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#414695 - 08/25/11 10:50 AM Battle of St. Georges Caye: Real or myth?
Marty Offline
Every year around this time, we are faced with the same old questions
which lead to the same old tired arguments. Was the Battle of St.
George’s Caye real or is it just a myth? Was it a case of
‘derring-do’ or was it just documented lies agreed upon? Is it
realistic to believe that slave would have fought “shoulder to
shoulder” with master or would they have taken the opportunity to
escape?

This matter has been debated ad nauseam and at the end of the day, we
seem no closer to the truth than the day when the questions were first
asked. We do know that a hundred years after the fact, a determined
patriot by the name of Simon Lamb succeeded in convincing Belizeans
that there was enough evidence to warrant a yearly commemoration of
the event. As a child, I grew up marching every September 10th, at
first only for “lemonade and a piece of cake” but later in the belief
that our forefathers had indeed “fought a glorious fight”.

Simon Lamb himself died in 1913 but I can still remember each year,
watching a man playing Simon Lamb with a long sword that would draw a
line in the sand and dare the Spaniards to cross. I’m not sure when
the tradition stopped but each year on the Tenth of September, a
wreath used to be lain on the grave of Simon Lamb. When last I
enquired, no one was even able to find the spot where grave was. What
a shame!

Until the time of my departure from Belize in 1972, the Tenth of
September was still being celebrated with much vigor and gusto. Since
the late fifties when the political two-party system was established,
simultaneous parades were held throughout the city. Leading up to the
official day, many contests and ceremonies were staged with events
like the “Battle of the Bands”, “Queen of the Bay” and many others
being held nightly at the Memorial Park. It was time of much
celebration.

By the time I returned to Belize two decades later, I discovered that
party politics and petty ideology had long since killed the “Spirit of
Simon Lamb”. Simulacrum had replaced shivaree and a once hearty and
vibrant celebration had been replaced by pompous officials and
political delegates seeming to simply be going through a motion.
Political tribalism had become the order of the day with
neo-celebrants embracing Independence and loyal pseudo patriots
clinging to the Tenth. “That deh time neva stand like a befo time”.
Each year, I observe this sad phenomenon with chimerical longing for
good old days gone by.

Of course, there is no turning back the clock and we are where we are.
While I remain convinced, after doing some research, that the events
of September 10th, 1798 was real and worthy to be commemorated, there
might be one area in which even Simon Lamb might have missed the boat.
While the circumstances surrounding the battle, skirmish or to
whatever degree the confrontation was, does proffer room for doubt,
there is one event indubitably documented that gives greater reason
for public pride and patriotic stirrings.

There is no doubt that Belizeans are as creative, athletic,
professional and proficient as the citizens of any other state or
nation on this planet. Only rarely do we break out and excel however,
and quite often that comes only from those who have been exposed to
foreign environs and influences; case in point, Marion Jones and Artie
Petters. The best we have done in international competition was in
1998 and in Mexico with our basketball teams. Even then, it took a
majority of foreign groomed or even foreign born participants to push
us up to the top. Our people lack confidence and self esteem. I have
a theory. It is my belief that the major cause of our
under-achievements is that we do not have enough to make us feel good
about ourselves. As a nation, we have no major accomplishments to our
credit; we have won no major battles or overcome any major obstacle;
or have we?

I have always felt that the Battle of St. George’s Caye was a
significant story to tell; if only to enhance and influence the ego of
our people. We needed desperately to inculcate this into the psyche
or our consciousness; even if it requires augmenting and embellishing
existing facts. Our people need heroes and victories to nudge them on
to excellence.

The event that Simon Lamb missed, (and that Assad Shoman in his
otherwise excellent and extensive narrative of our history failed to
even mention), were the proceedings of a town meeting that was held in
the then colony way back on June 1st of 1797. This saga I believe to
be epic and matching the mark of courage and resolve found in the
history annals of any country on this planet. When the meeting had
ended, a small but giant-hearted group of true patriots had decided to
defy all odds and stand to fight and defend what was to become our
homeland. We owe them much and to dismiss and discard this tale of
momentous courage is to do disservice not only to those heroes but a
grave injustice even to ourselves.

