Once Upon a Time

by Emory King

Tom Potts, Chairman

Thomas Potts was born in England about 1740 but arrived in Belize in time to sign Burnaby's Code, (our first Constitution), in 1765

He busied himself cutting logwood and mahogany and saving his money. By 1779 he was living in a fine home on St. George's Caye. In July his bosom companion, Catherine Ferrell, had his first child, Ann Grace.

Less than two months later the caye was captured by the Spaniards and Tom, Catherine and Ann Grace were carried to Bacalar, along with 220 other people. The were all marched overland to Merida. There, Catherine had another child the following year. Then they were sent to prison in Cuba. The children were baptized in Cuba.

When they were released and attempted to get back to Belize, overland, Catherine had yet another child. This time on the bank of New River at Tower Hill. They reached St. George's Caye in 1784.( Some writer has described this time of history as "The days of wooden ships and iron men." He should have added "and steel women.")

The years following were difficult for the Settlement and profitable for Tom Potts. It is uncertain when he entered politics, but he was listed as a Magistrate in 1790 and elected Chairman of the Public Meeting soon after. (The Chairman was elected before every meeting and Potts was elected more often than not for years.) Like many Belize men Potts had two families. On St. George's Caye he had five children with Catherine. In Belize Town he sired five children with Susannah Burrell. (Her brother established a Boom on the Belize River that still carries his name.)

When the Spaniards declared war in 1796 Potts assured everyone that he would lead the Settlement against all invaders. However, troops from Jamaica did not come when they were promised by Lord Balcarres. They did not come so often when promised that the leaders of the Evacuation Party apparently persuaded him that the Settlement would be captured and he and his family would suffer again as they had in 1779.

In any case, when the crunch came on June 1st, 1797 Tom Potts voted to evacuate the Settlement. The motion was defeated and Tom Potts was not elected Chairman for many months. But he got his reputation back eventually and continued to serve as Chairman almost until he died.

Three of his ships were in the Battle of St. George's Caye, the Tickler, the Teazer, and the Towser. Potts stayed at the Courthouse in Belize Town to advise Colonel Barrow on how to win the war.

He died in 1806, probably the richest man in the Settlement. He left houses and slaves for Catherine and Susannah. He also arranged for all ten of his children to be educated in the United States. He gave money to all in both families as well as money to a dozen or more friends in Belize, New York, Philadelphia, London and Germany.