Editorial By Harry Lawrence - Publisher, The Reporter
In the face of overwhelming historical and documented evidence, many Belizeans who once described the Battle of St. George’s Caye as “a myth” have come to accept that this battle lies at the core of the Belizean ethos for independent thinking, and for valour in the face of adversity.
When the Baymen leaders were summoned to a public meeting on June 1st, 1797, each man knew in his heart that the stakes were high. They all remembered how a Spanish force had swooped down on St. George’s Caye without warning nineteen years earlier, and how the Spaniards had seized, and shackled and marched them overland to Merida.
They had no illusions of what the Spaniards would do to them this time. They had a choice: to fight, to flee or to yield.
Yielding was not an option. It would mean many years of servitude and perhaps death. Flight was not an attractive prospect either. They would lose everything they ever worked for and they knew the Spaniards would hunt them down like game.
Resistance seemed to be the best option. The odds were not great. In fact, they were slim. But there was a glimmer of hope that they could prevail. The meeting decided by a majority of 14 votes to stand and fight.
The account of the battle is best told in the terse words of Lieutenant Colonel Commandant Thomas Barrow, Superintendent of the Settlement, who wrote in a dispatch to Lord Balcarres in Jamaica to say:
“On the morning of Monday, September 10th, fourteen of the largest vessels of the Spanish feet weighed anchor and at nine o’clock brought to about a mile and a half distant from our fleet. Captain Moss was then of the opinion that they meant to delay the attack ‘til the following day, but nine of them got under weigh about noon.
“These carried each two 24-pounders in the bow and two 18-pounders in the stern. One schooner carried 22 and all the rest from 8 to 14 guns in their waist. And every one of them, besides being crowded with men, towed a large launch full of soldiers. The other five vessels, with several launches, all full of men, remained at this last anchorage at the distance of a mile and a half.
“Our fleet was drawn up with His Majesty’s ship Merlin in the center, and directly abreast of the channel. The sloops with heavy guns and the gunboats in some advance to the Northward, were on her eastern and western flanks.
“The enemy came down in a very handsome manner and with a good countenance in a line abreast, using both sails and oars. About half after two o’clock Captain Moss made the signal to engage, which was observed with great cool and a determined firmness, that to use his own expression to me on that occasion, would have done credit to veterans.
“The action lasted about two hours and a half, when the Spaniards began to fall into confusion, and soon thereafter cut their cables and sailed and rowed off, assisted by a great number of launches which took them in tow.”