In 2009 and shortly before his death, Dr. Neil Garbutt funded and
spearheaded a tribute to the heroes of that historic vote and a
monument was erected in the village of Flower’s Bank in their honor.
The names of William Flowers, Caesar Flowers, Joseph Toney, Adam
Flowers, William Scott, William Pinder, George Grant, James Hercules,
William Crofts, David Dawson, John Dawson and Joseph Smith, freed
slaves whose timely intervention broke a 51-51 deadlock that resulted
in the decision to stay as opposed to evacuate, remains forever etched
on not only that monument that is dedicated to their memory but on the
very essentials of Belize’s existence as a nation state. This is the
type of courage that lends impetus to the achievement of great things.
What a waste Belize, what a waste!


--
G. Michael Reid
Citizen of the world

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#414703 - 08/25/11 11:53 AM Re: Battle of St. Georges Caye: Real or myth? [Re: Marty]
collyk Offline
I've just read Emory King's account of The Battle of St. George's Caye. It was fascinating. I'd love to hear about the controversies and debates about the truth of the time, but even though the battle itself was not particularly exciting, learning about the settlers and how things were done was really interesting.
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Belize Wedding Photography

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#447671 - 09/29/12 12:49 PM Re: Battle of St. Georges Caye: Real or myth? [Re: collyk]
Belizean Minds Offline
You may want to check out my letter to the editor where I dealt with this precise issue. It's also posted on the forum http://ambergriscaye.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/ubb/showflat/topic/54061/gonew/1.html or http://belizeanminds.blogspot.com/
_________________________
Belizean Minds - Share your thoughts - http://belizeanminds.blogspot.com/

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#495335 - 09/04/14 06:50 AM Re: Battle of St. Georges Caye: Real or myth? [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

After a few treaties in negotiating rights and opportunities to live and cut, first logwood, used for dyes at the time in Europe and then mahogany – still being used today for furniture and inside houses. Whatever happened in Europe between England and Spain directly affected the Caribbean and what is today Belize in Central America. It is only fitting to state that England and Spain did not really care for each other too much then.

One of the problems for Spain, even though they entered fair negotiations on what was their property in Central America, (British) Honduras (today Belize), was entitlement of land. The English sat on the land, then British Honduras and even though were kicked out several times between 1715-1760, they resiliently returned and grew their roots. Note that, the Spanish never once attempted to make a home in Belize. The English made it a home – away from home – as primarily, there was economic opportunity here for them and more, freedom.


Picture Credit: Ambergris Today

Between September 3rd and September 10th, 1798, things truly became very interesting in the settlement of Honduras. The Spanish made a final attempt to take British Honduras by force. The English and a rough neck crew of about sixty five Baymen decided that they would not walk away from their home anymore. They found it unacceptable and they resisted with all their souls in defense of what is today our native land Belize. They resisted successfully and perhaps the most important outcome of this final Spanish-English battle on our shores was that the Spanish never again attempted to remove anyone from this land.

We certainly bid the Baymen great people who were born and raised in then Honduras, who protected the only land they knew. On the 10th of September, we will toast to them for being courageous 216 years ago!


Picture Credit: http://www.naval-history.net/PhotoWW1-18slMerlin1PS.JPG

Here are some names of people who were involved in the last battle – the battle of St. Georges Caye.

1. Colonel Marcus Despard, Honduras first Superintendent.
2. Juan O’Sullivan, Spanish Commissioner, or “visitador”, who came to Merida during the time, who returned to Madrid, Spain to report on the unease and hostilities in this region.
3. Alexander Lindsay, Sixth Earl of Balcarres, Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica who paid attention to the request of the people of Honduras and who in 1796 dispatched 120 muskets and ammunition.
4. Lieutenant Thomas Dundas, Commander of the HMS Merlin who delivered 1500 muskets and ammunition on December 5th, 1796
5. Lieutenant Colonel, Thomas Barrow the leader of the political system in Honduras at the time of the drama
6. Captain John Moss the military leader of the rough and tumble Baymen Crew who decided to fight rather than flee.
7. Thomas Paslow, Honduras slave owner who decided himself not to flee but to get in the mud with the other Baymen and fight
8. Don Arturo O’Neill Tirone, Governor of the Yucatan, the man that had strict orders from Spain to expel the Baymen Trespassers.
9. Joe Toney, the proprietor of Toney’s Turtling boat who reported the position of the Spanish fleet en route to Honduras, off Cozumel.

