Ambergris Caye History- Pics of Beachfront, 1959 and 1999
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AMBERGRIS CAYE, BELIZE HISTORY
BY GEORGE PARHAM J.P.

In the Beginning
In the middle of the 19th Century a former Prussian Officer, a Von Ohlafen, claimed ownership of Ambergris Caye, apparently by "Squatter's rights". Von Ohlafen mortgaged Ambergris Caye to one Antonio Mathe who failed to honour the conditions of the mortgage. Von Ohlafen appealed to the British Honduras Courts to settle the problem. The Courts saw fit to put Ambergris Ceye on the "Block" (public auction). At the auction, as highest bidder, a. Mr. James Hume Blake bought Ambergris Caye for $625.00, a goodly sum in those days. Mr. Blake then registered Ambergris Caye in the name of his two step-daughters, Maria Exaltacion Andrade and Romana Andrade. My grandmother Chichi Nicanora told me as a boy that that was because he had used his wife’s money in the purchase.

This is how that came about:
In searching for "roots" we find that at one time a Don Jose Andrade - a former Officer in the service of Spain - and his wife Juanita migrated to the City of Valladolid in Yucatan, Mexico. He fathered 2 daughters, Maria Exaltacion and Romana. This family prospered in Valladolid lid which was then the trading center, together with Merida, of Yucatan.

Then disaster struck. The Icaiche indians declared war against the whites of Yucatan. This was the " Guerra de la Castas", Caste War of 1847 to 1855, and dragged on into the end of the century, which even reached as far as Oaxaca.

This was the war that almost halved the population of Yucatan. A great contingent of Icaiche Indians under the command of "General" Marcos Canul, invaded Valladolid slaughtering 70% of the inhabitants.

The defendants fought galantly, but, when all seemed lost, Don Jose Andrade and other leaders gathered a sizable amount of the survivors and fled the City, seeking the safety of British Honduras.

For days and nights inforced marches under terrible conditions and loss of life they fled and finally the survivors reached the town of Payo Obispo (present Chetumal), separated from British Honduras only by the Hondo River (Rio Hondo). It was here that the Indians caught up with them and in the ensuing battle Don Jose Andrade and others were killed. But a goodly some were able to cross the Hondo River and escape to safety in British Honduras. Among these escapees were the widowed Juanita Andrade and her 2 daughters Maria Exaltacion and Romana and also some close friends, Antonia Alamilla and her children. Antonia Alamilla's husband had also been killed in the Payo Obispo fight. These survivors then settled into the Northern section of British Honduras and into small enclaves like Corozalito, Corozal, Orange Walk and "San Pedro". ( I mention this enclave for our present Town of San Pedro is named after said little Village just outside of Corozal).

Thus, the most important addition to the British Honduras population during the 19th century undoubtedley resulted from the Caste War in Mexico from 1847 to 1855. The refugees who fled from the horrors of that war, which even touched as far as Oaxaca, were mainly Spanish and Mestizos. The majority of these refugees were Catholics seeking peace. The District Commissioner of the Corozal District, at that time was James Hume Blake. Seven years later the Commissioner reported that the new town of Corozal had a population of 4,500. The following year the total population of Corozal had risen to about 8,000. By the time the official census of 1861 was prepared, the number of people living in the Northern part of the Colony was more than that of the people of Belize. This was because even in 1866 the Icaiche Indians under Marcos Canul continued the wars against the white Yucatecans who continued to flee to British Honduras. These figures are relevant for it shows the importance of the "Spanish" element on Ambergris Caye at the time of the true settlement.

Dynasty
Soon after, the widowed Juanita Andrade married the District Commissioner James Hume Blake. It was then that Ambergris Caye was sold at auction and was bought by James Hume Blake, the highest bidder, for $625.00. Mr. Blake then registered Ambergris Caye in the names of his 2 step-daughters, Maria Exaltacion Andrade and Romana Andrade. My grandmother "Chichi" Nicanora told me he did this because he had used his wife's gold in the purchase.

With Juanita he fathered 2 daughters, Jane Blake and Manuela Blake. Then came "El Ingles" (the English Man), George Edgar Parham, who married Jane Blake. With Jane Blake he fathered a daughter, Ann Elizabeth Parham. With his wife's sister, Manuela Blake , he fathered a son, James Howell Blake. Maria Exaltacion Andrade married a Francisco Mendez, from the same group of escapees. James Hume Blake, his wife Juanita Blake, his step-daughter Romana Andrade and Maria Exaltacion's husband, Francisco Mendez, all died.

