Settlement and the people following the Battle, and pleaded with the British Government to help them.

The Fourth resolution is worth printing in full:

"Resolved that, That Spirit and attachment in our Slaves which has proved so Successful in the late Repulse of the Enemy, must from the Nature of their present Situation, soon Languish and dye away, Exposed to the brunt of nightly Guards and Heavy Labour in throwing up Works and every other Species of Exertion, the Nature of the Services requires under the Illusive Name of Colonial Troops they are Destitute of every little Necessary and Comforts, which their own Labour and the Kindness of their Masters formerly procured for them. And often afflicted with Sickness from being exposed on Duty in a Wet Country to heavy rains and Nightly Damps left to Languish without assistance, It being melancholy Truth that generally speaking their Owners find the utmost difficulty in procuring a bare Subsistence for their Wives and Children, without those comforts they have been accostomed to, and which a Sickly and Convalescent State render absolutely Necessary. Under such Circumstances it were the height of Presumption to Expect or rely on their Attachment in which however everything valuable depends."

The Seventh, Eight, and Tenth resolutions gave the thanks of the Settlement to Captain Moss and to the Commanders and men of the armed vessels that supported the H.M.S. Merlin on the 10th of September, and to those strangers Who distinguished themselves for the Public Good of this Settlement.

The Eleventh Resolution is also important: "Resolved that the thanks of the Meeting be given to Captains (Lawrence) Meighan, (John) O'Connor and (Allan Greatrakes) Courtenay for their Spirited good Conduct on the expedition to the Northwards."

All resolutions passed unanimously.

The next item on the agenda was whether to discontinue Martial Law. Many men were afraid that the Spaniards would come back and were opposed to abolishing Martial Law and said so loudly and often profanely.

The vote, however, was 29 in favour and Martial Law was abolished.

It is interesting to note that of the 46 men at the meeting 15 of them had voted to evacuate the Settlement at the famous June meeting the year before. Two men who had attended the June meeting in 1797 had abstained on the question of evacuation. Fifteen of the men at today's meeting had not even attended the Evacuation meeting. That made 29.

Is it possible that the 29 men who voted to abolish Martial Law today were the same as those 29. We will never know, but then, history always asks more questions than it answers.


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