To end, there was certainly a tipping point in this story and certainly, that was the difference. Perhaps it was the moment when the Baymen decided to stay and fight. September 10th, 2014, 216 years later, we celebrate that tipping point. Hurray for the Baymen! Long live Belize!

NINE Eco-Tours


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#495336 - 09/04/14 06:52 AM Re: Battle of St. Georges Caye: Real or myth? [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

After Lecture, Students Big Up The Battle

Did the battle of St. George's Caye really happen?  Many Belizeans are skeptical about the historical veracity of the event but today the history lecture at the Bliss Center entitled "St. George's Caye, the truth revealed; exploring the facts and implications" sought to eliminate that doubt and seemingly, it was a success because the students were convinced. On leaving the lecture, they told us more about what they learned today. 

Mai Wer, Belize High School

"Before this lecture I believed that it did actually happen because the facts I did learn in school sounded really realistic to me and this lecture also let me believe even more really."

Destiny Gaynair, Belize High School

"Now I know more in detail. It didn't actually take just that day to have the battle, it was actually a really long period of time, so that was something that I learned, it was really longer than what we were thought in school."

Osric Chimilio, Belize High School

"The talked about the ships that they were making to find shallow waters like the H.M.S Merlin, I did not know they actually did something like that. It's actually like details that were like erased from history and never thought in school."

Alize Flowers, Palloti High School

"We learnt a lot that we didn't know but most of the stuff our teacher thought us in class in history."

Courtney Weatherburne

"So before this presentation, did you believe the battle of St. George's Caye actually happened or you thought it was a myth like many people do."

Alize Flowers

"Miss I thought it was a myth before, but then the way the man talked and explained it I knew it was a real battle and they thought us a lot of this that we didn't know."

Marniesha Neal, Palloti High School

"I believed it actually happen because I learnt a lot when I was in primary school and we learnt something I didn't know, like what were the ships name, so I think I learnt a lot more now."

Geon Vasquez

"As an association we also want to have more lectures probably quarterly every 3 months that stimulate and talk about the history of Belize. As information begins to be published that we think the public needs to be aware of we're going to try to as best as possible and as financing and time can afford us we will bring that to the public."

The Belize history association was inaugurated in January.

Channel 7


National History Lecture discusses Battle of St. George’s Caye


The Battle of St. George’s Caye is a historical fact, despite efforts by some to suggest otherwise.

216 years after the naval engagement off Belize’s coast, however, the question two historians attempted to answer today was: is the Battle important and relevant to modern Belize, and if so, how?

Presenter and chair of the executive board of the Belize History Association, Francis Humphreys says that the Battle is the first “foundation stone” of what is now Belize.

Had the result gone differently, Belize, like its neighbors, would be largely Spanish-speaking and observe different customs, practices and traditions.

By defending the Settlement together, both black and white settlers made clear they preferred British rule.

Belize would soon after become a Crown Colony and remain the only British settlement on the Central American mainland after they gave up Bluefields in the Mosquito Coast region of Nicaragua.

Joining Humphreys was former political representative and amateur historian Fred Hunter.

The two presented their research on the Battle of St. George’s Caye to an audience of students at the Bliss Center Auditorium and via radio and television, answering questions submitted via Facebook as well.

Humphreys told us that continued research by members of the non-profit association will lead to a comprehensive and inclusive history of Belize commissioned by the Association.

The National History Lecture is planned to become an annual event.

Another lecture on Belize’s economic development and future is planned for September 17.

Patrick Jones


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#495377 - 09/05/14 06:54 AM Re: Battle of St. Georges Caye: Real or myth? [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Click photos for lots more pictures!

A fantastic day at the House of Culture today as we opened the Battle of St. George's Caye Exhibit. We thank the close to 500 primary school students and their teachers who visited and viewed the exhibit. We kindly invite the Corozal community to come in and learn more about this most important time in Belizean history. The exhibit will be on display through to November.


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#495391 - 09/05/14 12:01 PM Re: Battle of St. Georges Caye: Real or myth? [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline
Who pays the piper …

Amandala Editorial

At the end of their lecture presentations on Wednesday morning at the Bliss glorifying the British Baymen and the Battle of St. George’s Caye, Mr. Fred Hunter concluded that “it was the Africans who won the battle,” but Mr. Francis Humphreys, the UDP Mayoral candidate in Dangriga, conceded that nothing changed in the enslaved condition of the said same Africans after September 10, 1798.