Now Maria Exaltacion Andrade de Mendez, as sole owner of Ambergris Caye, decides to develop her Ambergris Caye holdings. So, gathering people from Corozal, many of the people who had escaped with her into British Honduras during the "Caste war", they migrate to Ambergris Caye., The village of "San Pedro" came into being. With her came several Alamilla families. One Alamilla family, " very close to her heart, was a family mothered by Antonia Alamilla (her husband had also been killed in the "Rio Hondo" crossing into British Honduras). Antonia Alamilla had 2 daughters, Nicanora and Elena and 3 sons, Bartolo, Anastacio and Eusebio. Also came with her the widowed "El Ingles" George Edgar Parham (my grandfather) with his daughter, Ann Elizabeth Parham and his son, James Howell Blake. His wife Jane had died as had Manuela Blake, of influenza. Shortly after the birth of Ann Elizabeth his wife Jane died of influenza and a year later "el Ingles" married Manuela. With Manuela he fathered a son who was named James Howell Blake at the insistence of his grandfather James Hume Blake who, having never fathered a son, wanted his name to be carried on in perpetuity.' James Hume Blake's wife had died of influenza and now he married Juanita Andrade and Juanita's two daughters, Maria Exaltacion and Romana, thereby became Mr. Blake's stepdaughters. George Edgar Parham then married Nicanora Alamilla. His daughter, Ann Elizabeth Parham married Anastacio Alamilla and his son, James Howell Blake, married Elena Alamilla.

These then were our true ancestors, on Ambergris Caye.

Acquisition of Ambergris Caye
On September 13th 1869 Ambergris Caye was auctioned off to settle the estate of former owners. With his wife Juanita's gold Mr. James Hume Blake, as highest bidder, bought Ambergris Caye for $625.00 and he immediately put Ambergris Caye in the name of his two stepdaughters, Maria Exaltacion and Romana with the proviso that if either daughter predecease the other, the surviving daughter would inherit the island. Then Romana died of influenza and Maria Exaltacion inherited all of Ambergris Caye. Then Maria Exaltacion married a Mr. Fransisco Mendes who died shortly after, leaving her a childless widow. So now the sole owner of Ambergris Caye is Maria Exaltacion Andrade de Mendes.

Birth of San Pedro
Now the owner of Ambergris Caye, Maria Exaltacion Andrade de Mendes gathers together many of the families that crossed the Hondo River with her when fleeing from the Icaiche Indians and sails for Ambergris Caye with her entourage. For the village she chose a section of Ambergris Caye which comprised from where the cemetery is now to where Esmeralda Park stands. This village she named San Pedro for after the exodus into British Honduras many of the families had settled in a village called San Pedro in the Yalbak area of British Honduras and another village of the same name close to Corosal.

Then she proceeded to distribute her lands amongst the families that came with her. Her methods were simple. My grandmother who came with her told me as a boy that "Chichi Sal," as she was called, would tell a head of a family: "Camina de aqui por cinco minutos y siembra tu estaca. Ese sera su terreno". (Walk from this spot for five minutes and plant your stake. That will be your land."). And thus Eighty-three families tbat came with her became owners of the Ambergris Caye lands - from Boca Chica to the South to Bacalar Chico to the North. The following is the list of the original eighty-three family grantees, their names and names of their plantations. Please note that not all of them were named "Parham," "Blake" or "Alamilla." Bear in mind also that after Maria Exaltacion Andrade de Mendes granted her properties, she had deeds issued, surveyed and registered.

The list:

Click map for larger version!
This is a map of the original land grants and the 83 families who received them. Courtesy George Parham.