In 1798 there were some naval episodes and confrontations between September 3 and September 10, featuring an invading Spanish fleet from the Yucatán and the defending British Baymen from the settlement of Belize. There were no casualties of any kind on the Baymen side, and no battle casualties of any kind on the Spanish side. This was not much of a battle, when we consider Borodino in 1812, say, and there is no record of its being celebrated until exactly 100 years later, because of an initiative organized by a BEC employee and subsidized by the colonial government of British Honduras.

That 1898 celebration initiative, known as “Centenary,” took place just four years after serious labor uprisings in Belize Town and just five years after the 1893 Mariscal-Spenser treaty between Mexico and Great Britain finally fixed the border between Yucatán and Corozal at the Rio Hondo. From 1847 onwards, the northern part of Belize had been an area of instability, to put it mildly, because the British were selling arms, ammunition, and supplies to the rebellious Santa Cruz Maya, while the Mérida/Campeche Yucatecans became allied with the Icaiche Maya. The Caste War of Yucatán had begun in 1847, whereupon refugees form both the ladino and Maya sides began to settle in Corozal and Orange Walk.

The British are notorious tightwads, but in 1898 they began the financing of the annual Centenary celebrations. The only other celebrations held in poor Belize Town at that time were Christmas celebrations, which involved wild spending by the mahogany camp workers, who afterwards had to obtain loan advances from their contractor bosses before they went back to camp in January. Tenth of September was the only time the colonial masters spent a little money. On the face of it, the Centenary party looked free, but this was a party which, as time went along, served a propaganda purpose: it divided the Africans from the Mestizos and the Maya in Belize, because, just as Mr. Hunter was declaring on Wednesday, the British passed credit for the “big victory” in 1798 to the same Africans they had enslaved and were continuing to oppress.

September 1798 was one more clash between two imperial masters – the Catholic Spanish and the Anglican British, and these two had been fighting each other for more than two and a half centuries before 1798. In the Western Hemisphere, they were fighting for control of the riches of the New World. In this part of Central America, African slaves were running from Belize to the Yucatán in the north and to Petén in the west. There was some movement of African slaves south from the Spanish Yucatán to British Belize, but the research of the Penn State University professor, Matthew Restall, and others has proven conclusively that slaves preferred to run from Belize to the Yucatán rather than vice versa. Check the stats.

In Belize in 2014, the descendants of the Baymen’s slaves of 1798 are not carrying “pocono boy” sticks to fight Spaniards: they carry automatic pistols with which they shoot each other. The Centenary celebrations have now been largely commercialized, and, if you think about it, in 2014 it is the masses of the Belizean people who will end up paying for the celebrations – either directly or through our taxpayers’ monies.

We have to get real here. Where the masses of the Maya and the masses of the enslaved Africans were concerned then, and as far as we are concerned now, the Spanish and the British are the same thing – enslavers, oppressors, and imperialists. There’s nothing wrong with a Centenary party, except when Buckingham Palace uses it to divide us Belizeans along ethnic lines. In September of 1798, the Spanish and the British fought against each other. We black people were extras on that movie set.

The new Belize History Association made a late switch from Wednesday night to Wednesday morning on the grounds that they wanted to facilitate students. Pardon us for our cynicism, but this was a decision designed to prevent the adult crowd which would have come in the night from articulating dissenting views. Wednesday morning amounted to colonial propaganda and an exercise in Union Jack waving. Jolly good show, old chaps.

Out here in the streets where roots smoke weed instead of drinking Scotch whisky, Hunter and Humphries might as well have been talking to themselves. Down here the issues begin with hunger. To repeat, there’s nothing wrong with some Centenary partying, but let’s get the facts straight. 1798 did not liberate African people and it did not liberate Maya people. In 2014, that’s pretty much who we are in Belize – African and Maya. Talk to me.

Power to the people..

Amandala

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#495539 - 09/09/14 04:27 PM Re: Battle of St. Georges Caye: Real or myth? [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

BATTLE OF ST. GEORGE’S CAYE

216 years ago, days like September 8th and September 9th were absolutely stressful to say the very least. On September 10th, a volatile day in our country's history exploded. Many things have happened since the journey to Belize's Independence began then.