Name of "cocal"Name of original owner  Name of "cocal"Name of original owner
Boca ChicaTeodoro Alamilla  Boca ChicaLucilo Ayuso
Boca ChicaBarbara Heredia  Boca CiegaLucilo Ayuso
San MiguelBarbara Heredia  La PuntaLucilo Ayuso
La PuntaMercedes Muñoz  DardanelosMercedes Muñoz
CaliforniaEugenio Gonzalez  DestinoManuel Rivero
DestinoSefiora Cornelia  Destino (back part)Florencio Till
San TelmoVictor Guerrero  San TelmoSevero Guerrero
San TelmoJuan Guerrero  Santa PaulaMercedes Muñoz
San CarlosLiborio Gomez  Little StarGeorge Foreman
EsmeraldaJames Blake  San Pedro VillageAnastacio Alamilla
San Pedro VillageJames H. Blake  The BarfacksJames H. Blake
Boca del RioPedro Alvarado  Tres CocosAlfonso Gutierrez
Tres CocosAnastacio Muñoz  TesoroAnastacio Muñoz
Santa EveliaMiguel Rivero  Santa EveliaManuel Rivero
Buena VistaMiguel Muñoz  Punta ArenaRica Muñoz
Punta ArenaHilderdo Paz  Santa ClaraTomas Paz
Santa ClaraSecundino Gonzalez  San RomanSeferino Paz
San IsidroFelipe Martinez  San RomanBernadina Paz
Santa AnaAnacleto Rodriguez  MataAdolfo Alamilla
ParaisoTacho Vasquez  Mata CaballoBartolo Alamilla
Bella VistaEfrain Guerrero  MataLuis Alamilla
MataFrancisco Arceo  Santa EveliaDimas Guerrero
Santa EveliaEnrique Catalan  MeridaMarcelino Sansorez
Santa RitaEusebio Aguilar  MexicoCasildo Tapia
Mexico el fondoValerio Rosado  Santa FeVirginia Carrillo
Cocal Sr. DorotDoroteo Gomez  Santa RitaRomaldo Loria
Santa FeTeresa Rivero  OrizabaVirginio Carrillo
TejasNicolas Varela  Cocal Sr. Dorot 2Doroteo Gomez
Santa Ana dosAnacleto Rodriguez  Santa AnaValerio Rosado
San AndresEusebio Alamilla  Cocal de EusebioEusebio Aguilar
Santa MatildaErnesto Gomez  ArgentinaAnacleto Rodriguez
San RomanAdriano Vasquez  San RomanNestor Vasquez
San RomanHilario Vasquez  PalmeroJuan Alamilla
PalmeroAntonio Perdomo  HabanerosGeorge Parham
Habaneros N. 1 Francisco Nuñez  Habaneros N. 2Anastacio Vasquez
Habaneros N. 3 Anastacio Badillo  Habaneros N. 4Manuel Heredia
Punta TulAnastacio Alamilla  Basil JonesAnastacio Alamilla
Basil Jones No. James H. Blake  El CanalisoWalter Hood
RoblesWalter Hood  RoblesPablo Reyes
Punta PiedraAlfonso Gutierrez  Bacalar ChicoPerdomo Estate
Bacalar ChicoHoy Estate  Bacalar ChicoWalter Hood
Bacalar ChicoHeusner Estate    

Paradise Lived
The Sanpedranos with their newly acquired plantations proceeded to live in paradise. So now came an era of prosperity and peace for these, our ancestors, who had endured so much pain and hardship at the hands of the Icaiche Maya Indians during the exodus from Mexico into British Honduras, during the settlement in British Honduras and during the influenza epidemics which decimated their ranks. Sanpedranos prospered way and above their wildest dreams. These then 83 freehold property owners of Ambergris Caye developed their properties.

Land was cultivated and coconut trees were planted - each family to their own plantation. The San Pedro Village section was owned by the Blake and Alamilla families. Mr. George Parham, who again had lost a wife to the influenza epidemic, migrated to Ambergris Caye and married Nicanora Alamilla. His daughter, Ann Elizabeth Parham, who had come with him, married Anastacio Alamilla. His son, James Howell Blake, who had also come with him, married Elena Alamilla - all children of above mentioned Antonia Alamilla. A Church was built where the fountain now stands. A park was built where the main park is today. A school was built at a site in front of the main park. A Police station was built where the station stands today and so it went. God was good to Ambergris Caye and in five years or so the coconut trees were bearing fruit and the coconut market was good. The village was populated with people who worked for othen or for themselves. Some went off to the chicle works or mahogany works and returned with their earned gold. Some, fished, built boats, worked in coconut plantations, taught school, chopped bush and so on.Wages of the day were always higher than in other parts of the Colony.

They planted coconuts (the main crop) and in their "conucos" (vegetable plots) bananas, plantains, tobacco, cane, celots, avocados, papayas and many other vegetables and fruits. Some even grew cotton and, believe it or not, there was even. a cotton gin on Ambergris Caye, and the landowners worked and they prospered for in those days coconuts reached a price of $50.00 per thousand, more than the value of coconuts in Belize today. Coconuts were used for cosmetics, oil, soap and the shell was even used for making gun powder. That was good. And there were horses in Ambergris Caye to help with the work. Sr. Mercedes Munoz (Tio Mech) owned 3 beasts of burden - Relampago, Blanco and Mula. And every week cattle and pigs were killed on Ambergris Caye and the people hunted and killed deer, javeliina, chachalaca, gibnut, turkey, pigeons, etc. on Ambergris Caye. And the times were of plenty and of peace and neighbor loved neighbor and my grandmother, ( "chichi nicanora") delivered all the babies on Ambergris Caye and was a general nurse ("curandera" ) who knew how to apply "Hulub" and "romero" and to cure the ravishes of "chechem" and my grandfather administered quinine for malaria and Mr. Blake introduced the first electricity in San Pedro (the old diesel plant can still be seen in my yard of the Sands Hotel) and with a little bit of rum and effort Mr. Lyn ran the p!ant from dark until 9:00 P.M. every night. And the Blakes, Parhams and Alamillas donated to the village of San Pedro 2 parks, the church property, the football field in the back and the school property where the school stood in front of the park and where we went to school, and other properties and they built the main pier.

But, of course, not all Sanpedranos owned "cocales" so those who did not own land worked for those who did and needed their labour, such as "Tio Mech", Lucillo Ayuso, the Guerrero brothers, the Foremans, the Hoys, the. Heusners and the Parhams, Blakes and Alamillas and the workers were paid on Ambergris Caye way above the wages of the Day. A worker who worked coconuts was paid 50 cents and some even 60 cents for a "Tarea" (a task which entailed picking, peeling, and shipping 500 coconuts). And a "machetero" (a machete man) was paid 50 cents and even 60 cents for cutting a "mequate" (22 square yards of bush). Good workers could, if they chose not to hit their hammocks at 10 A.M. or so fishing, make 3 "tareas" or 3 "mequates" a day and earn as much as $1.50 per day. These were the wages paid on Ambergris Caye, whether by "Tio Mech" or the Parhams. Then compare these wages with the wages paid on the mainland of British Honduras. The Turtons, Melhados, United Fruit Co. in the mahogany, chicle, and log wood businesses paid their workers $8.00 per month and rations of 4 lbs. lbf salt pork and 7 lbs. of flour per week. In Belize Town (Belize Town was made a city in 1943) merchants and stores such as Biddles, Brodies, Hofius, and Harleys paid their employees $12.00 per month and many, many British Hondurans were unemployed.

Sanpedranos always had work through the auspices of the plantation owners of Ambergris Caye. Of course , this era was before and during the Great Depression when there was real unemployment in the United States and soup lines and real suffering. I remember that during that time I aspired to work for the British Honduras Government . To qualify I had to graduate from St. John's College and pass 2 overseas courses from England, Junior Cambridge and Senior Cambridge of Cambridge University, England, and when I qualified and was given work as Customs Officer in the Government of British Honduras, my wages were $15.00 per month and when you consider that there are 4 and 1/3 weeks to the month, you can verily see that my wages were below that of a Sanpedrano coconut worker or "machetero". This was when the British Honduras dollar was at par with the United States Dollar (in 1894 the British Honduras Colony went over to the U.S. gold standard) . But listen to what money could buy in those days: A loaf of bread cost 5 cents; a "capricho" (sweet bun) cost 1 cent; a can of condensed milk 5 cents; a pound of rlce 2 cents; a pound of beans 3 cents; a pound of flour 3 cents; a "sarta" (string of fish) of seven 1 and a 1/2 pound snappers cost 8 to 10 cents; 12 salted (corned ) mullets 15 cents. From Mr. Virginia Nunez you could buy "chiwas" (stone bass) for 12 cents a dozen and Mr. Mix, related to Mr. Nunez, would cut your hair for 3 cents and give you a big coconut candy to boot for not crying during the ordeal, and a raspado (shaved ice with syrup) cost 1 cent, one cent for a big snapper, one cent for a large butter avocado. and so it goes and finally, a "machetero" could buy a week's provisions for $1.50.

When these prices and wages prevailed, there were soup lines throughout the world. The great depression was going on; but Ambergris Caye prospered and the people loved one another. No drugs existed on the Island. Living was easy. I remember because I lived it. Then came the second world war and a few of us went off to war. No one that I know of in San Pedro went off to war except George, Wallace, James and Richard Parham but, thanks to the good Lord, not one of them lost their lives to war, even though two of them shed blood for British Honduras. Be that as it may. After the war we, the Parhams, kept in touch with our British Honduras, even though we were abroad going to school and working to support families and acquiring what little money we could save with a view to returning home to Ambergris Caye or, better said, to our native British Honduras. But while we the Parhams were away, we visited British Honduras from time to time and we became aware of a tragedy taking place on Ambergris Caye. This tragedy was the sale of ancestral properties by Sanpedranos to foreigners.