READ ABOUT SOME PEOPLE WHO HELPED EARLY HERE:
Credit Dr. Jaime Awe

Between September 3rd and September 10th, 1798, things truly became very interesting in the settlement of Honduras. The Spanish made a final attempt to take (British) Honduras by force. The English and a rough neck crew of about sixty five Baymen decided that they would not walk away from their home anymore. They found it unacceptable and they resisted with all their souls in defense of what is today our native land Belize. They resisted successfully and perhaps the most important outcome of this final Spanish-English battle on our shores was that the Spanish never again attempted to remove anyone from this land.

We certainly honour the Baymen as great people who were born and raised in then Honduras, who protected the only land they knew. On the 10th of September, we will toast to them for being courageous 216 years ago!

Here are some names of people you should be introduced to that were involved in the last battle – the battle of St. Georges Caye.

1. Colonel Marcus Despard, Honduras first Superintendent.

2. Juan O’Sullivan, Spanish Commissioner, or “visitador”, who came to Merida during the time, who returned to Madrid, Spain to report on the unease and hostilities in this region.

3. Alexander Lindsay, Sixth Earl of Balcarres, Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica who paid attention to the request of the people of Honduras and who in 1796 dispatched 120 muskets and ammunition.

4. Lieutenant Thomas Dundas, Commander of the HMS Merlin who delivered 1500 muskets and ammunition on December 5th, 1796.

5. Lieutenant Colonel, Thomas Barrow the leader of the political system in Honduras at the time of the drama.

6. Captain John Moss the military leader of the rough and tumble Baymen Crew who decided to fight rather than flee.

7. Thomas Paslow, Honduras slave owner who decided himself not to flee but to get in the mud with the other Baymen and fight.

8. Don Arturo O’Neill Tirone, Governor of the Yucatan, the man that had strict orders from Spain to expel the Baymen Trespassers.

9. Joe Toney, the proprietor of Toney’s Turtling boat who reported the position of the Spanish fleet en route to Honduras, off Cozumel.

To end, there was certainly a tipping point in this story and certainly, that was the difference. Perhaps it was the moment when the Baymen decided to stay and fight.

September 10th, 2014 - 216 years later, we celebrate that tipping point.

Hurray for the Baymen! Long live Belize.


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#495565 - 09/10/14 06:57 AM Re: Battle of St. Georges Caye: Real or myth? [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Prelude To The Battle Of St. George’s Caye

by Emory King

Back in 1796, almost two years before the famous battle of St. George’s Caye, Spanish ships from Mexico captured three Belize ships near Lighthouse Reef and took them back to Yucatan. It was then that the Baymen learned that Spain and Britain had gone to war again.

Almost immediately a group of men in Belize Town said the best solution was to evacuate the Settlement and go to the Mosquito Shore. Another group said the best solution was to prepare for war and defend Belize.

The debate came to a head on June 1st 1797 at the largest Public Meeting ever held in the Settlement up to that time.

Did you ever hear of William Flowers, Caesar Flowers, Joseph Toney, Adam Flowers, William Scott, William Pinder, George Grant, James Hercules, William Crofts, David Dawson, John Dawson or Joseph Smith?

Probably not, but you should have heard of them.

These twelve men were the first Black Heroes of Belize to have their names recorded in the Public Records of the Settlement. (See Public Meetings, June 1, 1797 in the Belize Archives, Belmopan.)

On that day, these dozen Black men, together with two White men, George Raybon and Thomas Robertson, voted down a resolution to Evacuate the Settlement before the Spanish Army came to invade. (They cast the last 14 votes at the Public Meeting in Belize Town.)

The vote that day against Evacuation, (65 to 51 with 11 abstentions), set the stage for the Battle of St. George’s Caye the following year. Had the vote gone the other way the Settlement would have abandoned and lost forever to Spain and then Mexico or Guatemala. (They found out, after the Battle, that the Spanish had an Occupation Army waiting in Bacalar, just across the border in Mexico, to march on Belize as soon as the invasion was successful.)

The argument over Evacuation had been going on for almost a year. One group, led by Colonel James Pitt Lawrie and others, wanted to leave Belize and move to the Mosquito Shore, as the Baymen had always done in the past when the Spanish invaded.

A second group, led by Thomas Paslow and Marshall Bennett, was determined to stay and defend Belize.

Background: While most of the territories in the Americas were originally granted to Spain by the Pope in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 (with a portion going to Portugal, Britain had other plans for the wealth coming from Spain’s colonies. By enlisting English and Scottish pirates such as Sir Francis Drake, Britain quickly got a toe hold on the Caribbean from which to plunder Spanish merchant ships.

Eventually, the British pirates made their way to what would one day be British Honduras (modern day Belize), in Central America that was protected from the large and ungainly Spanish warships by the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. The Spanish saw the area as being not worth their effort, as the Maya in the area were staunchly anticolonial. It was safe for pirates such as Captain Henry Morgan and Blackbeard to seek refuge in the reefs of British Honduras before embarking on adventures to pillage and plunder from Charleston to Panama City. The Baymen of British Honduras were descendants of the British and Scottish pirates that made Belize their base.

After months of the most acrimonious debate the question came before the largest Public Meeting ever held in Belize. The issue was decided by the Free Black Men’s vote at the end of the day.

Who were these Black men? According to the Belize Archives some came from up the Belize River. We can guess that the Flowers men, William, Caesar and Adam, lived at Flowers Bank Village. Perhaps others lived there as well or at Convention Town or St. James Boom or Black Creek.

Joseph Toney, together with his partner, Joseph Lascelles, was a turtler and fisherman who probably lived in Belize Town. (A little over a year later, in 1798, Toney and Lascelles reported seeing the Spanish Fleet assembling off Cozumel to load soldiers for the invasion.)

The Dawsons probably lived up the Belize River too. The family name is still well represented in Boom, Crooked Tree and elsewhere along the river.

Of the two White Men who voted with them, Thomas Robertson ran a tavern in Belize Town. George Raybon, an American Loyalist, perhaps lived somewhere around Black Creek or the Crooked Tree Lagoon.

Apparently, the leaders of the Free Black men were the Flowers families. These people had been slaves in the Mosquito Shore and owned by William Flowers from Bristol, England. In 1756 he decided to return to England and he freed his slaves before he left.

Known as the Flowers Negroes throughout the Mosquito Shore, they worked hard and provided for themselves and their children. But, in 1786 William Flowers died in England and his heirs claimed the Flowers Negroes were still slaves and tried to sell them at the Shore.

The Flowers men became alarmed at this turn of events, broke into some homes, took items and food and took their families into the bush determined to fight, if necessary, to keep their freedom.

The Superintendent of the Shore, Colonel James Pitt Lawrie, called a meeting of the Council, declared the Flowers families free, that they had been free for the past thirty years and forgave them for their thefts.

The Flowers families returned, gave back the things stolen and agreed to come to Belize with the Mosquito Shore people in 1787. (See Mosquito Shore Records, Belize Archives, Belmopan.)

It is not surprising that they voted to stay and fight for their freedom in Belize, even if it meant defeating their friend Colonel Lawrie’s desire to evacuate the Settlement.

These twelve are the only names we know, but they were just a few of the hundreds of Black Men and Women, free and slave, who were determined to fight for Belize against the Spaniards and in spite of the cowards and fools who wanted to run away.

These Black Belizeans became the founders of families that today number in the tens of thousands of Belize Creoles.

A monument to the Belizeans who voted to stay and defend Belize was erected at Flowers Bank Village in 2009. The construction of the monument was financed by Dr. Neil Garbutt who passed away that same year.

That vote did not completely quell the movement of Evacuation, but its proponents could not get enough support to bring the question before the Public Meeting a second time, thanks in part to the spirited written objections of Thomas Paslow. In a letter to the Public Meeting he thundered, “A MAN WHO WILL NOT DEFEND HIS COUNTRY IS NOT ENTITLED TO REAP THE BENEFIT THEREOF.”

The sentence should be chiseled in stone over the doors of the National Assembly building in Belmopan, keeping in mind there are many ways for men and women to defend our Country.



Celebrating Belize History: Happy St George’s Caye Day!!

The Battle of St George’s Caye, commemorated as a national holiday in Belize on September 10, was the defining moment in the birth of the country, bringing together a disparate group of individuals willing to risk their lives to foster a unified British Honduras and paving the road to the eventual creation of today’s Belize.

The story itself, with a small ragtag group defeating a vastly superior professional Spanish military force over a week of fighting on one of the most picturesque battlefields on earth, is one of the more colourful chapters in an area and history long associated with adventure and romance. This is, after all, the setting for The Pirates of the Caribbean and countless other tales of swashbuckling and derring-do.