The Great Sanpedrano Sellout
During the 1950s, 60s, and 70s buyers from abroad like Vern Hammon and others came to Ambergris Caye and started offering what was then considered high prices for coconut plantations and Sanpedranos commenced a great sellout of their lands. By the beginning of the 1980s every land owner had sold their properties except for the Parhams, Blakes and Alamillas and a few others like Mr. Efrain Guerrero. And if the tax rate is not corrected very soon, the balance of us will be forced to sell our ancestral properties. Today the Sanpedrano is crowded in an area of Ambergris Caye about the size of the original village of San Pedro in the late 1911 century. We have only ourselves to blame.

Summation
Please do not misunderstand the intent of this letter. It is not wrong to sell one's property. It is a privilege and if by selling one's property one can better one's living condition, so be it. 'there was a time when only Maya Indians owned Ambergris Caye and only God knows who owned it before them. Then we Sanpedranos had our time of ownership. Now other people have their time of ownership. From the San Pedro River to Bacalar Chico you can count on the fingers of one hand the ethnic Sanpedranos who still own ancestral properties. From Esmeralda Park to Boca Chica to the south not one ethnic Sanpedrano owns beach property. In the town proper most of the beach properties have been sold to "Gringos." Many more town properties are up for sale. Ownership of ninety-eight percent of Ambergris Caye property is in the hands of the so-called "Gringo." So what? These new owners soon become Belizeans and the circle continues to go around. The only point that I make here is that when you sell what is yours, whether it be land or anything else, it no longer belongs to you and you lose control over what you have sold. So don't be surprised when you see one of these new land owners on the Town Board. It is natural that people control what belongs to them. That is the democratic way!

If the tax situation is not corrected soon in Ambergris Caye, the balance of Ambergris Caye land will be sold. When land is overtaxed, it is not feasible to keep it in perpetuity for one's inheritors. In a few years taxes will have eaten away its value and owning overtaxed land becomes a liability instead of an asset. So now let us ask ourselves a few questions: Who sold out most of Ambergris Caye land? Surely not our ancestors! We did. Who overtaxed land forcing its sale? Surely not our ancestors! We did. WE OURSELVES ARE TO BLAME FOR OUR ACTIONS NOT OUR ANCESTORS!

/s/ George Parham J.P.
San Pedro Town, Ambergris. Caye

ROOTS
General Sterling Price and Martha Price - Father and mother
Malvina Price - daughter married Henry Kevlin from New Orleans, La.
Children of Malvina Price and Henry Kevlin:
Marie, Doris, Manuela, Wallace and Henry, Jr.
Manuela Kevlin married James Parham and fathered four sons:
George Henry Kevlin Parham, William Wallace Parham, James Edgar Parham and Richard Raymond Parham.
William Wallace Parham and Richard Raymond Parham are deceased. James Edgar Parham lives in Leesville, Florida.
George Henry Kevlin Parham lives in San Pedro Town Belize. That is me, named after my grandfather Henry Kevlin

SHORT HISTORY OF THE FAMILY
General Sterling Price was a general in General Lee's army of the South during the U.S. Civil War. After the North defeated the South General Sterling Price got a colonization grant from Emperor Maximilian of Mexico. With about twenty families he set sail for Mexico and landed in Campeche. From Campeche these families settled in the Escarcega section of Campeche. These families worked in the Log Wood and chicle business all the way into the Agua Blanca area of British Honduras, having even built a railroad.

During and after the war of the castes (guerra de las castas) many of these people were killed by the Icaiche Maya Indians, but some escaped into British Honduras. Malvina and Henry Kevlin were amongst some of the escapees. They settled in Orange Walk. After things cooled down a little in the Yucatan Henry Kevlin continued to work in Mexico for the Mexican Government in his trade as an engineer. My family had a home by the river in Orange Walk. They owned Louisiana Farm which they later sold to Santiago Castillo. My father James Parham was from Ambergris Caye and married my mother Manuela in Orange Walk. My father and mother lived on Ambergris Caye and Orange Walk - back and forth. I was born on Ambergris Caye. My brother WilliamWallace was born in Orange Walk. My mother's brothers Henry, Jr. and Wallace were both educated in the U.S. and became engineers also like their father. I remember Wallace Kevlin in Orange Walk as an engineer and also as the village dentist, for he also served in that capacity in Orange Walk. When he had to pull "someone's tooth, he would first get the person drunk and then pull the tooth. Wallace Kevlin was called "el indio principe" by the Indians. Henry Kevlin, Jr. worked in Punta Gorda and died there I have visited his marked grave there when I served for the British Honduras Government as a Customs Officer in Punta Gorda.

Ambergris Caye History
by George Parham J.P.


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