Racial and class divides were put aside when the settlers and African slaves went up against a well-trained and heavily armed professional military force from Spain, going into battle completely outnumbered and out gunned with the beautiful Caribbean as a backdrop, complete with sandy islands, swaying palms and sparkling waves breaking over a stunning reef.

We always said it has all the makings of an epic film.

Living far from any seat of government or authority, Belize’s early inhabitants were hearty souls who had developed a unique frontier society with their own standards and rules. Pirates may have been accommodated; supplied with game from ashore as they hid behind the barrier reef, but the predominately English speaking settlers rejected the very idea of Spanish rule.

Word of a Spanish invasion arrived, and after a referendum to decide whether to evacuate, or stand and fight, the final vote was in favour of standing to defend the settlement.

With a Spanish fleet of 32 vessels and some 500 sailors and 2000 soldiers on the way, a defence was quickly organised with Captain John Moss in command, with the HMS Merlin and a small fleet of three sloops, the Towser, Tickler and Mermaid, each with a crew of 25 men and a compliment of light cannon ranging from one eighteen pounder, a short nine pounder, four 6 pounders and a couple of 4 pounders. There were also two schooners, the Swinger and Teazer, and eight gun-flats, each carrying one 9-pounder and 16 men.

Except for the crews of Towser and Tickler, the vessels were manned by volunteers from the “Colonial Troops”. The Baymen, for their part, had 700 fighters of all colours, descriptions and stations in life.

The Spanish fleet was spotted approaching the Belize Great Barrier Reef, and the battle began on September 3rd, 1798 when the Spanish attempted to pass over the shoals near St George’s Caye, but were successfully repelled.

On September 10th after a fierce two and a half hour engagement, the Spanish were defeated and fled. The final battle began beginning with the largest Spanish vessels opening fire and attacking, and ending with their flotilla in disarray, cutting their cables and retreating with the Baymen in hot pursuit until darkness made navigation through the reef too hazardous.

The Spanish continued their retreat back up to the Yucatan and never again tried to invade Belize.

The leaders of the Baymen later wrote back to England that if it were not for the valour and fighting capabilities of the many slaves who took part in the defence, with everyone fighting together under the cry of “Shoulder to Shoulder,” victory would never have been possible.

The battle of St George’s Caye has always captivated historians with its combination of brilliant tactics, sheer courage and the solidarity of the defenders. For Belizeans, it marks the moment when the people of the settlement, of all races and creeds, decided to stand “shoulder to shoulder” to defend something they all saw as worthy of fighting for.

One hundred years later, in 1898, the 10th of September was declared a Public Holiday, and today it continues to be exuberantly celebrated.

Imagine if those early Belizeans knew that almost two hundred years later their valour would be rewarded when the former colony of British Honduras, on September 21, 1981, became a fully independent, sovereign nation, respected around the world as a model of democracy and free speech as well as for its commitment to environmental sustainability.

It’s easy to understand why even today its citizens are so passionate about Belize and continue to fight to protect what makes their country so special. That reef on which their ancestors fought with its hundreds of pristine cayes, sparkling clean water and abundant marine life remains very much the way it was back in 1798, largely due to the efforts of today’s Belizeans who recognise the same thing their ancestors did - that this is a very special country that deserves protection.

We think those early defenders at St George’s Caye would be proud.

Chaa Creek blog


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#495586 - 09/10/14 02:59 PM Re: Battle of St. Georges Caye: Real or myth? [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline
THE BATTLE OF ST GEORGE’S CAYE
This is the tenth day of September
Twenty fourteen Anno Domini
After 216 years we celebrate today
The Battle of St George’s Caye
Whether or not cannons were fired
Or vessels were damaged
It was a day that ended well
With foreign aggressors withdrawn
They never to claim our land again
Now in twenty fourteen
A spurious claim promoted
By our neighbors to the west
Our diplomats in air conditioned comfort
Engage in condescending chatter
The ICJ to decide the claim
This claim is but a territorial fishing trip
To catch all or half of Belize
Or just some cayes and waters too
We shall not be their bait boys
Nor the ICJ their boat captain
NO ICJ NOT NOW NOT EVER
NO ICJ

Mike Heusner

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